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The staff of gets together to bring you some behind the scenes insights on stories, the industry and the site itself.

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Contributors: BillMurphy,MikeB,garrett,SBFord,Grakulen,

Community Spotlight: The Holy Trinity

Posted by MikeB Thursday October 29 2009 at 4:02PM
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This week’s Community Spotlight focuses on a thread by forum user Ihmotepp called, “Do you enjoy the Holy Trinity game mechanic? If so, how much?” In the thread, Ihmotepp explains the holy trinity mechanic and quizzes the on their preferences for or against the tried-and-true game design of the holy trinity of healer, nuker, and tank. The thread is complete with a poll whose results so far are pretty evenly split. Roughly the same ratio of people who have voted so far like, dislike, or have no preference either way. But what are the members of the community actually saying?

User Kyleran chimes in on the issue saying, “At one time I thought I didn't like the mechanic, but after all MMO's started to try and do away with it I think my iniital assessment was in error.

We use the trinity in EVE btw, in our wormhole gangs we have battleships that tank/heal each other, grouped with DPS and aggro control ships (which they also heal) and it makes for much better combat opportunities. (esp the PVE side)

Even in PVP, nothing can throw a fight to a gang more than an couple of logistics ships that are repping everyone's armor/shields.

So yes, I do enjoy the mechanic and feel it needs to be maintained to develop good group based combat mechanics.”

And I would have to agree, for the most part. I feel the design concept is sound at a basic level, but that doesn’t mean it is perfect, and it can be refined into being a bit more flexible. We have seen this in recent years with the advent of hybrid classes and such, and I feel that is probably going in the right direction. It’s no fun being a tankmage when everyone on your team is one as well. I came to this realization when playing Champions Online and wishing to be more useful to my group of friends. While the game provides some neat ways of handling roles, there really isn’t much reason to do so. Everyone can take care of themselves, and so it really tosses that whole aspect of support gameplay to the side.

The basic problem with the trinity ties into another recently highlighted topic in the Community Spotlight series: grouping vs. soloing. Early examples of the holy trinity fit well into group scenarios, but what are these pieces of the puzzle like on their own? The healer would have a hard time doing enough damage to play on their own, the nuker would be hard pressed to survive, and the tank could generally solo but at a slower rate.

LiquidWolf has a different take on the issue, stating that he feels the idea of the holy trinity is so ingrained into our minds that even when the developers lessen its impact, we still try to figure out ways to shoehorn it into our game of choice:

“Game devs are not the source of the holy trinity... the players are.
It doesn't matter what the game devs do, players always find a way to revert the layout back to: Tank - Healer - DPS.

Even if they had one class with no specializations... players would find out what gear is required to be placed in those three roles.

The "Holy Trinity" is a solution developed by players to tackle most problems inside a multi-player game... hell, even in single player games, you will see this approach used. The developers are gamers too, so their line of thinking falls along the same path as the players...

and it continues to work and make them money.

You could try to make every class capable of doing tanking, healing, and DPS... and if the company is somehow successful as making each class viable for any role... you'd still see players arguing who is the best at one of the three. If there is one patch that doesn't hit every class equally... you will bring the whole thing down and players will set the "Top Three".

Problems in MMOs will ALWAYS be boiled down into the "Holy Trinity"... there is no escaping the mentality of people who play multi-player games together.”

My above comments on Champions Online definitely support LiquidWolf’s claims, at least for myself. While everyone could essentially be a tankmage in Champs, I was still trying to figure out how to build a support toon so I could fill that role, however unnecessary it was. There is certainly some truth to these claims then, though I don’t feel the issue falls squarely on the players, of course, though the latter point that LiquidWolf makes about what are essentially hybrid classes, is definitely one area where I would agree players are either equally or more at fault than the developers.

Hybrid classes were introduced to alleviate some of the issues with the rigid holy trinity design, but it is quite true that most players will still try and figure out which of the classes available are the purest tank, healer, or DPS class, and those will be given preference in any sort of group activities. Age of Conan was a good example of this issue. The developers at Funcom sought to do things a bit differently and introduced many hybrid classes, and yet players still preferred the purest of any of the three archetypes for their group activities. Why choose a Dark Templar or Conqueror over a Guardian as the main tank? The latter two were certainly more versatile characters, but the Guardian could soak it up better than either, and so he was largely preferred for groups.

Whether developers should stop trying to deviate from the holy trinity design is probably a discussion for another day, but how do you feel about the design concept in general? Do you enjoy filling a specific role? Or do you prefer things to be a bit more flexible or free form? Let us know in the comments below.

Svayvti writes:

Do I enjoy the holy trinity? No

Designers need to diversify things more

Thu Oct 29 2009 6:22PM Report
Samhael writes:

I enjoy playing support characters as well as hybrids. In CO, I just couldn't find a niche that worked for me so I couldn't maintain interest. 

Thu Oct 29 2009 7:49PM Report
grimfall writes:

This article has a lot of factual errors.

1. The Holy Trinity term was coined during the height of Everquest's popularity, and it was tank, healer - damage mitigation (crowd control, slower) that formed the holy trinity.  The damage dealer characters would fill in slots 4 to 6 in a party. You were'nt getting anything serious done without a warrior/cleric/enchanter.

2. It wasn't in the design documents.  The original game (first 50 levels) for many people was done without the aid of the damage mitigator.  Only when the enchanters reached the height of their power did it become obvious how much easier they made a game that was, to be honest, as hard as hell.

3. Since EQ (the originator of the Holy Trinity gameplay mechanic) launched with several hybrid classes, it' makes no sense to say that they were introduced to balance a mechanic the designers didn't realize they were going to create 8 months after launch.

Thu Oct 29 2009 8:26PM Report
Vanpry writes:

No, shows a complete lack of independent thought.

Thu Oct 29 2009 11:59PM Report
AryanRo writes:

 I am an EQ player from luclin era til pass omens. The holy triniy works fine in any group that players know their craft since I left eq have not seen that game style at all only on old timers like myself that know the harshsness of eq was where you would depend of healing class to survive and level back then you could solo upto so much before the game force to group to continue leveling unless you were of class that could kite to level solo no choice but to group. Thanks to WoW most player have no grouping skills and some think they are might gods with their armor and range attack. Right now that makes it hard to play Aion when doing group encounters mighty rangers still think they can do better then the tanks(Thet still paper tanks Lol) People have no agro control when playing groups is a disasters in the groups I been lately. As well as the same story of splitting warrior class to say that one class is better then other for tanking hello they are both warriors but if you dont know how to play your class no matter how highend your armor is still gonna show in your game play.. Basically for the most part people or I would say wowism generation are still making the same errors that would not be so forgiving in games such as Old EQ as to them wow was their first game to play and cant seem to be able to grasp the concept that there are far better mmo's pre-dating WoW that have set some standards to mmo play style that pretty much WoW destroyed with its easy game mechanics cant compare a raid in WoW to one in eq most wont even get to the middle of  doing one in eq before botching it or getting tired. Just cause WoW is great in sales doesn't make it a good game or such that would teach the player base what is to play a game where you depend on the other players and there is no healing pots or mana pots that you have to find solutions to your survival in the games. Where high levels cant help much cause you get no xp or loot or they take it all with their level as well playing under the trivial loot code.

Fri Oct 30 2009 2:17AM Report
hogscraper writes:

 There are a limited number of things that a toon can do. Take damage, deal ranged damage, deal melee damage,heal, buff/debuff and crowd control. Every ability created has one of those goals in mind. If the goal of the game itself is to lower an npc or pc health total to zero before your own reaches zero those basic class outlines are the only ones viable. 

Fri Oct 30 2009 4:22AM Report
Scot writes:

I remember CoH having classes who acted like tanks, healers and support. But you did not have to be one of those, shame if Champions pushes players into solo play archetypes only.

Fri Oct 30 2009 4:29AM Report
Nostromo21 writes:

As a soloer I'm mainly attracted to hybrid pet classes like the necromancer (my fave) because they encompass some elements of all 3. D2, EQ2, WoW, DaoC, AoC all had them (or their equivalents) & even CoX got a minion master eventually with CoV. In fact, the more a mmo blurs the lines between the 3 main class roles the more I find I'm attracted to it, as it means more variety in how you choose to play a role/class. D2 & CoX did it better than most with all the many variants & GW gives you lots of wiggle room as well.

Fri Oct 30 2009 5:51AM Report
Rhayadder writes:

Do I enjoy the Holy Trinity play style?  No.  By the same toten, I don't enjoy playing cookie-cutters or grouping with them.

I played EQ 1 from Kunark.  My favourite role was as enchanter pulling the mobs to the Group.  As a cleric, I refused to just sit there and meditate; a good cleric was always low on manna but had a group where no-one died.  In EQ one learnt the strategies for keeping a group alive without a tank / healer / mezzer / nuker /whatever.  When EQ 2 came along there seemed to be more cookie-cutters around and folk started calling for specific classes to join a group.  Folk would not do dungeons without a healer to keep them alive; someone to sit passively except when needed to heal them and salve their imcompetence.  Folk lost sight of the fact that ultimately we are each responsible for our own character's death.

Along came WoW like a breath of fresh air.  Clerics would feasibly SOLO [you need to have soloed an EQ cleric to get the significance of that].  Soloing a cleric in WoW is fun but get in a group and everyone expects you meekly to tag along and just heal them while they enjoy the blood bath.  My WoW clerics have mainly soloed their way into the fifties.  I would recommend soloing occasionally to every class in any game; it teaches how to survive strictly on your own merits.


While continuing with WoW, Aion is my latest forray.  There, depressingly, folk trying to form a group for specific quests have itemised shopping lists of which classes they want and how many of each class.  It seems that the days when a totally random group of individuals formed a group and just did it are now fading memories from EQ1.  It would not surprise me to hear that EQ has also gone that way.

Fri Oct 30 2009 8:32AM Report
Wrayeth writes:

I hate being forced into one role, which is the reason why I don't enjoy traditional MMOs.  I like the freedom to build my character the way I want or even switch from one setup to another.  This is the reason why I enjoyed old-school SWG, have had my EVE account going for roughly five years, and just picked up Fallen Earth.

Fri Oct 30 2009 10:44AM Report
Isaak writes:

What works for players depends on a few factors.

1) Their genre/paradigm - In a ww2 FPS MMO, you would expect that ANYONE could carry a med pack, but the "medic" knows a hell of a lot more. When hes not shooting, sure, he doesn't do as much DPS...that makes sense. But when his gun is shooting, it does as much DPS as the next guy. You could have soldiers wearing heavier armor (bulletproof vests, etc) but their guns do as much damage as well. This is the "REALISM" genre/paradigm and the holy trinity doesn't make sense here unless you make it a cartoon (see, Team fortress 2) and then you get what you call "suspension of disbelief" which is easy to do...its a game, and we don't mind shooting a healing gun at comrades.

In a fantasy MMO, we've come to accept the holy trinity. The question is, why is that the accepted method? It doesn't actually make a whole lot of sense...unless a taunt and "aggro" is some sort of magic that makes the enemy blindly angry at one person (who is actually doing almost NO damage...makes sense!).

2) Role Playing vs Game Mechanics - if you are role playing (paper and dice - because NO MMO has been able to actually capture the essence of the archaic DnD style RPG - NOT EVEN DDO!!)

If you are role playing, you expect that your ingenuity can make up for a lot of things. Perhaps you lost your sword, but you can still push a pile or rubble on top of the people down the hill. Whatever.

Games have a very difficult time handling the kind of creativity that a Dungeon Master and players take for granted. In this sense, role players, if they are purist, don't like the "aggro" mechanic. A dragon is intelligent and a fierce fighter (played by the DM). You would never see people fighting a dragon like they do in WOW in a role playing game. The dragon would NOT pay strict attention to one "tank" no matter how often he dropped his drawers and mooned it.

"I wave my private parts at your aunty, you silly English Knigits! - French soldier, Monty Python.

Also, that mage standing to his side would get a tail swipe, claw, etc. I know that some WOW mechanics add in side attacks and even tail attacks...but on the whole it sucks compared to what a dragon would actually do...even an unintelligent feral dragon.

Role players also hate Mob AI. Let me give an example. I walk into the Deadmines, a place FULL to the brim with all sorts of nasties. The first guy I see is within easy shouting/viewable distance of several other guys. No alarm is raised. No calling for help unless i beat him down enough to run away in fear. Meanwhile, his buddy his sitting there mining across the hall...oblivious to the clash of weapons and death cries of his friend. I guess I role play that they're all hard of hearing...and somewhat blind....and stupid...and...yeah.

If your first reaction is that if he DID raise the alarm you'd all be dead, then you're missing the point. If the devs allowed for such an action, then they would do a couple things. One, perhaps less mobs overall. Two, allow a hero to do more damage. Why does the guy keep coming at me with 7 arrows sticking out of his face? Seriously. They go full bore even with 1hp. Then, they're dead.

Fear. While animals run away...mobs do not. Why? If I am clearly powerful enough to mow down 6 of their guys (or my group of 5 is mowing down 50+) then why are they not running screaming. (single player RPG's do this all the time). If I am a lvl 80 walking through a noob zone, my mere presence should send them running (I don't actually agree with the huge difference in power from lvl 1 to lvl 80...but thats another discussion).

So, game mechanics are a crutch that devs have used as a tried and true method, cause it makes them money, and players know what to expect. Maybe I'm not so much "down" with the holy trinity, but the thought of Aggro and a truly mindless AI. The holy trinity fails in PVP, why? because the player on the other end is intelligent. I want intelligent mobs...intelligent enough to get around the holy trinity.

Give me a mechanic where we can use ingenuity and such. We might need some AI...oh, and also collision.

'nuff said.

Fri Oct 30 2009 11:45AM Report
Tolroc writes:

@Isaak - My thoughts exactly only better put.

Fri Oct 30 2009 12:02PM Report
Mariner-80 writes:

 I don't mind the basic mechanic. I do wish, however, that games allowed players with dual and/or triple roles to swap specs a little more easily. For example, since I mostly solo my WoW priest, I am dps-specced, but life would be a lot simpler if (perhaps on a 1-hour cooldown) I could swap specs from shadow (damage) to holy (healer) at the touch of a button -- including gear, talent points, skillbar, etc.

Players who enjoy playing hybrid classes are penalized by having to tote around two sets of gear, etc., so -- normally -- I just don't bother grouping or I only group as a damaged-spec priest.

WoW recently introduced dual-speccing, but it's still a major (and expensive) PIA, imo, so I do not bother with it.

I think all classes should be able to dual spec (not dual class): tank/dps or healing/dps and be able to switch easily between the two. It's make grouping a heck of a lot easier and more simple.

Fri Oct 30 2009 12:32PM Report
eludajae writes:

The Holy Trinity is like that other Holy Trinity, bullshit. I works because thats all the developers try. Pissing in public works just as good as using a restroom, but just because it works, doesn't mean its the best way to do something.

PvE is necessary

PvP: is a luxury

Raid Endgame: Works but their could be many more alternative's like oh what bioware is doing, making a storyline...oooo now wouldnt that be actual story line...the old days of the Holy Trinity is over...out dated and dying I will be replaced.

Fri Oct 30 2009 2:17PM Report
eludajae writes:

lol now that was a fraudian slip in that last post "I" instead of it...but you know what...I was replaced by my last girl friend, and I replaced any event the Holy Trinity is coming to the end of its reign...thank God...the other Invisible Man.

Fri Oct 30 2009 2:20PM Report
Babylon9000 writes:

I both like and dislike it. When teaming the balance and each team mate knowing their role helps alot. When soloing I will use CoX for example, to do it with anything other than a scrapper takes quite a bit of time. Even with a scrapper it can be rough if mobs do alot of damage. CO actually has decent solablity but the teaming aspect is not there due to lack of need for the trinity, It's a delicate balance.

Sat Oct 31 2009 10:00AM Report
gofastlemon writes:

although it tends to be more efficient, when playing WoW, i've gone to dungeoning with 3-5 man groups...mostly DK's that are blood and unholy spec... as to heal ourselves and take on one group of mobs at a time. More challenging at moments and we learn to play better.

its just more fun more "LF TANK/HEALER/DPS" ....

Sun Nov 01 2009 4:12PM Report
ravenshroud writes:

There is nothing wrong with the holy trinity and it did not come from EQ.  It came from history.


Ranged combat, armored combat, medics, support, deception, and much more are realistic combat archetypes to this day.


We did not invent them for gaming.  We invented them to survive and conquer.  There is nothing that will change that ideal.


Gaming shouldn't require any specific combination of characters for a fight, it should have an intelligent AI that requires good teamwork regardless of class structure.


Click targetting games will always fail in this regard as will those without friendly fire.  But how realistic do we really want our games?

Tue Nov 03 2009 6:28PM Report
Zeka writes:

I find the tank healer dps proforma boring.  If the healer keeps the tank up and the dps kills fast enough you win yawn. 

Classes without one of these 3 as a primary function are often marginalized as it is faster to not use them - why wait for crowd control when the tank can pull a room and get it over with faster? I would speculate that those who like the holy trinity play the favored classes and those who dont play classes which are marginalized by it - if you are wanted at all you are expected to use only 20% of your skills.  Wipe 80% of any class's skills and play is boring.

Players will always favor the fastest method of achieving a goal - particularly given the grind nature of mmos.   Until developers design combat situations which require full utlization of all classes' skills the holy trinity will persist

Tue Nov 03 2009 10:46PM Report
wlvnspectre writes:

 The Unholy Trinity has been an albatross around the neck of MMO's for far to long.

First lets get one thing straight. We are talking about predefined charactter roles with little or no fexability.  You are what you are from the start and thats it, that character is stuck.

The commenter sited in the article who plays EVE like I do doesn't know what he is talking about. When you start your character you can make it whatever you want, and if after playing a while you want to go in another direction you can.  I started off making my character an industrialist, had to turn him into a miner, then a solo PvE mission runner, then into an Entrepreneur/Investor/Miner, and now I have had to improve my PvE and PvP skills in both offence and defence.  If I wanted to take enough time I could then go all support. In a Unholy trinity I could be a tank, then a tank, and then more of a tank.

Yes it helps if you use specialists in group encounters, but contrary to popular belief most of the games are more than "We Smash!".


Sun Nov 08 2009 3:43AM Report writes:
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