Whilst designing the second and third tier of classes for Midmarch I came to realise that no matter how well I try to balance things certain combinations will ALWAYS be more effective. Sure I can do my best to even them out, but one or two will still dominate the rest no matter what happens.
Rigid class systems where you just choose say a Cleric, and you are always a Cleric don't have this problem so much since the developers know that there are pretty much only a fixed number of characters to deal with.
However in a skill based system, or a more customizable class system like Midmarch certain 'builds' will always rule supreme. My inital reaction to this would be to try and make sure that if there was an uber build, that it would only be effective under the right circumstances. So a PvP character would get torn apart against harder monsters, whilst a PvE character would do well against them, but never win a duel. However I'm ending up with combinations that would do well under all, or at least most circumstances.
In order to prevent this I started removing the cool and fun skills from my design, or nerfing them severely. So the new design is pretty bland, each character have only slight variations. Whilst they are still significent, they aren't exactly anything major.
So it seems I have a choice, have all the fun abilities and be prepared for Uber Builds and the player complaints that will go with them. Or have a set of combinations which are pretty bland but keep the balance.
It seems most MMOs favour the later (+3% damage against stone giants! etc).
One of the things I liked about Diablo II was the ability to customise my character, and to try and come up with effective new builds. I often ended up with characters that were completely useless, especially when I first started. However once in a while I'd come up with a build that was fairly powerful and I enjoyed beating people who though that a pally with a throwing dagger could never kill anything. However all the REALLY good builds (the ones effective at level 75+) were already worked out and everyone had them. It was sometimes painful to think that these cookie cutters would always wipe the floor with my carefully planned original build no matter what. There was never any chance to be the best AND original which annoyed me.
Can't seem to win either way. Give them real choices and they will end up being forced into the best builds and thus be all the same. Or give them fake choices with little impact and they will still end up being pretty similar.
Anyone have any thoughts or ideas?