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One of the Discords that I’m a part of featured a conversation among some players of Final Fantasy XIV who were discussing the different tank classes in the game. It was interesting to watch unfold, as the tete-a-tete mostly featured one person who was all about the DPS numbers and skill potency figures while the other was about how the class felt, and it’s not often I get to witness two disparate viewpoints discuss things (let alone in a rational matter).

It got me to thinking about my own experiences with classes in FFXIV, and then with other classes in other MMOs, and throughout the little bit of navel gazing, one common thread stood out: When it comes to MMO classes, style will always trump substance for me.

I’m not necessarily suggesting that I’ll be completely ignorant or dismissive of mechanics of a class or its damage output or how it plays, I should mention. Obviously, if I’m a tank or a DPS, I want to have skills that make me feel powerful in either of those functions. But at the same time, a class feeling powerful will very frequently overtake a class actually being numerically powerful.

Take, for example, the tank classes in FFXIV. I started the game as a Paladin because it was the easiest looking tank class in the game at the time, but over the course of leveling up and playing the game, I soon moved over to Warrior because it felt like a major upgrade, and then went to Dark Knight simply because it looked cooler. I’m not sure if one was better than the other — I believe the prevailing wisdom at the time was that Paladin at the time was a better physical resistance tank while Dark Knight was a better magical resistance tank — but I knew which one I liked because I felt far more awesome using a big honkin’ axe or a big honkin’ sword than I did with a sword and shield.

That feeling continues even now as my current character is earning Gunbreaker levels. I’m pretty sure this class is, for all intents and purposes, not the best tank in FFXIV right now, with comparatively low damage output to other tanks and not a lot in terms of damage mitigation options, but damn if it doesn’t feel awesome to play. And that motivates me way the hell more than whatever the data says otherwise.

This especially is a vital part of what makes me stick with a character build in a game like City of Heroes. Sure, there’s likely lots of powerset combinations that are smarter to use, but I’m going to enjoy the hell out of playing this Archery/Energy Blaster because the thematics look cool and the character concept is fun and I feel really good using my skills on enemies. Incidentally, being able to customize cool abilities together the way you want was probably the only saving grace of Champions Online for me, while the powersets in a game like DC Universe Online never feel like they have impact and so I quickly give up on the game.

The MMO that really gets this style over substance thing right, however, is TERA. Say what you will about the game’s overall story and its kinda not interesting world, but nearly every game’s class dishes out a feeling of absolute badass power that is unmatched by nearly every other title I’ve tried. Granted, really awesome combat isn’t enough to circumvent the other ways the game is not for me, but I’d be foolish to ignore how fighting in that game makes me feel.

This post kind of is another twist on the idea that DPS parsing and hyperfocus on refining gameplay for maximum efficiency is kind of missing the point of MMO gaming joy — the support of “doing it wrong” over following the tenets of a meta — but I also wanted to bring it up because these games are supposed to make you feel like a badass. Part of a role-playing game is playing a role, and nothing makes it easier to step into those shoes than having badass class skills.