Between being busy with other things and feeling like doing something else for entertainment, I've yet again returned to Wizardry 8. While I can't say I'm improving the mod with as much zeal as I used to, I'm definitely doing tweaks, and as usual, I needed a new testing party for new additions the old one has gone long by. And here came the catch.
Lately I've been using very similar parties for testing. The generic party consisted of a Fighter, a Rogue or another Fighter, a Bard, a Gadgeteer, and two Bishops. Admittedly it was not very creative, but what it lacked in variety it made up in efficiency. Considering that the bard and gadgeteer can be safely retrained to fighters relatively early and the bishops can follow suit eventually, by the endgame the party has a potential to become an utter powerhouse and just destroy everything in its path with sheer force if necessary.
The thing is... It got boring. So I decided to change a few things, or at least try to. Eventually I went with Fighter, Rogue, Ranger, Monk, Mage, Bishop. The pure casters may or may not be retrained eventually; I'll see what I'll do about that. But this is not the point, either. It got me thinking. Over the years with this game I've formed a certain set of preferences about character classes. It's not set in stone, of course, but sometimes either the balance is off or it's just about my playing style. In part to bolster my enthusiasm and in part just for fun, I thought this might be an interesting thread, so here it is! Rating the classes one by one. Based on the unmodified game, of course; or at least I chose to do it so. That way everyone can relate.
Onto the topic, then!
Best one, hands down. Phenomenal damage and hit points (even with largely neglected Vitality as I usually go), access to the best weapons and armour, berserk attacks, what's not to like? Increased stamina regeneration is just the tip of the iceberg, and while the profession-specific knockout triggers very rarely, it can be useful at times. A class of low requirements in general and one of the two with the highest possible number of starting bonus points as well. It is the one and only class that - aside from a very limited number of experimental parties which were rather short-lived - I never, ever went anywhere without. The only thing I've seen brought up against the Fighter is that it can't cast spells, but seriously - with a character like this you don't want to cast spells, just get to the front line bash around.
I'm not a great fan of hybrids in general, Lords aren't as nice as they could be. The fact that there are barely any good off-hand weapons in the game doesn't help their case (Diamond Eyes, however, could make a decent pairing with pretty much anything else, but it's still very limiting). Health regeneration isn't all that great, either, but it's better than nothing. They're still fairly sturdy, though.
Lord with polearms and without health regeneration. Sure, they can cheat death, but unless you're going for statistics, it makes little to no difference. Resurrecting a dead party member takes the exact same amount of action it takes to awaken an unconscious one (weird, huh?), whether you're using Smelling Salts or Resurrection Powder, or casting Resurrection (by the time you actually get the spell the cost should not be a problem, especially that it does not scale). There are some nice polearms in the game, too, but I doubt they could match a combination of The Mauler and Diamond Eyes, for example.
One of my favourite hybrid classes. Amazing with the bow and decent in melee (as good as any Lord or Valkyrie), Rangers already have an edge over them. I'd take Alchemy over Divinity any day, which is one more point for the Ranger (even if due to being actually a decent ranged combatant, the Ranger doesn't need to resort to spells that often). Permanent scouting is nice if not irreplacable, and Rangers are still fairly durable, if not as much as the professions above.
As much as I'm quite fond of the Samurai in terms of atmosphere, it's one of the classes I found the least use for. The class-specific weapons aren't too great, unless you're willing to hunt for hours to get your Muramasa blade. The lack of a decent offhand weapon is even more prevalent than in the case of the Lord. Sure, you could always go with Zatoichi Bo, but who wouldn't give a Samurai swords, honestly? Lightning Strike sounds awesome as a concept, except it's awfully unreliable and of course my luck factors in and it only triggers when the enemy dies from the first hit anyway. Fearlessness isn't a disadvantage, either, but fear is the least of your worries later on. Critical hit is a good skill, but better classes have it. Wizardry is my favourite school of magic, but the Samurai progresses slowly, and if I'm taking one only for its magic, then I'm better off with a Mage anyway. The only option I can imagine for a Samurai is retraining a Mage into one in the endgame so the character doesn't lose the ability to develop in magic and still becomes better in fighting.
So versatile it hurts, but still decent. Their prowess with thrown weapons makes them really neat with the Boomerang Shuriken, but the selection of melee weapons is a little lacklustre (for some reason they can't use Zatoichi Bo, which I'd find the best option). Or maybe double sais or stilettos (the damage of the daggers in the game is just awful, though). Alchemy is a good school of spells, too bad that the other hybrid with it also happens to be more of a specialist in ranged combat. Lockpicking and its friends are always welcome, however.
My other favourite hybrid class. One where no matter how many I've had before I always face a painful dilemma: Martial arts or staffs? They're equally lethal with either, and it's far better than anything pretty much any other hybrid class can muster. They're a great candidate for that Boomerang Shuriken if you're not using a Samurai or a Ninja, and while they can barely wear any armour, I generally have little trouble keeping them alive. Being effectively immune to blindness isn't the greatest of boons, but blindness is still much more of a concern than fear, so it wins out over the Samurai yet again; having actually decent weapons for a change (Zatoichi Bo if you're not going with hands and feet) helps as well. Even with Psionics not being overly great, the Monk can still end up using it, seeing their limited choice of ranged weaponry. And let's admit, putting up a Soul Shield or Haste at the start of the battle can never hurt before beating everyone up with a staff.
Ouch. These guys hit much harder than even a Fighter, relatively speaking, and that certainly is saying something. One of the classes that has a story, I initially developed one as the game suggests (dexterity+speed, as Myles seems to be), and was quickly disappointed. Eventually I decided to give them another go, prioritising strength and dexterity this time, and the Rogue left me absolutely awestruck. They may not be as durable as a warrior, but stealth definitely helps them survive. The requirements are fairly low, they also have the chance to get the magical sixty starting attribute points. Their utility skills are very welcome, and a Rogue with Bloodlust and Thieves Dagger, both available as early as the first visit to Arnika, is definitely one of the most devastating forces the game has to offer.
Rather unappealing early in the game, I found that the Bard really shines later on. There are multiple advantages to having only one magic-related skill rather than having them dispersed into at least six; it's easier to develop regardless of what you're actually casting. Bards have access to some of the best spells in the game, including Heal All, Freeze All and Haste. The Bard can be safely retrained to a Fighter or a Rogue without losing the ability to use magic via their instruments, losing only access to some of the class-specific equipment in the process; however, I'd say it's definitely worth the trade-off for the highly increased melee damage when their spells can't hurt foes as reliably as they used to.
Even more unappealing early in the game, they become just as good in time as Bards. They actually have a lot in common. The Omnigun is fun, but generally not enough to hold me back from retraining these guys into Fighters, too. (Especially because I avoid any weapon with blinding effects like the plague, one of the most annoying things ever to happen in the game is accidentally inflicting fear or blindness on an enemy.) They can still put their prowess with modern weapons to use with a Blunderbuss, which is a good weapon but without the chance to blind, and they too have an arsenal of good spells, like Heal All or Superman. Just like in the case of the Bard, the selection of spells is rather limited, however.
Just no. There are only a few spells I'd consider essential from Divinity. Heal All is covered by both the Bard and the Gadgeteer. Superman is also very good, but our Gadgeteer friend has it taken care of, too. Restoration could possibly redeem the Priest if it weren't for that pesky Renaissance Lute. The Bard also has Magic Screen and the Gadgeteer can put up Armorplate. The Priest is better with durability and melee weapons than the specialist colleagues, but why not take a Lord or a Valkyrie then while at it? Or even a Fighter, if you have both a Gadgeteer and a Bard.
The ultimate caster. The only drawback being the slow progress, I think that there isn't even any need to explain how great these guys are. The extremely slow development put me off for a long while, but once I learned to hold back level-ups at times I gained an invaluable ally. Or two, because any party can easily take two of them. Better yet, they too can be safely retrained after they're finished with learning everything they need, but that's a process way too tedious and lengthy, sadly, so not really feasible in the unmodified game.
The only specialist caster worth taking, at least if you're asking me. They surely drop in utility in the endgame, but they too can be retrained by then. A Mage may be flimsy, but Lords help any enemies getting in one's way. I found they're the only class capable of overtaking the Fighter in killcount, even if temporarily (but by the endgame at the very least). They have some of the most important utility spells, which, unlike those of Divinity, are not covered by anyone else (Missile Shield being the most prominent example).
The grandmaster of another less helpful school of magic, I never really found taking a Psionic worthwile. Their spells have a few amongst them that I wouldn't like to miss (Haste, Soul Shield) and many others that are fairly fun and exclusive or nearly exclusive to them (Eye for an Eye, Prismic Ray, Prismic Chaos). Still, I'd say it's more than enough to take a Monk or Bishop instead; especially that Haste is covered by a Bard. Immunity to mental conditions is a very interesting addition to the class, but it feels wasted on one that isn't really any threat to other party members when under the effect of insanity or turncoat.
The one specialist caster that puts up a fight to the Mage. Two words: Toxic Cloud. Quite probably the best offensive spell in the game, and then there's Death Cloud, too, which makes long fights (I'm looking at you, Rapax Castle) immensely more tolerable. Alchemists are also capable of performing a number of fun or useful magical feats, such as summoning elementals, healing and resurrecting. Nothing a well-trained Bishop can't do, however; and mine tend to be really good at Alchemy (as a result of mixing and my own affinity to the school of magic, no doubt). Therefore I wouldn't take one, personally. Mixing potions can be done by anyone with the skill, and while brewing consumables while camping can't, I never found it a steady or formidable form of income (which would be its only function, as I rarely or never use consumable items).