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Community Spotlight: Leaving the Holy Trinity Behind

Posted by MikeB Saturday August 27 2011 at 3:43PM
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This week's Community Spotlight focuses on the thread, "Impossible to leave the trinity behind?" by Dewm. Dewm challenges the idea that we can actually break away from the 'holy trinity' paradigm, even if we tried:

"Alot of people around here, on MMO's and online in general have stated they are tired of the "holy trinity" or the "trinity" period. But they never offer a solution. And my question is, are they not offering a solution because there isn't one?

In any fighting game, or any game where there is combat/battle/warfare there is the trinity. Now some games don't have the full trinity, some only have 1 part, or 2 parts...but nothing really varries. The 3 parts of the trinity (as I see them)




Now you might say "this isn't the holy trinity"...but it really is, You have a tank what does he do? defend, secondary tank? defend, paladin, knight, warrior, tank...whatever you call them...its there to defend, Now you can take that class and (as an example) make a death knight, who has all of these super powers and skills and amazing armor and this and that....but really all you've done is taking a defending class and added some attacking skills.....nothing new. And all combat games are like this. Halo for example:

attacking: depending on which gun you happen to have

Defending: your armor and health bar...

nothing new.

Even card games like :Magic the Gathering have attack defence and CC.

So really when it comes down to it, I think we keep seeing the trinity come up game after game...its because thats all there is. Developers can only dictate which of the 3 parts of the trinity you have. "Will this class attack, defend, both?" So games that offer a diffrent option from the trinity like "FFXIV" and Rift, are really offering you the same thing."

This topic proved to be quite popular, stirring up a lot of solid discussion. Let's find out what people are saying:

quentin405 actually loves the holy trinity system and doesn't see it as an issue:

  I love the so called Trinity, or as I call it specific roles.. I mean sure its all highly based on the flow and structure of the game, and of course the population.. But basically all my best memories and friendships in MMOs have come from the need to befriend and establish regular teaming with "good" players of certain classes..  

 It in my opinion really adds depth to the community.. You could be a tank or healer that logs in and gets bombarded with whispers begging for your company, or maybe no one wants to group with you and you just cant figure out why (cause you suck).  I read all the time how people are so tired of waiting and have so much trouble and are sick of the trinity, but maybe perhaps its the fact that I am a group MAKER not a group member that helps, because other then 5am monday morning back in wows hayday, Ive never found any fault in this system.

If there is low population, or the time of day maybe, or maybe if you have trouble communicating / making friends with others it might be really hard to find a group.. I dont know, I dont want to play any game no matter how revolutionary they hype it up to be, that doesnt have specific roles, thats the whole idea of a roleplaying game..

  I do want to play a game that allows me to establish a reputation for myself as a really reliable and skilled Tank/Healer/DPS, I mean maybe its just me but Dual Specs are about as loose as I want a class system, 2 is great, 1 spec for your main purpose in group play.. and 1 spec thats best for soloing..

cali59 asserts that what people are really frustrated by are inflexible combat roles and content designed to require them:

"When people talk about the Holy Trinity, they mean WoW's version of TANK, HEALER, DPS.  Even in WoW where you have choice of spec, or Rift where you have a lot more variety, the gameplay demands Holy Trinity Specialization.  Being a hybrid is mathematically inefficient and encounters are balanced around people locking into one of these strict roles.

You say that games have a trinity of attacking, defending and cc.  I say ok, no problem, because nobody is trying to get rid of that trinity.  We're playing combat MMOs.  Nobody is saying let's get rid of attacking, defending, and/or cc, what people want to do is get rid of rigid inflexibility in combat, in other words, getting rid of The Holy Trinity (WoW's version).

As far as GW2 is concerned, it's not heresay if we're discussing a concept.  The idea of allowing people to switch roles on the fly depending on what the group needs, as well as not allowing for pure specialization (couldn't be a pure healer even if you wanted to be) is a concept that addresses the holy trinity and offers a solution.  Even if GW2 failed in its implementation, or didn't even exist at all, we could still discuss this potential solution, just as I brought up EQ as an example of a game where it's possible to play a character and be valuable and praised by others, but still not tank, heal or dps."

Quirhid suggests thinking outside of the box as a solution to the trinity and it's associated issues:

There's plenty of ways to make combat without "the trinity" and the cursed taunting system.

Heavy armor characters can body block monsters so they cannot get past them to the squishies. They can get in the way of ranged attacks against soft targets and block them with their shield to avoid taking the hit themselves. Actually, how 'bout focusing the combat around actually avoiding taking damage rather than just soaking it and healing back up again. Taking damage is punishment for failure and dying is punishment for failing too much.

Make the combat about area control. Smash a bottle of oil in front of your softies so that it becomes a slick surface hard to cross. Another character might light the oil aflame so that crossing that area becomes even worse idea. Encourage team work and make it so that different characters can combine their abilities for greater effect.

I could imagine that a different sort of health system would discourage focus fire on both sides if your efficiency is tied to your health. Then half-dead characters are actually half dead and not fighting like they had no scratch.

it is entirely possible to design combat without the holy trinity. Alas, too few are trying.

I've always been a bit internally conflicted about this. On the one hand, I really love flexibility, but I also love playing a distinct role. I think I'm just particular about the role. I don't like fixed DPS roles, I feel like everyone's damage should be valued and blurring the lines on DPS is fine. I also don't like dedicated healers who just sit in the back and  play whack-a-mole with health bars. However, I do like dedicated tanks, though I think there is a lot of room for making tanking more interesting in PvE. I'm more interested in tanks in PvP though.

My most fond memory of tanking in PvP involves playing a Knight of the Blazing Sun in a game of Nordenwatch in Warhammer Online. Protecting my entire team using "Hold the Line!" as we slowly advanced towards Fort (the team was actually cooperating) against a team who was previously dominating us while we were uncoordinated felt really satisfying. Tanks could also protect key allies by sharing damage with them, and by using a number of CC abilities (particularly knockbacks) to physically keep enemies away. I think if you introduced some of these ideas to PvE (or made the encounters challenging enough to require them) tanking, at least, would be more interesting.

TL;DR version: I don't like the complete trinity, but I do like the idea of dedicated tanks (not taunt bots!).

Akrux writes:

The whole reason that the trinity works is that the tank can "taunt" the mob into attacking him instead of the attacking the healer or the dpser. Without the taunt there would be no trinity.

This is so very different from PvP where you either kill the healer or the dps first. There is no effective taunt in PvP.

When PvE starts to look more like PvP then you will have a far more exciting PvE game.

The first game company that can succesfully make their PvE as exciting as PvP will make a fortune. To do this they need to get rid of the trinity.

Sat Aug 27 2011 4:49PM Report
brett7018 writes:

@Akrux:  I think you proved the OP's point by, once again, stating that in order for X game to be successful, then they have to "get rid of the trinity", yet not offering a viable solution on exactly how to accomplish this...

Sat Aug 27 2011 5:01PM Report
Corehaven writes:

"In any fighting game, or any game where there is combat/battle/warfare there is the trinity. Now some games don't have the full trinity, some only have 1 part, or 2 parts...but nothing really varries. The 3 parts of the trinity (as I see them)"


After reading this I stopped taking the OP very seriously.  In any game that features combat  also exists the trinity?  Then he goes on to explain that many of the games dont have the full trinity.  Okay......


If they dont have the "full trinity" as in THREE, then they dont have it all.  Because the very definition of trinity is three. 


So can games exist without the trinity?  Yes.  The OP just explained it in that paragraph alone. 


People are sick of having dedicated healers I believe more than anything.  Having to depend so heavily on one class simply to survive an instance?   Its not necessary and its not needed.  Sure it works, but so can other systems without a doubt.  And they do. 

Sat Aug 27 2011 6:51PM Report
Osirrus writes:

GW2.  'nuff said

Sat Aug 27 2011 7:13PM Report
Kuaidam writes:

I pretty much agree with Quentin405.

I am a Tank. I love being a tank. And others love when I tank for them. In every MMO I try, I play the tanking classes. And I like it. They all have a little thing to themselves, no matter if they are so called clones of the generic theme park mmo.

The only thing I would add to the Trinity system (tank-healer-dps) is a constant 4th member: CC. Classes that have low dps output, lame heals (if any), but an amazing capability to trap, snare, buff and debuff.

Thrown in also a wild enemy AI that requieres now 4 roles on the edge of their skills and you have a game that will never get old.

At least, that's how I think.

Sat Aug 27 2011 10:53PM Report
wrathzilla writes:

I'm against the trinity and am glad to see GW2 do it they way they are. When i played WoW (shocker right?) i got tired of waiting 45 minutes as a dps for a dungeon, or getting a dungeon group and the healer or tank being terrible and not getting anything done. Therefore, with the GW2 system, if you have a member that isnt up to par, or if you want to mix it up, or if you want to be a hybrid, you can successfully fill in for roles that are lacking. I dont think GW2's system is meant to kill the "Holy Trinity" but to let players have flexibility within the system.

TL;DR: Getting rid of the trinity is a good thing because noone wants to depend on one person to do a raid/dungeon successfully.

Sun Aug 28 2011 1:09AM Report
Cacophanist writes:

What a very EQ clone centric article. Try playing an MMO that has decent AI or play PvP, the trinity does not apply anymore. 

Solution - improve the AI.

Games that break away from the standard like Darkfall and Mortal Online do not suffer from the boring lame combat systems seen in the majority of EQ clones like WOW and LOTRO because the combat is real - ie twitch. Both thoses games suffer from being developed by sub par prgrammers and have more bugs than a wasps nest but ... at least they take you away from the holy trinity crap.

Sun Aug 28 2011 8:26AM Report
TheMaelstrom writes:

You can attack EQ all you want for the trinity, but EQ had more distinct classes than basically any other game I can think of (Vanguard I think comes in a close second).

In my opinion, the trinity is fine. It's what you offer BEYOND the trinity that will attract players and make group dynamics much more interesting.

EQ had all of the following dedicated roles:




Buffers / Debuffers (group support)



I think of the Trinity as tank / healer / dps. That means EQ had CC / hybrid / and group support (buff/debuff) classes. Not only that, they had several of each. Wanna be group support? You can choose between shaman, bard, druid, etc. Some of the lines got blurred as they expanded on the classes with each expansion, but to this day I've not seen any game (other than Vanguard) offer so many options for people who didn't want to play one of the 3 trinity classes.

Sun Aug 28 2011 9:02AM Report
keinohr writes:

That's an old topic. Maybe you're interested in an article from gamasutra about rethinking the holy trinity:

Sun Aug 28 2011 10:57AM Report
Sensai writes:

Lol, Darkfall and Mortal Online are the examples you want to use for games getting it right?  Good luck with that.  Why don't we drop all the pretenses and get to the core of what this is all about.  We can talk Ai and strategy all day, but at the bottom of all this lies two things: Ego and instant gratification.  The anti-trinity crowd want to be able to do it all, they want their toons to be gods, and anything less is unacceptable.  If they cant kill everything at anytime, then the system is broke.  The other side of the coin is that the newer generation simply wants everything handed to them immediately.  Group, why should I have to wait on others to play a mmorpg?  Tank? Healer? Nope, I can take on anything!

It wont be long before we have cheats in mmorpgs.  Its the next logical step after cash shops.

Sun Aug 28 2011 4:32PM Report
saluk writes:

"Group, why should I have to wait on others to play a mmorpg?  Tank? Healer? Nope, I can take on anything!"

Yikes, you don't understand the anti-trinity group at ALL. The idea is, instead of a group having to go and find a healer, the group can figure out what roles each player will play based on how good each player is at playing the role, and figure out what combination of roles makes the most sense for the encounter. We still want to group, we just don't want to always have to have "tank/healer+4dps" be what our party looks like.

If an encounter needs people to spend most of their time healing, in a trinity mmo, you would be only able to even attempt the encounter if you had a party full of healers. (This is why they don't design encounters that need people to spend a lot of time healing). In a non-trinity focused game, this encounter would let any party attempt the content, as the players can adapt and focus more on heals.

Trinity = you choose your role when the game starts, and you play that role for the lifetime of the character. Since designers want every player to be able to attempt all content, they design encounters around groups of all the roles - they wouldn't want to leave someone out, would they? Hence, most encounters are designed for the same type of group, which means most encounters are very similar to each other. When the party attacking an encounter always looks the same, its very hard to produce encounters that dont also always look the same. And when you train players to play that type of encounter for the whole game, you have to keep providing the same experience later, or their training was for nothing.

Non-trinity = you choose a flavor at the start, but your role based on what an encounter requires. This frees up players to team up with people who they want to team up with, not because someone happens to have made a certain choice when they first got the game. and god forbid when you can only find tanks or healers who don't know their stuff - you are dependant on that one player. Without putting players in such rigid boxes, you can team with players who are actually good. It also frees up designers. What if they want to design an encounter that relies on players to mostly use cc? It's ok, because everyone has a flavor of cc. Maybe some forms of cc work better for this encounter and others worse - you can still have diversity, but you avoid making the game structure rigid, boring, and frustrating when a party doesn't quite fit into the box.

The people wanting to get rid of the trinity still want to group. They just want to be able to group with their friends, even if none of their friends like to play a tank.

Sun Aug 28 2011 8:01PM Report
Cryomatrix writes:

my idea to get rid of the trinity is as follows.

1) design instances to rely on other things than tank n' spank. Have an instance where there are many light hp mobs with high dmg so you need high dps to take them out before they get to you.

- make another instance have require a bunch of tanks because there are more than one big boss

- have another one require the skills of 3-4 rogues or vary it that way,

- I still like the trinity but vary up the instances so that in-game it'll be trinity instances vs. non-trinity instances

I personally don't like classes that can play multiple roles because it's nice to be known as a good tank or a good healer or a good -whatever, that's fun and I don''t want to get away from that.

That's my idea ;)_

Sun Aug 28 2011 10:43PM Report
Akrux writes:

As requested in the second comment I have a suggestion for PvE without the trinity. Its called rotation.

When player A (who got initial mob aggro) has taken enough damage he stops damaging and moves back. This lets player B (who has been holding back on damage) to burst his damage and catch the mobs attention. This rotates to player C when player B is hurting. Meanwhile player A is patching himself up as he will need to rotate in after player D.

There is no tank, there is no healer, everyone is damaging, getting damaged and resting as needed. A good group with good teamwork wins the encounter.

There are other ways to play besides using the trinity. All you need to do is watch any PvP encounter. The winning strategy isnt simple and repetitive but it is a lot more fun than trinity PvE.

Mon Aug 29 2011 12:55AM Report
Azaria writes:

The holy trinity is only relevant in games that depend on it and that means EQ, WOW and the games that try to clone them. UO did just fine with no holy trinity and EVE somehow manages to get by without a holy trinity 50 foot monster elite mob. Belive it or not MMORPGS were around before the holy trinity was.

This whole post sounds more like an Old Republic positive spin campaign to me. Out of the new games coming out or that are already out only two have any inkling of a holy trinity RIFT and TOR. World of darkness is almost certainly not holy trinity, I will bet a pint of my own blood on that.

Postive PR for TOR alert !!

So Transparent.

Mon Aug 29 2011 2:33AM Report
hugtime4ever writes:

If people dislike the "holy trinity" so much they should show some of their in sight on how they would like to see it changed.


So far all the "WE ARE BREAKING AWAY FROM THE HOLY TRINITY MMO's" are all gimmicky and aren't breaking away at all but just hiding/hybridizing the healing/buff class which does not "fix" moving away from it at all.

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