Spurred by a recent “Pick Up Group” experience in Allods Online and a couple of articles (OK, and doing the WoW Druid Bear art for BBB), I wanted to write a bit again about tanking and the Holy Trinity of MMO combat. Here are a few great articles to prime the pump as well:
I’ve written about this sort of thing before. Long story short, I’m highly in favor of breaking the trinity affording greater player customization and flexibility, hopefully making for more interesting combat.
Mostly, it’s because I want to be flexible when I’m playing a game. I don’t want to have to depend on other people… though I’m happy to help other people. That’s my particular brand of soloist play; I want to do my thing and have fun without needing other players… but if I want to help others out (and I often do), I want it to be fun and easy enough to get to do. (Note, not necessarily “easy to do”; I like challenge in my games, after all. I just don’t like fighting the UI or having insufficient tools to deal with idiot players. I don’t like fighting other players, either; I’m all for cooperative PvE ventures.)
Perhaps a story will help illuminate.
I’ve been playing League side in the Allods Online beta as a Gibberling Psionicist. I have characters of most races and classes for experimentation, but I picked the Psionicists as my “main” for the beta so I could push through to some non-newbie content before the beta ends. The Psionicist is a DPS/Support class, designed somewhat along the lines of the Guild Wars Mesmer, where I find ways to control foes and the pace of combat, while burning them down with psionic blasts. So far, it’s been good fun, if a bit repetitive. (Finding my optimal “rotation” took all of three or four fights. Certainly not several levels’ worth of fighting. That’s another rant, though, and such design is certainly on par with other modern MMOs, so it’s not a glaring flaw unique to Allods.)
There is a “boss” fight on the League newbie island. It’s a super powerful Wisp that requires at least three players to tackle; a tank, a damage dealer and a healer. It’s the same old dance of “deal damage/mitigate damage/heal damage”. As long as MMO combat is based on hit points and damage, we’re pretty stuck with these core roles in some form. There is nothing crazy about this particular fight, then, it’s just a fight that requires a group (GASP! I PUGged!) or an extremely overleveled soloist.
The first time I fought the boss, I just shot at it to see what it would do. It chased me and pretty much ate me for lunch. Gibberling nuggets, extra crispy.
A level later, still saddled with the quest to kill the boss, I answered the call of a tank who needed help to take it down. A healer met us at the boss rock (it’s an open world boss that just putters around a rock in a circuit until a fight), and we proceeded to beat it into protoplasm… slowly. The tank took the brunt of the attacks, I did my best damage from short range (so I could work in a dagger stab or three while skills were on cooldown), and the healer kept us all alive. The healer’s mana actually died out close to the end, so he just moved in and started stabbing as well, but we were close enough to victory that it wasn’t a terrible breach of etiquette, and nobody fell but the baddie.
Yay, quest finished, experience earned, congratulations and thanks all around, group dissolved, chalk one up for the good guys. (At least, until the respawn.)
A few days later, I’m one level older, slightly more powerful (though with no new abilities), and about to leave the newbie Allod. Someone is spamming LFG in the zone chat, trying to get a party together for the same boss. I figure, sure, I have a little time and would like to help. I get there only to find three other DPS characters (two Hunters and a Druid). OK, sure, just burn the boss down fast and hope it works, right? Nope. Nobody wants to try, and it turns out, for good reason.
A tank finally shows up after ten minutes of zone spam, and we go to town on the boss. It turns out the tank didn’t actually tank, but just spazzed out in flaky DPS tango mode. I get “aggro” because I’m doing solid DPS with my now-rote rotation, and the Big Bad Wisp proceeds to fry me again. I’m soon followed by a Hunter who was also doing solid damage. The tank disappears, the healer says the tank was incompetent, and we sit around for a while waiting for another tank. Eventually, I give up, and move on. (I still wonder about throttling my DPS, but the healer was pretty adamant that the tank wasn’t doing her job.)
So much for helping other players. It’s a good thing I didn’t still need that quest; I’d have been more annoyed. As it was, it was grist for the blog mill, so I was happy enough. I won’t do that again, though.
The fight failed for lack of a tank who actually tanked. I blame the game design just as much, though.
If any of us were able to step up into the tank role, regardless of class, we could have shuffled around and tried with someone else at point. This is why I love the Druid class in World of Warcraft (or the Paladin or even Shaman, maybe even a Warrior). Played well, a Feral Druid can either take point and tank in Bear form or shift a bit and start scratching backs in Cat form. No respecs (though Dual Spec is nice to extend the flexibility), no gear swapping, just role swapping.
I would have happily stepped up as a tank if my Psionicist were able to do so. Sure, it would probably mean some sort of “dodge tank” or “mesmerizing tank” rather than the traditional “hit me, I can take it” tanking, but that would be fine with me. That wasn’t an option, though, so I wound up frustrated. Sure, I had a stun (on a long cooldown, and the boss is apparently immune), a magic shield (on another long cooldown) and an “AAAH!!” button (a clone that takes aggro and then dies), but those aren’t really tanking tools when I’m puttering around in cloth armor holding a little dagger. All in all, it just wasn’t working. One guy in the group even wandered off to quest for a bit while we waited for a new tank.
Again, I don’t like depending on others. I would have gladly put my head on the chopping block to help other people, even if it would have been more difficult to do, but waiting for someone else was something I didn’t do for long. I’m not sure what it’s like to need a DPS, but I’ve also had occasion where needing a competent healer made for frustrating gaming, too.
When I have the ability to shift into different roles as occasion demands, I’m a LOT more likely to enjoy playing in a group. I can plug holes and adapt to tactical situations. I do that in Puzzle Pirates when I’m out sailing my ship with other people. I let them pick their favorite stations, then play whatever still needs to be done. I get and sympathize with the tanking philosophy, and the utilitarian moral of doing what the group needs. I don’t like it when the game arbitrarily makes that depend more on the class (or even the build) than the player.
Short story long:
Tesh goes on 2 PUGs, one good, one bad. Still tired of the Holy Trinity and inflexible game design. Recommends the ability to change roles at the drop of a hat, even in combat.