Friday, July 23, 2010

Could GW2 Self-Heals Backfire?

The gang on the Multiverse did a rundown of upcoming MMORPG's this week.  They noted that there seems to be a general trend of backlash against class-based games in general and the "holy trinity" in particular these days, and they blame the rise of solo play.  I'd suggest that their cause and effect may be reversed.  In my view, the holy trinity mechanic complicates the process of looking for groups to point where developers are forced to offer more solo options as a concession to the difficulty of finding a group. 

As the gang reminded me, the forthcoming Guild Wars 2 will supposedly eschew the traditional dedicated healer class, instead giving all character the tools to watch their own health bars.  This might sound like a way to address the problem of the holy trinity, but I'm wondering that the devs may be giving players what they say they want instead of what they actually want.

Causes of "LF2M tank and heals"
In every game that I've played, the most common difficulty in assembling a group is finding players to fill the tank and healer slots of the "trinity".  People who are down on solo play will jump to blame it for this problem - DPS characters often solo faster, they would argue, and therefore the system encourages players not to play tanks and healers.  The truth is more nuanced than that. 

I only lasted a bit over a month in FFXI back in 2006, which was about as solo-unfriendly as games have ever been.  The tank and healer shortage was in full effect in that game, and I'd routinely see groups spend so long looking that the four bored DPS would try asking more DPS with tank or healer subjobs to try and fill the missing roles (which tends not to end well when the group also insists on trying to pull the toughest possible mobs for max exp). 

Meanwhile, over in WoW, the fact that it's easier to level solo is nigh meaningless, because dual spec allows players to switch from the best solo spec to the best tanking/healing spec at the literal touch of a button.  As Spinks points out, there are other issues involved in picking up WoW tanking at this stage in an expansion cycle (chiefly the learning curve), but I don't think you can argue that solo leveling alone accounts for the fact that tanks get groups nigh instantly, while DPS wait for 15-30 minutes. 

The dirty little secret is that DPS IS EASIER.  As a DPS, you need to know two things: what order to push your buttons in, and where to stand.  The order in which you push the buttons may vary slightly based on the situation (perhaps you're saving cooldowns for a burn phase, or AOE'ing adds), but that's usually not that unpredictable.  The where to stand part means being in range of the boss and not standing in the fire, and even the second part of that role is more than many DPS (myself sometimes included) can handle. 

As a tank or a healer, you still need to be aware of the two things DPS need to know (what buttons to push, and where to stand) but you also need a far greater awareness of what the other members of the party are doing.  I was once the last player capable of removing a curse from the main tank left standing in a 40 man raid, and that one minor responsibility - far less than a real healer would have to handle - was enough to make that fight the most stressful experience I have ever had in an MMO.  Being a tank or healer is harder, carries more responsibility, and many players simply do not want this level of complexity to their hobby. 

Distributing heals, responsibility
So back to GW2's little revision, in which everyone has to heal themselves.  The practical effect of this change is that, instead of one player shouldering the responsibility for everyone's health bars, everyone has to add their own self-healing on to their other responsibilities.  If I'm right, this means that GW2 DPS WILL BE HARDER than DPS in other games due to the additional task.  The really good DPS, who always top the meters and move out of the fire and do whatever misc utility their classes have, will really shine under this system.  Those of us who struggle to react quickly enough with someone else watching our health bars may not fare so well. 

The point of asking for the removal of the trinity is to make it easier to assemble groups.  It's simply not fun to have five people lined up outside a five player dungeon only to be told that they all have to sit on their rears because none of them is a healer.  However, the new problem may be that this system further emphasizes the difference between a good player and an average one.  The average player no longer does average DPS, they do 0 DPS because they failed to watch their health and they died.  The irony is that this may leave players - especially the good ones - unwilling to do PUG's at all.  If that's the case, a change that was intended to facilitate grouping may actually make it more difficult. 

8 comments:

huntersinsight said...

I don't know. that seems like a lot of conclusions drawn from speculation. I'm not saying you're wrong but its hard to agree and say you're right based on little information.

It doesn't seem like a difficult thing for anyone to heal themselves, whether it be hitting that heal button or downing a potion like in some games.

adingworld said...

The problem with the self-heal would perhaps be the case if that was the single thing changed in a traditional trinity-oriented combat system.

GW2 talks more about damage, support and control - which is much in line what you find in the combat system in City of Heroes.

You do not really need the trinity there, and you certainly do not need healers. This is not because eveyone has the option to get a healing power if they want, but because various buff, debuff and control effects are much more important to combat.

You can still have heals, but in almost all cases that character is not a dedicated healer; he/she has a bunch of different powers in the arsenal.

One has to look at how the combat system as a whole works.

Yeebo said...

That was a really interesting read. I can't really agree or disagree until I get to take the game for a spin. It will really come down to how closely you have to watch your health bar to not drop dead in an average big fight.

Being asked to heal yourself doesn't really sound like that big of a deal. However, I can't tell you how many times I've dropped dead in various MMOs when I still had a lay on hands or similar strong self heal up.

Also, I have to agree with Adingworld. We don't really know enough about how the combat will play out. As he pointed out, CoX is a good example of a MMO with combat that feels very different from the holy trinity. Heals tend to be AoE heals that you don't need to target, and are not strictly needed in most content anyway. Crowd control specialists are able to lock down whole groups of mobs...not just stun one or two at a time. Some DPSers are also able to pick off foes at such a great distance that none of their buddies come with them.

There is also a whole support specialty that deals entirely with defensive buffs (force feilds), and has no heals whatsoever. Their force fields last long enough that they cast them once or twice an instance and then spend the rest of their time pretending to be a DPS. I wonder of the "support" pillar of the GW2 trinity might work similarly.

Aberron said...

All I can see here are tanks and healers taking on some DPS duty.

Unless they literally aren't messing around and no-one can heal anyone else ever because it's actually impossible. And no one can hold aggro because there isn't any.

That or the whole world finally rising as one as each person takes responsibility for themselves forming a New Utopia of peace and prosperity for all through mutual effort.

But they are messing around, and the world is too young for Utopia

It's the DPS duty isn't it *sigh*

Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

I don't buy your thesis that DPS is necessarily easier than the other roles. I played a Druid in WoW, so I got at least a taste of the different playstyles in the context of that game. Originally I was a healer/offtank for a 5-man group in vanilla, switching to pure Feral melee DPS and offtanking in TBC, then went moonkin for my brief stay in WotLK.

The real issue is that DPS is more expendable than other classes, especially as you get into larger group sizes. The optimal configuration is to take the minimum number of tanks and healers you can and bring the most DPS you can to finish the battle faster. What this means is that you might have some extra, expendable DPS, but losing a tank or healer HURTS because the others (if you even have others, as in the case of a tank) may not be able to pick up the slack. One of the things I really liked about being offtank was that I could do some DPS (definitely not top of the meters, but an appreciable amount) in cat form then swap to bear form when I was needed (or to grab aggro off a healer that a tank didn't get to).

To make matters worse, the healing and tanking classes are very closely linked. A healer fails if the tank dies (even though the tank is partially responsible for mitigation), and the tank fails if the healer dies (even though the healer is partially responsible for aggro management). The saying goes, "If the healer dies, it's the tank's fault. If the tank dies, it's the healer's fault. If DPS dies, it's their own damned fault."

So, it's not so much that DPS is intrinsically easier, but that the current setup makes the margin for failure a lot greater for DPS than for the other classes. The game design could be changed to make this less of an issue. GW2's changes could accomplish this.

Anonymous said...

The dirty little secret is that DPS is easier, but I can tell you as a person who's played healers in these games for many years now the dirtier little secret is pickup group. PUGs are the bane of virtually every competent player regardless of spec or class.

Tanks and healers take on those roles because they like group play. Each is useless without their counterpart so if your main is a tank or a healer its very much in your best interest to find your competent opposites as quickly as possible and make /friends with them.

Then comes the DPS. Anyone can roll their face on the keyboard and make big numbers appear on the screen. *GOOD* DPS who can do other things (especially on the fly for when things go horribly, horribly wrong) are as rare as good tanks and healers and worth their weight in gold. The tank / healer cliques that form in the paragraph above know this and set out to go find their competent DPS buddies, usually by pugging. This is the true, main source of good tanks and healers in otherwise unincentivized pugs. WoW increases the concentration by bribing everyone to run a heroic every day, before this was possible (in classic) or pratical (in TBC) you virtually never saw a good, experienced tank or healer in a pug ever, unless their guild was looking for DPS to recruit.

The net effect of this is the total depletion of anything resembling skill from the pug pool. You can suck much, much more as DPS than as a tank or a healer before your group outright fails, and there's always strong demand from groups looking to raid so tanks and healers are extremely underrepresented... in the pug pool. PUG DPS tends to be just the minimum to not fail, and even then there are way too many legendary tales of godawful DPS doing stupid things for me to even begin to recount them all.

But.. is there really a tank and healer shortage? Again, my viewpoint may be somewhat biased because I've been playing healers for so long, but I'd say no. There is most definitely a shortage of pug tanks and healers and this will never change because very few skilled people, be they tanks, healers, or DPS, will willingly subject themselves to the horror of the pickup group on a regular basis. And I don't think any fiddling with the underlying system will fix this - pugs, by their very nature, are unattractive to good players. And content designed for pugs will be trivially easy for groups of those skilled players.

I think the best solution is that instead of trying to force everyone to be equal (which goes against all human nature, witness the failure of Communism) they should instead try to ensure everyone always has something engaging to do appropriate to their playstyle and skill level, instead of trying to make sure everyone can do everything. If people really want to do it they'll figure it out. I think the first game that can really do this will be the next multimillion sub MMO.

Magson said...

DDO's already like this. Very rare is the group that truly "needs" a healer. Sure, everyone *wants* a healer, but if you've built your character "properly" then you should be more-or-less self-sufficient, either via potions or via scrolls and the UMD skill. Or you're a warforged arcane caster and heal yourself that way. Whatever works. UMD is the most common cross-class skill in the game in order to fill that self-healing need.

Tesh said...

I'm all for making players more self-sufficient. That means that I'm not pulling someone else's load, or making someone else pull mine. Cooperation then becomes something done because it's fun, not because it's the only way to play.