Modernising Roles and a Lost Love for Healers

The recent Everquest Next reveal has seen a lot of really interesting posts debating it’s apparent lack of holy trinity combat system. I think it all started with a post at Tales of Aggronaut regarding the interests of players who like the trinity system and the developers apparent dismissal of it in the name of fun. I admit after reading that post and thinking about I became rather angry.. I calmed down, deleted the rant that was sitting in my drafts and started again.

I was sad at first as I love being a healer, it is a role I have played for many years in mmo’s with organised groups and without. In PvP battlegrounds, open world, and even in lfg raids. It is a part of my identity in these mmo’s as I first and foremost identify as a healer… Have a look at the blog title, that’s how much I enjoy healing. After playing GW2 for a year I miss healing so very much, trying out my Elementalist made me realise I miss it even more. Aside from that they give people a defined role and a style of play that is meaningful and important to them. It is something that appeals to our base personalities which make them so important to our gaming identities.  Just because it isn’t as popular as a hybrid or straight DPS shouldn’t make it less important as healing offers a certain unique playstyle withing mmo’s that really appeals to me and many others. Here’s why I like it.

Engaging Experiences

Sometimes it isn’t fun healing the dungeons or raids although many times I enjoyed it precisely because it wasn’t. One of the best times of my mmo gaming was reaching the cap in Rift and heading into hard modes. This was before they were nerfed and for the Tank and Healer, even for the dps these were some extremely challenging encounters. I reveled in it, truly I did. I embraced the challenges and it pushed me for more. Where many groups were duo healing the entire encounter I was blasting most of it out solo. It wasn’t fun, no it was something far more exhilarating then that. I was truly and utterly engaged in my class and the game I was playing and I miss this challenge that can only come from these defined roles.

There is also a certain amount of reliance with each other in those circumstances where you need each other to beat these encounters. I enjoyed being needed and a critical point in our groups and it was a strong point in building that rapport and connection to others that is just missing in these all or nothing dps zerg fest encounters we have at the moment.

The Nurturer

I work in Childcare for a living, a profession solely about caring for others so it was really no surprise to myself when I fell into the healing role, nurtering others is something very familiar and just an innate personality trait within me. While the Tank is always the protector, omitting damage from others the healer is about nurturing and caring for others, it’s not stopping harm but about healing wounds. You’re also helping others to grow further, enabling others to continue onwards towards their goals while being supported. I want others to achieve not just myself and I believe that is a core aspect.

I guess the similarities between the two classes are rather close in that they both have a focus away from the self and onto others but I believe they are something fundamentally different from each other. They are almost like polar opposites in what part they focus on but both form a whole.

The Anti-Ganker

I have discussed before that I have ganked other players but this always seems to be within a group and as part of the usual sense of nurturing others, or nurturing my group. I have been playing Dota a little lately in order to test out those MOBA’s everyone is talking about and having a … partially ok time. My first experience was rather amusing though, I was defending my line and this guy kept chipping away at me. I made a comment over TS bemoaning that this guy keeps attacking me to which my friends replied”of course he is, attack him back”. It is just a different frame of mind I hadn’t even thought about at first, I was focused on defending my line and farming creeps to better my team and would have preferred if I was left in piece to do it.

I started of course attacking back after that but it really did feel odd, I’m not an instigator in the slightest as it really runs counter to my usual playstyle with waiting for others to engage and supporting their efforts. Now this extends very much into PvE encounters in that it is always the Tank and Dps’s jobs to instigate the fight and focus on that other monster, or person. I wait, I support and my focus is always around others, I attack others as well but that primary aim is not on the self or on the enemy and as such it feels unnatural to be that person actively engaging others.

Evolving Action

To me it feels like Healing is of a more dynamic role than any other. It is a reactive playstyle in that you are constantly adapting to the situation and using skills accordingly. There is no set skill to use or rotation to play out every single encounter that plays out pretty much regardless of the content, there are no set I win button macros to success. Boss fights often play out a little differently in when they put out damage and of course players always offer a certain randomness to the fights that just can’t be accounted for and it is your role to react to this. I enjoy that there is no set plan to combat and with this dynamic play I am constantly engaged in the combat.

Focusing on Fun

Imagine one day if someone said that for some reason your favourite puzzle game company announced it was never going to make puzzle games ever again because apparently they aren’t fun enough. They explain that many games will still have puzzle elements, you can play those over there and that should be enough. But you love these in particular puzzle games and you know, since you have played those other games with puzzle elements that they don’t offer the depth of puzzles and the amazingly engaging experience you had completing those original puzzles.

That would make me incredibly sad, as this news does as well, it’s just not what I prefer. Sure I would have liked if they had just updated the combat a little, I actually think The Elder Scrolls has done a decent job of that but abandoning it does seem like a mistake. Now imagine your one of those fans of Everquest suddenly being told that the ganes they play and the gameplay they love is not good enough anymore. I think their ranting and raving is actually pretty justified in this case as an established game and I.P is suddenly completing changing the core of what makes it. Leo the lion was a part of that feeling as well and it all just adds up looking like a big middle finger to the community that has made Everquest a pillar of the mmo genre. Oh well.. Let’s chase some whales instead WOOOOO!

Now with the focus on providing “fun” experiences above all else it seems that the role and gameplay I, and others adore is not appreciated or needed anymore and that really is a shame. Healing, Tanking, and support classes have very valuable roles in these mmo’s as they provide a  a sense of independance with each other. Being everything all the time or worse, completely removing those roles is an extremely corruptive influence that is slowly eroding away at our mmo social structures. MMO’s are meant to be about needing others, whats the point of have a multi-player space if everything can be done solo or with as little communication as possible. I’ve written previously about the attitude of helpfulness in GW2 and how it was very social but never eventuated into socialising and as my play has gone along you can see the extent with which the community has suffered because of it… silent dungeon runs aren’t the worst of it.

I’m actually rather conflicted about the use of the trinity though as I think both styles have their strengths. For defined structured group content having a trinity is the better system… That’s not even debatable. I have the only really experienced the other side in Guild Wars 2 but it really was some of worst group experiences I’ve had. The structured content just didn’t have that… well, structure. It was freeform madness with very little coordination and group functioning other than just kill stuff faster and bug out frustrating encounters.

From the many games I have played it seems like having a flexible skill/class system is the way to go as people can use these more defined roles and gain that sense understanding and order in these encounters yet allow greater freedom in the open world. It honestly seems like they went the easy way out in this regards with abandoning something more complex but with greater flexibility. There is a wealth of experience they could have drawn from as well from previous games. They could have had the best of both worlds, a system wherein there is space for the trinity and mechanics revolving around that, and then also had many wherein you get to show off this new adaptive Ai. It would have had a far greater diversity in the mechanics, experiences and gameplay but we get one type, a type that feels far more restricted in what it can accomplish.

The part where I don’t mind it’s absence is for PvP. Playing in WvW and even in structured has been some of the best PvP combat I’ve had in an mmo so far. It feels incredibly fluid to play and has some amazing complexity built into its system with how skills function that create some far more engaging and dare I say… Fun combat. It is more than just playing a game of healer whack a mole and has more nuances in how the combat experiences unfold. Now GW2 took the system no where near as far as the should have and never really balanced it enough to achieve greater things but I had a taste of it, and that taste was extraordinary.

To me your system doesn’t appear as complex as Guild Wars which really does make me worry. Eight skills in total and no in combat weapon switching from the sounds of it, that’s not simplifying an admittedly over complex system, that’s you making it so a drinking bird could play effectively. It also seems like you don’t have any sort of combination system to at least make skill use require coordination either. Dare I even ask about active blocking and dodging. Yes I’m still very skeptical as I have seen how this development fascination with action combat in these mmo’s can go wrong. I want you to succeed in this because we really need an MMO that is like what you claim.

This talk of a trinity less combat system was what intiially set of many warning bells with people as it is an indication of a focus towards an mmo that sounds familiiar to all the other trash we’ve been handed lately. I was interested in EQ Next because it was different, this was you giving into the pressure of the industry and abandoning that. I hope I am mistaken.

19 thoughts on “Modernising Roles and a Lost Love for Healers

  1. I think designers are looking at the situation where many groups are stuck waiting on a tank or healer in a trinity system and going “Well, let’s try to fix that by removing healers and tanks!” This obviously sucks for people who LIKE playing healers and tanks.

    Blizzard tried a different approach by bribing healers and tanks for dungeon queues, but I think that just encouraged current healers and tanks to queue up rather than creating new ones.

    Part of the problem is that it would be extraordinarily difficult to tune content without knowing if a tank and/or healer would be present. Sure, it might be doable for one specific fight, but could that be applied to every fight without making the fights too similar?

    • The link about support roles also had the point that maybe the developers should increase the group size to compensate for the extra dps floating around.

      I’ve been reading a few blogs about wow lately as well and the point they make isn’t that there are less healers and tanks out there, just less healers and tanks that want to deal with the BS of LFR. A big part of it is a communtiy issue rather than any sort of problem with the roles and I think we need to start there.

      I’m of the opinion that cross server dungeon finders need to end. It’s the anonymity of these systems that encourages such a toxic atmosphere. I also think with the rise of ftp, and lack of accountability that it may just get worse.

      • “The link about support roles also had the point that maybe the developers should increase the group size to compensate for the extra dps floating around.”

        To what end? In WoW, 5 mans have 3 DPS to 1 tank and 1 healer. 25 man raids have 2 tanks to 5-6 healers to 17-18 DPS.

        I mean, are we going to make a 25 man raid with 1 tank, 1 healer, and 23 DPS or something? It just already seems somewhat difficult to stand out as a DPS given the skewed ratio. I’m not disagreeing necessarily with your general idea, I’m just not sure what the “sweet spot” is.

        “I’ve been reading a few blogs about wow lately as well and the point they make isn’t that there are less healers and tanks out there, just less healers and tanks that want to deal with the BS of LFR

        I’m of the opinion that cross server dungeon finders need to end. It’s the anonymity of these systems that encourages such a toxic atmosphere.”

        While somewhat true, the same healers and tanks that don’t want to deal with LFR are the same healers and tanks who don’t want to deal with PUGs that are “legitimately” assembled.

        At near the pinnacle of heroic raiding, it’s typically just as hard for me to find a DPS as a healer or tank. But if you look at guilds in normals or people trying to make PUGs in trade chat, they almost always struggle to find tanks and healers. So there’s no shortage of tanks/healers at the top but there is in the middle and bottom.

      • it seems like at least having a group size of at least 6 (1 tank 1healer 4 dps) would be a better thing but instead with these newer mmo’s they seem to be shrinking group size to 4… doesn’t make sense. Even if you look at those raid numbers it still seems like the same ratio of dps, usually they are a bit better but it still needs improvement. I think the hybrid systems do make it much easier too but then it still comes down to finding the gear as well.

        I definitely see your point there. Skilled tanks and healers for the most part wouldn’t want to worry about herding a bunch of unorganised pugs. I think there is also an issue of stress placed on new/less geared tanks and healers going through those normals which gets a little worse due to the atmosphere.

      • “it seems like at least having a group size of at least 6 (1 tank 1healer 4 dps) would be a better thing but instead with these newer mmo’s they seem to be shrinking group size to 4… doesn’t make sense”

        I suspect they want the DPS to feel like they matter. The more the ratio gets skewed, the more people can feel like “What I do is irrelevant, might as well AFK.”

        “Even if you look at those raid numbers it still seems like the same ratio of dps, usually they are a bit better but it still needs improvement.”

        Well, they’re much improved in terms of tanks to DPS, roughly the same for healers to DPS.

        “I think there is also an issue of stress placed on new/less geared tanks and healers going through those normals which gets a little worse due to the atmosphere.”


        Get a bad DPS? “LOL who carez itz DEEPEEESS!”

        Get a bad tank/healer? “OMG U SUCK”

        People usually don’t care if you AFK as a DPS in LFR, but they’d be pissed if you were a tank. You’re expected to know and execute far more than a DPS.

  2. Personally I prefer to play in some kind of support capacity, just because it often requires more situational awareness and not just rotating through a fixed set of skills. That being said, I do also that this is in some kind of hybrid – also an opportunity for a bit more variation.

    I think City of Heroes had a pretty good system that was not tied to the holy trinity, but where buffs and debuffs, plus some crowd control played a more significant role for dealing with encounters. Healing was part of the equation, but generally not a dedicated role for that – typically thee was a combination of different support abilities involved.
    At least in the earlier days there was certainly dependencies and different roles requires for difficult encounters. You could do a holy trinity approach, but also a number of other combinations with more influences of debuffs, buff and crowd control were just as, or even more, successful.
    There could certainly be zerg type of play also and this became more prevalent as characters were allowed to become more powerful, which trivialized some content for certain characters.

    For games which handle a limited set of skills and not switchable in combat, look at Guild Wars (not GW2) and The Secret World. TSW is fairly trinity oriented, they also have dungeons where different types of mechanics play a significant role, not just damage and healing numbers – you need to pay attention to what is happening around you and the context of the encounter.
    Guild Wars also provides various options for synergies and its instanced nature pretty much enforced either that you communicate with each other or you play alone (similar with City of Heroes really).

    City of Heroes is probably the game I have spent the largest relative portion of game time in a team. It was simply very team friendly, while still using “old fashioned” team setup mechanics (chat, explicit invites etc).

    • Yep situational awareness is a huge part of being support I agree, it’s why I always felt those roles were more engaging than others

      I played TSW for awhile and really enjoyed it’s system. It left a lot of freedom for open world and also how people take on the dungeons. I liked how they even semi required certain skills for some of them as there was a lot of theory crafting with how you approach the dungeons. I never tried many dungeons in TSW (more in it for the story) but the ones I did were excellent.

      Hmm, that City of hereos system sounds more interesting. It would take a lot more effort to balance encounters for all those possibilities though, if you can do that it would definitely be preferred

      • The TSW dungeons are interesting in how they approached it – they have three modes for dungeons – normal, elite and nightmare. Normal and elite are the same in terms of mechanics, only that encounters are scaled for QL10 gear in the elite ones. Nightmare dungeons have additional challenges and mechanics to consider and where there is a higher degree of setting up an appropriate build to handle the encounters. I also like that they are pretty short and to the point – almost only a few boss fights.

        City of Heroes was kind of player-balanced, in that players and teams could adjust the difficulty setting themselves, plus that mobs scaled with the team size. The default setting was that one would typically meat 3 mobs of minion type, or one lieutenant + 1 minion in each encounter, of the same leve – if you played solo. If you were a full group of 8 people, that would be 10+ mobs and include bosses in each encounter.
        These settings could be adjusted to have higher level mobs and/or more mobs.

        In later years there was much more freedom, in these settings – mob relative level could be anything between -1 and +4 and encounter size could be anything from minimum actual team size up to full 8 member team size (i.e. 10-15 mobs in each encounter).
        So depending on team synergies (or lack of synergies) people would adjust the difficulty setting – good team synergies and the difficulty was raised, less synergies and difficulty would be lower.
        Since most of it was instanced this was relatively easy to apply in practice – just set the settings before entering the instance. It was always the owner of the mission associated with the mission that controlled the difficulty.

      • That does sound like a pretty briliant system, it would take development time to implement at first but I imagine once it was done it would be a lot easier to make contetn using it as a base. Was there any sort of gear discrepancy between trying it on hard or easy mode?

      • No. The mantra from the dev team back when they added the rare loot systems and such back in Issue 11 was that no content would be specifically balanced around having expensive or hard to acquire gear.

        It’s debatable about how well they stuck with it, what with Master badges and iTrials, but on the whole they stuck with it.

        I’m sure it helped immeasurably that CoH was never really a game that focused on the end game much.

      • Insufficient proofreading will be my undoing one of these days.

        Oh, as an addendum, it’s worth remembering that a whole lot of the things that made CoH special and unique are almost entirely due to the original developers have almost no experience in making video games at all.

        Everything from buff stacking, to the lack of an end game in a 2003-era game, to the relative unimportance of combat roles in a game that was explicitly designed to have them were all things that no veteran developer would have done without a gun to their heads.

      • Grammar and syntax have never been my strong point. I also write most of these on my phone during the bus rides to and from work. I know there are errors in many of my posts either caused by my failings, an imperfect device for writing and because of that dang autocorrect unfortunately I don’t see this improving in the near future either, sorry.

        With study, gaming, cooking, housework, and all that other jazz I don’t have the time to properly proof read every post. Not going to happen. I could of course slow down on posting but I have so much on the back burner that I would never catch up then. To me it’s more important posting more imperfect thoughts than the rare well read piece. I don’t want to lose you, or others as a reader but I don’t want to allude to any changes that may or may not happen either.

        That kind of makes sense actually. They seemed to have crafted many solutions to problems that really divert from the familiar patterns. In a recent interview about the Elder Scrolls they said “We were worried that the term MMO had become synonymous with a certain type of game with an almost exact set of rules”. I think many companies would have similiar thoughts regarding mmo’s. What they are has been come so ingrained in the zeitgeist that it is hard for developers to break from that tradition. It’s not just because the coh team were new, Bioware was as well. I think it’s more to do with the size of the investment as to how much pressure there is to conform to a set line of thought. It’s why a lot of the true innovations in a field usually come from the indie crowd first. Storybricks and the video tech in EQNext are an indication of that. Coh made a lot of interesting additions to the field as well it seems, but only because they had that space to really truly be innovative.

      • Nah, it was definitely mistakes and errors that lead to CoH being so special.

        Well, maybe some of it was intentional. They were really keen on people being able to make a viable build out of any character concept for instance.

        But a lot of it was due to the fact that the devs couldn’t min/max NEARLY as well as the players could. The original power designer, Geko, was infamous for not really groking how some of the combat formulas and systems in the game worked, creating wildly overpowered and horrifically underpowered sets alike

        Toggle Instant Healing is a good example of that. It was a power in the Regeneration set that vastly increased your self healing and you could turn it on and off at will. So much so that with decent slotting you could turn it on, go afk in front of extremely powerful mobs, and NOT DIE.

        The original argument from Geko for this level of power is that IH had quite a lot of endurance/mana/energy/whatever you want to call it drain and that it was intended to be used for short periods of time only. All of that in spite of the fact that any player could easily circumvent that drain by using a passive Regeneration power that all but negated that drain.

        The developers also never expected Tankers to be able to pump up their defenses so high that they could literally round up an entire zone worth of mobs, jump in a dumpster to make them all clump up, and then AoE down the whole lot of them. But that happened too.

        They also explicitly designed the combat system around the old EQ class archetypes. They had Tankers for tanking, Controllers for CC/Support, Defenders for Support, Scrappers for plate dps, and Blasters for glass cannons. But then designed content that didn’t NEED the whole trinity because all the CC and buffs/debuffs of the Support characters made it so all characters could have sufficient survivability that things like dedicated tanks and healers were just plain unnecessary.

        A lot of the more silly stuff got nerfed, like the first two things I mentioned, but the unique playstyle that the loose group comp requirements created endured and was even embraced by the devs. So we ended up with a system where things the aggro control and extra defenses of Tankers or the group healing of Empathy Defenders were useful to a group, but not anywhere close to being absolutely needed because you had things like Force Field Defenders who could buff the entire groups avoidance levels to the point where only 5% of all enemy attacks would ever land or Illusion Controllers who could generate invincible aggro drawing pets.

        And that whole system of play was almost entirely due to the fact that the original plan failed so sodding spectacularly that it created something that no one else had ever seen before. No sane person would try to recreate that.

      • You’re speaking of all this rather fondly so obviously it was fun for you to play in but I still don’t understand if it was good or bad?. It sounds like a spectacular disaster that somehow worked out in how flexible it was.

      • I did love City of Heroes and it did mostly work itself out in the end because the developers embraced its uniqueness and started designing around that. Even if there were still some teething issues.

        But when viewed from the perspective of many of the original design and balance goals it was a pretty spectacular disaster.

        Even today a lot of the choices that CoH embraced other games flat out won’t do. It’s really hard to give you an idea of just how monstrous buff and debuff stacking could be, but suffice it to say that they were pretty damn insane at points. It was a level of power that no other MMO has ever placed in player hands.

        But even other things beyond that. Like the sidekicking system. No other game has a team scaling system like CoH had. Being able to freely raise or lower the level of your entire group to match one person was such a great damn boon to the whole game. You almost never had to be separate from your friends apart from some special instances. Even GW2 wussed out when it came time to allow people to scale up in levels.

        For all it’s flaws and issues it was a damn visionary game when all’s said and done.

      • A visionary game that I don’t think many games have taken any cues from. Many of those mechanics would have instilled a huge sense of power in the players, maybe that was part. It kind of suits the superhero theme in a way being some sort of supremely powerful being.

        I do wish a complete sidekick system could be in every game. The ridiculous level differences in most mmo’s only serve to restrict playing with friends and when mmo’s are primarily about that (or should be) then it becomes a more frustrating and solitary experience. I wish gw2 did it as well although with the huge gear differences between lower gear and exotics I don’t think it would have been as freeing. It still would have made it a better game.

      • If ANet had wanted it badly enough it could have worked easily mechanically speaking.

        The real problem would have been getting the players to go along with it and use the system to its real potential.

      • I think most people would have gone along with it reasonably well. I’m guessing during the focus testing the same people who wanted actual quests (eg hearts) wanted the linear experience as well. They already have it kind of developed, they just chickened out like with a lot of other mechanics and watered it down for the wow crowd.

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