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