We three kings: tanks, healers, and the class everybody actually wants to play.

10 11 2011

I am trying to get back into this blogging scene (something that since Archmagery I’ve been unable to really do) and so I’m reading blogs by bloggers I read back in the day (and some new ones as well); one thing that seems to be on people’s minds this week is the (in name only) “Holy Trinity”. One class soaks damage; one class mends damage; and everybody else lays the damage down. If either of the first two classes are able to lay down damage and still do their jobs, people who want to play the dps classes complains. It’s the current meta and the current meta-meta is to question and challenge the meta.

Gordon over on We Fly Spitfires had this to say (citation):

“I’d like to see MMORPGs try to evolve past that.”

I found this statement particularly interesting (the article in total, really, is well thought out) as it both echoes what seems to be the universal sentiment and it’s ironic.

(I’m pausing here as if you actually don’t know what I’m about to say. That you very likely do know what I’m about to say is doubly ironic. And that is worth the pause. Right? ….Okay, maybe not. Moving on.)

The origin of the trinity.

MMOs evolved into this. Their extremely humble pre-origins were games like DnD (ah, THAC0, you are lost but not forgotten) where some classes were better than others at different things and – purely to differentiate them – those differences were made more and more extreme. Fighters had no powers beyond raw skill of arms and may be plate-clad monstrosities, slow and hard-hitting, or wearing next to nothing striking from range. If they did the latter from the shadows, they may be a thief variant. If they rolled high intellect, the commanded magic, were typically physically frail and…well, okay, we all know the paradigm.

What people have forgotten is why the paradigm existed in the first place. It’s been overridden and clouded by this whole “Choose what you want to be” mentality which wasn’t really part of Dnd’s original design. No, really. 3rd Ed. paid a little homage to it, but 4th throws it right out the window, which is right in line with modern MMOs (or really all MMOs).

Originally, you would randomly generate – in order – your character’s statistics (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma) and from those decide what you would play. Did you roll crappy except for Strength? You’re a Fighter. (Pretty safe to be a Fighter if you rolled crappy everywhere; indeed it’s probably why the class was as common as it was.) Did you roll awesome everywhere? You’re a Paladin, or a Druid…both of which basically required you to have very high statistics across the board (and came with some pretty stiff restrictions on what you could do with  your powers to compensate).

This is gone now. People who want to play a Paladin can just choose to. Random statistics are more or less gone to, as in a world where role playing is lip service at best (not nearly as core to the game as a table top event) all it really does is make balance difficult (and enrage players).

So we get this world where people can choose what to be and people like to be the guys killing the monsters; you know, because every single other game that has no trinity at all, all of your progress can be measured by the sheer volume of goblins you slaughter in a given time segment. Think: Diablo.

Sans trinity.

Diablo is on my mind lately for many reasons, not the least of which being its complete absence of the “trinity”. In Diablo, I could single-handedly fight my way from the very first dungeon right to the very last boss fight…and I could take him down. I didn’t need four to thirty-nine other people that might at any time lose the battle for me due to millions of uncontrollable factors (spouses, children, connectivity, other IT issues, lag that is real, lag that is fake, skill, gear, a series of honest mistakes, didn’t read the guide, etc.)…I could just press in myself and win the fight.

The best part was I could bring a friend (or more) with me. His or her presence both increased the difficulty of the game (by making monsters stronger and more numerous) and the value and frequency of drops (though not in all cases). If you want to play with somebody, you can; if you don’t, you don’t to.

Diablo is a prime example here for my point, because:

  • success in the game is measured exclusively by your ability to survive and crank out damage (feeding the “people prefer damage over the other trinity roles” paradigm);
  • there is no trinity; every player is an island.

It’s true that (in D2, for example) a Barbarian could more effectively tank by being the guy closest to the mobs (and he was, you know, big and beefy) but then, even without a Barbarian a Sorceress could simply leverage mobility and shenanigans and still win the day. Diablo 2  may present the solution that people seem to want: the classes are all sufficiently different from one another and there is no trinity paradigm. If someone does tank or heal, it’s just gravy.

Without a trinity, it doesn’t matter what you and your friends play. If everybody wants to be Shadow Priests, well congratulations: everybody can be Shadow Priests and you can still win. If somebody’s connection drops or they constantly die due to whatever reason, you can still win. The best part? It’s still fun.

In conclusion.

Games like Rift adding things like a fourth utility archetype to the trinity is an interesting step, but it doesn’t seem to be what people really want. What people want is to play and move forward through content, and there is a tried-and-true alternative to the rigid trinity that they could consider, which is the “every player is an island” mentality of Diablo-like games.


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