Tired of the Holy Trinity – Guild Wars 2

I admit that I’ve never been much into Guild Wars. When the game launched in spring 2005, I browsed some previews and while it looked visually impressive, things like play style, non-persistent world and the initially very low level cap put me off. Also, there was another very promising MMO title just about to launch: World of Warcraft by Blizzard Entertainment. The rest is history.

6 years later, I’m looking back on my time in Azeroth with a very fed-up feeling of “been there done that” which is a natural thing, I would think, after playing the same game for such a long period. I had a great time with WoW for as long as it lasted, it’s been a formidable ride – and an eye opener, in more ways than one.

But I’m a gamer; I’ve played games before WoW and will be playing them after WoW, I’m not looking to stick to a company. I want good games. Several times during my ride, I’ve ventured into other realms, sometimes for a week or two, sometimes for months. On the way I’ve fallen in love with aspects of other online games, like the vast and beautiful maps in Age of Conan or the wicked race that are the Arisen in Allods. But MMOs need to be more than a great race or nice world – they need to be a polished package.

So now that WoW is the past, what do I want from the next AAA-MMO? The other day, Tesh asked what themes outside the classic fantasy genre might attract the crowd. I’d certainly be intrigued to see promising Steampunk concepts realised someday, but I’m not all that fussed about a change of setting: I love fantasy RPGs and MMOs. I would play Eve Online in a heartbeat if it wasn’t set in space; I want magic and swords and dragons. I want fairy woods and dark caves.

I’m not even sure I want all that many big changes in this genre; I think I want small changes and innovations. I probably know a lot better what I do not want from my next MMO than what I do want. When I draw my conclusions on World of Warcraft, the most pressing matter that comes to mind is that I want future fantasy MMOs to outgrow some of the genre’s most stale mechanics: I want them to outgrow the holy trinity.

Tired of the Holy Trinity

The Holy Trinity – tanks, healers, damage dealers. The bane of guild recruitment, the disturber of peace in raidguilds, the headache of group setup, the killer of spontaneous cooperative fun. But “players want class identity”, they say…….and playstyle versatility, and group flexibility, and be able to solo, and do well in PVP.
WoW solves the obvious dilemma with hybrids and dualspec, by abandoning key abilities or handing out an even share of everything to everybody – their famed “bring the player, not the class” credo. Yet with that, class identity is down the drain, 10 classes or not.

The saddest part is, that for all their good intentions, the “bring the player not the class” concept couldn’t be further from reality in WoW: raid guilds are still struggling to recruit particular classes for a balanced roster, a DPS still sits in the LFG queue for 20 minutes easily on an average weekday and if your mates want to run a 5man heroic and happen to be a rogue, mage and 3 warriors, they’re out of luck and better have alts. Bring the player? I don’t think so.

The existence of hybrids or dualspecs does not automatically make for versatile gameplay or flexibility. Never has an MMO been more about cookie cutters and min-maxing than World of Warcraft. Never have classes been more about just one thing: healers staring at healthbars, DPS tied to fixed rotations to squeeze out every last bit of damage, tanks playing aggro whack-a-mole. Never have raid guilds been more pressed to make the constant, unhappy choice between good raider vs. friend.

A breath of fresh air

During my 6-months visit to Hyboria, the thing that I enjoyed most about playing a priest, was that healing in Age of Conan is so limited: you have three direct healing spells only: 1 direct heal, 1 AoE, 1 HoT. Some heals come with a CD, most of them are local rather than having you target a specific health bar. None of the heals is strong enough to make healing an essential part of an encounter. That’s why priests in AoC are also main CCers, fulfilling a lot more functions in order to prevent and absorb potential damage. And they add needed extra auto-healing via damage dealing.

Quite a lot of jobs for one class only – quite a refreshing versatility for a healer. Now, you could say that a hybrid in WoW can perform 3-4 roles as well, but that’s the question really: when do they? How many times does a hybrid actually get to play like a hybrid during a 5man run or raid, inside the same encounter (let’s forget for a minute, that you can’t switch specs in combat anyway)? I’ve healed WoW raid bosses for almost 6 years; I know healers get to stare at healthbars, with the odd cleansing on the side and very rare, insignificant CC job. A good old resto druid could be in a raid for 4 hours and never switch out of treeform once.

If you want players to make use of their versatility, you need to design gameplay to require it in a meaningful way. WoW does not require players to play that way: healers are healers, DPS optimize output, tanks tank. And they better all excel at the one thing and be efficient. If you respec from healer to tank, you do this outside an encounter, like relogging to an alt.

Summing up

“Bring the player, not the class” is an illusion in WoW. Despite featuring 10 classes, it doesn’t provide you with class identity so much as with role identity. This role identity is so strong that it’s limiting players more than ever, despite Blizzard trying to balance the game to bring players, rather than classes. Potential flexibility and versatility both suffer in the process and players and guilds are constantly forced to make decisions between whom they can play with and whom they’d like to play with. How is this what MMO players want?

Not that other MMOs haven’t failed at either or both before; WoW has done a lot more than most here. But what it’s really shown us is that identity is not synonymous with different classes available and having talents and specs is not synonymous with versatile or flexible gameplay. The only thing we know is that players want many things. Maybe the future lies in a different approach.

Why can’t we have fun like the FPS players?

Somewhere down the line it was established that MMORPGS need to be about archetypes in order to allow for class identity and character development. So far, so good. Classes aren’t the same as roles though – where does it say that you need the holy trinity in order to guarantee for identity? And how is it fun to wait on a healer or tank for 30 minutes when you could be playing with friends?

Half of the challenge to raid in World of Warcraft or beat the average encounter, is not actually about mastering the fight itself but about setting up for it. It starts with recruitment and roster headaches and goes right down to raid night preparations and balance checks. Did you bring the right setup? Are there enough tanks/DPS/healers for this or should somebody respec? Are the right classes doing the right thing at the right position? Can’t that hunter squeeze out a little more damage?

What about the boss? Do you remember his name and how he looks like?

Which finally brings me back to Guild Wars, or more precisely to Guild Wars 2 and a fascinating and insightful article on what they intend to do about healing (and death) in their upcoming MMO sequel. Some of it has struck such a chord with me that I want to highlight a few quotes in more detail in the next paragraph.

Spinks recently asked why MMO players cannot have the same cooperative fun like FPS clans do. I’ll ask the same: why can’t we? Fantasy MMOs and online shooters might be different in player character approach, but there’s no reason why MMO gamers cannot develop and be fond of their avatars and have what other gamers enjoy.

Guild Wars 2: The answer to the dilemma?

NC Soft announced the launch of Guild Wars 2 for 2012, planning to dedicate all of this year to intense testing and modifications. Like its first installment, the game art is visually stunning and things like animations and spell effects already look out of this world. The overall concept and races are not everyone’s cup of coffee though – neither is the active combat system which frightens many a classic RPG gamer. Still, if you have any interest in the MMO market and game development as a whole, you will want to risk a second glance and see what the devs there are up to. Here’s what they have to say about the holy trinity and why there won’t be a dedicated healer in Guild Wars 2:

[…]Simple systems like this, along with cross-profession combos, and the dedicated healing skill slot, help free players from the MMORPG shackles, and let us break the mold even more. We’re making players more self sufficient, but are also providing appealing ways for them to effortlessly work together to create a more inspired moment-to-moment experience. That is why Guild Wars 2 does not have a dedicated healing class.
Everyone take a deep breath. It’s going to be OK.

(If you’re already worried, I suggest you follow that advice now. Breathe.)

Support players want to be able to say, “Remember that one time when I saved you from certain death?” They want to stand in the line of fire and block attacks. They want to surround their allies with a swirling dome of air that keeps enemy projectiles from passing through it. It’s not about clicking on a health bar and watching it go up, it’s about being there for your friends when they need you. 

Finally somebody said it: Healing is only one aspect of support – the last and most reactive part of it. What about all that time that passes beforehand? Why are healers just standing there, waiting for the inevitable to happen? Why is there an ‘”inevitable”? What about debuffs, interrupts, CC, absorbtion – why are these things not the main focus of support, making a job much more diverse and fun in the process? Why would a supporter only stare at his ally?

Heal: Don’t belittle the SUPPORT role by calling it heal. Healing is the least dynamic kind of support there is. It is reactive instead of proactive. Healing is for when you are already losing. In Guild Wars 2 we prefer that you support your allies before they take a beating. Sure, there are some healing spells in Guild Wars 2, but they make up a small portion of the support lines that are spread throughout the professions. Other kinds of support include buffs, active defense, and cross-profession combinations. […]

We keep hearing other MMO developers espousing the “holy trinity” of DPS/ heal/tank with such reverence, as if this is the most entertaining combat they have ever played. Frankly, we don’t like sitting around spamming “looking for healer” to global chat. That feels an awful lot like preparing to have fun instead of having fun. 

A thing that never seizes to baffle me personally, is the strict separation of abilities between roles, in WoW and most other MMOs: You have this powerful caster standing next to you in a 5man party, that magic spellweaver – and all he really does for the group is deal damage, besides few more mob-centric abilities. While his allies fall left and right, while his healer is about to die horribly, he stands there hurling firebolts at the enemy, unable to do anything about much more pressing matters.

As a child of fairytales, sword & sorcery books, tabletops and classic RPGs, I need to ask: in which fantasy setting is this “realistic”? If I hear “mage”, I see Raistlin from the Dragonlance series; I see a magic wielder capable to do many things for his group, from grilling or sleeping foes, to casting shields on his allies and calling them back from the dead. I’m also pretty sure Gandalf didn’t wiggle his finger at the fellowship, saying “sorry guys, arcane spec only”.

Fantasy classes can be defined and still be a lot more dynamic in their roles than what I’ve seen these past few years. MMOs should be about players vs. the encounter, not players battling the boundaries of their individual class or role.

Ultimately, DPS/heal/tank just didn’t cut it in our book…er, game. Our players demand more from Guild Wars 2 and we intend to deliver on that demand instead of delivering more of the same. Not only is the trinity very formulaic, but it leaves out a lot of gameplay elements that make many other games so much fun. 

Fun. It seems to me that NC Soft got this one right: games should be about fun. And more than anything, MMOs are about cooperative fun – fantastic settings, classes and personal investment yes, but these things should not restrict one another. You should never have to choose between setup and playing with whom you’d like to play. You should not have to sit around waiting for the game to actually start. You should have to fight bosses, not yourself or each other (PVP aside).

Remember how much fun it was to play a coop game in good old Mario Bros? Or to clear stages together in Metal Slug or Contra? Why should this kind of pick-up play be exclusive to genre or platform?

You can be a mage, a warrior, a hunter, a bard, with clear distinctive mechanisms and abilities and still be flexible enough to party with any combination of other players. You can be self-sufficient and have a variety of skills available that do not only enable you to fulfill a role but react in a smart way to whatever the encounter demands, rather than blindly following one rotation or script. You can be a complete player, rather than a fifth of a whole – and this will force developers to create interesting encounter dynamics that actually challenge the players, not their group setup. It will force them to think about proper cooperative challenges.

You can have all these things if game design does not only allow but require you to. You can have all these things without a holier-than-thou trinity.

The future is change

It’s way too early to judge where Guild Wars 2 will be a year from now; but I am excited and dare say this is good news – possibly the best news I’ve heard in a long time. If you take some time to go through the entire article on their official site, you will see that the developers do not only have plans to change how healing works, but make adjustments to the tanking role too and the significance of death in the game. I’m suprised to hear myself say it, but I’m open to that concept too.

I hope we get to see more developers thinking out of the box, especially in the fantasy MMO genre – looking to keep core values while adopting and improving what makes online and cooperative gaming so much fun for millions of players worldwide. Learning from others is just as important as learning from the past. I welcome the changes ahead and salute those who dare to move forward.

28 comments

  1. While I understand that you are happy to have left Warcraft behind, there is something about this article that screams “screw Warcraft”. I can’t help but want to defend a game that kept you and me and so many others engaged not for hours or days, but years! The cleric archetype has been key to so many games and again as a role you played to the exclusion of others, I can understand why you are tired of it, but not why you would want to be so critical of games that include it. It provides a great deal of enjoyment to a large % of people.

    You can embrace something new without having to denigrate that which you have left behind – in fact I recall you telling me it was one of your pet hates that people leave Warcraft and then become very hypercritical of it and those still playing.

  2. The article is about one specific aspect of WoW; and I don’t agree that this aspect makes WoW enjoyable to people – you’d have to prove that just the way I’ve elaborated on why it’s failing. if anything, it ruins a lot of an otherwise enjoyable game, hence the critique of traditional setup. WoW is not fun because there’s a holy trinity. I have always been a critic of the very restricted class/role dynamics of WoW and the seemingly opposed ‘make same’ philosophy that interestingly enough create a paradox.

    it’s also the biggest qualm I have with Rift, you’re still waiting around on tanks or healers – why? it’s not needed in order to have cooperative fun and keep a sense of identity.

    I’m sorry, but if you feel you have to ‘defend’ WoW then you’ve missed the point of my article. and you’ve pretty much ignored the entire part of my reasoning under one swift assumption. I never critizised WoW as a whole, but a very fundamental aspect of many fantasy MMOs, obviously with a focus on how it affected WoW as this is the MMO I played longest.

    there’s nothing wrong with future MMOs trying to innovate here or outgrow WoW’s concept. I think I’d enjoy them a lot more if they weren’t about setup, roster headaches and recruitment, rather than pick-up play with whoever is around or you like to have a fun time with. you of all people should know how much this dilemma lessens game and guild fun. and i’m hardly hypercritical here – I’m looking at what I’d like different next time around without fanboy glasses on.
    if anything, leaving WoW gives you the cool head and distance needed to think your time over and what you really enjoyed and didn’t enjoy. and I don’t necessarily enjoy the same things you enjoy about it – after all I have left and you have not.

    this article does not aim to be a balanced account of a whole game. everyone who knows me a little, knows I enjoyed WoW loads but I’ve always been critical about it too.

  3. Stumps, I am not sure what you want to defend WoW against. Syl was very precise with his criticism.

    Syl, I think that is a great article. Considering that so successfulgames like UO, WoW, Eve Online and now Rift have fundamentally different way of character customisation, we can se that we haven’t reached an agreement here, yet.

    WoW-like classes and the holy trinity were fun, but they have limits. A lot is tied to technical possibilities here (e.g. polished collision control), but generally we can say that in contrast to things like the minimap or the inventory system, the character customization is not perfected yet.

    I’m looking forward to GW2, even though I’ll miss a reasonable economy and some other immersion-heavy things.

  4. I don’t have as much experience from different games as you have. So my voice probably doesn’t carry the same weigth. This said: one of the things that I enjoy so much about the role-based game as WoW is, is the fact that you can’t come very long on your own. You need friends that are DIFFERENT from you in order to succeed. And that mirrors real life, where I over and over again have seen that the groups that accomplishes most are the ones where you see several different personality types. You can’t get anything done with five thinkers, but you won’t get it right with five doers either. I love the way RPG embrace this and give you the opportunity to try out roles in a group that you might not choose by default in real life.

    The advantage of being dependet on certain roles is also the forced socializing, making you go out of your comfort zone, getting to know other people than your real life-gaming-friends.

    I wouldn’t dismiss the roles as easily as you do, although you of course could wish there ware other roles than just tank-dps-healer. Let’s put the thinking hat on perhaps?

  5. @Nils

    Thanks! And I have not yet made up my mind about GW either, I don’t know how it will work out combat wise for me and I have little info yet about story/immersion. I also don’t think I like the races very much. but this key change on healing and death has definitely won me over to at least give it a try.

    More cutomization is obviously one of the things I’d love to see more of in the future as well.
    The technical side you mention is absolutely crucial by the way: as great as losing the holy trinity sounds, it will require devs to completely re-think their strategy for encounter design. that’s what I find very fascinating about it. you need to think of the player as the player, one that can react to you in many ways, rather than just one. each player becomes a more complete entity, rather than 4-6 making a whole (in party terms).
    you can already see in Rift’s mass campaigns what challenges this creates in terms of balancing a boss fight for example. but if anything, it’s a huge shift of paradigms – it should still be possible to successfully design this.

  6. @ Larísa
    An open mind is what counts! :)
    I think that’s what NC Soft is attempting here too, to put on the thinking cap and find new ways of realizing the same thing you mention: cooperative play.

    the thing that I feel strongly about is, that oddly enough in the long run the holy trinity has been detrimental to cooperative play, rather than supportive – and that sounds very paradoxical. like you, what I love about MMOs is the need to play in a group, but I don’t think that necessarily includes waiting around for the right setup. I would love to play with you, the person – rather than you, the class. I’d like to be able to play because we’re friends and have fun together, not because our roles match. and I think we can have all this at once and still play different classes, if somebody out there designs a game around this concept and meaningful encounters that still require everyone to play well together. in a way the challenge to cooperate is even bigger if the game doesn’t dictate everything a tank, healer or dps does. you would then communicate a lot more about your strategies etc.

    the longer I think about it, the more intriguing it sounds!

  7. @Syl: But I think waiting-for-the-right-set-up actually helps you to get out of your already set social circles and get to know people you otherwise wouldn’t have. Rather than playing with the people you’ve played with for years already.

    Can you find other strong incentives to take chances on strangers than giving them crucial roles that you need? That’s the question.

  8. @ Larisa

    Thats a good point. But I really feel inspiration comes from other genres, where you can already see its working and people are having pick-up fun, rather than downtimes and setup frustrations and they even make friends on top of that. I am thinking fps clans here where it’s a lot more about playing together and finding team strategy, than about design factors – you still play with new guys all the time because you need a certain number and you can make lasting friendships. you probably have less stress too in terms of unhappy choices.

    the thing is, just because of the holy trinity it’s still not working in wow either: groups are often anonymous, the LFG tool makes making friends impossible anyway. and if you’re guilded, you’re just as likely to play with the same people all the time too. i think in the end if you want to stick to the same group, you will, no matter in which game. it’s a question of what sort of player you are.

    the holy trinity is there and seemingly responsibloe for a lot of things that I personally doubt bigtime.

  9. After having played WoW for so long I would have expected you to know that it features ten classes, not eight. ;P

    That developer article was very interesting, but I can’t help but feel that they are trying to reinvent the wheel. I mean, at the end of the article he pretty much sounds as if he just wants to replace “healing” with “support” and “tanking” with “control”, which still leaves you with a trinity; two of the roles just get different names. Not to mention that things like interrupts, crowd control etc. already exist in games like WoW too – but you’ll find that a lot of people simply don’t find those things fun either.

  10. @ Shintar

    lol, I wonder what got me there – maybe the fact that I already had to rewrite almost the entire article from scratch after blogger eating it up few days ago! x) Thanks for pointing it out.

    And you echo one of my own worries: will they really be able to re-define the play mechanics or just replace them with another trinity. It does sound like that at one point, but then there IS no dedicated healing class in GW2. afaik they have revealed 6 classes so far, all of which are offensive casters, rogue/hunter and warrior types. they intend to spread support and healing abilities among all of them via a “healing skill slot” that each class will have, rather than one class having a lot more than everyone else – or so I hope! because otherwise it makes little difference indeed.

    and if people really dislike CC/interrupts and other more tactical play approaches, we basically end up with hack’n slay. am not sure I know of any interesting or successful ones in the MMO bracket?
    maybe it’s just that most MMOs so far have not created enough incentives or reasons to use them in a meaningful way?
    I can definitely say that I relied on them a lot more in AoC for example and was glad to have them, than I did in WoW. and from what you usually hear, players would like to be versatile and flexible – that is not to say that some will always be unhappy no matter what.
    but I think when it comes to those 2 things, then the GW2 approach has great potential.

  11. Not to mention that things like interrupts, crowd control etc. already exist in games like WoW too – but you’ll find that a lot of people simply don’t find those things fun either.

    A good point. But you’re too pessimistic, in my opinion. If you realy want to replace the holy trinity with control and support and not just threat and healing, it is possible.

    You just require your game to be paced in a way that it is fun.

    Another way is to embedd combat in a more meaningful game. In a game with non-instanced PvP/PvE, for example, the individual skill isn’t as important as the outcome. To venture into a dungeon to find treasure to buy special stones in the player-driven economy to reinforce your castle and prepare for war against your classmates would embedd combat into so much meaning that the combat itself doesn’t necessarily needs to be as complicated.

    An easy example are some facebook games. Even a simple, obviously absurd and utterly boring activity can become a billion dollar game, if it is embedded into a context that imbues it with meaning.

  12. “Even a simple, obviously absurd and utterly boring activity can become a billion dollar game, if it is embedded into a context that imbues it with meaning.”

    …wouldn’t be stuff like rep farming and random drop / loot grinds fall in the same category?

  13. …wouldn’t be stuff like rep farming and random drop / loot grinds fall in the same category?

    Yes, but here something else becomes important, too: rhythm. Grinding mobs in classic WoW was not a deep game. But it had a rhythm to it. Just like dancing predetermined moves with your wife or playing a piece of music with an strument can be fun, farming mobs or resources can be fun.

    Add meaning to it, like helping your guild outperforme another, and you have an almost addicting activity.

  14. The question is, what exactly is wrong with holy trinity? There was an article on Massively recently that asked their commenters to say their opinion of holy trinity and they were quite diverse:
    – nothing
    – tank role
    – healer role
    – DPS role
    – the fact roles exist at all
    – lack of hybrids (unless you count it under previous point)
    – classes that can’t perform in some roles
    – missing role
    – fixed composition (especially in WoW 5-mans)
    – lack of class identity

    …and I could go on and on. With the possible exception of class identity – which I understand as “something that would make groups take me over a better player” – I think they’re all valid concerns. Even though I don’t agree with some of them and I realize that some of them cannot be mixed together.

    My opinion on WoW’s holy trinity is that the two main problems with it are:

    Popular and unpopular roles. There are several advantages to the DPS role – mostly in start and mid-game but that’s where players decide on what to play and form their character identity. When soloing, DPS has quite an advantage. It has to suffer more DTPS than tanks and can’t heal up like the healers but the mobs die quickly so the overall damage taken is quite low – and the mobs die quickly. In 5-mans, there is a single healer and a single tank but 3 DPSers which enables the DPSers to share responsibilities so a mistake has less consequences than tank’s or healer’s mistake. As a consequence, the popularity of DPS is much higher than the other two roles. In high-end raids, the DPS popularity doesn’t seem to be higher than healers/tanks but the DPS mistakes in the encounters have serious consequences as well, so I think it just reinforces my argument.

    The other one is fixed composition in 5-mans. Is your 5-man missing a healer? Bad luck, it’s not possible to take (for example) 3 tanks and 2 DPS to cover for it. 2 tanks and 3 healers will struggle with the DPS races etc. It is better to have fixed role composition that fixed class composition but it’d be even better not to have fixed composition at all.

  15. @Imakulata

    To me, there’s mainly these 3 issues:

    – fixed roles kill playstyle diversity. it doesn’t matter if you can respec or play alts, inside the same role all you do is re-enact a script. for true hybrids to exist, there must never be a holy trinity because a hybrid is capable to play all roles at once.

    – fixed roles kill pickup group fun and are a big headache to group composition and recruitment for guilds. you need to fill numbers, rather than look at people. you end up constantly making unhappy compromises. you also sit around and wait, rather than to play. that’s not a challenge, that’s just dull.

    – fixed roles make for fixed encounter design that revolves around the same concept all the time. it’s a blueprint for everything and leaves little room for individual creativity or innovative problem solving. the best you can do is reverse roles, like at Dreamwalker…oh yey..

    It doesn’t create any class identity either – if anything, it enforces role identity which is detrimental to the class idea.

    I have to say one thing though: the holy trinity is especially extreme in WoW. like I wrote in the article, already in AoC the priest role was loads more diverse with multiple target focus. an MMO that insists on a trinity should at least try to provide a minimum of required diversity (that means not just offer it to a role in theory, but make encounters require it from you. healing in WoW is so powerful that it makes this need obsolete – you simply heal through everything.)

  16. I’m still of the opinon that the Holy Trinity works. It does work – it might not be the game that you want to play anymore but that doesn’t make it a bad mechanic. It lends itself to specific (and somewhat popular let’s be fair) game design that is structured and scripted. Nothing is perfect though and you are right that it does come with drawbacks and limitations – but then the alternatives absolutely will too. It’s also unfair to claim it is especially extreme in warcraft – it really isn’t. In the MMO’s that preceded WoW it was prevalent and it is also so in the ones that follow – even Age of Conan. You were still restricted by the need for tanks and healers in Hyboria – moreso I daresay because of what I personally perceived to be poor instancing and group balance design – that those healers could also throw out a little crowd control or some damage doesn’t detract from the fact that they were in essence still all clerics. There is a reason they all use it too – it works!!
    I’m not anti-development or even a new sub-genre being created but I am still an advocate of that trinity of tank/healer/DPS in MMORPG’s. I think there is room for support in addition to these to make a holy quartet as it were – you already know that I am a huge advocate of dedicated CC and buffer/debuffer roles.

    I like my games scripted at times – if I want chaos I can jump in and play an FPS or do some PVP or simply log into an online casino and play roulette. It’s not what I personally want from my MMO and if we remove tanking/threat and healing, chaos is all I can see that ensues.

    I also can’t get my head around how you would accomplish such an aim without either homogenising everyone to the point where each person can self heal and take a bit of a battering or essentially dropping people into pseudo roles of the tank and healer anyways. Whichever way you look at it, the big nasty is always going to beat on somebody – either every encounter becomes a race to beat it before everyone dies or you have a pseudo-tank for each one who needs looking after somehow anyways.

    Pseudo-roles just sounds like replacing what we have now for the sake of it and homogenisation sounds dull as hell.

  17. I’m not saying it doesnt work; of course it works to some extent. I’m saying it creates more issues than it solves. and it’s often wrongly associated with things that are not a direct result of the holy trinity at all which you can see when making comparisons to other genres or games or evaluating some of the paradoxes I mentioned. there’s a big difference between causality and correlation and it’s a typical confusion people make when talking about what feels traditional or simply wellknown and comfortable.

    there have simply not been enough other polished examples to be able to speak in absolute favor of the holy trinity the way you are. lack of alternatives is your main spokesperson in this, but I miss vision here. to be fair, MMOs have not been as popular as they are now for a very long time. so we’re basically still in a ‘baby stage’ and I look forward to growing up. I don’t want to play the same games for the rest of my life: I can enjoy something for a while until it reaches its limuts. then I’d like something new that builds up from there – personally, I call that a learning or experience curve.

    It’s up to future developers like NC Soft – it’s their job to present concepts that succeed and ‘wrap their head’ around the issues you mention and judge what’s doable. they’re the ones that get paid to think out of the box. If we can say anything about the past 6 years, then that ‘hardcore’ time intense playstyle with timesinks and unflexible systems becomes more and more unpopular with the majority of today’s online gamers. most people have no time nor wish to run guilds with complicated processes or sit around until groups are balanced; they want to play and have fun with people they enjoy having around. this happens on all the platforms right now, it’s already happened in WoW to some extent. it’s also where the big money is, so you can rely on it to continue.

    you don’t have to like it obviously, but already disliking the idea of something that hasn’t even been realized yet so strongly, is something I have a hard time to understand. especially if it can potentially improve areas of gameplay. nothing in the gw2 article suggests that they intend to let go of all traditional classes or pull the MMO world into a dark hole of unorganized chaos.

    I do disagree on AoC by the way; I already said it has the holy trinity and that IS restrictive, no disagreement. but healing is not nearly as powerful in AoC like in WoW. this has huge impact on how you play your cleric, it’s not ‘a little’ CC on the side, it’s fundamental parts of your role or rotation, creating focus shift and choices from there. also, healing is managed in an entirely less ‘hp bar’-focused way and that has been a prime concern of WoW healers for many years.

    it’s refreshing and noteworthy to find differences like these among classic MMOs. it’s a small example of how you can merge mechanics and roles, rather than making them mutually exclusive. it took WoW 6 years to integrate the idea of healers ‘healing via dps’ and it’s still a rather minimal and lackluster addition to the whole at this stage. yet plenty of players have already welcomed it and hope to see it improved. why is that? because people like versatile gameplay. at the stage the game is now though, it might be hard to properly integrate such concepts. I don’t expect WoW to deliver this, WoW is WoW; but I expect future MMOs to move forward.

  18. To clarify:

    That’s what I want for reasons given – I don’t expect you or others to want the same or embrace that (although some willingness to think or dream along is always welcome). my bottom line is that the holy trinity simply comes with negatives that I consider way too high – you might be happy to keep living with them. I’m not. and I do see a lot of exciting potential from here, rather than the end of the world as we know it.

    a commenter on another blog said, that the holy trinity is a crutch that people need to tell them what their role is; that’s probably very true. but removing that crutch doesn’t mean you won’t walk anymore – it only means you will walk on your own.

  19. Tangential thought or two:

    I love volleyball. When I play with talented and skilled players, we don’t settle into “Digger, Setter, Striker”, rather, we all handle those roles whenever the situation demands. This is especially true in beach volleyball where you have to cover everything with two people.

    Sure, Bob over there might be best at spiking, so we’ll feed him the ball more often, and Jane might be a superb setter, so we’ll try to have her touch the ball after the dig. (Of course, there’s also that pesky “rotation” rule where players are forced by the game structure to shift around and try new roles or at least, bend over backwards to play old roles.) And yet, there’s a baseline competency where any of us can do anything that needs to be done, as you are *never* assured that the other team will hit the ball to your best digger or put their worst blockers up against your attack. In fact, it’s tactically stupid for them to do so; they are trying to hit your team’s weak spots, so the baseline has to make sure that there aren’t any obvious chinks in the armor.

    That means everyone has to be capable as an autonomous entity, able to respond to situations that come up and change their “role” at whim.

    It seems to me that smaller groups in particular benefit mightily from precisely this sort of multitalented participant. To me, that makes for better teamwork and more interesting play than if Bob is the only one who ever spikes, June always sets and so on.

    I want that sort of teamwork in online gaming, because I find it more interesting and personally fulfilling. I don’t mind that some like the static roles, and there will always be an audience for it, but that design isn’t what I’m looking for in online multiplay.

  20. I don’t see it as a crutch though – I simply see it as different game design and either you can enjoy it or you can play something else. I get no enjoyment out of playing Super Mario Bros – it doesn’t make the core game tenets bad, it just means that I choose to play something else a little more my cup of tea.

  21. @Tesh

    That was exactly what I meant to say with the analogy:

    Just because the holy trinity doesn’t dictate roles anymore doesn’t mean jobs or responsibilities don’t exist: of course they do – maybe even a lot more so because they’re open and require thinking them through as a team. it’s the players who make that choice on a situational basis rather than a fixed system making it for you. they can do this a lot more dynamically because they share a degree of autonomy; and they can respond according to who is there and what encounter it is.

    that’s versatile and flexible, but also a lot more cooperative imo and a smarter approach to making use of resources. if you still fail, then at least you can’t blame setup anymore. ;)

    maybe you could also call it a big focus switch, with individual players being the determining factor rather than set roles being a limiting one.

    PVP balance would obviously also benefit LOADS here.

  22. Individual autonomy also makes it much easier to build scaling and dynamic content; you build it around warm bodies willing to take a situation as it comes, rather than trying out outsmart a five-man group with a specific puzzle. Of course, some like the puzzle aspect, but it is a constraint for content creation pace.

  23. Syl (regarding the first answer to my post):

    I wonder whether you want to have your cake and eat it. Hybrid can become a role, consider WoW’s tanks which are all tank/DPS hybrids but since there is no pure tanks in WoW, they have taken place of them. (They’re able to heal themselves as well but it’s quite limited and I don’t think it warrants calling them a 3-way hybrid.) If everyone was a full hybrid (i. e. able to perform in all roles), how would the diversity be maintained?

    On the other hand, if the game had diversity, how would you deal with the composition problems? (How would you make sure class X gets a place for an encounter whose mechanics give X a disadvantage?)

  24. I know I’m possibly making a massive jump here, but have you seen Magicka at all? Firstly it’s an awesome game, kinda boring single player but it was designed to be played with friends.

    I know that it’s not a ‘proper RPG’ and it’s much more like a streamlined Diablo or Torchlight but that’s not what I’m getting at, what I am getting at is that it only has one ‘class’ but that class is almost infinitely versatile. When you’re playing with up to four of you you can heal each other, revive each other, cast shields to deflect misile and spell attacks, combine elements to make new spells or even combine different spells from different players to make more powerful attacks.

    I’ll grant you that these are easier things to do on a small hack and slash isometric view game than they are to do in the big big world of Azeroth – but it’s small indie games like this that maybe some of the big MMO producers like Blizzard should be looking at and thinking ‘hey that’s cool, I wonder how I can bring that concept to WoW in some way’

    After all, if a few college guys can make an immensely fun classless system (which is actually spawning a PvP following) in their room, surely Blizzard can look at some of those concepts and try to figure out how it works so well.

    If you haven’t seen Magicka yet, have a look on TotalBiscuit’s youtube channel (totalhalibut), he’s got a whole series of cooperative play throughs with Yogcast dedicated to it. It’s a brilliant concept of a classless system.

  25. @Imakulata

    I don’t think i want hybrids at all; hybrids suggest that you have set roles and a hybrid would have them all. but it’s still the same stage of gameplay that I would like to see overcome.

    I’d like to see an MMO lose the concept of fix roles altogheter and focus on classes and individuals, playing cooperatively and dynamically. I’d like most of all, to see the scripted concept that is ‘tank’ and ‘healer’ gone from future MMOs and replaced by control and support. the term hybrid would not exist anymore in that future.

    in terms of design, a game would have to re-invent the concept from scratch. there’s already online games that allow cooperative gameplay and customization like this and there’s nothing to suggest fantasy MMOs couldn’t incorporate this. the entire approach simply needs to shift around. I’ve left a more detailed comment on this on Nils post of today, maybe you wanna check there too. :)

    http://nilsmmoblog.blogspot.com

    @Runzwithfire

    That sounds very interesting, I’ll be sure to check that out. I don’t think I’ve heard of Magicka but I certainly know about Diablo or Torchlight. Thanks for the tip! =)

  26. Nice read and totally agree. If you didn’t dislike super hero themes you’d probably have liked City of Villains. City of Heroes adopted a holy trinity structure, whereas CoV any character was pretty much self-sufficent while still being unique enough.

    I deeply respect NC Soft taking so much time and effort in to this game. Shows they really care about their product which is really great.
    I look forward to GW2.

    -Kashim

  27. “Healing is only one aspect of support – the last and most reactive part of it. What about all that time that passes beforehand?”

    Interesting quote, and I agree with it by the way, but if the healers are intercepting damage then what are the tanks doing? Aren’t the tanks the damage interceptors?

    Both the healers and the tanks are in a design rut in my opinion, and I think they could both benefit from some type of dynamic-interception middle ground.

    When you think about it the trinity isn’t really balanced, the dps is on one side of the coin with damage dealing and the tanks and healers are on the other side with health management (they just split two aspects of it).

    I’m not sure that combining the roles is the right direction, but it seems that they are so connected that changing the abilities of one would directly pull from the potential of the other.

    I’m not sure if I exactly agree with how they are handling the healer because of this (I really don’t like muddy roles), although it really depends on the implementation in the end.

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