Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Holy MMO Trinity

Personal news: my guild managed to clear all 9 bosses in Black Temple last night in our regular 4 hour raid time. I think that's f*@!ing unbelievable - previously the most we were able to accomplish in one night was killing from Na'jentus to Mother Shahraz in just over 4 hours. That's old news now! Wire to wire, Naj to Illibeans in almost exactly 4 hours. That leaves 8 full hours of raiding on Sunday and Monday to play with Hyjal (usually takes us 2-2.5 hours) and then lay the smack down on Kalecgos, work on Brutallus. Assuming we don't hop on the fail train and end up pulling Kalecgos 30 times before killing him, and we get the positioning and healing down for Brutallus within a few pulls, I can definitely see us pulling Felmyst before the Tuesday reset. Our DPS has never shirked from a DPS race, I think we can beat the enrage timer (so long as the Heroisms get used intelligently, which I'm confident our GM will strive for).

Tobold recently made a post about the "holy trinity" of MMORPG combat - tank, heals, DPS. He related the normal MMO group combo to a real life combat scenario to demonstrate the ridiculousness of the group, which follows:

So lets have a look at where this system is coming from. We start with a thought experiment: Imagine you and 4 friends want to go out in the woods to hunt a bear (Disclaimer: This is a *thought* experiment. Do *not* try this!). One of you is wearing his best quarterback armor, one of you has a medical degree and a first aid kit, and the other three are armed with swords and bows. The guy in the armor is telling dirty bear jokes to the bear to taunt him, the guy with the first aid kit heals him, and the other three are trying to deal maximum damage to the bear. If you picture it you'll immediately realize that this would never work in the real world. You can't "taunt" a bear, he'd probably attack the person closest to him trying to stick a sword into him. You can't heal somebody during combat either. The bear will not just hurt one of you after the other, but thrash around and all of you that are close. It'll be difficult enough to use a sword without hitting the others in the group that are close by, and firing an arrow into the melee combat is more likely to hit one of your own guys than the bear. The whole tank, heal, dps system is completely unrealistic.
Tobold makes a good point here. Trying to combat-heal with a first aid kit is a bit far-fetched, since bandaging someone while they are expecting another paw swipe from the bear will defeat the purpose of the bandage, but I'll let that slide for now. We'll assume that the first-aid kit would be replaced by the magical ability to heal wounds from afar. The point he hit on was the tanking - establishing threat by yelling at/taunting a beast is not how it would work. To get the beast's attention, a member of your group would have to represent himself as the most threatening/imposing target.

In the time before long range guns and guided missiles, warfare was as much about positioning and tactics as it was superior swordsmanship and strength of arms. Forming a shield wall, physically cutting off the enemy from closing into melee range of your archers, and other such tactics were keys to victory. The enemy was not forced to target the heavily armored and shield-bearing person in front of them - they had no choice but to get through or around that guy to dispatch the real, easier-to-kill target. Consequently, using ranged attacks against the enemy when they were engaged in melee with your armored units risked friendly fire.

None of these concepts are present in WoW, since there is no collision detection. In addition, the quantities of damage that enemies deal in any WoW-group environment are usually enough to kill a heavily armored tank in 10-30 seconds without support. This is one of the reasons I enjoyed and hated Guild Wars so much - it was possible to body-block enemies to tank them, there was heavy emphasis on snares and interrupts to avoid damage, and there was no threat table to manage. My gripe with Guild Wars was its pathing issues - not being able to jump or move three-dimensionally was frustrating. However, I believe that they got the tanking concept right - enemies should attack what they perceive to be the most dangerous, and the players should have to convince them otherwise through positioning and their actions, not through numerical threat management. The concept of taunt, as Tobold said, makes no sense.

Changing WoW with regards to the Holy Trinity would be a monumental task, and is likely unfeasible. However, I would love to see a medieval-type MMO such as Lineage 2 or Warcraft that employed collision detection and worked around the trinity, finding ways to make group encounters exciting and dynamic without forcing a monster to attack a specific player, or requiring a dedicated healer-type. Is it possible to make an exciting MMO that stays fresh and varies its encounter design without employing the tank-healer-DPS trinity? I'm not sure, but if one comes out and grabs my attention, I'd likely give it a trial play.


daniel said...

I would check out Age of Conan if thats your interest the collision detection in it, is well interesting, I still haven't got used to not being able to run through my team mates...

Josh said...

AoC still utilizes the tank-heal-DPS trinity though. Tobold mentioned it in his paragraph on the post I linked - Age of Conan still has people seeking tanks and healers for group content.

I'd like to see a game get away from the trinity completely, find ways for groups to experience content without a dedicated mender, or a heavily armored dude standing in front. I'd like the same game to also employ collision detection so that if you do bring along that heavy armor dude, he can body-block and use the terrain to protect his allies rather than yell obscenities or insult the beasty's mother.

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