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Revisiting the "Holy Trinity" of MMORPG Classes 362

A feature at Gamasutra examines one of the foundations of many MMORPGs — the idea that class roles within such a game fall into three basic categories: tank, healer, and damage dealer. The article evaluates the pros and cons of such an arrangement and takes a look at some alternatives. "Eliminating specialized roles means that we do away with boxing a class into a single role. Without Tanks, each class would have features that would help them participate in and survive many different encounters like heavy armor, strong avoidance, or some class or magical abilities that allow them to disengage from direct combat. Without specialized DPS, all classes should be able to do damage in order to defeat enemies. Some classes might specialize in damage type, like area of effect (AoE) damage; others might be able to exploit enemy weaknesses, and some might just be good at swinging a sharpened bit of metal in the right direction at a rapid rate. This design isn't just about having each class able to fill any trinity role. MMO combat would feel more dynamic in this system. Every player would have to react to combat events and defend against attacks."
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Revisiting the "Holy Trinity" of MMORPG Classes

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  • by Thanshin ( 1188877 ) on Friday December 18, 2009 @08:38AM (#30485720)

    And my question is: why would you want to do such thing?

    If you start with a system based on: Two sides dealing damage to an amount of health, the first to reach o health loses.

    You'll reach the roles of:
    Dealing the most damage, receiving the least damage, and avoiding reaching the 0.

    If you want another set of classes, you'll have to change the system, not the allowed skills.

    For example:
    - Add one more number to push into the negatives (typically, armor and shield) and you'll have the posibility of creating a class that manipulates that other number (a shield healer of some sort) a class that damages said number (An EMP mage) and a class that endures more damage to said number (A shield...tank).

    - Add positional advantage (complex to do in mmorpgs for lag reasons) and you'll have a class that restricts movement, one that gives positional advantage to teammates and one that uses more effectively positional advantage.


  • by selven ( 1556643 ) on Friday December 18, 2009 @09:05AM (#30485884)

    What about:

    -buffing team members
    -weakening enemy team members
    -dispelling or temporarily silencing buffs and debuffs
    -redirecting damage dealt to yourself (ie. tanking)

    Also, you're wrong about positional advantage not being viable, MMOs do it all the time:
    -melee range (some classes are stronger when closer to the enemy)
    -AoEs (some classes are stronger when enemies are clumped together)
    -AoE healing/buffs (some classes are stronger when friends are clumped together)
    -line of sight (some classes only need to be in LoS some of the time to be effective, think buffers and debuffers)

    You can be very complex with just a simple first-to-get-to-zero-loses system.

  • by unity100 ( 970058 ) on Friday December 18, 2009 @09:06AM (#30485892) Homepage Journal

    i just finished dragon age origins. again there was the stereotypical class definitions and mechanic that made little sense.

    a 'tank' which is horribly strong enough to stop a dragon by holding a shield, but it suddenly became less effective when you gave him a huge 2 hander to swing around, despite all the strength (in practice) it should have because stopping anything with a shield requires huge strength.

    arch demons, strong and smart enough to marshal entire armies stupidly attacking some party member designated as 'tank', and getting its ass spanked. 'threat' my ass.

    the forced stupidity that says a ranged class, especially archer/ranger, should be less effective a damage dealer and should have pathetically low range to make melee classes viable. crossbows which were strong enough to punch full plate + chanmail sets of armor from close range to instantly kill knights does 'damage' to them instead. archers are able to only shoot effectively at 42 yards range. as if agincourt has never happened. the feeling of a real ranger/archer which lurks in a forest/area and snipes the enemy from afar without enemy ever being aware of him/her, is nowhere to be found in games, despite they were a common occurrence in real history and is a frequent occurrence in fantasy fiction.

    insanely powerful, stupid mage class. press a button, and freeze 10 enemies to sleep or something. spells 'ignore' armor. the 'crowd control' stupidity, which has never existed in any real battle situation, hell even in no legend/lore the earth civilization has had up to this point, including the later fiction works, leave aside ancient legends. pitt a party of 4 against 10 enemies to create 'challenge', and then be obliged to put the stupid 'crowd control' concept into the game. if you were going to let me freeze 8 out of 10 enemies with 'crowd control' and deal with them one by one, why did you put 10 enemies to challenge me in the first place ...

    weapon inconsistencies. the hilariously stupid 'dual wield' thing, which does more 'dps' than other weapons. dual wield ... something that has never been a reality or practicality in entire world history, even including the daggers 17th century musketeers used to wield in left hand for extra control and exploiting occasional openings in duels. go 1-2 centuries backwards, and you will find that lighter weapons which can be wielded in one hand couldnt do shit against heavy armor, and every knight either used swords +shield combo or heavy 2 hander mauls or maces to penetrate armor and negate it, if they were not mounted with a lance. yet, for some reason we have this 'damage' dealing dual wielding nonsense in every goddamn game.

    stupid classes. a 'bard' class, that noone can say what it practically does. vague lines to distinguish it even the rogue set it is supposed to belong. 'sings and entrances enemies'. really ? i mean, really ? you sing, and you entrance a demon with your song and freeze it. but isnt that definition of some kind of magic ?

    stealth nonsense. going invisible in broad daylight in open field and moving towards an enemy and 'ambushing' it. total hilarity. and that's despite the success Thief series had in gaming industry. they still didnt wake up to the fact that more realism means more excitement for the player.

    no flexibility. you HAVE to have a tank, a healer, a controller and a damage dealer. the same old shit everywhere, every game. no variation. no room for an all melee warband or all archer bandit squad. you need to rinse and repeat the same ancient, derelict format in every game. no room for error too - you have to increase tank's defenses, resistances so that it will hold the insanely stupid archdemons, you have to get cc spells for your mage so that it will be able to negate 8 out of 10 enemies you are presented for 'challenge'.

    and the 'dungeon' concept. it was fun back in 1980s, but its not fun anymore. fighting and killing 13182356216 random mobs and 2 mini bosses and a major boss at the end o

  • by AlXtreme ( 223728 ) on Friday December 18, 2009 @09:08AM (#30485910) Homepage Journal

    Good examples!

    Add one more number to push into the negatives (typically, armor and shield) and you'll have the posibility of creating a class that manipulates that other number (a shield healer of some sort) a class that damages said number (An EMP mage) and a class that endures more damage to said number (A shield...tank).

    Or go in the Cthulhu direction: sanity points! Horrific monsters would require different skills (restore sanity, block horrors etc). You would still end up with a trinity, but you would require a different trinity for different encounters. An emotionally-stable cleric who normally heals would have to tank, for instance.

  • by selven ( 1556643 ) on Friday December 18, 2009 @09:10AM (#30485930)

    I hate healing for a simple reason: it screws up item scaling balance horribly. Take a healer with 10k health and 800 HPS against a damage dealer with 1000 DPS. The healer survives 50 seconds. Now make the healer 12% more powerful. Bam, there's a 100% increase to survival time. If you let healers be more powerful than damage dealers (and you have to do this if you're going for a pure class/role system), killing a healer is reliant on preventing him from casting for some time, something which does not make for fun gameplay.

  • by Lord Pillage ( 815466 ) on Friday December 18, 2009 @09:57AM (#30486488)
    Level 20+ thorns was the best, especially if you could find a ton of gear that increased your health regen rate. I didn't need potions and I didn't even need to attack as the enemies simply dealt something like 600% damage they did to me back onto themselves. My health simply regenerated in a couple seconds. That was the best paladin I ever made. Basically Diablo would kill himself.
  • Re:Pigeonholding (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MartinSchou ( 1360093 ) on Friday December 18, 2009 @10:06AM (#30486606)

    If the designers are lazy, they can offload the job of finding good stats combination onto the player. To one player thats a huge degree of freedom, to the other it's a chance to mess up and make the game unplayable.

    Well, there ARE those of us who consider learning fun. There are several ways to learn things. Being told exactly how to do it (rote memorization). Being shown how to do it and then asked to repeat it. Or learning completely from scratch.

    I quite like a mix of number 2 and 3 in those options. Give me two hundred kg of assorted LEGO bricks, and I can have quite a lot of fun. Give me blue prints for some designs, and I'll still have fun. Tell me I am only allowed to make those designs, and I won't want to play.

    This is why I like the Fallout series. No classes. You can do anything, just not everything equally well. Meet a lock you can't pick? Try to blow the doors off the hinges. Really really bad with explosives? Steal a key. Really bad at stealing? Tough - you won't get past that door. Practice and come back later if you want to get in there. Or you could try to hire someone who's good at getting past doors.

    That way you don't have to fit into a neat little box labelled "Tank", "Healer" or similar. If you wanted to, you could be the "Remover of Obstacles" through picking the locks or the use of rocket launchers and other explosives. Rather handy when you break the last set of lock picks.

  • Re:The Trinity (Score:5, Interesting)

    by GTarrant ( 726871 ) on Friday December 18, 2009 @10:25AM (#30486830)
    Ding! We have a winner.

    MMORPGs that have classes have tried to have other archetypes (and in games where there are "skills", players end up CREATING the archetypes out of the skills, so it becomes functionally similar. In the end, it doesn't work out, because unless those classes are useful, and useful often, there's going to be complaints from both sides:

    1. The people playing that class complain that they can't get a group a lot of the time because most of the content doesn't require them to be there (why take along someone who can debuff the enemies if for all the battles you're fighting this time, you can kill them without those debuffs? Just take along another DPS).


    2. The people that do the 95+% of the content that doesn't require those classes complain that they have to go and find someone of that class for that ONE moment when they are useful.

    If there are hybrid classes out there that are only 50% as good as a Warrior tank and 50% as good as a Cleric healer, no one, at high levels, will want to use them for either role, and the people playing those classes, who may have chosen them early on because they sounded neat, end up feeling robbed when they get to high levels and realize no one finds them useful (EverQuest tried this with the ShadowKnight and Paladin, and had to buff them both significantly). If there's a class out there that has a special buff that's great for a few boss battles, but isn't necessary in most other cases, and it means they're a 25% less effective healer than the other healing classes, no one will want them except during those boss battles, and even then, they'll just take along one. EverQuest started with the intention that the Shaman, the Druid, and the Cleric were healing classes, but the Cleric was clearly better - guess what happened? A large group might have one Shaman, for slowing down the attack speed of the enemies, but had to have a large number of Clerics, you know, to do the REAL healing. Solution - the healing ability of the other classes was buffed substantially until they were nearly equivalent.

    And let's not get started on the Enchanter, a class that for crowd control could be amazing, but in many mundane encounters with no need for crowd control, was used for Clarity and little else. Solution? Give 'em more ways to do damage.

    In World of Warcraft, the new "random group" ability lets practically anyone join a group that the game puts together as "Tank, Healer, 3 DPS". In the game, in "standard" dungeons, the effectiveness of the tank, healer, etc. in those groups is determined more by their gear (and their individual skills) and less by which class they happen to be. Replace a DK DPS with a Hunter DPS in your average dungeon and assuming similar gear you'll end up with similar DPS.

    In raids, sure, it's good, often essential, to have a mix (for example, when Onyxia is flying, you need ranged DPS to be able to, you know, hit her). But if there was a 4th archetype there, right now they wouldn't be needed. Any game would have to be designed from the group up with that 4th archetype in mind as one that is integral to the game. Right now, it's hard to envision what that archetype might be.
  • by netsavior ( 627338 ) on Friday December 18, 2009 @10:25AM (#30486840)
    It is like the #2 or #3 MMO depending on how you count...
    Skill and equipment based "combat triangle" anyone can max any stat, but the gear you are wearing keeps you specialized in a given fight... Metal/heavy armor makes Melee vulnerable to Magic, resistant to Range, Dragonhide armor makes Rangers vulnerable to Melee resistant to Magic, Magic armor gives magic boost and spells are really powerful (including AOE, and life leaching) but they are vulnerable to Range and Melee
    There is no practical way to heal others, but when a group goes after a bigbad, there are often roles, but get this: Every player in a successful group will ROTATE ROLES.
    The guy with the most food/potions for healing will tank, soak up damage, and heal himself till he is low, then the next guy, and so on.
    I value MMOs where grouping is optional, and basically strong character classes really hinder that type of mechanic; so if I want to go to fight in God Wars against huge bosses for top drops, I have to group, but I can play on my own at any time too... I can also be a mage one day a ranger the next, and a melee fighter the next... so I tend to only need one character another huge plus (to me).
  • by RogueyWon ( 735973 ) * on Friday December 18, 2009 @10:25AM (#30486842) Journal

    WoW did this.

    The Yogg-Saron fight (yes, it's heavily Cthulhu-mythos inspired), at the end of Ulduar, requires the raid members to monitor their own sanity level. If it hits 0, the player goes insane and attacks their allies (a condition that lasts until the end of the fight, even if the player is killed and resurrected).

    Sanity is reduced by a number of factors, including semi-random attacks that Yogg-Saron can do on the raid, remaining in proximity to his brain for too long, or facing him while he howls during the final phase of the fight.

    If players have the assistance of the Keeper Freya during the fight, she will provide sanctuary pools in the corners of the encounter room that players can run to if they need to regenerate sanity. In the fight's harder modes, Freya's assistance may not be there and players have to be very careful not to take unnecessary sanity damage.

    It's not a brilliant implementation, I grant you. It would have been awesome if they could have made it so that as your sanity level gets lower, you start seeing odd visual effects, or your controls become less responsive. But it has, at least, been tried.

  • Re:Batman analogy (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Clover_Kicker ( 20761 ) <> on Friday December 18, 2009 @10:40AM (#30486992)

    Isn't Guild Wars like that, you can learn lots of skills but can only have a few in your toolbar at any one time?

  • by Majik Sheff ( 930627 ) on Friday December 18, 2009 @10:47AM (#30487070) Journal

    My T2 drone swarm would disagree. I've swatted a few overconfident idiots who thought they could tackle and burn solo.

  • by xouumalperxe ( 815707 ) on Friday December 18, 2009 @10:57AM (#30487218)

    Runescape does, and I believe EVE technically does also.

    Actually, EVE goes for a sort of hybrid approach. Your character is completely unconstrained by class considerations, and is only limited by the (real, not game) time investment you put into the game. Basically, as long as you keep your skill queue filled, your character is always improving, in whatever direction you want.

    What does limit your character's performance at any given point in time, however, is the ship you're piloting. The attributes each ship has (size, slot distribution, bonuses) pretty much sets its playstyle and role, and you're unlikely to be successful as an Electronic Warfare in a ship that's designed as a missile barge. and a battleship has nowhere near the cargo space required for a trading or mining operation. In my stint in EVE, I eventually set myself up in a star system and piloted two ships. One was a Drake, which is a missile-based battlecruiser, as my combat ship, and I also had a Cormorant destroyer, which was a much lighter, faster ship that I fitted with loads of salvaging lasers and tractor beams, and modified for a larger cargo hold, and which was completely useless for anything except its designated role: scouring the wrecks for salvage after a long combat mission. For that task, however, it was superb.

  • by pwfffff ( 1517213 ) on Friday December 18, 2009 @11:33AM (#30487728)

    WoW did do that, but it's not what he was talking about. Nobody switches roles really to deal with insanity.

    There has been role-switching in WoW before though: ranged-tanking is fairly common for bosses who attack primarily with spells (Mimiron's flying head phase is best tanked by a ranged class standing away from the group), and an upcoming fight in Icecrown requires you to heal the boss to full rather than burn their health down.

  • by ottothecow ( 600101 ) on Friday December 18, 2009 @11:50AM (#30487988) Homepage
    I think the article and most of the comments are missing the main point that enforces the trinity...

    The core piece that makes the trinity viable is the tank (or more, the fact that the tank concept is functional).
    The entire trinity is allowed to function because one character can get the attention of all of the monsters (or hold the attention of one big monster), leaving the DPS and healer free to go about their ways. I used to play WoW so my experiance speaks mostly to that...a lot of encounters deal more with managing aggro than with the other elements of the fight (and WoW is set up to make this happen). For example, The priest may be able to heal the tank fast enough that he would never die and the DPS may be able to all out kill him with ease but some monsters have very strong attacks and get distracted easily so you focus on things like timing your heals/attacks with the tanks high aggro abilities and using less efficient spells that have a lower threat rating. All classes have abilities meant to play with aggro (often to no effect other than increasing or reducing aggro) and as long as you can keep the right balance, the mobs stay on the tank and the trinity functions.

    If you want to break up the trinity, this is the cycle that must be can't be done with giving jack-of-all trades clsses--people will just min-max them into variations of the trinity. To get rid of the trinity, you need mobs and encounters that don't respect the trinity.

    The trinity doesn't hold in most PvP combat because your opponents are smart. When a big warrior charges in, their gut reaction is to throw a couple of blows his way but they will soon realize that that robe-wearing, pale skinned and frail player standing behind him looks like a much easier target...especially if that player is keeping the warrior alive--you know you have to drop the healer no matter how much damage and high aggro abilities the warrior is doling out on you.

    Obviously even with "smart" enemies, there will be preferred group compositions (look at WoW arenas) but there will be more variations and more experimentation when the majority of your party can't sit back in the safety created by tankable mobs.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 18, 2009 @11:53AM (#30488030)

    You want to play a fantasy game that is realistic? That would be the worst game EVAR!

    Bullshit. It'd be the coolest game ever. Why do you think video games have been going in that direction ever since they were invented?

    I want a WOW-like game where I can't carry 5 20-slot bags completely full of iron ore... because it's too fucking heavy and massive! Where I, as a magic user, can use plate armor if I want... with the disadvantage that spells glitch a lot because the armor gets in the way of the spell-casting motions. I want a game where there are more than just a half-dozen building layouts, where carelessly casting a fire-spell in the middle of a forest starts a forest fire that threatens a nearby town, getting me thrown in jail. Where unsheathing my sword in the pub gets the local police force called. Where I can _really_ effect the environment- I can chop down trees in the forest, roll them into a stream bed, damming up the stream, pissing of the town down stream that relies on that water. Where I can snipe at a mob, walk away, come back, and the mob is still wounded (sapient mobs that can heal themselves excepted). I want a game where, when I talk to people in a town, they get pisse doff if I bother them too much, not just parrot the same lines over and over. I want quests where, if I have to 'find out' what happened in a town, I actually have to talk to various people and piece the story together, not just talk to the one dude with the flashing "!" over his head.

    All these things would make the game more realistic. And I want them.

  • Re:Pigeonholding (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ThePhilips ( 752041 ) on Friday December 18, 2009 @12:17PM (#30488388) Homepage Journal

    Example of Fallout is a good one.

    Look at it for a moment from different prospective: how many books you have read which had many intervened story lines. How many you actually liked? Writing such book is by no mean an easy task.

    Same applies to game scripts. The fact that Fallout had a flexible story structure, amendable by accomplished quests, doesn't mean it is easy to make one.

    Rather the fact itself that Fallout is still remembered, highlights that it is rather difficult to do.

  • Re:Hmm... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 ) on Friday December 18, 2009 @12:20PM (#30488452)

    Enchanters are clearly the coolest class in between massive nerf sessions.

    I miss the days of old sebilous-- stopping trains of 15 mobs cold. Soloing areas that required groups with charmed, hasted, equipped pets.

  • by CodeBuster ( 516420 ) on Friday December 18, 2009 @01:20PM (#30489354)
    That was one thing that I liked about Dark Age of Camelot back in the day. The stealth classes, which most people either love or hate, provided some balance in this area by being able to backstab with poisons for massive damage. In PvP this basically meant that if the stealther was equal level to the healer he could kill the healer in seconds with that first surprise attack. Of course, the stealther was then visible to everyone and vulnerable to counter-attack and depending upon what other players where in the area the healers may or may not have been the most important targets to take out first. They basically decided not to do stealth classes in WoW and IMHO that removes an important balancing element from the game; especially in PvP.
  • Musashi was famous for, amongst other things, his two-sword style. Yes, he did switch to a wooden sword later in life (partially to prove how superior he was), but after he stopped dueling he taught that a warrior should be able to fight with a long sword in each hand.

    The oral records of his fights do not mention him wielding two weapons, but in The Book of Five Rings he does advocate it (and explicitly mentions that using a "small sword" in the offhand was inferior to using a "long sword").

    I've fought against people proficient in "dual wielding" and I have to say in my experience it does provide a significant advantage in situations where you'll be fighting multiple opponents and/or with little to no armor. No, it's not the type of style you'd use against a knight in full plate, but such heavily armored opponents only represent a very small sample of the type of warriors that existed throughout history.

  • by zeropointburn ( 975618 ) on Friday December 18, 2009 @08:34PM (#30495300) Journal

    For eve, assume that tank absorbs the healer role most of the time, as electronic warfare is far more significant than healing others. Ewar exists to negate damage, to negate speed advantages, to boost targeting speed, etc., which makes the bard/commander/buff+debuff class eve's de facto third member of the trinity.

    Specialists don't succeed solo in eve (in combat). If you are all tank or all damage, you're all useless. A tank with no damage or ewar potential won't get attacked until everyone else is dead. An all-damage fit/skill will get primaried because they die the fastest and they are the biggest threat. All of this is irrelevant if your enemy is stupid of course, but let's concern ourselves with competent opponents here.

    Success in pvp (and to some extent in pve) relies on doing enough damage to pose a credible threat while retaining enough tank to actualize that damage. Even in gangs or fleets, there may be a few specialists (tackle/ewar) but the generalists make it happen. Many successful gang arrangements have no specialization; the homogeneity of the group makes individual losses much less significant. Specialist groups can be more effective in the right circumstances (like gatecamping or frigate combat), but the range of situations encountered by a roving gang are hard to address with a group of specialists.

    You may specialize in one weapon system, or one type of tank, or one flavor of ewar, but you cannot be called a competent combat pilot if you are missing one of the trinity. Even then, if your specialty is known it can be overcome. There is no invulnerable character, no perfect ship. Everything dies in the end; the more people you piss off the shorter the wait to go visit your cloning tank.

    And that's why I play eve.

1 Mole = 007 Secret Agents