Tanking – A Dying Mechanic?

Dungeon Finder

Tanking in WoW should come with free counselling

I’ve been playing a lot of World of Warcraft recently, probably more than I should have. All-in-all, I think it’s a testament to the strength of the new Mists of Pandaria expansion and between the new continent to explore, the hundreds of quests to complete, the new battlegrounds and the rather addictive side-games, there’s a lot to keep one occupied. Still, playing with my level 90 Warrior and low level Monk, one thing is starting to become clear: tanking has less of a place in the game than ever before.

As someone who used to be a die hard tank (and still considers himself one at heart, I’m proud to say), I feel slightly sad pondering the future of tanking in MMOs and it seems that the majority of activities for the majority of people in games now, WoW in particular, revolve around everything other than tanking. I can’t say I’m hugely surprised at this thought either as, with the increase in more casual orientated offerings, there’s less of a need to form a group and traverse through a dungeon than ever before. In fact, questing and PvP are two of the biggest components in WoW now and neither really has any place for a tank (healers at least have a hugely important role in PvP).

I admit it would be an exaggeration to state that tanking is completely dead in WoW because running heroic dungeons are still a mainstay of high level content in the game and someone still has to tank them… even if those players seem more reluctant and harder to find than ever before. As a fairly occasional tanker myself, the less than grateful welcome you sometimes receive from fellow PUGers combined with the need to dedicate a lot of time and effort gearing up for it makes the whole thing a bit of unappealing ordeal. Plus, you’re then faced with the crazy conundrum of how to gear up for a DPS position in raids if you’re tanking heroics instances constantly (and only being ‘allowed’ to role on tank gear as a result).

Perhaps it’s just the particular mechanics of WoW and the fact that tanking requires a whole different set of gear from DPSing that makes it so inaccessible but the constant lures and rewards that Blizzard seem to offer in order to entice people to do it suggests that it’s not a very popular activity. The introduction of scenarios, three man DPS group instances, further compounds this fact and honestly makes me believe that we’re going to see fewer and fewer opportunities to tank as the game progresses. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if, in five years time, every dungeon in WoW was a scenario and the sacred role of tank was reserved for elite raids only.

It’s not just WoW that seems to be spearheading the decline of this gaming mechanic either and if you needed any more persuasion that tanking was dying out you need look no further than Guild Wars 2 which, by all accounts (I haven’t played it yet so feel free to correct me if I’m wrong here), has removed the concept completely. It truly is starting to look like the traditional holy trinity roles are becoming a thing of the past.

I know some people would welcome the Final Death for the old style trinity model of tanking, healing and DPSing whilst others would vigorously oppose it. For me, as much as I love both the playstyle and roleplaying aspect of being a tank, I appreciate the evolving nature of MMORPGs. Call it dumbing down, call it simplification, call it appealing to casual players or call it whatever you like, the people who play MMOs are changing and the games are changing as a result. Just like the idea of a Dungeon Finder would’ve horrified MMOers 10 years ago, perhaps the idea of tanking will do the same to players in another decade.

Of course, as much as I’m happy to embrace change, I would honestly miss being able to tank. Still, I guess I’ll always have my fond childhood memories of being beaten in the face by an Orc to keep me reminiscing.

-Gordon

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13 Comments

  1. Tesh says:

    Y’know, the few times I’ve tanked as a Bear, I’ve enjoyed grabbing the attention of baddies and keeping them off my teammates… but the teammates, them I’ve enjoyed less. When I tanked for players who appreciated it (especially since I’m not an experienced tank), it was fun. When I tried to do my job but the other players made it hard, it was… far less enjoyable.

  2. bhagpuss says:

    C’est la vie. The world moves on. The only thing that’s odd is that MMO players thought they were exempt.

    • Tesh says:

      Y’know, it may wound pithy and overgeneralized, but I suspect that there is a sizable chunk of MMO players who effectively started playing as teens and are now seeing their own lives change… and they don’t quite embrace the “live goes on” mantra yet, just because that tends to be a perspective that comes with time and experience. The MMO market is maturing, even if some of the players aren’t, or are fighting it.

      …which isn’t to say that liking tanking is immature, of course. I tend to think that good tanks have to be very mature, just as part of the job. It’s just that the market inevitably moves on, and these MMOs tend to bank on the promise of perpetuity… and there’s a natural tension there.

    • klepsacovic says:

      Change is not a universal thing and it’s stupid to just say “things change” without the slightest thought of what is changing, why, and whether we should resist it. Change isn’t some magical inevitable force going in a particular direction at all times. We can change change. Gravity keeps on pulling us down. Air continues to be something we breath. Cars change, but still do the same general thing of using gasoline, steering wheels, and roads to bring us somewhere else.

  3. James says:

    Do you really “role on tank gear”?

  4. Jeromai says:

    Well, it depends on which aspects of tanking one likes. First in to the battle, tough to kill, controlling enemy positioning or completely grabbing all aggro from anything and everything. Everything but the latter can be replicated in GW2.

    I identify with a lot of tanky traits. I love melee, like being situationally aware, love being sturdy and hard to put down, and supporting my friends by controlling the enemy. Been able to do that all on my Guardian so far.

    (I’m a big fan of pushing WvW zergs to morale breaking point by flanking them, or being out just far enough that folks target me… then get a wall of reflection up in their face plus two spirit weapons, and I’m back into the zerg to heal up. That almost always makes them backpedal just a little as the rest of one’s group surges forward just a bit more. Chokepoint control is a great Guardian specialty that I haven’t delved into much.)

    I believe warriors might also have some of that tanky flavor with a lot more offense. And necromancers are crazy at having a huge hp reservoir for survival. Also met a nearly impossible to kill elementalist once, probably earth/arcane spec’ed.

    Plenty of tank-likes, just no 100% guaranteed aggro control, which is awfully boring and cheaty easymode for dps if you think about it. I much rather have my fellow game players get smarter and play better, rather than end up being ungrateful entitled people ready to abuse someone self-sacrificing for them.

    As for the aspect of being an egomaniac control freak wanting to make sure everyone is following them just so, doing stuff exactly how they want it, it is also independent of one’s class in GW2. :)

  5. P@tsh@t says:

    Good topic. What concerns me more than the death of the trinity as we know it is really the death of the roles in our role playing games.

    Tanking as we know it was built on the aggro mechanic–a far from perfect but convenient way to create a combat scenario that other roles could participate in– healing, damage dealing, crowd control, buff/debuff, etc. Now it’s dps all the way down.

    These games used to be about figuring out how to maximize the synergy of a diverse group. The progression has been to streamline the roles from 4-5+ to 3 and now effectively toward one.

    Why not make every instance an escort quest where the npc just tanks for the group?

  6. I think the trinity has a few more years left in it yet. At least for WoW.

    The pure/hybrid division is likely to disappear first, with all classes receiving a tanking build.

    The reason: the hybrid-less model actually turns out to not be a huge amount of fun when it comes to dungeon-running.

  7. Ephemeron says:

    Challenge Modes are doable without a healer, but not without a tank.

  8. Milady says:

    My concerns started when it was announced that GW2 would support a trinity-less gameplay, which had different meanings for different people. To me, it bespoke of a role-less system, and that I was not so keen on. Roles, such as tanking, healing, or whichever function they come up with, allow people to perform for others and to adjust to their fellow players’ playstyles. They are a tool for socialising, since there will always be a role you cannot perform, and which you need others to carry out for you.

    The question is not merely the fact that tanking is not fun, or that it has been degraded or pushed out because of its unpopularity. If we do away with the nuances of the role system, such as that there is specific gear for tanks (as there used to be for healers), the game becomes homogenized even further, when there is no longer a point in playing one class over the other except for flavour, since they are all given the same basic tools.

    But I digress a bit – I agree with you, tanks are in decline, and nobody cares, especially not Blizzard.

    • Imakulata says:

      The roles are not a tool for socializing; there is an assumption you make and that’s thinking a group who misses someone who plays class X or can perform role Y will usually try to recruit new members who can play the class/role – it does happen but usually they just have someone take an alt or simply solo until someone who can play the class/role logs on.

      As for the class homogenization, roles were actually first step (or one of first steps) – and I have to say they were welcome by me (as a player who prefers playing a single character instead of alts).

      The problem with old, especially pre-trinity, model is that it’s much better if everybody’s viable in any setting but nobody’s required. Even when I could get groups despite not being viable – standing around looking pretty and leeching XP off others wasn’t my idea of fun.

  9. Eki says:

    Well how does this fit with the complete revamp of tanking mechanics with mists?

    Blizz obviously invested dev-time to counter the “boring-ish” nature of tanking, that for me states that blizz actually DOES care.

    I think a lot of the reason why people would not play a tank is because they are only needed in the “endgame”, while blowing up stuff is essentially useful everywhere.

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