While we’re talking about the triangle of Tank/Healer/Damage Dealer, and the alternatives to such, what about balance? What about the balance in PvP?
I’ll admit, I’m not a huge PvP nut. That said, when I have the itch to play with other people in a test of skill, I like a flat playing field. The T/H/D triangle just doesn’t work for 1-on-1 PvP. It might work for small teams, but even then, the artificial Threat/Aggro mechanic doesn’t work on real people. Their Rogues go for the Healers, not for the tin can calling them names. Pure healers die in PvP. Quickly. When MMO PvP is a Quake Deathmatch with classes, someone will inevitably be the whipping boy.
So how does Team Fortress 2 work? From what I can gather, it’s based on a system of checks and balances. Sort of a real-time Pokemon, as it were. Is that better than Quake, with its classless system of “who gets the Rocket Launcher wins”? I’m not sure, but leaving things to player skill over “class” means balancing the game takes a different approach.
Rock, Paper Scissors is the archetype for the “class” system of PvP, but it’s not really satisfying as a test of skill. If Rogues always kill Mages, it’s annoying to be a Mage. Pokemon works because it’s effectively squad based. Ditto TF2 and WoW Battlegrounds. At least, those sort of work. 1-on-1 class based PvP stinks, as is evidenced in the Arenas in Fire Emblem.
Magic the Gathering works a bit differently. Their five colors are balanced largely on a “threat, answer” mechanic, and the “stack” allows for a series of moves and countermoves. It’s fairly elegant, but even there, “hybrid builds” of more than one color are often optimal (by design). In contrast, in a class-based MMO, a Rogue can’t use a Fireball spell on those pesky tanks.
An open classless MMO wouls allow more flexibility in the tactical “threat-answer” vein… but it would require more work to balance. I suspect that’s why we don’t see much of that these days.