Excommunicating the Holy Trinity

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit

No, not that trinity. The (MMO) Holy Trinity- Tank, Healer, DPS (Damage Per Second). The trinity is a common staple among MMOs these days, and it has been for quite awhile. One guy sits there and soaks up the damage so the squishies don’t die (Tank), one guy does all the damage (DPS), and one guy sits there spamming heals to keep the tank alive (Healer). It is a tried and true formula. The problem is, not only is it unoriginal and illogical, it gets boring and causes gridlock in questing and dungeons.

Where it came from

The true origin of the Holy Trinity may be hard to pin down, but in many ways, it can trace its roots back to D&D of old. You had the beefy guys in armor with loads of HP like Fighters and Barbarians, you had the guys that did loads of damage but were made of paper like the Rogues and more importantly the Wizards and Sorcerers, and then you had the Cleric as the healer. The appeals of the system are fairly obvious. It lets people focus on one thing to do, one role. It lets people maximize a specific ability, and accentuates what your class is good at. From a development standpoint, it gives some easy design assumptions: the Tank can soak X amount of damage, and the healer can heal Y amount of damage, so you have some easy parameters to set up the difficulty. If the tank or healer fails, the team will die, otherwise, they will succeed. On a more cynical note, it gives other people to blame (namely the tank and healer).

At its heart, the system is circular. If you expect that some classes are better at taking hits, some are better at healing, and some are better at dealing damage, then you design the system around that. When one class can only do one of the roles well, then the only logical thing to do is to maximize that strength and get others to cover your weaknesses. By specializing so much, you require the other roles to work, but then in turn, if one is better at one side of the trinity, the best thing to do is maximize it. When players max damage to do huge amounts, then the monsters must be designed to sustain that amount at some level. If someone can soak huge amounts of damage, or heal huge amounts, then the monsters must deal competitive damage or else they won’t be a challenge. Of course, that means that its even harder for the tanks and healers to contribute to damage because monster defense is scaled to deal with the DPS damage, and the DPS and healers can’t take hits because otherwise the enemies wouldn’t hurt the tanks. The whole problem is entirely systemic, and is entirely self-inflicted.

ArenaNet, as I have commented before, is always asking the question of “why?”. The answer is both simple and complicated- just don’t design the system that way.

A new way of fighting

There is a funny thing about many MMO players: they don’t play a lot of other genres very much. Whether this is due to the time commitment, the money commitment, or because they just like the MMO genre is rather irrelevant, and it isn’t really even important. What is important is that many people that play normal MMOs don’t understand how a combat system can even work at all without the Trinity. I can’t tell you how often I have talked to MMO players and they simply said “GW2 can’t work… I can’t see how there could possibly be any good combat without the Trinity…”. Likewise, if you told a non-MMO player that the Trinity was the only thing that makes sense for combat, they would probably be confused or laugh at you.

Think of First Person Shooters (FPS), or MOBA games like League of Legends (LoL). FPS games are the best example. There are extremely competitive games that have nothing like a trinity in them. Counterstrike, to this day, is still widely played, and there are no classes, no ways of getting more HP/Armor, no way to force players to attack you (tank), and definitely no healers. And yet, the game works, and works well. It is highly skill-based, very difficult, and very fun (if you’re into that). What you will find is that sub-roles emerge. Different kinds of grenades impose tactical considerations onto the battlefield between flashbangs, smoke grenades, frag grenades, etc. Close range powerful weapons have different considerations than slow-firing sniper rifles, or mid-range rapid fire weapons. They play very differently, but none of them are required specifically, and they can all work together.

Guildwars 2 will have its own form of Trinity- Damage, Support, and Control. The key here is that no class is shoehorned into doing only one of those things, and none of them is the best at any one role. All professions are able to fluidly switch between roles as needed, and none of them can really do one role at the expense of the others. Support is more short term smaller benefits that can’t be exclusively focused on. There aren’t enough support skills to fill an entire bar, the cooldowns will be longer, and if you don’t do any control or damage, your support won’t make up for your lack of other contributions.

That doesn’t mean that it will be extremely complicated, nor does it mean that all professions will play the exact same. The concept is design level, and once it was decided, ArenaNet was able to make different ways to accomplish the same idea. Part of the design that really works for this flexible system is the weapon and support skill separation. For those that aren’t aware, during a given combat, your skill bar contains 10 skills. The first 5 are based on your weapons, and your profession. For example, if a Warrior has a sword and a shield equipped, his first 5 skills will be: Sever Artery, Savage Leap, Pommel Bash, Shield Stance, and Shield Bash. Most professions have the ability to swap to an alternate weapon set on the fly, and consequently, the ability to change your first 5 skills instantly. The consequence is that not only are your first 5 skills set (meaning you can’t just load up a bunch of support skills), but you can swap quickly to have one set of more support/control skills, and another to do damage or others.

Heal Thyself

Another important aspect of the new system is that every class has a self-sufficient heal. The impact here is multi-faceted. You are self sufficient. Your heal is powerful and must be used wisely. Given that all characters can take care of themselves, having a dedicated healer is far less relevant, and is a major reason that part of the trinity is gone. As a consequence, you can’t blame someone else for when you die- it was not their job to keep you alive. Allies can help, but you are your own healer, and you cannot spam the heals.

Further, every profession can resurrect fallen comrades, for free! At least, free of mana and cooldown; there is still a casting time required, and that time increases with repeated resurrections of a given party member. Rather, the more times someone dies repeatedly, the longer it takes for anyone to resurrect them.

A fluid system for dynamic content

Everyone can heal themselves. Nobody can spam heals on everyone. Everyone can do damage. Everyone can do forms of control. Everyone can mitigate damage to some extent through armor, health, skills, and the ability to dodge roll (another new thing for an MMO that is common in other genres). Nobody can focus on any one role to the exclusion of the others, and the system is all about living in the moment. It is bold, it is active,  it will be hard, and I am so excited.


One Response to Excommunicating the Holy Trinity

  1. […] I wrote about in the Excommunicating the Trinity post, forcing a healing slot is wonderful both for balance and for getting rid of the trinity. Shifting […]

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