Woes for Roles

I am terrible at making time to blog. When I’m at work, not only is the schedule so erratic but also I only have a tablet with me and as I’ve discovered, using the WordPress app is fine and dandy if I just want to type something very slowly but if I want images or especially if I want to link to another URL it becomes a massive time-consuming headache. Mobile devices are for content consumption, not content creation. When I get home the choice is between using what limited time I have to either play the games I love or to write about them. Given my blogging frequency, it’s obvious which wins every time. When I asked Belghast about his writing schedule last week, not only is he a fast writer but also writes first thing in the morning. I am way too groggy-minded when I wake up. Even now, I’ve been awake for an hour, had a mug of coffee and getting ready to start the second before I bothered to fire up Live Writer.

Roles, the Trinity, and You

One of the impassioned topics last week (see how my schedule leaves me no choice but to necroblog? New word!) was fear that EverQuest Next was eliminating roles. This has been rebutted by SOE’s Dave Georgeson but let’s look at the MMO Trinity: Tank, Healer, DPS. DPS was known as Damage Dealer back in the EverQuest days but has since evolved into the term DPS. So there’s your three roles comprising the Trinity. But wait, all the EQ players keep telling me Crowd Control (CC) was also A Thing back then and was its own role with capital letters and everything! Four is not three, so even in EQ which started all this, the Trinity… wasn’t.

The big “problem” that the EverQuest Next team is trying to “solve” is what all MMO players read about and if we’re not in an active guild, we experience daily: “most” players choose a DPS class because they’re more fun (and honestly, who doesn’t like nuking and slicing the crap out of monsters and seeing all those crazy high damage numbers?) so their queue times are drastically higher than the comparatively rare tank and healers. DPS classes often have less responsibility and to an extent can play a little more mindlessly while the tanks and healers have to pay more attention to the fight and on top of that, take all the abuse and blame if an encounter doesn’t succeed. Most of us play MMOs for virtual adventure and relaxation and take satisfaction in completing encounters cooperatively. If we get nothing but abuse from the other players then who in their right mind would queue up for more abuse?

So the two problem roles are the Tank and Healer, right?

Tank. I didn’t play EverQuest but I’ll go out on a limb and assume the big barrel-chested warrior with heavy armor, a big sword and a bigger shield got the name “tank” because he’s “built like a tank.” As has been pointed out over the years, in real military conflicts, a tank gets all the “aggro” not because the soldiers inside are taunting the enemy but because not only is it heavily armored, it also has devastating attack power. For the sake of game and role balance, MMOs made the tank role do drastically less damage to give the DPS players their role to fill while giving more and more ability to keep the boss’ focus on the tank and possibly some area-of-effect (AoE) powers to draw in trash minions or other minor crowd control effects. (Yes, tanking is crowd control!)

The traditional Trinity Tank is the role Belghast has most enjoyed over the years and laments that the genre is leaving him behind. A few responses included Rowan and Psynister (and hey, I just discovered a new blog and added him to my Feedster! It feels like it’s been years since I’ve had anyone new to read! Yay!) then Psychochild took him to task asking that he write what it means to him to be a tank. [Despite all the links, this is not Pick On Belghast Day!] The first two aspects, Juggernaut and Defender, I’m right there with him. Though most MMOs don’t require a physically massive Hulk-sized character to fit the Juggernaut aspect – a Hobbit Guardian in Lord of the Rings Online or a tiny Elin Lancer in TERA, for example — the bottom line is that you are taking the brunt of the damage so your health and/or stamina attributes needs to be as high as you can get it. The Defender aspect can blend a bit to my mind. Obviously any tank role is defending the rest of the party by having as much of the damage focused on him, but I would also lump something like Lord of the Rings Online’s Warden class into that aspect because he is certainly not a Juggernaut but fulfills the tank role by what I’ve always called “evasion tanking.” It sounds like World of Warcraft now has “rogue tanking?” Same thing. I suppose in Guild Wars 2 the Guardian might fit in the Defender aspect with his buffs that mitigate damage or increase healing regeneration? I’m making this up as GW2 has been unable to keep my interest whatsoever so I’ve never actually seen “Group Content” aside from random static dynamic events. In Star Trek Online both aspects exist to some degree. On all three of my Federation captains I have one cruiser set up with a specific build that would probably fit the Juggernaut aspect, and while most escort captains are considered “glass cannons” the better ones get their gear and player-skill up to where they can “shield tank” a boss because there’s no guarantee anyone else will be able (or bother) to “tank” in the traditional sense.

I tend to blatantly disregard Belghast’s aspects of General and Mentor because I do not see those as aspects of a character or class or build, but aspects of the player behind it. Anyone playing any class or role can lead if they choose to, and while I know for some strange reason in recent years it’s fallen on the tank role to also be the leader, for myself, I’ve always preferred a support role to lead because the tank and healer are busier. Especially if I’m staring at a boss’ crotch, I can’t see the whole group or raid. In World of Warcraft our raid leader was a warlock not a warrior. When I raided in Lord of the Rings Online, I did so as a Lore-master and was able to lead the group just fine that way because I was in the mid- to back-line and able to see more without panning the camera out. My guild leader who was also usually the raid leader was also a Lore-master and he stated the same reasons. Not to say I can’t lead while tanking, I have and who knows, I may again, it’s just not my preference unless I’m already very familiar with a given encounter.

Healer. Being a dedicated healer for me can be both a source of great satisfaction and great frustration, depending on the game’s setup and user interface (UI). I got my start playing my Druid main back in World of Warcraft 1.x and later continued with a Minstrel alt in Lord of the Rings Online. While it was a great feeling to keep the group alive, especially if I managed a perfectly-timed “save” where the tank or someone else would have gone down if my heal hadn’t fired at just the right moment, most of the time I also found I had to spend too much time just staring a health bars and miss out on seeing the actual fight take place. I’ve definitely come to appreciate more modern games that let everyone fulfill their roles with a minimal UI so that everyone can enjoy the moment, enjoy the fight and still support the group in whatever role they’ve chosen. Age of Conan, for example, had area or cone healing rather than making the healer stare at health bars, target the one player who needed it then press a heal ability. Star Trek Online can be extremely frustrating because sometimes it has Group Content but doesn’t actually Group the players. [I’m using Pete from Dragonchasers definition where the capital ‘G’ means you are physically in a Group UI.] If I’m on my Science captain, chances are I’m in a ship I’ve set up for a support role with a few heals but if there’s no Group UI then I have no clue you’d need a heal anyway, so you’re not getting one. In Neverwinter, my Devoted Cleric doesn’t necessarily directly heal anyone, it’s usually more along the lines of ensuring that I’ve put an Astral Seal on as many monsters as possible and keep rotating back to keep them up and essentially let my party heal themselves as they do damage. In RaiderZ my Cleric so far does have a Heal spell but rather than clicking someone’s UI (can’t because like Neverwinter and TERA the game is all mouselook control) I first cast the spell then it puts a targeting circle on the ground which I can move around and place under whomever needs the heal. The Priest in TERA had a similar mechanic but there you have to target the player with your cursor which I found difficult and frustrating because TERA uses more active combat.

So you can see even with the traditional Tank and Healer roles, MMOs have evolved how those roles are fulfilled with differing class and game mechanics. I’m more a fan of finding new ways of doing things and adapting to the new than relying on the old over and over. I raid-tanked with a Warrior back in World of Warcraft, and while incredibly fun, once I started moving from MMO to MMO it got old seeing the exact same “meat shield” tank class every time. Get aggro, pull to corner, stand still and taunt. [I’m simplifying but you get the point.] So I stopped tanking for a long time. Last time I was really “into” tanking was when I played the Warden in Lord of the Rings Online. That was over two years ago. Despite all the frustrations involved with Tanking and Healing, I tend to choose one of those two roles (unless some other Support style role is available, looks fun and interesting, and fits one of my playstyle preferences) because while I’m going to solo and do my own thing as much as the next guy or gal, I do love me some group (and Group) activities and I want to be both in demand, viable, useful, and a minimal queue time if I’m using a queue. But I typically will favor a “new” way of doing it if possible. I stopped the traditional tanking in favor of the “evasion tanking” Warden [Disclaimer: the past week talking and thinking of tanking, I did restart TERA and SWTOR a few days ago and exclusively tanking. But it’s been 7 or 8 years since WoW tanking so I’m allowed. =D ] I no longer play the “stare at health bars” Healer but instead a Cleric in Neverwinter or RaiderZ or a Bear Shaman in Age of Conan, each of which fulfills the same role but each does so in a completely different manner. That’s a personal thing, I suppose – I’ve never understood why someone would play the exact same role which plays the exact same way in every game. I understand liking to fit into certain roles but if the mechanics aren’t different then it isn’t interesting and I’ll burnout or get bored faster with the new one than I did the old one because nothing is different besides graphics and sound effects.

Expanding roles. To an extent, Guild Wars 2 may have done this. At least the one (the only?) thing I noticed in my limited time there was that in terms of Healing for the most part everyone is supposed to take care of themselves with limited heal support from others. Look how many roles the MOBA genre has! That’s pretty incredible, especially for a PvP game. They even have so-called “Tank” roles but players seem to be evolving that term and calling them Initiators now because they will start the fight with an enemy champion. The equivalent of “pulling” in an MMO, sorta, except this is PvP. But a Tank/Initiator would be the first to rush up and get the enemy’s attention and therefore has a higher health rating but since you can’t force aggro in PvP instead you have things like a stun or other interrupt where you protect your group by preventing the enemy from making his most damaging attack. That fits in with Belghast’s Defender aspect. You have Carry, you have Junglers, you have Assassins, you have Support and they all do different things at different times in the match. Each role can have its weak points in a match, and its time to shine. And players have adapted just fine! If MOBA players are moving from a simple one-syllable word like “tank” into Initiator then perhaps EverQuest Next players will evolve from using “Tank” and calling it a “Defender” instead? One can only hope!

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