This post by ‘I played WAR before anyone else did’ Richard Bartle (via KTR) brings up some interesting points, with the big take-away for me being that the MMO genre would be a lot cooler right now if Ultima Online had been more popular than EverQuest way back in the day.
SOE: ruining the genre since 99!
That aside, the main point of the post is about the ‘trinity’ of tank/healer/dps in many of today’s MMOs, and how it makes little sense not only from a realism perspective, but also in terms of design. ‘Forcing’ someone to play a meatshield, forcing someone to sit in the back and heal, and then having everyone else tag along to spam whatever they have at the boss does indeed look rough on paper for a wide variety of reasons, not the least of which is of course the fact that you can basically plug anyone into the dps role, while the tank and healers determine the fate of your group. The tank is the rockstar by design kids.
I would say it’s amusing that so many MMOs go down this path, especially when you have games like UO or EVE showing working examples of deeper, more free-form ‘classless’ systems, but than this sad but obvious fact comes up: the more decisions the average players has to make, the higher the chance they are going to screw up, and hence the trinity model is ‘safe’ and ‘easy’ in terms of design and player protection.
But beyond protecting the less aware, the trinity was also an easy way to fake AI back in the day and give encounters an easily-followed setup. Due to hardware and network limitations, you simply could not afford to have hyper-intelligent mobs that would play and react with anything more complex than “see player, attack player”, nor could you really have encounters go at the speed of a FPS in terms of movement, aiming, and precise timing. Technology has advanced, and while many MMOs claim better AI or more complex combat systems, they still crutch on the trinity and hence are still constrained by it. And now that MMO and WoW are one and the same for so many, the simple departure of the trinity itself is a huge shock for too many players. Too many still approach every MMO with a WoW mindset, trinity expectations firmly included.
Blizzard: Graciously accepting the destroyer crown SOE handed them!
One defense of the trinity you often here is that players enjoy playing a set role; be it tank, healer, or dps, and they view the removal of the trinity (or classes) as a change that no longer allows them to play the way they like. That’s just flat-out ridiculous. Sure, no one went around with ‘meatshield’ in their profile in UO, but do you really think smart groups did not organize themselves in a similar fashion? That they did not have someone who’s primary (but not only) function was to keep everyone in good shape, or someone who would initiate the encounter? Groups would still gear-out certain players to give them the best dps, but the fact that the player could still heal or take a shot does not mean he could not play the now-traditional ‘dps’ role. That it takes more skill to play a dps-focused character with ‘tank’ and ‘healer’ capabilities, or someone who is responsible for keeping people alive but can still fight back, should be viewed as a positive, rather than a possible design issue that needs the addition of ‘classes’ to solve and save the players from making mistakes.
Yet we all know that’s not going to happen. No matter how far technology advances, how smart you can make the AI, or how low your ping to the server gets, the shift back to a ‘classless’ system is not going to happen, at least not in mainstream MMOs. Sure, the combat in Darkfall blows hotbar MMO combat out of the water at its purest form, and thanks to better technology it works today when it would have been impossible in 1999, but the fact that a goblin can kill a player because the player played poorly is not acceptable for many in today’s market. The expectation is that the mob runs up, swings meekly, and waits to be hotbar spam-smashed to death, and that’s just for solo combat. Things get really ‘crazy’ when you get a group together… Choices, player skill being a factor, and a more open-ended approach are all scary things and potential sources of customer frustration. What you sacrifice in deeper, more interesting gameplay options you more than make up for in simplicity and accessibility, and it’s not hard to see which direction the mainstream has been going in for some time now.
MMO Genre: No thinking zone!
Chuck-o-the-day: Chuck Norris can build a snowman out of rain.