Welcome ladies and gentlemen to yet another post on the holy trinity on MMO Gypsy! It never gets old!
For some reason a recent tweet of mine on sitting in boring DPS queues in FFXIV ended in a 100+ tweets-or-so conversation with all kinds of folk about why dungeon queues are broken in MMOs and how to fix them. Of course it didn’t take long for someone to suggest that DPS suck, or then healers suck, or something, and from there it was a lot of mix’n match between the “significance” of the three roles vs. their relative playstyle difficulty vs. responsibility and punishment. All rather interesting topics in their own way, also vastly different from one another. Alas, twitter is great to spark discussions but not so much for finishing anything.
The debates around DPS queues inspired Murf to go on a rant on his own blog and profess profound hatred for everything DPS in MMOs. He plays a healer of course (correction: he also plays everything else, including self-loathing DPS!). As a longtime ex-healer myself, I find this both entertaining and missing the mark although in the end when tempers have cooled, we probably agree that there’s a problem with how DPS work and get to coast in many MMOs. Or rather how I would put it, there’s a problem with the way many encounters are designed to put more pressure on tanks and healers, with less unforgivable mechanics for DPS. It is by design that tanks and healers are made to care because immediate and fatal repercussions (this is also how players get weeded out early on). By the same virtue these two roles get a lot of praise, sometimes far more than they deserve because everyone needs to thank them for still being alive. Nevermind that bosses don’t get killed by either of the two in any half-respectable showdown. DPS whether good or bad, can’t ever do enough in MMOs and they’re the ones that get haunted by meters in WoW and other games because of it.
But this discussion is far more interesting even: at its core it raises the question of how much holy trinity we truly want and can tolerate in MMOs (“we” as in the general “we” – I have not been a fan of the trinity in a looong time). Nevermind the great ideas of giving DPS “more responsibility” as in crowd control (tanks ARE crowd control), buffs/debuffs or ressing mechanics. While these assumed fixes sound fine in theory, they’re at best cosmetic – in reality it’s the trinity itself that needs fixing. I’ll get to that in a moment.
Taking the Trinity Seriously
If we actually believe in the holy trinity, we must accept that at a most basic and philosophical level even, the three roles are all equally important and co-dependent; they are three parts of a whole. I have written before about how each of them takes a specific role in regards to time/life in MMO combat. Assuming balanced encounters, all three of them are necessary (yes, I can come up with lots of fights where either DPS or healers or tanks are allowed to die, ignore that). Tanks and DPS are more enemy-centric, healers are ally-centric. Tanks and healers are directly supportive, DPS more in-directly which makes them no less part of a cooperative trio.
Now Murf came up with the following analogy in his post to illustrate the status quo of the three roles in MMOs:
“Imagine a family vacation. The two parents are your Healer and your Tank. The three kids in the backseat of the car are your DPS. Whether those kids behave and make it an easier ride to their destination or not, it is still entirely up to the two parents to get everyone there.”
This is sadly very often the case, although both FFXIV and Wildstar are good examples for sometimes more complex DPS encounters (endgame). The correct analogy if the trinity wasn’t in fact broken, should be this:
Dad drives, mom makes sure everyone’s good on food and the kids are the ones that run the engine. The car does not move without the three kids – it shouldn’t.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: there is no combat in any game ever without damage dealing. I realize that the obvious frustration with DPS is based on how the roles have played out in daily MMO reality, nonetheless it’s encounters that are the problem. Stripped down, every game that includes combat *is* a DPS game. Even MMO combat can do without tanks and healers but not damage dealers. The first role that gets cut from farm raids are healers (tanks are next).
Tanks and healers are an artificial institution; they are created by taking away means of self-sustenance and control from a more well-rounded or self-sufficient damage dealer. You only introduce them once games decide to slow down combat and/or make it more tactical or cooperative, the way it happens in traditional or round-based (J)RPGs that generally have specialist/trinity roles too or unit-centred games (RTS) or MMOs. Take away Link’s shield and a good portion of his HP, his buffs and potions on the other hand and transfer each to separate characters: you create a holy trinity Zelda! Now, which role is the central one? Which came first? Is any of them negligible?
Solving the DPS issue
Encounter design is one issue but hybrid skills are an even greater problem. The answer cannot be to increase hybrid abilities across the board – unless you would like to go down the GW2 path. GW2 came out making every class equally feasible and self-sustained with “tankier” and “healier” bits and pieces. Combat was criticized as zergy and lo and behold, few years in there are suddenly raids and traditional roles because players presumably want a role focus and more co-dependence to warrant cooperative play. Okay.
Likewise, Wildstar came out with an incredibly high bar set for everybody but especially its DPS. I have written about how this MMO in particular has pushed healers on the backseat and given DPS real responsibilities. How many have reached WS endgame and passed the nauseating attunement though? How many have said the dungeons were too hard and too unforgiving until stuff got nerfed and the game almost burned? Okay.
There is a common thread here: some players like specialized roles but still want “some” self-sufficiency. They want cooperative play but not the kind that makes you “carry” anybody. Different roles yes but god forbid they are not exactly the same in terms of difficulty or punishment. Oh man, tough times developers!
I want everything in MMOs! (click to expand)
There’s hyperbole in all caricature and also a grain of truth. The above strip is my friendly (limited-skill) attempt at demonstrating this issue. Which is not to say that it is entirely unsolvable: I do in fact want better holy trinity encounters myself (either go big or go home). The radical solution?
- Remove all damage dealing skills from healers and tanks
- Remove all half-assed healing skills and crowd control functions from DPS
That’s right! You want a holy trinity, then get it for reals! Cooperation, shared responsibility, shared pressure, equal stakes, equal punishment – you have it! Never again finishing encounters without everyone alive and well. Also, no more hybrid solo time where everyone can quest on their own or level up, heck scratch leveling entirely (I concur with this post)! Proper cooperative MMOs are about grouping and it creates all kinds of balancing issues when they need to simultaneously serve as solo adventure parks and multi-player venues (and PvP arenas).
This is the only consequent move towards a holy trinity that respects its three roles equally. Do I want to play this game? Probably not for long. But I sure as hell would enjoy egomaniac tanks and healers shutting up about not requiring DPS when their own existence is based on intentionally crippling a more well-rounded character.
P.S. Once upon a time. Happy weekend everybody!