At some point, the RPG went from ROLE playing to NUMBER playing. Sure, the P&P games always had numbers (THAC0 was my bane), but they were more indicators than absolutes (the quad power gain of wizards is a thing long gone). The dice had a major impact, and with a solid DM, you could act your way through a ton of content. When’s the last time you saw a Bard trick a dragon to killing their mate because they thought there were planning to usurp them? That sort of insanity is only found on paper.
There was a point of yore where even video games focused on the classes rather than the numbers. They were simpler times, where zerg-rushes and tank/spank was the norm for challenging combat. No we’ve moved into roles, where pretty much any class in a given role can fulfill that role to the 98th percentile. Unless you’re aiming for a world first, you’d be hard pressed to only accept a priest instead of a pally to heal. On one hand, this has provided a larger breadth of viable choice to the players, in that it’s practically impossible to make game breaking decisions. On the other, this has homogenized the content where the player really isn’t relevant. In WoW, the Proving Ground NPCs are pretty much as effective as any LFG group.
So if the choice is not the class utility, it becomes the class fun/constraint as the driver. Mat Rossi (BlizzWatch) is a super example, where he only plays Warriors – always has, always will. Not because of game utility, but because of his enjoyment of the class. The “fun” aspect is the skill kit – what the class can do, and how it makes you feel. In WoW, I have to say I absolutely love the Demon Hunter toolkit. Double jump, eye beam, and metamorphis are used often enough to pack a visual punch. I can only play a Panda as a Monk ’cause my brain can’t make that race be anything else, or that class be any other race.
Other classes, they have some interesting bits. I love the concept of a Rogue, always have. The implementation in WoW isn’t fun to me anymore. Paladins feel like holy crusaders. Hunters have the whole pet collection bit that is borderline obsessive (pet battles scratch that itch too). The Druid utility kit is admirable, but the bear/cat rotation is just boredom. Monks have a great toolkit and have that old martial arts movie feel to them (as long as you play a Panda). I can’t seem to find fun in Warriors, Mages, or Priests. Mechanically they are sound, but they feel like the archetype. I mean, imagine if Mages had an avatar form, where they because the focus of their given element! Or Warriors had a bladespin move that sucked opponents towards them. Or if Priests called down a Valkyr (I know) for a major group heal.
Looking back, this is one of the best parts of Legion. There are classes I played solely for the class halls (Shaman) and their story. As much as it was largely about following Illidan about, I still felt like my character mattered and the smaller story did too. Aside from hunting Sylvanas and then Azshara/N’Zoth, can someone tell, me what the character did in BfA? If you didn’t raid, then there’s no actual character beats.
I’m picking on WoW here because it’s low hanging fruit. What I find fun, others don’t, and vice versa. WoW is a buffet of choice. Buffets aren’t known for amazing cuisine, but they are known for pleasing a very large crowd. If I look to something like Monster Hunter, the weapon choice is the most important factor. I love Charge Blade. Love it to death. The bow guns are amazing for their utility, but nothing beats a SAED to the head of a massive dragon. That the game tries to make all weapon choices viable – without forcing you to master everything, is a great achievement (and my largest gripe with Dauntless).
Now, I may optimize my character to be best at what they do, but my choice of that particular class is still based entirely on if it’s fun. And we can all use some fun in our lives. Now if there was ever a fishing class… oh man.