Class Identity: Clerics
Perhaps one of the most immersive yet under-explored aspects of MMOs is class identity. What sets apart one class from another? Sadly, in most cases, the answer is limited to a class’s function in combat and their aesthetics. Are they melee or ranged, damage dealers, healers, tanks; do they wear helmets or pointy hats? Most classes get a blurb about their backstory, and an occasional quest relevant to their lore, but exist within a world that does not distinguish between them.
The result is that each class feels less like a distinct entity, and without a strong identity of their own, it becomes more difficult to identify with them. This is one of the greatest potentials unrealized in gaming, as choosing a class is such a thoughtful undertaking for most players, and so much of that thought process involves the capacity of the class to inhabit a part of the player’s own identity. We choose a class, not only to relate to it, but to relate to ourselves. Given that so little information is yet available for Ashes of Creation, I found myself wondering whether this trend might be broken, and how this could be achieved. My first reflections were for the clerics.
A cleric is one whose life is devoted to, and directed by, a deity. He is the executor of divine will upon the mortal realm. And should his path take him from company of his order, as often it must, he will carry his conviction with him, not as a burden, but a shield. So what could the identity of the cleric class be within Ashes of Creation, and how could that be realized in a practical way? Interestingly enough, the answer depends on the class combination system. For example, a cleric, when paired with the tank class, becomes a Paladin. We can imagine from the mechanics of the two underlying classes that make a Paladin (healer and defender) what kind of deity it would follow.
A Paladin would likely follow a god of order and justice. Temples to this god could exist within places of civilization, or even in standalone monasteries, and could offer shelter to the weary/protection to the weak, as well as fellowship and guidance for Paladins. Their god would likely frown upon acts that increased their corruption level, and would withdraw its favor, if not outright smite them, should they engage this way. Forgoing monetary rewards could be an option for Paladins that would increase their standing with their order/deity. Should their standing rise, perhaps they’d be granted a vision for a sacred quest. And should they stray from their teaching, well… perhaps a darker god would look their way.
What about a merger of cleric and ranger? Would they follow the same god as a Paladin? Well, they could, but it would be far more interesting if they followed some god of the wilds. They would not pray in stone-crafted temples, but under sacred trees they found in forests or mountains. Kneeling in the shade of those trees, maybe fruit would drop for them, as followers of the wild god, that carried a blessing. Clerics who chose the ranger path would have different identities than those who chose to be defenders, and these identities could be expressed through noncombat class mechanics.
What about a fighter-cleric? Perhaps a war god would lead them. Maybe they’d have no temples but the battlefield. Maybe they could gain no blessing unless their blades ran red with the blood of their enemies. And cleric-mages? Would they derive their power from a god, or would they, in their arrogance, view divine power as little more than another school of magic to bend to their will? Might they look down their noses at those who petitioned deities for aid when the power was there for the taking, and might they incur the wrath of some sinister entities for meddling where mortals were forbidden? Rogue-Clerics could follow a trickster god, whose blessings were something of a gamble. Maybe they’d find his shrines in hidden places, and make an offering of something stolen.
Clerics are defined by their gods. Any expression of their identity will inevitably be tied to a pantheon, but to what extent, I wonder? So much potential is there for each cleric, for each faith. Will it be explored? Will clerics feel like their own entities, apart from other classes by more than combat functionality? Will they feel distinct enough that they change the meaning of any class they combine with? Gods willing.