[TESO] Holy Trinity and Healing Mechanics Revealed

So yesterday the folks at Zenimax dropped the ball on some long-awaited and much speculated combat details over at the TESO development Q&A. In the wake of titles like Guild Wars 2, many players have had the same big question on their mind: will there be a holy trinity in TESO? – Will there be a tank and healer?

Both questions were addressed in the Q&A although to varying degrees of my satisfaction. Let’s start with what has been revealed on the holy trinity so far:

Q: How important will the ‘holy trinity’ be in PvE endgame/raids?
Will dedicated tanks and healers be required, or will lighter armored
characters be able to utilize the dodge system well enough to serve as
competent tanks? Will healers need to focus entirely on healing, or will
a more offensive spellcaster be able to sustain his group via spot
– By Lynx
Q: A: “Yesterday in the lunchtime dungeon test, our group of four (all at level 12) included: – 1 Templar with light armor and healing staff, abilities focusing on healing – 1 Templar with light armor and dual wield, Templar abilities focusing on healing – 1 Dragonknight with light armor and destruction staff – 1 Sorcerer with heavy armor and dual wield This was with no real consultation with each other while making characters, other than ensuring there was at least one healer. For the sake of the dungeon we really could have used a true tank (the closest we had was the sorcerer wearing heavy armor and using unstable familiar to get the monster’s attention, with no real “keep myself alive” abilities), but as a group we were (eventually) able to take down the Fungal Grotto bosses. More to the point, with four players making independent choices in abilities and gear, three of the four made builds that defied the standard templates – and yet felt perfectly viable in actual play. The players were each able to build a character to their own taste with class abilities as a supplement, rather than the rigid defining aspect to the character, and have effective characters. So in summation, we’re pretty happy watching the progression system allow people to play the way they want in the groups they want to play in.”– By Lynx

I am getting the impression that the tests on group settings and mechanics are either not very advanced yet or that the developer is beating around the bushes in his reply. The very concrete question, namely how significant the holy trinity is for endgame/raids and how exclusive the role focus of certain classes will (have to) be, doesn’t get a straight answer. So, Zenimax’s testing team basically used two healers in a group of four. They made sure they had “at least one healer”. They also “could’ve used a real tank” in the Grotto but, errr….this wasn’t really a planned run and it’s wonderful if players can make “independent choices in abilities and gear”. Are we still addressing role setup questions for raiding here?

The reply ends on a similar note that tries to emphasize player freedom, mostly for spec and gear, but does in fact never truly answer the original question. At best it gets clear that there won’t be rigid cookie cutters for any class. I can’t shed the feeling that TESO will in fact feature a more classic holy trinity but that Zenimax are too careful and reluctant to call it that at this point. After all it could potentially alienate a big part of their potential audience. Anyone else get the same feeling?

TESO’s Healing Mechanics

Another more revealing part of the Q&A are the details on how healing is going to work in TESO. While I’m not a fan of dedicated healing in MMOs myself, I’ve explained in the past that one big part of my very vocal holy trinity dislike stems from the fact that healing in WoW was this over-the-top-exclusive stare-at-healthbars-job. MMOs like Age of Conan have offered some more refreshing solutions in that department: healing in AoC was overall weaker, more diverse and AoE/cone-based. Such an approach to healing mechanics can dramatically change the overall playstyle of healing classes. And it appears that TESO is going to follow a similar path –

Q: I have a question about your targeting system for combat, from
what I’ve heard there will be a soft targeting system. My question is:
How does this system work in raids/large PvP groups for healers? Will
healers have a hard time finding players, and keeping track of their
group’s health?
– By Jacob Avila

A: “Soft-lock targeting doesn’t really affect healing because you don’t have to find your target to heal them. You don’t target allies. Most of our heals are area-of-effects (AoEs) or cone effects. To be effective, you might want to stay in the middle of your allies for AoEs or face them for cone effects. Healers will need to be aware of their environment of course, and pay attention to the battle.

The most important part of the reply is no doubt “you don’t target allies”. That means no cycling target frames and certainly no clicking healthbars. The healer’s focus lies on the whole encounter and environment, just like it does for everyone else in the party. Healing will be about correct placement and timing of area and cone effects which can be a great challenge. It’s a take on healing that has also gained some speed in WoW since Cataclysm and that many players out there should enjoy, sworn healers included.

I do welcome this approach to healing in TESO. That said, I do believe there will be dedicated healing and healer and tank roles in this game – certainly a lot more dedicated than in GW2. Zenimax do their best to emphasize playstyle freedom but nothing they’ve stated so far is a big break-away from the classic fantasy MMORPG formula. I wonder how die-hard fans of the Elder Scrolls franchise feel about some of the current combat revelations.


  1. I still think TES is the wrong IP for an MMO. It’s always been about you, the Player/Avatar/ChosenOne/Whatever being the pivot on which world history turns, for good or ill. That sort of story just doesn’t really wash in an MMO. I know, I know, they *tell* you that you are the One True Hero, but the simple nature of the game shows that to be a lie almost constantly.

    There’s no way an MMO world can be as interactive as the TES games are, either.

    …that said, I’d be happy to be proven wrong on the latter. Even if I am, though, it’d be a troll’s paradise.

    1. Oh, and the trinity is underwhelming, uninspiring and unsurprising. It works, though, and it’s expected. It’ll make migration to the game easier.

    2. No real shock, though I am having flashbacks to the SW:ToR pre-beta dance on the trinity. The system works, at least if your goal is for the players to kill big internet dragons. It sounds like they are taking the Rift class system to the logical extension where any class can heal, tank, or DPS.

      The only interesting question is whether survival builds will be the best for solo and bad at group content.

    3. I disagree. TES games have always been about a huge world rather than my character being “the hero”. I remember playing Morrowind and wandering around the huge world without barely scratching the “main quest”. I can’t remember how many times I wished to have other players wandering around the world in my game. Yes, some important aspects of the game would have to change, but I don’t think it’s as apples and car tires of a comparison as you make it sound like.

      And, an MMO could be as interactive as the single-player games are. It just needs a different mindset. Whether falling back on the trinity is a sign of them not having a proper mindset or a sign of them saving the innovation for other areas, we’ll see.

    4. I’m really torn here myself; I always thought having coop in Skyrim would be SO awesome – at the same time, I cringe at the idea of the franchise taking all their great RPG virtues and trying to mold that into yet another mainstream fantasy MMO. there will always be compromise and that could be fatal.
      tough call but I am certainly always gonna be curious. 🙂 to me it’s the open world and dynamic events that need to be preserved. what they add on top of that I’ll judge when I get there.

      As for the trinity, I think they were too scared to go wild there while also having plans for endgame raiding. GW2 sure pulled it off but then ANet does not have to deal with the design challenge of (interesting) raid bosses. to be fair, their big dragons are not exactly the most challenging encounters.
      there is still much work to be done here and that’s clearly not gonna be TESO’s focus. oh well.

  2. To be honest, it doesn’t matter if the game mechanics and the difficulty of the content demand a fully specialised tank and healer in each group – if such things exist you will see a large and very vocal section of the player population demanding them for each group, because it’s what they’re used to and because they will perceive it as more efficient. so it sounds like TESO will end up like RIFT – enoromous freedom of character build in theory, with a relative handful of “best” specialised builds or else life as a groupless pariah in practice.

    1. I agree and that is my concern too..I am afraid that the community/game difficulty will “force” players into the “right” character builds rather than let them be creative and unique. Even in solo, players will more likely chose efficient builds to grind/level faster rather than try a unique one. I hope I am wrong though..Also it seems that the armor times will more or less be “mandatory” to specific classes. If light armor give bonuses to spell, magicka e.t.c. then I am afraid that if you plan to use spells either as an offencive spellcaster or a healer, you will have to use light armor..

      Honestly, since the game have pvp I don’t expect lot of freedom in character builds cause it would be difficult for them to balance it. So I suspect they will give us the illusion of freedom of choice while it would be stupid/noobish not to get the “right” perks. I am still hoping for a full pve game that will focus on character freedom rather than homogenization/balance and the developers spend precious time/spirit into the eternal try to balance pvp. Something like lotro with better character models and more interesting and addicted combat 🙂

    2. RIFT’s talent system is exactly what comes to mind. it’s just a pity that this kind of approach always comes down to cookie cutters for raiding or pvp. what I mostly dislike is Zenimax being dodgy at this point. I agree the comments about ‘armor freedom’ are similar – who on earth is seriously going to wear goofy combos when it’s not benefiting his class statwise? nobody.
      MMOs put the social obligation of optimization on players – so either the game REALLY makes choices equal on a competitive level or there’s no freedom at all.

    3. Exactly..also in Rift the developers seems to admit it by promote those cookie cutter builds into “official presets” and gave a name to them so instead of looking at the net for that builds, Trion give them to you in-game 🙂

  3. “Okay everybody, I need two teams of healers.

    Healer team 1, stay tight in a big ball and stand to one side of the main tank and heal the *censored* out of him please.

    Everyone else, stack up on healer team 2 and rock those AoE heals.”

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