8 Underused Class Archetypes
by Tyler Edwards, January 2, 2013
Classes in MMOs tend to fall into a few standard archetypes, generally inspired by those found in Dungeons and Dragons and other old school tabletop RPGs. You've got your fighter, your ranger, your mage, and your cleric. But there are other class archetypes out there, filling in gaps left by the more mainstream classes. MMOs, always wary of alienating players by being too different, are especially guilty of ignoring more unusual archetypes.
This list will highlight some of the more neglected class types, as well as offer some games that do include them in case you're looking to take a break from the norm.
8: The psionicist:
Aside from being a mouthful, the psionicist is a spell caster focused on mind magic. They can read thoughts, induce hallucinations, control minds, and move objects with telekinesis.
It's not too hard to understand why psionicists don't show up in MMOs very often. Their abilities are difficult to fit in the boundaries of a balanced game, especially one with humans on the other end. It's obviously not possible to allow the reading of other players' minds.
Still, it could be made to work. In an MMO setting, psionicists can focus on the summoning of illusions and mirror images, on buffs and debuffs, and on crowd control. Developers could also choose to focus more on the telekinesis aspect of psionicists, allowing them to hurl and crush enemies with their minds.
Allods Online and Vanguard: Saga of Heroes are among the few MMOs to include the psionicist as a class unto itself, but there are classes in other games that have elements of it. Guild Wars 2's mesmers, for instance, have access to a variety of illusions, deceptions, and other psychic abilities.
7: The commander:
Any fighting force - from an army to a small group of adventurers - has certain roles that need to be filled: frontline soldiers, healers or medics, scouts, spies, and leaders. All of those are well represented in MMOs but for the last. There are very few games out there with classes devoted to leadership.
To a certain extent, this makes sense. The social aspect of MMOs mean your group's leader is likely going to be the most capable and experienced player, regardless of their class. "Leadership" is also a rather intangible thing, making it difficult to design abilities for such a class.
Still, it can be done, as proven by Lord of the Rings Online's captain, a support class that inspires its allies to new heights of bravery. Warriors and paladins also sometimes have elements of leadership in the form of shouts, battle standards, and group buffs.
6: The berserker:
It's common for MMOs to combine berserkers with warriors, giving the warrior berserker-themed stances and abilities. But a true berserker is only peripherally associated with a warrior. They're not tanks, and they don't wear plate. In fact, the word berserker stems from the Norse term for "bear skin," so they ought to wear leather armor or hides.
A true berserker is all about sacrificing personal survival for damage. They're in a race to kill their enemy before they themselves are killed. Eschewing the bulky armor of their less brave - or insane - counterparts in the warrior class, berserkers rush headlong into battle, relying on their agility and unstoppable fury to overcome their enemies and compensate for their lack of defenses.
EverQuest and EverQuest II both offer classes called the berserker, but they're really just warrior variants. The same is true of TERA's berserker, but oddly enough, two other classes in TERA, the slayer and the warrior, are actually decent examples of the berserker archetype.
5: The engineer:
The engineer is not an uncommon archetype in sci-fi games, but you don't see it too often in fantasy. And since fantasy games have a stranglehold on the MMO genre, engineer classes are hard to come by in MMOs.
But it's not too hard to include an engineer in a fantasy setting. Most fantasy games these days have some form of steampunk or magitech twist. There are a few different ways engineers can play out.
They can be like the engineers of Guild Wars 2: steampunk McGyvers who can produce all manner of gadgetry, from turrets to bombs to flamethrowers. They can be more traditional ranged fighters focused on guns and other technological weapons. They can also be a pet class, creating robot helpers, and Aion is reported to be introducing a tanking class that marches around in its own mechanical exoskeleton.
4: The alchemist:
Similar to the engineer, the alchemist relies on science, rather than magic or brute force, to aid its allies and crush its enemies. But whereas engineers place their faith in cold technology, alchemists take their strength from chemicals, potions, and tinctures.
Alchemists are a natural fit for a support class, producing a variety of healing elixirs and empowering their allies with special concoctions.
Alchemy is a common theme in fantasy, and usually plays some kind of a role in MMOs - perhaps as a crafting profession - so it's a little odd that alchemists are one of the rarest class archetypes around. Maybe throwing potions at people just doesn't seem as heroic as swinging a sword or hurling a bolt of lightning, but if you've ever seen a chemistry professor nearly blow up a classroom with a fiery demonstration, you know alchemists can be as badass as any warrior.
True alchemists are hard to come by, but the engineer class of Guild Wars 2 has a number of elixirs and alchemical abilities. Oddly enough, World of Warcraft's new martial arts class, the monk, also has access to a number of alchemy-like brews for offense and defense.
3: The gunslinger:
When it comes to fantasy settings, the list of ranged weapons usually starts and ends with bows. Some daring rangers take up the occasional crossbow, and if you're lucky, you might see some thrown weapons, but there is another weapon type that gets neglected: guns, and especially pistols.
Gunslingers are a class devoted to mastery of the pistol, usually dual wielding a pair of them. While they often take inspiration from cowboys and Western fiction, they can also be cunning assassins, elegant duelists, or piratical vagabonds. They often overlap with the rogue archetype a bit, which might be why we don't see too many of them.
Still, there's a certain flair to the gunslinger that other classes just can't replicate. They've got the rakish charm of a rogue, the range of an archer, and the visceral punch that can only come from the blast of gunpowder.
Aion's upcoming 4.0 expansion will include a new gunslinger class, and while Guild Wars 2 has no dedicated gunslinger archetype, their thieves and engineers both have the option to dual wield pistols, making them decent substitutes.
2: The battle mage:
Battle mages are a "best of both worlds" combination that blends elements from opposite ends of the class spectrum. Like a warrior, they wear heavy armor and effectively wield melee weapons, but they also have access to the magical powers of a spell caster.
Battle mages reject the idea that a caster must be a frail, robed Gandalf clone that crumbles like tissue paper without a tank to protect them. They're badass, in-your-face wizards who can brawl with the best of them. They're as comfortable swinging a greatsword as they are reciting an incantation.
Considering how many awesome traits battle mages combine - the visual flair and destructive potential of a magical class with the hardiness and brawn of a warrior - it's surprising more games don't try to include them somehow. Maybe it comes out of some desire to keep classes balanced with each other, but there's no reason a battle mage couldn't be designed to not overtake other classes.
Rift's Storm Legion expansion offers two takes on the battle mage with its new harbinger and tempest souls. World of Warcraft's death knight and Guild Wars 2's mesmer also have battle mage elements, but are not exact matches to the archetype.
1: The arcane archer:
The arcane archer is similar to the battle mage in that they combine physical weapons with magical mastery. Whereas a battle mage takes up plate armor and melee weapons, the arcane archer borrows from the ranger toolkit and uses light armor and bows.
Arcane archers combine the two main types of ranged combat in fantasy games. Their magic enhances the accuracy and power of their bows, and their arrows trigger powerful spells and magical effects.
For whatever reason, they're one of the most under represented class archetypes around. Developers seem unable to imagine an archer that isn't a traditional ranger.
Rift's rogue archetype offers both ranged and magical souls, but none of them quite match the arcane archer archetype. World of Warcraft's hunter class has a few magical skills, but the game offers no true pairing of magic and ranged combat. This is especially strange when you consider that Warcraft lore features a number of ranged fighters who combine bows with magic, such as the dark ranger Sylvanas Windrunner.
Dungeons and Dragons Online and TERA are among the few MMOs offering anything like a true arcane archer.