The Trinity Five Years Ago, and Now

Rowan Blaze over at I Have Touched the Sky had a quick blog post up today, and linked an old post he wrote about “The Unholy Trinity.”

It was written more than five years ago, in a time when WoW was king and neither GW2 or SWTOR was even out yet. (Let alone TSW or FFXIV or Rift.)

I find it an interesting look back at how the holy trinity was commonly perceived then, tank/dps/heals, fixed roles, taunting, etc.

Harbinger Zero apparently even managed to suggest an alternative trinity of offense, control and support, which *ahem* sounds suspiciously close to GW2’s later proposal of damage/support/control.

Today, looking back at our current existing MMOs, beyond alternative trinities (or quadruples or multiplicities), we see overall more of a relaxation on how fixed or difficult it is to swap roles or specs, and the provision of possibilities for individual players to “feel heroic” by temporarily swapping role/functions to off-tank, off-heal, crowd control, battle rez, what-have-you…

…Perhaps as a genre, MMOs have progressed a little further than we realize. (Even if it’s slower than some of us like.)

10 thoughts on “The Trinity Five Years Ago, and Now

  1. Ummm….

    Do I really need to do the EverQuest thing again? What you see as “progress” isn’t any kind of move forward; it’s a slight, faltering stumble back in the vague, general direction of a glorious, lost past, towards the immensely more involving and satisfying gameplay that had been the established norm for half a decade before WoW came along and messed it all up.

    Everything you list in your penultimate paragraph, plus a hatful of other options, represents what I expected and got from almost every fight in group content in any MMO I played between 1999 and 2005. FFS, I expected and got most of that in SOLO content back then! I used to work harder splitting, breaking and holding an orc camp in Eastern Wastes all on my own than I’ve needed to work in group content for years – root, snare, charm, mez, pet on off-tank, kite, FD to drop agro, lifetap, trade life to heal pet, juggling all that and more solo on a necro, for example, was just what you did. Soloing was considered HARDER than grouping and for a reason.

    In groups you got to share all those roles and more, which added a whole new set of layers of complexity, both in gameplay and socially. The degree of thinking and planning required was off the scale compared to anything you see now. A typical trash pull for a six-person group in the infamous Gates of Discord expansion, for example, quite literally required more planning, more co-ordination and tighter execution than the Tequatl fight does now. That was every pull – a named would be much, much more challenging than that.

    And I really need to re-iterate that it was the PLAYERS who were required to provide those roles – NOT the classes. This whole idea that everyone was locked into specific roles based on the class they played was never even close being true. There were a handful of classes who had restricted options – mostly Warrior and Rogue – but just about all the others could do most of the things – and DID.

    It’s really hard to overstate just how much concentration, attention, imagination, flexibility and, yes, skill, a regular evening’s play would require just as a baseline starting point. It has honestly been the best part of a decade since I’ve played any MMO where the ordinary bread-and-butter gameplay placed that level of demand on all the players, all the time. The reason I keep kicking back so hard against this idea that “we don’t need The Trinity” is mostly because what I hear in the detail when what that would mean is explained is EXACTLY what we DID HAVE in The Trinity when it was the REAL trinity, not the weak, pale, dull WoW copy everyone seems to think we’re talking about.

    It’s as though there was this fantastic, powerful, emotionally satisfying song that was a minor hit a long time ago, that then got covered years later by a soulless, faceless but commercially savvy bunch of session musicians and became a worldwide smash. Now every time anyone mentions that song all 99% of people hear is the dull, unimaginative but highly successful copy and they believe that’s all there ever was.

    It makes me want to spit, frankly. Even I might start to think this was nostalgia and rose-tinted spectacles etc if it wasn’t that I played EQ for years with chat logging switched on. I actually have the full transcripts of combat and group conversations from back then. I have read back what happened and what we, the players in the group, said to each other while it was happening. It really was how I remember it.

    Never going to be like that again. More’s the pity.


  2. Yes the flexibility of games like FFXIV, that allow players to quickly switch roles, are becoming more common. I don’t think role-based group content is bad, it’s the solo handicapping of characters whose players enjoy group roles that aren’t DPS/offense.


    1. Mind you, what you experience there was not only due to the “all DPS” of the game. It very much also was due to the open world design.

      Just imagine the same content, which you now miss as “old zergy”, but having a limit of being able to only bring 5 or 10 people and being balanced in such a way that a full team in exotic berserker gear can just barely beat it before the enrage timer hits. Off goes the nice cooperative gameplay, in come hostility, rivalry and toxicity.
      [After all, all of the others on the LFG are enemies till you got your group, anybody performing better than you inside reduce your chance to be picked up the next time, everybody performing worse than you in the fight reduce your chance to get loot and somebody who doesn’t perform perfectly is the one wasting your precious time and blocking you from success… so, who of them is your friend? 😀 ]


      1. Well, it mostly revolves around numeric balance, dial it too high and you get what you described, dial it too low and players feel like One Punch Man.


  3. While i have never played EQ, a lot of what Bhagpuss describes also is true for old AO, much of it was true for pre-CU SWG and a good deal was even true for WoW at the time I played it. [Also note that the engineer crafting profession allowed me to fill the gaps. As my rogue lacked some CC abilities, i used to carry piles of bombs which provided them. ] Even WAR, being a PvP-focused games, gave every class most tools of CC (no class had all of them, but every one had several), the difference usually just was how comfortable they were to use.

    The tools were there and team coordination was really needed to apply them successfully. In turn, the anger rating also was there, though. I can still remember the raging of people when an add was basically un-CC-able because somebody dropped a 30 seconds DOT on it and stuns, mezzes and charms broke when the affected target took damage.

    So indeed, support by no means is a new role, but rather a very old one, but at any time a trouble some one, with a lot of potential for toxicity. After all, there’s one big monster in the room any MMO has to handle: balance. If a stun would simply be “monster can’t act for 10 seconds”, fights would be all damage and hard CC. Tanks, healers, complicated tactics, positioning, all of that would go out of the window. As this is not desireable, some limitations have to be implemented. Up to now I experienced two ways to handle this:

    Old MMOs gave that hard CC the drawback of breaking at damage and giving the enemy an immunity after CC, so permastun and the likes is impossible.

    In contrast, GW2 reduces them to “one shot” effects of limited significance. Sure, you can soft-CC enemies to keep them busy, like in almost any other MMO out there, but unlike in any other MMO out there, up to now people used it rarely and only in PvP. Hard CC in GW2 on the other hand has so very short timers, they are basically one-shot effects and exploiting them is not a matter of tactics or even just whack-the-mole, but really just random luck. E.g. the duration of the daze of my DHs traps recently was reduced from 1 second to 0.75 seconds. Taking a look at the complete chain to exploit this, these are all the timing factors playing into it:
    Pingtime [server to client] + Client processing time[Buffs and debuffs in GW2 take a moment to be displayed, i have no numbers but 0.1 seconds “feel” about right] + players reaction time + ability execution time [often none listed, but it’s still there due to the system of the animation triggering the effects] + Pingtime [client to server].

    Filling in normal values for all other aspects, the time remaining for the player aproaches zero and goes below zero as soon as pingtime plumets just a tiny bit below what to be expected.

    So once again i have to congratulate GW2, they effectively eliminated meaningful hard CC, nerfed it down to several flavours of interrupts, while keeping up the impression of having it available for everybody not paying enough attention.

    Mind you, this is not a complaint. I consider this an excellent move, they eliminated all the problems of other implementations of hard CC, they made group play much more enjoyable and avoid a lot of the toxicity and hostility the older systems brought along, by just doing their traditional “flashy, flashy, it’s great, you love it” magic, which also covers up a plethora of other problems perfectly fine.

    So no, all in all GW2 is really no news on the control front. Everything it has and some more i already experienced in many other MMOs. Generally CC in GW2 is weaker than in other MMOs, especially when looking at hard CC, but i consider that a good deal, as it also eliminates all of the problems of strong hard CC i saw in other games.

    And on what Rowan wrote:
    Yes, i see some merit in that. You don’t have the “tank who can survive everything but needs a week to kill a rabbit” or “healer who can outheal a nuclear explosion, but has to wait till the gobline he fights does of starvation” any more. Good riddance, while those classes were very required in groups, you indeed were unable to do anything with them alone.

    But i don’t consider that news any more. To reduce the problem, even old vanilla WoW gave all of the classes a damage oriented spec path. The hassle was that you had to respec every time you switched between solo and group play, but you had the option. Similar stuff can be said about any MMO i can remember that i played since then. (And that’s a long list. )

    The news is not so much having the option to use a solo spec, but the convenience of access. In TSW, FFXIV, Rift, some other MMOS and by now also in WoW with the dual-spec system it’s much easier to change than it was formerly. [I rate Rift and TSW to be the top performers here, but that’s very much personal preference. ]

    And yes, that’s something i expect to see more of in the future. I fear there will be few classless systems, people just seem to love classes too much, but i expect classes to be able to fill all roles. But i don’t think the roles themselves will ever die, they have proven to be too useful. (See what i wrote about TSW some days ago. It has many options to work differently, but still we mostly use the trinity. Not because it would be better, but since it’s much easier to teach to new players. )


    1. Just a couple of points to add to that. Firstly, I agree with that description of what hard CC was like way back when but where I differ is in whether that was a problem. I absolutely loved the dynamic that damage would break some CC (not all, at least not in EQ).

      Having to teach people not to break mez was a pleasure not a pain. I loved seeing people’s macros as they cast Mez – “You Break It, You Bought It” was always popular. Some of them were hysterical. Indeed, I really miss the art of writing a good casting macro – it added so much flavor to every PUG.

      I also really loved the way it was necessary to be mindful in a group. This is part of what I mean by “thinking play”. You couldn’t just spam your stuff on cooldown. Few people would have a “rotation”. You had to know what all your spells did in detail and you had to assess the situation before you cast any of them. I was thinking all the time in every fight in those days and that’s what I really enjoyed. It’s so rare now. And the fire-fighting that blew up when someone broke a mez, plus the arguments and recriminations afterwards, were all part of the weave. The texture was so much richer because of those mistakes.

      Secondly, I realize that a lot of my feeling on this comes from being an inveterate player of multiple characters. I have no problem with clerics who can’t kill anything solo or tanks who take an hour to heal up after a fight with no healer. That’s their problem! I, as the player, can play another character whenever I want a different experience, one who can solo well. I don’t need, or even want, to be able to do all the things on one character.

      I can see why people who only want to play Main+Alt had issues though.


      1. 1. “Having to teach people not to break mez was a pleasure not a pain.”

        I think we’ll never get together there. I have a history of teaching people stuff, through many MMOs. But I also all too well remember how things turned in chat sometimes, when a mez was broken. Mind you, my usual role was heal/debuff/stun at that time, I very rarely was the one to break such a mez, but i still remember insane levels of hate projected in chat at some times, when people made a simple mistake.

        I don’t want to go back there ever again, if the loss of hard CC is the price for that, i can accept this.

        2. “I, as the player, can play another character whenever I want a different experience, one who can solo well. I don’t need, or even want, to be able to do all the things on one character.”

        Depends. As said, i didn’t play EQ, but experienced similar stuff in other games of that time. And many of them were excessive timesinks. A good example: Anarchy Online. I played that one for over two years. I only actively played one character. I indeed was close to max level after only two years.

        If i wanted a tank, to play together with my friends at or near max level, the question would’ve been: how much time would i have to spend in grinding groups to get there. The answer would’ve been way too much, i won’t do that, forget it.

        I think it very much boils down to that, you leveled your first character, you have friends, etc. The whole package “this class can tank and deal no damage, that one can heal and deal no damage, neither can level alone” was combined with an atrocious grind. We didn’t know it any different at that time, and when leveling the first character, finding friends that way and everything, it was allright. But then, at some time you find that your old tank made an alt. He already spent 6 weeks on that one, and seems to be very busy, so he won’t return to your activities. You need a new tank, but who of you wants to break out, spend a few months with the tank, to then resume activities?

        It just didn’t work. Being able to level solo was a blessing and i think it was one of the main differences why WoW was able to stomp over EQ the way it did. People suddenly, were able to play MMOs without sacrificing all their outside life, at least before getting into raiding.


  4. Just started playing DCUO and their mechanic of role selection seems to work quite well, I’ll give a quick breakdown in case you hav’nt heard of it or played it.

    Basically every “class” has two options that can be swiched on the fly akin to weapon swapping in GW2 (although you must be out of combat), either the DPS default which every class is viable at and has access to, or your class specific role of Tank/Healer/Controller.

    Each is also connected to a player made build for that role with this also effecting how skills work and their effects so at any moment when out of combat you can switch both role and relevant build at the press of a button.

    It’s quite a novel approach in that it means every class is viable solo or as DPS when it suits while team compositions are most effective when at least some players assume their classes role.


    1. If you bring DCU on the table, you have to take a look at the complete picture. This starts with: everybody is some kind of DPS, no matter which role selector you have active.

      E.g. the same ability used in controller mode applies a groupwide buff for energy regeneration, while in damage mode puts a debuff on the target, making it take more damage. For the tank the the damage buff would be replaced by self-buffs or damage mitigation or agro creation and for the healer the damage buff would be replaced by AoE healing.

      The “elegance” comes from the chargeup mechanic, though. No matter which role you play, you need to build up your energy and the charge for your special attack. While your energy recharges slowly by itself, hitting an enemy gives a bonus, and the special attack chargeup is based on the attack chains you do, so the longer attack chains you manage, the faster the special attack gets ready again. That means, no matter which role you play, everybody fights. There is no healer standing back, watching and just healing. (Yes, my healer might be standing back, shooting in with dual pistols, but he might also close in for Gun-Kata style of Equilibrium. And my Controller loves beating up enemies with her rifles stock. )

      That being said, you can also reach max level on your character very quickly. Of course you can then tune your character for years to come with the ever slower grind for more skillpoints and even higher gear, but outside of the highest tier of raids, this has no real meaning. (Yes, I play the game very casually. I log in like once or twice a month and it’s quite fun to play that way. )

      But to close the circle on the original discussion: while the function of Tank/Heal/DPS/Control gives the impression of four different roles, in actual application they are three. For most of all dungeons and fights, the Controllers primary function is to fill up the energy pool of the team members, effectively being just a variation of the healer. Indeed there are some hard CCs (with actually noticeable duration, unlike the homeopatic hard CC of GW2), but with strict limitations, making them useful in some situations, but not important enough to center a role around it or make people get angry when they are placed badly or are broken by AoE.

      So in some way, DCU since five years it where GW2 tries to get there now: a bunch of DPS, but all with different additional functions, working together to win the fight. [Old GW2 was severely lacking in the “different additional functions” part, new GW2 has them, albeit sometiems with a very off flavour to them. ]


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