You won’t play Jedi

You won’t play a Jedi with a personality or unique skills, you’ll play a DPS or a Tank or a Healer, one of those three and nothing else. Gordon

Control is the only thing versatile enough to get away from the rock-paper-scissors gameplay of other MMOs. You could say instead of DPS/heal/tank, we have our own trinity of damage, support, and control, but we prefer to think of them as the variety of elements that create a diverse and dynamic combat system that gives each player a toolbox to work with to solve any encounter we might throw their way. Jon Peters

Holy trinity and Guild wars 2 – what’s it all about?

It’s been a while since Guild Wars 2 development team announced, that they discarded the Holy Trinity mechanics. In spite of that, it’s still the subject of many heated debates. Some people are delighted, others – complain. However, there is also a bunch of players, who don’t realize the effects of this choice and how it can change the game. If you feel like you’re one of them – you definitely should read this article!

What is the Holy Trinity?

There’s a game, called Everquest. It allows players to choose from many character classes, but only three of them were considered the best: cleric, warrior and enchanter. Other ones weren’t necessary. That’s how the phrase ‘Holy Trinity’ was coined. All those professions came from classic RPGs. They were unique and diverse, each of them had different feeling and was able to perform different roles. Unfortunately, they all had a flaw. It didn’t take much time to realize, that although it’s fun to have such a variety of classes, it’s nearly impossible to balance them properly.

And then new MMOs started to show up, especially World of Warcraft. Designers decided to divide all classes into 3 groups, according to flow of the main in-game resource – hit/health points. Since that day we have:
- a tank, who absorbs damage,
- a healer, who fills up red bars,
- and a damage dealer, who, obviously, strikes the opponents.

The Holy Trinity: tank, healer and DPS fighting with mob. PvE only.

That’s how the Holy Trinity was born the way we know it today. It doesn’t matter, which class you play – it’s always designed to carry out at least one of these three roles. And it doesn’t matter whether your name is Tom, John, or Caroline. You are always a tank, DPS or healer. Chosen role will define your gameplay completely: your priorities, responsibilities, even possible mistakes. No matter what game you play: you’ll be nothing more.

Is The Holy Trinity really that bad?

No, of course it’s not! On the contrary – it’s well-tested and it works. The problem is, it has many flaws and it’s old. Too old.

Ok. It has to have many advantages, then.

Indeed, the Holy Trinity mechanics has many strengths. Lets look at them a bit closer.

  • It puts the battle in order and supports teamplay.

Thanks to Holy Trinity everyone is aware of his/hers role in a group. It’s hard to change your character’s build, and even if it is possible, it only means that you can jump from one role to another. Basic duties and behaviour patterns of each player are easy to understand. Therefore watching the battle is simplified, it’s easier to notice mistakes and predict enemy’s decisions.

  • It’s easier to design your character.

It’s easier to choose your skills and attributes if you know your role in advance. If you are a healer, you heal. If you are a tank – you stack your armor, block, and resistances. So simple.

  • Difficulty levels

It’s always better to have good players beside you, than the bad ones. However, some roles are less demanding, which is a perfect solution for gamers, who simply weren’t born with keyboard in their hands. Playing a tank or a healer is pretty stressful, due to binary nature of their duties. You either hold mobs, or you don’t. Either heal, or let die. There’s no room for mistakes, as each of them can be fatal. Though when it comes to DPS, you can play pretty badly and there’s still a chance you’ll succeed. Damage dealer’s mistakes can be lethal, but it’s always better to play with underskilled DPS, than lame tank or noob healer.
Thanks to these ‘easy slots’ many gamers are able to have fun and play without getting frustrated.

  • Last but not least: Holy Trinity works!

Whether you like it or not – the Holy Trinity mechanics is easy to understand, user-friendly and offers three different roles, which significantly increase game replayability. And its used in almost every mainstream MMO.

Holy Trinity flaws.

The most crucial flaws of this game mechanics are strictly connected to its strengths.

  • Solo play isn’t equally challenging for everyone.

Tank, healer and DPS make wonderful team. However when it comes to solo play, damage dealers have huge advantage. Tanks and healers need more time to kill a mob, so they gain experience much slower.
Does it have to be that way? No! Various talent trees are common solution nowadays. They allow healing or tanking classes to spec as DPS. Unfortunately, if you want to play some PvP minigames while questing, it’s still an issue, as you need to visit a certain NPC to respec.
Rift developers solved this problem, by allowing players to have up to 3 different specs available at the time. It’s so simple, yet effective. Every MMO which use Holy Trinity should have similar mechanics.

  • The Best Build

It’s great to know your role in a team, but it has its flaws. One of them are The Best Builds.
The Best Build is… simply the best. No matter what you do, you’ll never do better using other one. If John the Healer and his friends want to kill Evil Readhead Rudolf, they have to have certain skills, attributes and equipment. And if they don’t, they’ll probably fail. That’s how the Trinity works. The harder the encounter is, the less space it leaves for gamers’ creativity.

  • Time-consuming team arranging.

As I said before, playing a tank or a healer is more difficult than playing DPS, due to their responsibilities and lower damage dealing capacity. As a result, there is too many damage dealers in every MMO. It means, that even if there are 10 active players in your guild, you may not be able to arrange a group consisting of 6 people. Joining bigger guild isn’t a solution, as there always will be somebody who can’t find a team. And that’s just not fair!

  • Monotonous gameplay

What I hate the most about Holy Trinity, is that it makes gameplay binary. If we don’t know tactics, have bad equipment, or there’s a bad player in our team – every trash mob is hard to kill, every boss seems invincible. From the other hand – if everyone knows what to do, it’s incredibly boring. Why? Well, lets take look at the second element of PvE: environment.
The Holy Trinity mechanics is a heart of the game. Though we rarely think about it, it defines not only skills we have or roles we play, but also the enemies we meet.

To be specific:

Primarily, games using Holy Trinity are similar to each other. Names, classes and universes change, but game mechanics stays the same – and so do the encounters. Some may think, that to get rid of Trinity, you just have to make game with no healers. But it goes deeper. Holy Trinity gameplay is so boring, because it requires players to be able to fully control mobs’ behaviour. Thanks to special skills, or actions, it is possible to make them attack certain target. It’s called aggro control, or hate/threat system.

In a word, mobs hardly ever pick up random targets. There are always some rules they follow. Each game has its own set, but there are pretty universal ways of generating hate:
- getting too close,
- dealing damage,
- healing and buffing a tank,
- using cc skills.
Often, AI also responds to amount of health points and/or armor rate.

It is a common practice, that in games using Holy Trinity, only tank is able to withstand boss’ attack. Therefore, aggro controlling is crucial and players are able to modify generated hate actively. That’s why, though developers design more and more complicated encounters, people fighting them always, ALWAYS, have to be able to control aggro. It leads into the situations, where boss fights resemble some crazy dance – everyone on the right, then on the left, jump, get down, and so on… Well… I know it has its pros and many players love it, but there’s got to be more than this in whole MMORPG genre!

To sum up:

Holy Trinity mechanics

  • has many advantages, basically, it puts the battle in order and makes knowing your role easy,
  • but it comes with many flaws,
  • and makes fight predictable and schematic, by creating binary dependencies.

That’s why every game using Holy Trinity seems to be a copy of other ones.

Why is Guild Wars 2 different?

It’s hard to say how GW2 mechanics really looks like, cause it hasn’t been released yet. Developers showed us pretty much though.
GW2 creators claim they got rid of traditional tank/ heal/ DPS Trinity and used control/ support/ DPS schematic instead. Is this really revolution they talk about? What’s the difference between controlling and tanking, as tanking IS a form of control anyway? In fact, ArenaNet did nothing new replacing tanking with control. We all do it every time tanking is obsolete – in PvP. While tanking requires thourough aggro control, scripted enemies and schematic gameplay, control gives us flexibility necessary to respond to truly dynamic encounters. That’s why, though widely used in PvP, in PvE control remains in the shadow of tanking. In Guild Wars 2 it is about to change. According to devs, we should see a incredibly dynamic PvE, with no boring dependencies. Everyone, during every and each moment of battle, can be forced to deal some damage, to heal, support ally, or control the enemy.
And that’s what Jon Peters said.

Guild Wars 2 mechanics: players dealing damage, healing and controlling at the same time, according to current needs. “Mob” changed into an “enemy”, as this scheme is true both for PvE and PvP.

Who won’t be pleased?

The most reasons to dislike new system have, of course, healers. They have to switch to completely different gameplay and will loose their esteem throughout other players. I am a healer myself. I love healing in PvP. I had great time playing Archmage in WAR, or cleric in Aion.. But I am also aware how boring healing in PvE is. I hate it with all my heart and I won’t miss it.Besides, saying that GW2 devs got rid of the healer is an understatement. If what they claim is true, they changed the whole combat mechanics. It makes the difference.

Is there anything born healer can enjoy?

The simplest answer is: sure, if you love healing classes, play Guardian. But Guardian isn’t a healer in any way, and there are many professions that can support their team in different ways. Yet, if someone wants to stare at healthbars and refill them all the time, he will be disappointed. There’s no profession with such a playstyle.

Who else may miss the Holy Trinity?

Not every player is a good player. That’s obvious. Thanks to various roles, there is always a place for someone less experienced. In Guild Wars 2, where you can’t just focus on your narrow role, and have to observe many things simultaneously, fitting in may be more difficult. And that may be an issue.

What can we gain?

Guild Wars 2 is still far from release, so there’s nothing certain. We can gain nothing. There is even possibility, that game without Holy Trinity will fail. New mechanics may be too easy, or too difficult and unintuitive. There is a chance though, that developers say the truth and the game will be great. What can we expect?

  • a game, that finally brings something new into MMO genre,
  • more dynamic PvP and PvE, where positioning and quick thinking really matters,
  • no more waiting for tank or a healer,
  • everyone will have an equal chance to be a hero!

Why the title?

We don’t know when Guild Wars 2 will be released, we may only hope it will hit shelves in 2012. Meanwhile, Star Wars the Old Republic opened its doors at the end of last year. These two games are as different, as it’s possible. While GW2 tries to bring something new, SWTOR follows directly its greatest predecessor – WoW. I don’t want to judge, whether it’s good or not. I just want to remark, that these two big titles may give us few hints how MMORPG genre should evolve. Depending which one of them will succeed, game developers may choose their respective models – not only technological, but also business ones.
Let the better win.


  • Anonymous

    Didnt see a reason to even mention TOR. Article is better without the implicit bashing.

    • Anonymous

      It is true, that this article could do without mentioning SWTOR, but since it describes Holy Trinity, giving an example of game using this mechanics makes sense for me. I don’t bash this game here. It was Bioware’s choice to build their MMO the way they did. By doing it, they fully accepted all trinity pros and cons, and that’s what I wrote here.

  • AnT

    Pretty obvious that the ToRtanic took the WoW route and is failing (Can just read up on the forums and see all of the dropped subs and complainers). With $200M from EA they could have went a much safer and evolving route, but Bioware doesn’t have and MMO experience. At the end of the day, we will see when beta and official release for GW2 is out to crown the new MMO great.

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  • http://zergmeister.de/ Mallefitz

    Nice Overview and very good graphical schemas.

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  • Anonymous

    The title was totally not necessary to what is otherwise a very in-depth article that any gamer would appreciate.

  • Hulaine

    “New mechanics may be too easy, or too difficult and unintuitive.”

    This is my biggest worry with removing the holy trinity.

    As for “a game, that finally brings something new into MMO genre”, Aion bought wings (which are just cool!, SWtOR has done a brilliant job with personal stories, Rift with dynamic events etc etc, the biggest two of course were Everquest which defined WoW, and WoW which fixed Everquest, adding a **** load to the MMO genre.

  • http://profiles.google.com/kitfoxtrot Christopher LaHaise

    It’s an interesting article, but please, please, please cut down on the number of commas you use. You’re putting commas in all over the place that just aren’t needed. It’s very distracting.

    • Anonymous

      Yeah I have to improve my english ;) I’ll remove some commas ASAP ;)

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  • Waffle106

    “”New mechanics may be too easy, or too difficult and unintuitive.”"

    This is also my biggest concern. Let’s take two, highly successful game styles and explicit examples that work:

    World of Warcraft and most MMOs follow this, and it allows the game to retain complexity AND consistency for those who like the style. Some people like to be one role and one role only. You can excel and be amazing at it, or just do it because you’re not very good. I love to tank. I hate games where I can’t tank. I don’t bother playing games where I can’t tank. I even go as far as to be a tank in Skyrim for my followers/summons to do damage, because tanking is my passion in games.

    Skyrim itself is a game where you do all the roles, but your playstyle varies on it. Some class types don’t need much healing because they do so much upfront damage, sneak, or are ranged/summoners and demolish things before being hurt. Some enemies are controlled and beaten into submission by eachother. There’s lots of fun ways to play it.

    With a multiplayer system like that, you bring in an entirely new avenue that is the heart of multiplayer games – competition. Everyone wants to be the best. There are not that many that are good enough to even compete. In a non-trinity style of gameplay, having a group means “A bunch of DPS”. If you’re not tanking, and not healing, you’re a damage dealer. Or you’re a sponge. That means every player needs to be doing the same job, and the combat will be incredibly shallow. It will need to be nerfed to oblivion and not challenging enough to keep attention, otherwise the unskilled will not play. WoW is hemorrhaging high end players because of this, but the massive casual base will keep it afloat for a little while.

    That gameplay style fits something like Diablo, where you just solo, piss around, and play casually. An MMO like that sounds like a very strange, and unlikely idea. If I can’t tank, I won’t play.

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