Thou Holy Trinity Becometh

Tank, Healer and an assortment of DPS. That’s how it goes in MMOGs, right? It’s a long-standing cliche that has endured for nearly fifteen years (Wow, have these games really been around almost two decades?). From EverQuest to World of Warcraft to Rift, the composition of a group has been based on these three archetypes with little difference. Even the sci-fi third-person shooter Global Agenda subscribes.

Gamers have poked fun and complained about the setup, crying for innovation in the stagnate design. Many developers have tried breaking the bounds to offer a unique experience, but not one has truly succeeded. Another round of contenders is coming in 2011/2012.

BioWare is addressing the issue in Star Wars: The Old Republic by enabling every class to heal in some capacity. Current information on the oft-delayed title reveals that if not yourself and comrades, then a player will, at minimum, be able to heal itself. ArenaNet is passing the healers’ duty of resurrection to everyone in Guild Wars 2. Any player on the battlefield will be able to revive a downed ally with a bit of moral support. Or, barring a local teammate, you can self-res with a little determination (killing a mob). Iterations really, not rethinking the classic composition.

Developer Bluehold Studio and Publisher En Masse Entertainment are taking it a bit further in the action-oriented MMORPG TERA, as explained in a recent post. En Masse’s Scott James Magner bluntly states “we’re redefining [the holy trinity] as we move into the next generation of online games.”

The most dramatic change to the cliche mechanic is that TERA is expecting to split the DPS in to two roles, thus creating a fourth pillar. Magner drops the term “trinity” in favor of “foundation” of four because ranged and melee DPS are pigeonholed to specific tasks as much as healers and tanks. The melee classes, like berserkers and slayers, will focus on dealing massive damage through normal hits and criticals, which, like everything in TERA, must be targeted. Ranged classes, sorcerers and archers, will focus on consistent output from “an incredible attack rate.”

Honestly, sounds a lot like the diversification between current DPS class design, right? I was skeptical too. Magner gives a specific example using the sorceress to illustrate how the action of TERA clicks with the fourth foundation to offer a new way to play. The sorceress, rather than just sitting at a relative safe distance and spamming abilities, will have to “rely on strategic placement of spell effects and quick movement to maximize damage.” An optimized rotation will not guarantee max damage.

Tanking in TERA sounds far more complicated than executing high-threat abilities. Tanking characters must work in spheres of aggression, not a two dimensional line of front and back. “Attacks and abilities hit or miss depending on what direction a character is facing, and “up” is a direction you’ll need to defend against.”

Magner didn’t explain healing roles as much as the others, simply saying that players shouldn’t expect whack-a-mole UI healing. In fact, healers “are just as often in the thick of combat as the outskirts” due to the variety of beneficial spells and their associated casting cones, circles and ranges.

I’ve played TERA at past conventions, so I can attest to the frenetic pace of battles. No one is safe and no one is left hitting a key or two when a tough battle begins, with adrenaline soon to follow. How much these decisions will actually changed the Holy Trinity remains to be seen. Sounds good so far.


  1. It sounds like tanking in Tera has a new profound that I (as a strong standing tank since BC) will definitely want to examine.

    As for the split DPS part, I’m not really sure it falls into place. It sounds like the way Rift made a Support role to split healing and dps into a 2 pronged game. Only problem is half the time, there not as good or too good at there role.

    But it’s all just speculation at this point.

    If it were up to me designing a structure, I’d probably take a piratical solution to the situation.

    Imagine a dungeon that required a composition of 2 Tanks, 2 Healers, and 2 DPS.

    1 Tank designed for AOE, and 1 for single target. 1 Healer designed for AOE healing, 1 designed for single target, and 1 DPS designed for AOE DPS, and 1 designed for single target.

    Sounds like I’m just adding More roles right? Quite the opposite. Giving diversity to each role can actually make it Easier and More fun for a group if there roles are a pre-determined course had there own job, rather than tossing in a mechanic that forces them to something completely different.

    As a DPS, do you feel it’s your job to Kite and CC? I never did. I felt like it’s my job to make sure the boss dies, and have consequences if they didn’t. But with a 3 DPS setup, that job only feels half as important most of the time. The challenge makes most roles feel invisible to most people.

    Anyway I’d better go into advanced detail or this will turn into 15 wall paragraphs. Point is, diversity doesn’t have to come from Spitting or Adding, or even trying to Erase (healing) a certain role. It just takes having the current system and asking: “What would work best to make this Better for Everyone”.

  2. I think a certain point needs to be raised. We could have the same holy trinity if people actual used their brains sometimes.

    To be honest Alot of boss encounters are designed to be simple to figure out now….so everybody can get through the same content…..If people were taught the right we could have very complex or fun encounters.

    In example: During Burning Crusade a Warlock had to tank I believe it was Illidan because he had enough shadow resistance to actually survive the damage that was coming to him. A dps class doing the tanks job. I havent seen many fights recently that involve such rediculous thinking.

    Anyways there is my two cents. I know its only one example but all in all we just need a challenge.

    TLDR: Game Designs are to simplistic for even the average gamer to figure out and need to be more challenging.

  3. As someone who has always played a support role character type in every MMO I have ever played as my main, it always confuses me(and worries me) when people say they are going to rework the system of how healing/support works.

    Tanking and Healing are already the less inviting positions to fill, why would developers think that making them less inviting to play would be a good idea? I can understand trying to get tanks and healers more involved in the fight( At the end of Wrath I could solo heal a good chunk of ICC10 on my priest, my partner healer only had to really pay attention during certain bosses) and that got boring fast(and way to easy).

    Because of that I can understand why devs think that the roles need to be re-worked, however if you make filling the role to difficult for the average player, everyone will simply roll a dps character and just hope for the best.

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