Category Archives: Holy Trinity

In which I respect the Holy Trinity and solve the DPS issue!

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!

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!

Wildstar Healing and all the Ways it’s different

For the last two weeks, I’ve been on a roll with my Esper getting her through the first 7 steps of the raid attunement which includes silvering all veteran adventures. Having also healed through my first veteran dungeon last night, I’m finally back to the point where my old healer muscles and reflexes run on auto-pilot; healing is a routine and if you’ve stared at other people’s healthbars for years in WoW or elsewhere, you own the mindset that comes with playing support classes.

The main reason why healing is appealing to me is the complexity of choices, not just for yourself but everyone in the group. It’s the splitsecond decisions on what action to prioritize next and if need be, whom to sacrifice for the sake of the greater good (or a much needed lesson in self-management). While most roles are centered around the interplay between ‘self and the other’, healers focus on three units in combat and depending on the MMO, they’ll be asked to do this while being more or less mobile. Healers are also the guardians of time, as far as their role within trinity-based MMO combat goes.


And Wildstar asks for a lot from healers. I wouldn’t say it’s more difficult than in some other games but in terms of complexity, there’s an adjustment phase that can feel bewildering to someone coming straight from WoW, Rift or LOTRO. I’ve tried to put my finger on what initially felt so different about healing and decided that similar to Wildstar’s doubly-active combat system, it’s a new combination (and accumulation) of several aspects:

  • Positioning telegraphs
  • Focus and combo management
  • Mobility
  • Limited actionbar

None of these mechanics are new. MMO healers are used to managing mana and optimizing their healing, for instance via proc timing. Games like Age of Conan have featured non-targeted and instead more area- and conebased healing. Many newer titles come with some form of action combat and minimal UI. For some of them like GW2, that makes sense too.

Speaking from an Esper perspective (which more or less applies to all classes), the biggest difference about Wildstar’s healing is that it combines all of the above added difficulties or restrictions at once. The most noticeable change for me personally, was mana management in combination with a resource / combo system, similar to a rogue’s combo points in WoW or a warrior’s rage. Not only will you manage your focus (manapool) but Espers can stack up to 5 combo points (and only with certain builders) which are required to heal efficiently and dish out the big single-target or area heals. That’s two numbers to monitor for your healing at all time while making smart builder- and finisher choices.

Of course this being Wildstar, even as an Esper many of your heals and cleanses aren’t targeted but come as a cone or AoE. So, in addition to moving out of red telegraphs constantly and staying in range of the tank, you’ll have to try position yourself in a way that affects as many party members as possible. They should do their utmost to stay in range / in front of you of course but in the heat of battle, well…we know how the theory usually works out.

The limited actionbar (8 skills) in Wildstar is my only real gripe, because it makes no sense. There are games like GW2 where the minimalistic UI covers all player needs and is perfectly tuned to combat. Wildstar on the other hand, with its fussy skills menu and plethora of situational abilities in the offensive/support/utility department, forces you to manually swap skills for every other fight with only two specs per default (although you can buy more later for Elder Gems). Every time you swap something manually, you have to go back and fill in the points to boost said skill, too. It’s awkward and feels out of touch with the game’s overall approach to combat.

Healing in Wildstar

Wildstar certainly adds its very own flavor to group healing but once you’ve had the opportunity to heal a couple of dungeons in a decent group, you’ll adjust to its resource management, telegraph positioning and mobility requirements. Maybe more than for other MMOs, Wildstar relies on players knowing a dungeon and specific boss abilities (esp. also due to the limited action bar), so it’s advised to always do a practice run or two on normal mode before attempting to crack veterans.

Healers learning the veteran drill should also insist that party members bring their own utility (healing gadgets) and medipacks to fights for as long as everyone’s performance is in those early stages of chaos. There is only so much you can heal / reach and what goes for every other MMO out there, also applies to Wildstar: The tank always comes first. Many whelps? Handle it!

Tanks, Healers, DPS and Time

Rowan over at I Have Touched the Sky is musing on WoW a lot lately and recently went to explain why you can compare apples and oranges and that all MMO boss fights are essentially the same. Sure, Ragnaros had the fiery adds where Nefarian had randomized trash and class calls (add any epic boss fight here) but at the end of the day a lot of what makes the so-called complex encounters in WoW is added fluff around the tank-healer-DPS equation. Iteration, iteration.

Not surprisingly, I’m with Rowan when it comes to appreciating MMOs for a lot more than boss fights or raiding. I wouldn’t go as far as to claim that WoW raids are the exact same as Rift or Allods raids, but there are only so many ways to design great trinity-based encounters across all games and only so many ways to make one of them truly memorable. If I think back on my very intense WoW raiding spree between vanilla and the end of WoTLK, there are maybe ten out of a 100+ different boss fights that I would call remarkable. (Coming to think of it…how many raid bosses did I experience in WoW? Now I am tempted to count them down! Scary.) The world on the other hand, the setting and lore, the cities and zones, the races and other creatures, the graphics and music – those things make MMOs for me. They give them their unique face and flavor.


While boss design is one thing, I would like to differentiate between encounter design and combat here: combat style and basic mechanics are a huge part of MMOs no matter what you choose to do – in those games where no non-combat classes exist, anyway. Solid combat design, as in intuitive, responsive, tactical, you-name-it is essential.

It’s a DPS world

Rowan is right of course in that all encounters are essentially DPS races or “about DPS”. The easiest way of proving that is that you can design pure DPS fights (which includes all soloing) but you cannot design pure healing and/or tanking fights. Even the so-called “healer or tank fights” are DPS fights: famous Valithria Dreamwalker was nothing but a weak twist and other bosses relying heavily on taking are essentially about tanks bravely biding their time until DPS is back. How are you going to kill stuff without dealing damage?

In that context, I always liked to think about the three roles in relation to the element of time, when discussing trinity based combat:

– Tanks create time in MMOs. Without them, it’s usually an insta-wipe and no fight can take place. They’re the wall between life and death. From that point of view, for the raid tanks are the creators of time and opportunity.
– Healers, in analogy, keep time. They ensure tank survival and therefore maintain time so DPS can deal damage in peace. Healers are therefore the preservers and extenders of time. They let any crucial role in the raid die and time (to kill the boss) disappears.
– Last but far from least, DPS are those that progress time and only them. Their output decides whether it’s gonna be a long or short fight (which affects healing and from there, tanking) or a wipe. DPS are the great drivers of time and by the same virtue, masters of duration. They can shorten the required time just the way healers should extend it.


Since time means life, you can pretty much substitute the terms in that analogy and it still works. Either way, it makes for an interesting picture if we imagine DPS as that driving force or the pendulum that swings between tanks and healers. You can add any other mechanic to an encounter – timing, phases, rotations, hybrids – it comes down to the same. Of course that goes for trinity combat as much as any other MMO combat and encounter design, in fact even more so.

And yet, ironically DPS have always been the undervalued, inflated currency of trinity MMOs. While good tanks or healers are important, the only reason DPS don’t receive equal love in WoW and elsewhere, is not necessity of role but numbers. In a game that would require as many healers and tanks as DPS to beat encounters, nobody would ever fail to thank his fellow DPSer. After all, what good is having all that time if you can’t spend it?

[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.

[GW2] Tired of Trinity Whining. Or: As if!

So, the third and final GW2 beta weekend has ended and we could all be talking about how wonderfully achieved a race the Asura are, how Metrica Province or Rata Sum rock as zones or alternatively, how the Sylvari despite many initial misgivings, succeed at being a little more than just another translation of elf. I know – I was shocked too.

….Or we could do none of that. Instead, we could go on and whine about the missing roles and damned trinity in Guild Wars 2. Yeah we could keep bringing that up, again and again and again, like an obnoxious guest asking for burgers in an Italian restaurant. Some days I honestly feel with game designers and it’s not like I haven’t been an ardent critic of MMOs myself over the years. Three public betas past, I keep reading the same ignorant moping and fallacies by a vocal crowd of circus clowns on ANet’s official forums. The fact that many of them are drawing comparisons to WoW of all games, makes the whole thing all the more amusing, complete eyeroll that it is otherwise!

So, just for shits and giggles and because I feel like whining about whiners today, let’s have a look at some of the most missing-the-point, lalala-pink-pokémon-glasses and I-just-like-to-complain-about-something arguments! Here’s what the broken pro-trinity record has to say about GW2’s gameplay, roughly summarized:

a) No holy trinity means there is no cooperation anymore! *GASP*
b) No holy trinity means people do not coordinate / communicate in groups!
c) No holy trinity means zerg-mode and needing no strategy!
d) No holy trinity means there can’t be difficult combat!


There’s variations of the above, but it’s what whiners basically claim while glorifying WoW and prophesying the doom of GW2…already. Of course the holy trinity in itself has no direct bearing on any of the criticized points, however to realize that one needs to have a hard look at WoW – which is what I will do since people insist on bringing it up as role model. Note too, the big majority of whiny commenters refer to overall combat/cooperation in GW2, meaning questing and the FFA dynamic events. Precious few can currently claim group play experience beyond that or more in-depth knowledge about coordination in dungeons (especially exploration mode) or organized PvP. Here’s my reply to the popular arguments, since “wait and see?” didn’t really go far these previous betas –

As IF!

First off, as IF people communicated or cooperated much during questing in WoW! Where have you been the past 8 years? You can’t be referring to the WoW I have played. Some well-known, honest facts:

  • 95% of all WoW players either solo quests or take their friends/guildies along. You don’t need any type of “strategy” to beat quests together, joining up is more about the social factor. There aren’t even many elite outdoor quests anymore or bosses that would require a group to beat. People don’t need to communicate and there’s nothing to coordinate when everyone already knows what their role is. Oh, and people don’t coordinate, let alone communicate in most LFG 5man runs either – but then you knew that already.
  • If “actively creating the party”, which usually comes down to clicking an invite button and waiting for the other side to accept it, equals good communication among strangers…well, you’re an easy one to satisfy!
  • You can progress with ease in WoW pushing the same 3-4 buttons, just in case anyone feels like bringing this up against GW2. Not that the “amount of buttons” is a great or very telling argument for or against anything, really…
  • If “zerging” equals “rushing into combat without the need for communication or coordination”, then zerging is what’s constantly being done in WoW, during questing and even 5man runs. Just because tanks tank, healers heal and DPS deal damage, doesn’t mean people are actively cooperating (or need wait on the tank for example) – rather, I would call it playing side by side, each role knowing their motions. There are synergies and there’s timing, both exist in GW2 as well. The holy trinity sees to that; it creates a basic order so players won’t have to think about assigning jobs or tactics much (outside raids) themselves. That’s hardly active cooperation or communication though – it’s a script! In fact the opposite, a free and versatile setup, requires strangers to coordinate and talk more if at all!

But hey, I’ll give you that – due to the lack of pre-defined roles, the combat in GW2 feels more chaotic, certainly is for quests and events. But errr…so what? Already I cooperate more in GW2 than I ever did in WoW: thanks to the FFA, auto-join events I have joined and helped out more strangers than I ever did while questing in WoW. I’ve had a chat with a few who shared a quest spot with me and several whom I rezzed or rezzed me in return (fat chance on that in WoW). I don’t claim any of this was particularly coordinated or difficult (maybe the events aren’t supposed to be particularly difficult, anyone?), but at least it’s a change from the usual silent, solo routine I used to have in WoW. Plus, where more people group up there’s always an unpredictable element. It’s a little cynical to criticize auto-join grouping or lack of roles when the opposite did nothing at all to improve matters in the past. As for kill stealing, mob camping and loot rolling – needless to say I haven’t missed them one second! That’s when having less communication is actually a good thing (/ninja /doom /ragequit).

The real strategic and demanding encounters aren’t out there in quests or trivial group content – not in WoW and not in GW2. Quests and events are simply not very hard right now and things like cooperation and coordination live and grow under duress. I would claim that GW2 requires teamwork and strategy where it matters, just like WoW does too; in harder/heroic dungeon modes and in big scale raids or PvP/WvW. If you think it’s all a zerg there you are mistaken. You need strategy and communication to bring the trophy home, to win against opposing teams or survive tough encounters. Teamwork is very much alive even if it works differently in GW2. Plus, the game adds other tactical components, such as the whole dodge/positioning mechanics and making use of the environment. I’ve beat several tougher challenges myself only because of active movement and tactical positioning which is rather great considering I play a caster in GW2 (typical feet-of-stone classes in other MMOs).

Getting facts and questions straight

Now, this post is no attempt to discourage any well-founded critique in favor of the holy trinity (ya rly); in fact, there are a few very interesting questions one could ask about GW2 in this context. For example how different group mechanics will truly be in a well-organized party, during a difficult run that requires a lot of communication. Once players assign roles/tasks in order to succeed and hence end up specializing, would we have to admit to a “soft trinity” in GW2? And where are the differences then to let’s say WoW or Rift? I can see a few but it’s definitely a valid overall question. So would be the question about how well control mechanics are realized in the game and if they make for enough encounter variety, in lieu of things like classic threat and mitigation mechanics.

Then, there’s simply those players who love to tank or heal and I certainly empathize with that – after all I used to love to heal myself! If you miss the holy trinity on that note, I have neither reproach nor consolation to offer because GW2 is a different game. And just like the F2P vs. subscription horse can be kicked to death, what it really comes down to here is preferences and target audience.

If you were however, like the individuals I addressed further up, to move the holy trinity on a pedestal for all the wrong, uninformed reasons, drawing faulty comparisons and even faultier conclusions about GW’s and MMO combat in general, then you have me for a very impatient and frankly ill-tempered commenter these days. I am really sick and tired of half-assed, destructive discourse that is so easy to refute it’s an intellectual insult. My biggest, returning gripe is mixing up role restrictions with things like encounter difficulty or pacing. Or in other words: if role restrictions are the one thing that makes your fights “hard” (likely because you already can’t find the right group composition…/sarcasm) that is sad news indeed!

The holy trinity creates no more or less demanding encounters than a non-trinity model would; all it does is enable patterns and offer mechanics to utilize in (boss-)encounters. And it tells players what their role is right away (hence the often referred to “crutch”). You can like that or not, that’s your prerogative – but the trinity does absolutely not just magically create better, active cooperation, coordination or communication…or alternatively other random words that start with “C”. And where one player sees ordered combat thanks to the trinity, I see boring same-ish strategies and synchronized swimming! Preferences – pros and cons, ya feel me?

To close, and so I can return to more pleasant topics tomorrow (with pictures!), let’s say it once more with feeling: The holy trinity does not a cooperation make. The holy trinity does not a communication make. The holy trinity does not a coordination make. The holy trinity does not an encounter’s difficulty make. If ever in doubt – go play World of Warcraft. Thanks!

Never give up, never surrender

Before the weekend, a little comic I played around with (I added a link to the original version in the caption, just so my copyright infringement guilt feels a little lighter).

(Original version)

To end the week on a somewhat lighter note, two links you all want to look into:

  • where Gilded has recently set up camp with a new MMO blog. He focuses on analyzing and discussing modern MMO design and mechanics in general, adding a new voice to the circle of blogging MMO critics in the blogosphere. In the spirit of supporting our newcomers, check his thoughts out sometime, it’s worth it! 
  • Rift: The little things over at massively; I’ve always been one to look for the little things in my MMOs, the silly, fun and secret along the way which are all too easily missed in the rush. A formidable list with the very same focus, saves me creating one for Rift then, I guess!

Enjoy your weekend everybody, be it inside or outside those virtual worlds we all love so much!

Monday Trinity round-up

Happy Monday everybody! It’s been a Garfield one for myself. Last week I wrote a rather long article on issues I perceive with the holy trinity in MMOs and ever since I’ve come across other bloggers contributing views related to the matter and taking the whole topic a step further. It’s been very interesting reads for myself, realizing that there was even more to it all than I initially focused on. That’s why this blogging week starts with a short round-up on more trinity-based articles, for all those interested to see alternative game concepts in their future fantasy MMO.

Nils wrote a very enthusiastic article on overcoming the (un)holy trinity, asking us to bear with him one more time in a follow-up post. I elaborated quite a lot myself in some of the comment sections, getting reminded of just how passionately I actually feel about the classic fantasy genre.

Tesh left his uptake on the role of healing in online games and let us into his very own tactical RPG character advancement system. He’s also listed a way more complete link collection on further reading, so I won’t repeat any of that and simply recommend you visit his article!

Rather unexpected at first, was a great article I read by Gazimoff where he muses over the rift that theorycrafting, or rather elitism has created in today’s WoW community, separating the ‘pros’ from the ‘slackers’. He finds himself caught in the middle of a dilemma which I couldn’t help but connect to the holy trinity issue as well. It’s one aspect I had not considered in such degree but does certainly display another side-effect of very strong role separations and definitions. If a role is all about one thing, your target above all else is to perfect that thing and make it even more efficient. Min-maxing is more king than ever. Or maybe I’m just seeing white Volvos everywhere now, because I drive one myself – you decide. 

Edit: Tobold has written on this since too, or more specifically about the dynamic of the tanking role and how one might overcome that in a classic MMO setup.

…I think I’m at a very bad place now; I’ve successfully thought myself into being really excited about Guild Wars 2 which isn’t good, especially with the launch being another year away….oh well. It appears plenty of you out there share my enthusiasm.

In an attempt to make this article more rambly (ramblier? firefox does not approve of this word), I did actually get one gratification after a very long, tiresome day which is a small parcel waiting on my desk this evening. Funny that I should win a shiny Rift mousepad now that I’ve moved on to a new MMO – seems that old Steelseries lich king pad is meant to go. If that’s not a sign from above, I don’t know what is.

And being tipsy is the only way of healing, true story.

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.