Sunday, November 4, 2012

How Many Rangers...

Zubon made an interesting observation about the GW2 Ranger ability Healing Spring:  "You play a ranger for ranged DPS with condition stacking and a pet. I did not expect to get a great support ability as an unadvertised bonus". Having played a ranger since BWE1, this came as no surprise to me but I do find the various conceptions and pre-conceptions of what a ranger is or should be quite intriguing.

I mentioned to Mrs Bhagpuss yesterday that I thought the Warrior had better bow options than the Ranger and she was mildly outraged. She sees rangers in all games as archers first and foremost. I've never really seen rangers primarily as archers, or even as ranged specialists. I guess it depends whether you feel the origin of the class derives from Robin Hood or Aragorn. I've always tended towards the latter, so my conception of a Ranger falls towards a craggy, taciturn woodsman, thick across the shoulders, strong in the arm and favoring a rather large sword. The bow is definitely a back-up option.
Yes, it's a sword. YES. Really!
At my somewhat late induction into fantasy gaming, when I sat down to roll my first ever AD&D character, post-university in my early 20s, the class I chose was Ranger. Of all the available archetypes it was the one most familiar to me from fiction, and also, I thought, the coolest.That ranger ended up wielding a +4 Flaming Sword and favored melee combat up close. His bow was definitely secondary.

He's been ill, okay?
Since then I've played a number of Rangers or ranger analogues in a slew of games from Baldur's Gate to Guild Wars 2. The bow is a constant accessory, accompanied either by a sword or an axe, and while some games do push the class into a stand-off, plink-plink role, I still like to get in there and swing whenever possible.

Often, perhaps usually, there is also an animal companion. A pet. "Pet" is such an odd term to have gained so much currency in MMO gaming circles. The Magician has his summoned and bound elementals, the Necromancer her mindless undead slaves; Shamans of all stripes stand beside their spirit guides as they hurl curses while Beastmasters urge their trained killers forward. Pets, all of them.

For Everquest rangers, origin of a thousand cruel jokes

(Q: How can you tell a ranger tried to break into your house?
A: Your cat is camping his corpse

the only pet was an unreliably Charmed animal, always likely to turn on its master mid-fight, often with fatal consequence. In the original Guild Wars rangers still needed to Charm their pets, something of a tussle, but once the glamor took hold the pet stayed as long as it was needed.

Tog3ther For3v3r
In GW2 the ranger arrives with a loyal and allegedly much-loved pet already by his side. It's an option at character select. Despite that, I don't believe I've seen my supposed feline soulmate for about 65 levels because  all a ranger needs do in the new Tyria is walk up to a Juvenile animal, click his fingers and watch it morph into  his willing accomplice, bodyguard, enforcer and escape plan of last resort. I swapped my "beloved" jungle cat for a Wolf-Bear and a Murellow weeks ago. (Which, come to think of it, is about the last time I saw my Warband...)

Given the source material, it really should come as no surprise that a Ranger makes a great, supportive team-mate. Robin Hood worked best in a group and Aragorn was the ultimate steadying hand in a crisis. Rangers (and their close analogue, Hunters) have a poor reputation for group-worthiness across many MMOs but that may have a lot more to do with the kind of personality drawn to play them than the skill set gifted them by design.

I know he's not much to look at...
The Ranger often has options for crowd control, being able to snare, root or pet- park adds. He can reduce agro range, cast invisibility or stealth across the group, even evac when all hope is lost. Often he can throw some heals and he frequently offers a smorgasbord of buffs. Sure, he's there mainly for the damage he can do, but a Ranger who focuses only on that risks contributing to the archetype's reputation for selfishness and monomania.

Still, in the end the Ranger walks apart. The skills he brings to a group are skills he has forged first for his own survival. They can be bent to the service of others but that's not why they were learned. As a choice for the player who wants to feel secure in his ability to go where he pleases and do as he will, yet still pull more than his weight in a group, the Ranger is hard to beat.

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