Empower Player Choice Through Diversified Roles
When given a choice, we all have a favorite type of character that we like to play in games. Some of us prefer a walking tank that can absorb anything and dish out hits in return, while others prefer to be the type of hero that boosts their compatriots and weaken foes. Allowing players to choose the role they wish to play and making them unique in that role within a co-op setting goes a long way to building a cohesive team.
This concept is employed most often in MMOs and RPGs, like Wildstar, Diablo, and Divinity: Original Sin, but it also comes up in first-person shooters, like Brink, Borderlands, and the upcoming Destiny. In each of these, players choose the type of character they want to play and, along with that, the types of abilities they have at their disposal and even the types of gear they can use. You’re a tank, a healer, a buffer, a damage-dealer; you BECOME that role. At least, in the best of circumstances.
Players often choose a character class/role based on what it is they believe they will contribute to the team. Take, for instance, the original Guild Wars or World of Warcraft. Players that teamed up into groups (or raid parties) would need to fulfill certain roles in order to progress through content. Every player was valuable, no matter if they were directly dealing damage or not. In Guild Wars, each player was actually capable of fulfilling multiple roles depending on the way they allocated their skills. Tally Callahan, who’s our resident MMO champion, described it thusly:
Maybe this time I want my Ranger to be focused on interrupting devastating spells, or maybe another time I want to focus on pet skills. Maybe I want to go pure damage and use dagger skills with Assassin as my secondary class.
Enabling players to truly feel like their character is their own and they directly contribute to the overall team. Simply having different characters isn’t enough if those characters all basically do the same thing.
Borderlands 2, while a very fun game to play with friends, leans more towards the latter method. While you can choose from six (with the expansions) different classes, all classes more or less do the same thing: shoot bullets from guns. Every class can be built in such a way that they could potentially take on specific roles, i.e., tank, healer, damage dealer, but for much of the game’s content, everyone pretty much falls into the “damage dealer” role. The one thing that varies is the amount of damage each class deals at any given time, thus players may actually regret the character they chose because they see another character dealing more damage in a particular situation. Players are not empowered by their character choice, they are simply exploring different options of the same thing.
By allowing players to choose a class/role that fulfills a specific need within a team, not only does the player feel like they are a valuable member of the team, the team as a whole fits together better.
As Tally puts it:
Just having different classes is not enough to make me happy - I like when, within a class, characters of that class can be radically different from each other based on skill selection. This kind of system speaks co-op to me because I use it to strengthen my group, and give myself a highly customizable role.