I Don’t Hate The Holy Trinity, I Just Don’t Think It Works

Guild Wars 2

Guild Wars 2 - "Look ma, no healer!"

My post last week about MMO designers using class flexibility as a way to keep the Holy Trinity on life support rather than find alternative solutions drew a lot of great feedback, fantastic comments and interesting discussions. I always love it when readers know more about a subject than I do and aren’t afraid to get stuck into a debate about it, however it did raise a lot of good questions about my motivations for writing the article in the first place. To be clear, I don’t hate the Holy Trinity (in fact, I’m rather fond of it), it’s just that I don’t think it works in today’s MMORPG.

The Immaculate Quintrinity

I’m not a traditional hardcore RPG fan, I never played tabletop or pen-and-paper (PnP) games and my first real venture into roleplaying was with Everquest back in 1999 so I’m by no means a RPG historian (I used to have quite the active social life until I discovered MMOs). However, I do know that in old school RPGs, roles were very important and this was reflected strongly in EQ. It didn’t have a Holy Trinity (OK, OK, it was a term used later on in the game but it was never very accurate), it had a Divine Quadrinity or, hell, even an Immaculate Quintrinity. To have the perfect group in Everquest you needed something like this:

  • Tank (Warrior/Paladin/SK)
  • Primary Healer (Cleric)
  • Secondary Healer/Slower/Buffer (Shaman/Druid)
  • Crowd Control/Buffer (Enchanter/Bard)
  • Huge DPS (Rogue/Magician/Wizard/Beastlord/Berserker/Ranger/Necromancer)
  • Puller (Monk/Bard/Ranger) or More Huge DPS

It’s a lot more than three roles and obviously makes some classes far more desirable than others. Clerics, Enchanters, Bards, Shamans or a good tank were all worth pushing your momma out a train for but good luck getting a group quickly if you were a Berserker.

The system did have some really strong merits though as it made each class incredibly iconic with very unique, powerful and identifiable traits. It also may grouping a lot more intricate and combat a lot more team orientated and strategic. The big downsides though were that trying to put a group together was like having a chili enema, soloing was an utter impossibility for some classes and the whole game concept revolved around requiring particular classes to succeed.

The Birth Of Flexibility And The Death Of Identity

Whilst having classes with unique roles worked in tabletop/PnP RPGs where everyone agreed on a role before rolling their character and then only ever played together, it just didn’t work in the massive multiplayer online world where everyone is bumping into each other randomly. No one wanted to spend an hour putting a group together and no one wanted to be turned away because their class isn’t desired or be unable to play because their friends aren’t online.

Of course, Blizzard (and other developers) were clever monkeys, recognised this and wanted to open up the mechanic to makes roles more generic and accessible, coining the mantra of “being the player, not the class”. Their way of thinking was that by reducing the number of desirable group roles to three and by giving more classes the opportunity to fill them then it creates flexibility and versatility, making MMORPGs more accessibly to the mass, casual audience. They were pretty much right.

By killing the potency of other roles (such as CC, buffing etc) and reducing the number of ‘required’ roles to three, it becomes a lot easier to put together groups. Likewise, by giving every class – even tanks and healers – the option of a pure damage spec, it solved the issue of not everyone being able to solo or effective partake in raids (which only require a limited number of tanks and healers).

So problem solved, right? No, not really. The number of ‘required’ roles might have been required from four or five to three but the whole gameplay experience is still incredibly disjointed and the burden of responsibility in groups is still very uneven. Playing a tank or healer is far, far more stressful than playing DPS, tanks often have no purpose in PvP and don’t even get my started on the problems of raiding and how it often makes hundreds of hours tanking or healing on a group level utterly obsolete.

My biggest issue though is that tackling the Holy Trinity model with flexibility has left very little room for individuality. Classes no longer mean anything and sometimes the people behind them even less – it’s all become about filling the role and nothing more.

Kill The Trinity And Make Us All Unique

Not to pick on specifically on Blizzard but, ironically, it seems as if their concept of “bring the player, not the class” has kinda backfired and we’ve lost form of individuality and class identity in the process. Perhaps a more accurate mantra should be “bring the role, not the player”, after all, who cares what people you have or even what classes you have so long as those three shield, healer and damage icons are ticked in the group finder? It’s even got the point in WoW were people just lazily refer to each other by their role instead of their name, as in “move over there, tank”.

WoW isn’t the only culprit either and forthcoming games like SW:TOR look to reduce us all to indistinguishable manikins who do nothing but meet the criteria of a three role gameplay system any way we can. You won’t play a Jedi with a personality or unique skills, you’ll play a DPS or a Tank or a Healer, one of those three and nothing else. I know this makes the gameplay model ‘easier’ to deal with but isn’t it about time we tried to break the mould a little bit? After all, my friendships in real life don’t always need to comprise The Funny Guy, The Hot Chick and The Token Black Person so why should my in-game ones have to be as limited?

I guess what I’m saying is that it be nice is MMORPGs started treating us more like individuals, allowing to be the unique and special creatures that we are. Unfortunately though, as long as we abide by the Holy Trinity model, we’re always going to be reduced to being nothing more one of three roles, limping by in games that stick to traditional mechanics that have never really worked to be begin with. I’d like to see MMORPGs try to evolve past that.

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  2. Why Blizzard Are Going To Kill The Holy Trinity
  3. DPS Only Classes Are Now Redundant
  4. Why Crowd Control Will Never Return
  5. 6 Player Groups – The Perfect Size

36 Comments

  1. bhagpuss says:

    As seems often to be the case, I very much agree with your analysis but strongly disagree with the conclusions you draw from it. Your take on Everquest marries very closely with mine and I’ve made many of the same points in comments over the last few years. As we move farther away from the glory days, memories grow increasingly hazy and it never hurts to re-state the basics.

    I think the term “Holy Trinity” was coined in EQ (Cue Psychochild to tell em it was actually first used in Meridian 59 :P ) but it referred specifically to the classes Warrior/Cleric/Enchanter. It was supposed that you had to have these three nailed down before you could even think of filling the rest of the spots in the group. You are entirely right in pointing out that there were a number of other roles that had to be filled that were almost as essential.

    The real strength of EQ, which I have yet to see matched, far less exceeded, in any other MMO was the flexibility with which these roles could be filled. In the two years that I spent almost every night in a group in EQ (2002 – 2004), we did level-appropriate, challenging heroic content with a huge variety of group line-ups. We ran groups with necros on both main and secondary heals, we had a shaman as main tank, we had the enchanter pulling…

    We had a list of willing people in a custom chat channel and we would make functioning groups from whoever was available. If we didn’t have a plate tank, a cleric or an enchanter on, we’d go somewhere with undead and let the necros handle cc, heals and mana while a beastlord pulled and tanked and everyone else offtanked and gave dps. It was creative, exciting and always loads of fun.

    I don’t like content that absolutely requires specific classes and I don’t like systems that give all the tools to everyone. What I do like is content and systems that repay imagination, creativity, flexibility and flair. We need to go back, look at what worked and bring it up to date, not reinvent the bloody wheel every six months.

    I love Rift’s soul system and I have high hopes for GW2, but really I’d prefer what we had a decade ago brought up to date. It wasn’t broken and it never needed fixing, just a new coat of paint.

    • Epiny says:

      I will agree that you COULD create many “unique” groups in EQ however the majority of the players did rely on the Holy Trinity you described, Warrior, Cleric, Enchanter.

      I did CC on a Necro for a time and I saw 2 Druid’s do main healing. I ran AE groups and all caster groups with a Shaman tank. However a Warrior, Cleric, Enchanter would almost always result in more EXP per hour due to a higher degree of safety and control over the fights.

  2. Nochecazador says:

    You are point on. So many times in WoW, as a hunter I just wanted a group that was willing to try pet tanking an entire dungeon. People would just give me weird replies. It was so disappointing. Stuck in a role hole.

  3. Ahtchu says:

    Great series of posts!
    I made my assertion in the last post that the ‘trinity’ is the most basic concept to combat. The three roles all exist to achieve the end goal: reduce your enemy’s hit points to zero, while maintaining your own hitpoints above zero, through the usage of one’s abilities.
    To expound on that, you’ve brilliantly offered the EQ group which I will use as a segway:
    [Buffing] a role that does not immediately serve to tank, damage, or heal, but positively modifies these in someone else.
    [Debuffing] a role that does not immediately serve to tank, damage, or heal, but negatively modifies these in someone else.
    These two are immediate derivatives of your base three. I may not be the one doing the damage, but my buff is facilitating the role. I may not be the one doing the tanking, but my slowing debuff is keeping those characters off the healer.
    [Utility] a role that facilitates general goals of various natures: fast travel, pull splits (mez ftw!) etc. It is the final derivative to combat: it allows or disallows combat to take place.

    These names could be mix-and-matched for something more familiar to the individual- the definitions are the take-aways.

    I would submit that what your distaste for the trinity working is not in its fundamental concept, but in its implementation. You’ve said as much, and I can only agree:

    [...] concept of “bring the player, not the class” has kinda backfired
    Truer words have never been spoken. I can’t recall a time in classic when you needed, for example, a druid vs a priest (other than the warrior-tanking ‘monopoly’). Mostly, it was just to keep a raid balanced for loot or whatnot. In BC, you were damned if you didn’t bring nothing but resto shams to Sunwell. In WotLK, you were damned if you didn’t have a DK/druid MT combo for 3Drake attempts. In Cata…

    The thing being, you can’t really kill the trinity. You will always have the concept of taking hits before dying (unless you want insta-death games?), the concept of dealing damage (unless we’re talking about Tetris?), the concept of regening health (unless you want perma-death?). Typically, that means the aforementioned secondary layer, the modifiers, as well. Classes need not be synonymous with roles, but mere starting design points. bhagpuss illustrates this with his ‘multiple classes fulfilling one role’ examples.

    @Nochecazador
    [...] as a hunter I just wanted a group that was willing to try pet tanking an entire dungeon
    Sounds like a social issue, not a gaming one. During BWL learning, we had a hunter’s pet bear MT the whole MC run, excluding Rag. During Nef attempts, we had a druid MT Chrom (world first to our knowledge- long before it was ‘viable’). Options of alternate play, meh, nevermind, my examples come from an era when the 800lb gorilla was in its prime.

    The last thing to consider is the meta-game design itself. If you can build up the need for other roles to be of the same necessity as the base three, you can truly build some unique, flavorful options for the gamer. Making pulling so paramount in actually achieving anything, making buffs so powerful they rival the individual actually putting them to use.
    When a designer marginalizes the derivatives, that is when you see a breakdown in the support for the trinity, mistaking it for the base three themselves. After all, this is precisely how and why Blizzard is failing with class balance and identity.

    • Ephemeron says:

      I can’t recall a time in classic when you needed, for example, a druid vs a priest (other than the warrior-tanking ‘monopoly’).

      I can.

      On the Horde side, at least, the success rate of raids was directly tied to the number of priests present in the raid. Replacing a druid or two with priests made the difference between the raid wiping to Impending Dooms and Chromatic Affliction: Blue and dispeling them in time.

      • Ahtchu says:

        On the Horde side
        Touche? Was it possible without ‘optimal’ numbers of priests? Regardless, this reinforces my point that some abilities should be shared by at most another class or two (original post, comment 47385). Here, pallies sharing dispel made this a complete non-issue for alliance (play was balanced for alliance perhaps?). Ref also: mages/druids sharing decurse.
        Specific issues on one company failing at group role balance is a deviation from the point trying to be made, however.

        At the time I posted this response, I did not consider *pure* gimmick fights: vis, raz… For completeness, they should be mentioned, but also should be noted for what they are: gimmicks.

  4. Azuriel says:

    I always find the “No one’s unique anymore!” cry completely bizarre. There is a rather huge difference between a Combat rogue, Enhancement shaman, and Fury warrior play style for example. So the discussion we’re having seems to be focused not so much on the classes actually being unique (they are), but rather on other people seeing us as unique. Which in of itself is further baffling since, you know, all of us are special snowflakes and people should be able to get across their divergent personalities after hundreds of hours of raiding, grouping, etc.

    I would submit that the real issue is that the difficulty of the content – or the raiding format itself – that is really at fault in marginalizing the uniqueness of each individual member. Let’s face it: everyone is less unique in a crowd of 9-24 other people, and the difference between Bob the Warrior and Matt the Shadow priest really comes down to their position on DPS meters in an 8-minute boss fight.

    It’s easier being unique when there aren’t as many people around.

    • Lierothegreat says:

      This comment is obviously wrong. The time period that these people are regarding as a golden age was the period of 72 man raids, or whatever ungodly size they were back then. 10-25 man raiding is not larger than 72.

      “There is a rather huge difference between a Combat rogue, Enhancement shaman, and Fury warrior play style for example”

      Stand still and hit a priority list which could be expressed as at most 3 macros, were Blizzard to allow macro’s with the flexibility that they used to, or that Rift still does. Yes, that’s a rather huge difference. Wait, no it isn’t. Unless you’re talking about PvP, but that’s rather irrelevant to a Holy Trinity discussion.

      • Azuriel says:

        This comment is obviously wrong. The time period that these people are regarding as a golden age was the period of 72 man raids, or whatever ungodly size they were back then.

        Congratulations on missing the point. The individual players (and play styles) are as unique in 72m raids as they are in 10m, which means calls for “uniqueness” really comes down to the desire to be the singular, critical role in a large group. Which would be better served in smaller sized groups, or in easier fights where responsibility could be shared (or is more fluid).

        Stand still and hit a priority list which could be expressed as at most 3 macros, were Blizzard to allow macro’s with the flexibility that they used to, or that Rift still does. Yes, that’s a rather huge difference. Wait, no it isn’t.

        What kind of asinine Red Herring argument is that? Blizzard doesn’t allow those kind of macros, ergo the fighting styles are different. QED.

        • Epiny says:

          When I compare EQ class roles to that of WoW I don’t like at HOW each class acomplished said role, I’m looking at the roles.

          While the classes in WoW do more or less play differently they still fill the same roles. In EQ we had more roles, but the down side was some roles were simply useless in a group setting.

          I think MMOs need to step out of the idea that there are only 3 roles in a game, Tank, Healer, and DPS. I believe they have reduced all classes to fitting into one of these three roles because it makes balance easier but on the down side it makes for a bland game. When balancing they just have to think “How does Prot Pal compare to Prot War?” By placing everything in one of these 3 roles they have reduced the variables in game balance, which has made all classes more equal but also more generic.

          In EQ if you wanted to solo you picked a class that was good at solo’n. You didn’t pick a class that was good at grouping then alter it to solo. Support classes were not only viable but desirable in EQ. Each class filled a “niche” role and depending on which class you took altered what the next class in your group would be.

          I would take variety hand in hand with inbalances over what we have today in WoW and I assume what we will have in SWTOR since I heard the group size is going to be 4.

        • Lierothegreat says:

          “Congratulations on missing the point.”

          Thanks…I couldn’t understand anything you wrote after that in that paragraph, so either you’re right or you’re insane. I have a guess as to which it might be.

          “Blizzard doesn’t allow those kind of macros, ergo the fighting styles are different. QED.”

          Incorrect. Any rotation that can be simulated by an unthinking macro is effectively indistinguishable from any other rotation that can be simulated by an unthinking macro. congratulations on missing the point.

        • Lierothegreat says:

          “ergo the fighting styles are different.”

          I’ll throw in an example b/c you obviously need one. Rogues and hunters in wow are different classes because of minor differences in how the rotation is designed on a key by key basis, or because the hunter stands at range, controls a pet, has kiting potential and tools, and has the rotation alter more while moving? If you answered the first, then you have no idea what you’re talking about. Which you did, so I’m done with you :)

    • Andenthal says:

      It’s less to do with the playstyle, and more to do with how the group acts, or reacts due to who is in it.

      The difference between a raid group having 1 or 2 Dwarf Priests and not having them on Magmadar or Onyxia was HUGE. Dwarf Priests WERE unique, no one else had Fear Ward. Undead WERE unique with Will of the Forsaken. Etc….

      The difference between a raid group having a Rogue or having a Fury Warrior on Shannox is which weapons they disenchant after the fight’s over. There’s no incentive or disincentive to have one over the other, excepting all ready having one or the other (to spread loot around).

  5. bloob says:

    I think there are two issues

    1. Should the trinity be replaced and if so with what?
    2. What’s the best way to deal with the trinity’s LFG problem?

    There a bunch of ways to solve (2) imo. The simplest (while still retaining distinctiveness) being to reduce the over-specialization of tanks and healers so tanks are tank/dps and healers can switch between heal/dps (solo) and heal/heal (groups) while the other classes get (or simply retain) distinctive abilities that suit the class.

    (1) is a bigger issue.

  6. Lierothegreat says:

    “I don’t hate humanity, I just don’t think it “works” “.

    What does it mean to say that you don’t hate the human race, but that it doesn’t “work”? You couldn’t really say there’s a function it is supposed to fulfill that it isn’t, so you can’t mean “work” in an instrumental sense, so you must be referring to some intrinsic value it possesses…this comes down to aesthetics or morality, which of course means that any difference between the statements “i hate humanity” “humanity doesn’t really “work” for me”, comes down to a difference in the intensity of the moral or aesthetic judgement, not a difference in kind, which is why the opening quote above seems oxymoronic and untrue.

    What then are we to make of the title of your article? If you were referring to the instrumental value of the holy trinity, you’d be referencing subscription numbers, profitability, anything that shows how gamers actually value the holy trinity in the games that they play. But you don’t do this, you only discuss the holy trinity in aesthetic terms. One is left with no conclusion but that you do indeed hate the holy trinity, you have negative emotions towards it, don’t want to play a game that contains it, and whenever a new game comes out you want it to be holy trinity free, so that you can like it.

    But why do you make this artificial and unworkable distinction? Do you subscribe to the belief that emotional judgements are always valueless, despite the fact that without them these kind of game reviews/comparisons are best done as lists of specs and features, not in prose? Or do you strike the pose out of the deep worry that for most people, the holy trinity is fine, and that only those who are burned out and tired of that game long for a more complicated and vital mechanic? I suspect the latter.

    You should not be worried about this, if that is so. The next great game comes not from giving the masses what they want, but what they don’t know that they want. Accept that you dislike the holy trinity but that most people don’t, and that voicing that opinion here is preaching to the choir. Prefacing your description of the game you want to play with yet another restatement of how the game you don’t want is not for you will only stifle creativity in you and your readers.

  7. Now, if your headline had been “I Hate the Holy Trinity Despite the Fact That it Works so Well,” I think you might be on to something, not to mention straying humorously into blasphemy.

    But to say you don’t think it works… well… it sure seems to in WoW.

    In fact, I will put forth that for a game like WoW, a really mass market MMO, it is almost a requirement. To build group content for millions of players, you pretty much have to define up front how a group should be made up. Something like Dungeon Finder totally fails without a rigid definition of what makes up a group.

    Back in EQ there was a trinity, as Bhagpuss said above. The core of any group looking to do anything was a tank, a healer, and crowd control, though what you really wanted was an enchanter. Ahhh, breeze…. You might add in more people as they became available, they would enable bigger and better things, but you really wanted those three.

    The odd thing about WoW, to my mind, isn’t that there is a trinity… there was a core trinity when I was playing TorilMUD in 1993 that included tank and healer… but that somehow damage became the third leg of the MMO triad. Damage used to be something that the tank brought and some of your other support people would bring as well, but the third groups was pretty much “everything else,” with a heavy emphasis on support specialties.

    Rogues came along for lock picking and scouting by sneaking. Most magic users had important class specific buffs. It was really only the poor rangers who were primarily damage dealers, and rangers were pretty lonely a lot of the time.

    So I get the whole idea of wanting to bring things to the table besides the big three we all talk about. I miss the class variety to a certain extent. But even in TorilMUD or EQ, when it came to zones or raids or other serious endeavors, an optimum force package always ends up becoming the norm. 15 years ago when somebody said they wanted to do a zone in TorilMUD, the precursor to a raid with a full 16 person group, there was a template for any given zone once it had been successfully defeated. How many tanks, how many healers, what special support became, and, in the end, if there was room to bring along somebody’s friend who had the misfortune to roll a ranger.

    But that was a game where 200 people might be playing on a given day and we were content to spend a couple hours trying to get a group together. You can still make a game that caters to that demographic. Heck, you can go play EQ on the progression servers and actually relive a bit of that. But WoW isn’t where you go if you want that.

  8. smakendahed says:

    The Holy Trinity is required in these games because these games assume you will be hit and hurt without any suitable means of recovery (unless you’re a healer).

    Though to be fair, most games can be soloed to max level, it’s only when you want to do the group focused content that you need this. Dungeons, where you have to follow a set path, cannot kite or pick off targets easily and where you’re definitely going to need someone to keep the squishies alive.

    I’d imagine a game that doesn’t require a holy trinity to play much like PVP battlegrounds. You’re delighted when you do have a healer that heals but otherwise you suffer many deaths…

  9. smakendahed says:

    FWIW, I duoed most of EQ’s non-raid content as a Cleric with a friend that was a SK even going into undesirable places like Kaesora (one way out), Dalnir (lots of casters) and Droga (or was it Nurga? Loads of SK guards that always seemed to have Harm Touch up and ready).

    Later in the game when they fixed Lull/Pacify line of spells, a Cleric could turn a 6 pull into a single. (Or 6 pull if it was resisted at a bad time hehe risk vs. reward!)

    I disagree with your tasking.

    Tank (Warrior/Paladin/SK) – Trinity Member 1. Very uncommon and in flux as to which class was the best for threat; generally SK/Pally topped threat while the Warrior was simply more durable which wasn’t always a concern (I remember it being the worry around Gates of Discord time).

    Primary Healer (Cleric/Shaman/Druid) – Trinity Member 2. Any of these classes were viable for healing, Cleric had the biggest output, but that doesn’t change they you could use the other heal-capable classes for most things short of main tank healing (once Complete Heal was available).

    Crowd Control/Buffer (Enchanter/Bard) – Trinity Member 3. Both classes had strong buffs, debuffs and crowd control capabilities. Bards also rocked for mobility (swarm kiting ftw). (Magicians could work later in the game where content was primarily elementals – think LDON). Charm also made these classes pretty hefty DPS when applicable.

    Puller (Monk/SK/Bard). I’d go with Monk or SK over Bard, usually SK if they were good (apply a low level snare and DoT to more easily split pulls that couldn’t be ‘walled’). I wouldn’t use a Ranger as a puller in dungeons, but maybe outdoors at which point any class could pull so long as they had Spirit of the Wolf on them. You didn’t need a puller if you had a CC type.

    DPS (not necessarily ‘good’ DPS) was just about anyone else unwilling to do any of the above roles.

    • Epiny says:

      The reason the Holy Trinity in EQ was Warrior, Cleric, Enchanter was because it allowed the rest of the group to be DPS. I can come up with dozens of different situations and zones where you could get away with not running the perfect group; however the vast majority of the players and zones demanded the Holy Trinity.

      My best friend was a Paladin and I was an Enchanter in EQ. We were both in a top raiding guild so we had some of the best gear on our server. The only way he would get in pick up groups is if he advertised that he came with an Enchanter.

      As I said, I used a Paladin for a tank because he was a RL friend, once he quit I ran with the guild’s MT Warrior, and we would always find a Cleric as a healer. It would take 2 Druids to fill in for one Cleric and often times they would still fall short. Then we could just fill the rest of the group with any DPS, typically 2 Rogues and a Wizard for evac. The Warrior/Paladin can pull and you have some of the best DPS in the game with limited down time.

      EQ had a lot of “unique” classes but it did create a huge problem by requiring those 3 roles to start any group. I started EQ as a Necromancer and changed to an Enchanter because I saw the need for them.

  10. Tesh says:

    I’d say it works well enough to hack the AI (aggro is still a silly concept) and simplify the game for PvE. Sometimes that’s all that’s needed or wanted (and unfortunately, sometimes that’s all that’s possible with laggy tech or dysfunctional players).

    Mind you, I still don’t like it. I especially don’t like the inflexibility of the system and the reduced opportunity to make tactical decisions by allowing anyone to pick up any role as needed, no matter the class. That’s why I play a Druid in WoW, so I can try to be as flexible as I can. I spec Feral and switch between Kitty Roguing and Bear Tanking on the fly as occasion demands… and even throw in some heals when I need to (and I’ve prevented wipes that way more than once). To WoW’s credit, that’s possible. RIFT seems to allow some of that flexibility, too. I never did try any EQ game, though.

    I wrote a bit about this a while ago while looking at Allods Online:
    https://tishtoshtesh.wordpress.com/2009/12/18/tank-you-oh-no-tank-you/

  11. [...] and learned behavior, no matter the venue. “Gordon at We Fly Spitfires is proposing that we bring the class, not the player “Not to pick on specifically on Blizzard but, ironically, it seems as if their concept of [...]

  12. Imakulata says:

    I simply had to copy Bhagpuss’s first sentence verbatim: As seems often to be the case, I very much agree with your analysis but strongly disagree with the conclusions you draw from it. First, I don’t really see being one of many paladins as expression of my individuality over being one of many healers. I prefer being taken to a group because I’m skilled, friendly, fun to hang out with but don’t care whether I’m taken because I’m the only class X build Y available or because I’m the only role Z available.

    I don’t have experience with EQ, I used to play Ragnarok Online and sure as hell there was a lot of identity. Did you want a lot of AoE CC and AoE damage? Get a wizard – other classes did have AoE CC but wizards did not have to hunt card to their weapons (0.01% drop from monsters), had guaranteed CC on damaging hit (they still could get a non-damaging hit thanks to target’s element or magic defense – other classes usually had an innate chance to fail on spell or card and chance to resist the status and many of them still had to get a damaging hit anyway), their CC didn’t break itself and had a bigger area than anything this side of bard/dancer. Healer? Get a full support (or magnus) priest, they had great buffs and while other classes could heal, priests had a much better mana regen – and guess one of two (before transcendent ones came around) classes who had a mana regen buff (yeah, it was priests). This was compounded by the fact that stat and skill builds were not changeable once you put the points there (which meant there was a lot of “build identity”) which meant that for some, leveling meant waiting in Prontera while your friends logged in and then waiting while they leveled you. (Such people were referred to as “alchemists”.) One difference was that in RO, the DPS were not equal thanks to elements (all but few attacks and all monsters and players had their element and the combination of element of attack and target could neutralize the attack completely or give a 100% bonus), physical and magic defense and skills that allowed someone/-thing to be invulnerable by certain categories of attacks – but that actually meant that you took a DPS that was not gutted by the monster’s properties in PvM (PvE) and a fixed set in War of Emperium (mass PvP – to ensure you had everything covered).

    The X-nity (role/class/build) system does get even worse when you downsize the party – for example in open world questing/grinding – because you just want to play with a couple of your friends. Or solo. Each party has to cover offense (because the monsters don’t die of boredom) and defense (otherwise you could just go solo as anything non-soloable will kill you). I think at that point, people stop asking “what’s your unique skill?” and start asking “what’s your unique skill? and another? and another?”

    I see the holy trinity as an evolutionary (not revolutionary) improvement over the “immaculate quintet” (which has only 6 roles – Czech band Spirituál Kvintet used to have 8 or 9 and still being called kvintet/quintet). However, Blizzard did not want to risk and stopped halfway – while they reduced the number of roles and gave players more choices as to what to play, they didn’t bring it to conclusion and still kept rigid roles. One way how to deal with this seems to be what GW2 is promising, getting rid of the so-called “class identity” and allowing all classes to take on offense or defense via helping their allies or controlling the opponents. I think that this won’t make us lose the individuality, to the contrary – it will strengthen it because with no huge class differences, they players’ individual differences will become more important. (I have no idea about actual GW2 gameplay, I’m basing this on their PR, they might be pulling our legs…) The way Rift or, say, Eden Eternal (which allows you to switch between as many classes as you want although each class seems to be meant primarily for a single role) tackle this is worth mentioning but AFAIK tanks are in short supply in Rift too so it still lacks something.

    Warning: In the following paragraph I’m going to use word “difficult(y)” whose meaning is, um, contested. Please note that in this particular case I don’t consider “doing a thing that is simple when done for a short time, for a long time” being difficult but do consider the twitch skills as difficult. Your opinion may vary.

    The other option would be to get rid of the rigid composition and allow groups composed of random roles to tackle the content, i. e. a dungeon/boss could be done with 5 DPS or 2 CC, 2 healers, 1 buffer or whatever combo would be available. The next game that does this and keeps at least the level of difficulty that WoW’s endgame has, will be the first I know of.

  13. bloob says:

    “I think that this won’t make us lose the individuality, to the contrary – it will strengthen it because with no huge class differences, they players’ individual differences will become more important.”

    It’s another example of game vs world and will have the same effect. The game people will like it more. The world people will like it less.

  14. vortal says:

    I agree with you on some points but not others. The old model didn’t provide all the classes to be balanced, certain classes were often prioritized over others despite the ability of the player. Flexibility however refreshing it may be to do 2 things at once, kills class individuality. However I do not find this premise to kill all the classes. What’s the point in forming groups if you are a character that can do it all. There is no strategy in fights, you all do about the same stuff. Your abilities don’t even make you special cause they’re like everyone else’s. The point of a class system becomes totally trivial when you do kill the Holy Trinity. GW2 doesn’t even escape this, it doesn’t have any healers, but it does have loosely fitted roles: offensive, support, defensive. If a game is gonna even have classes it’s gonna need to have combat that is revolved around each of the classes excelling in a certain kind of combat. Be it offensive via ranged or magic, defensive via shields or magic, or support via (magic)shields or buffs or crowd control or healing or all of the above.

    So it’s inescapable. The only true problem is how do you retain class identity yet have all classes be relevant in combat, without the “AB Build does not work with CD build so buzz off X class”.

    Also flexibility is not as new as you might believe. D&D have something called “multiclassing”. It’s not as ‘flashy’ as your hybrid classes but it gets the job done.

  15. [...] Reference: We Fly Spitfires — “I don’t hate the holy trinity, I just don’t think it wor… [...]

  16. [...] over on We Fly Spitfires had this to say (citation): “I’d like to see MMORPGs try to evolve past [...]

  17. Wolfshead says:

    The day is soon coming when MMORPGs will be dumbed down so much that there will be just one class: tank/mage/healer all rolled into one.

    What troubles me that any kind of inconvenience or hardship is seen as intolerable by a certain segment of MMO players. This is a truly disturbing trend.

    MMOs should be difficult. MMOs should be hard. MMOs should be frustrating. MMOs should require skill.

    A good virtual world owes you nothing. But today’s player is born into a pathetic generation of entitlement.

    Overcoming adversity and challenge are the things that makes adventuring worthwhile and gives us a sense of accomplishment. When everything is too easy and facile you end up with the the McMMO: the pre-raid World of Warcraft game.

    I logged on for a 14 day free welcome back to WoW a week ago and I was absolutely appalled at how they have removed what little challenge WoW had to begin with. It was a disgrace.

    When did we reach the point that video games are supposed to be a casual stroll in the amusement park?

    • Gordon says:

      I don’t think MMOs need to be hard or frustrating. For me, they’re just about letting you exist in a real, vibrant online world and immerse yourself in any character you want to become. I don’t want to follow rigid paths nor be labelled as a single type of trinity character without an identity. I want to be unique.

      • Imakulata says:

        Not having roles doesn’t mean the game is dumbed down. WoW raids are an example, while the classes have been “dumbed down”, somehow the raids have been getting harder in average.

        I wouldn’t say being on of 50k people with the same build was any more unique than being one of 2M. Personally, I would like to be accepted to a guild or party because of my personality and/or game skills, not because their spreadsheet says they need a person or two who plays build/spec X and they have none. (WoW’s trinity is not quite there either but I don’t think only perfect is good enough.)

  18. *vlad* says:

    I used to play PSO Online challenge mode way back when. Everyone played a dps role; there were no tanks, although melee could take more damage before they died than ranged/casters could. Anyone taking damage was likely to be knocked down or interrupted, which meant wasted time, so taking any avoidable damage was heavily frowned upon.
    This was hardcore gaming; if you did not meet the standard people didn’t want you in their pugs, so it really was all down to player skill.
    Depending on the map, there would be the following character combinations: one to three Fonewearl (casters), one or two Hucast (heavy melee), one or two Hucaseal (light melee/ranged), making a team of 5. The other 9 classes were ignored entirely – if you played one of those, well too bad.

    So, even in a game mode with no healers or tanks, we still ended up with specific classes taking on specific roles.

  19. [...] You won’t play a Jedi with a personality or unique skills, you’ll play a DPS or a Tank or a Healer, one of those three and nothing else. Gordon [...]

  20. [...] the lowest common denominator. I’ve skirted briefly with the topic before, but recent conversations have shaped a more refined point of view. I share that [...]

  21. [...] You won’t play a Jedi with a personality or unique skills, you’ll play a DPS or a Tank or a Healer, one of those three and nothing else. Gordon [...]

  22. [...] Jakiś czas temu zamieściłam na swoim blogu wpis pod tytułem ‘Nie zagrasz Jedi’. Zdecydowałam się dodać go i tu, skoro i tak opublikowałam niedawno jego angielską wersję.  You won’t play a Jedi with a personality or unique skills, you’ll play a DPS or a Tank or a Healer, one of those three and nothing else. Gordon [...]

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