The first thing, aside from the choice of art style, that fans picked apart about EverQuest Next’s big reveal was the intentionally cagey information we received about class roles (tanks, heals, DPS, control, support). In short, EverQuest Next won’t have the traditional class roles we’re used to. Immediately fans got a little worried that what would be in the new Norrath instead is a sort of DPS-zerg that’s found in ArenaNet’s Guild Wars 2. Recently thanks to a very well-thought out post by a Redditor, and later confirmed by Dave Georgeson (Smokejumper on Reddit and the SOE forums), we’re starting to get a sense of what the EQN devs hope to achieve with their combat. In short, it might have more in common with Riot’s League of Legends and the art of constantly changing roles based on situational dynamics.
Let’s quote the original post by Holmedog. Mind you, he’s not an SOE rep, just a fan. But his ideas here were partially confirmed by Georgeson. Here’s the important part of his post, relating combat to League of Legends fights:
You still have tanks. You still have supports. You still have dedicated DPS. However, the AI (or other opponents) know enough to not just run face first into the "tanks". But, part of the kit of a good tank (or bruiser) is their disruption ability. Now, the AI has to think about whether it's a better decision to damage the person they can reach, or to take a lot more damage (and risk dying) before getting to a more desirable target.
Now, let's take this one step further and quit saying the word "tank" and saying the word "melee". And instead of healer let's say "support". Now, we have the same group, but the AI has to decide between a melee who can do decent amounts of damage, but is in their face, or a ranged who can do higher damage, but requires gap closing. Or chase the support who can constantly kite them while the melee and ranged are doing damage.
This is what I imagine the "destruction" of the holy trinity to be while still maintaining player roles. I think it's just a progression of AI - sure, some creatures may be stupid enough to just attack the first thing they see, but if you were fighting human-equivalent thinking NPCs, you would expect them to be smart enough to assess threat and invalidate the idea of a true tank. And, without a true tank, I don't think you're going to see the idea of a true healer. Support skills that limit mobility, etc will become much more important when there is no longer one damage sponge to be clicked on.
Dave “Smokejumper” Georgeson joined the thread afterwards to let the EQN redditors know he was on the right track:
“Nailed it! You are on exactly the right path here. Now start to consider the potential of how the AI can interact that way and what it does for group dynamics and you'll start seeing why we think this is going to be a BLAST. (Not that we're a MOBA, of course. Just being clear.)
And that, ladies and gentlemen, says to me that the trinity will still be in place... just don’t expect it to look and behave the way it always has in an MMO. I’ll believe Dave when I see the full system in place, but what the redditor is describing (and Dave’s confirming) sounds a lot like more active participation in combat than simply managing aggro/threat/enmity. It’ll likely require some more organizational skill on the part of the players, so hopefully that solid VOIP system found in PS2 is also in the new Norrath.
Imagine the sort of fights you can get into with PVE encounters if there’s not just some rote tank and spank mechanic that you can predict. Instead, the enemy or enemies will hunt down the targets that post the most immediate threat to their survival. They’ll use the terrain and crowd control abilities against you. They’ll knock down walls to cut off your ranged attackers from helping the melee party members. Imagine the kind of coordination and group interaction you’d need to survive fights like this... it puts the whole thing more on the level of human versus human combat, instead of predictable AI fights.
I do hope that a “tank” can still block attacks with his or her shield, as that’s kind of the point of holding a shield at all. Just as I hope healing classes and builds can solely focus on healing if they desire. I would love to be just a healer in GW2, and it bums me out that I can’t perform that role. EverQuest Next, even if it really has this super-smart AI, needs to allow players to fulfill the classic roles that fantasy gaming is founded upon.
We won’t really know what SOE has planned until they’re ready to showcase their group combat and many classes, but I’m hopeful after the above-mentioned Reddit thread that the system we’ll be getting is far more complex and layered than what’s being immediately bandied about by detractors. Will it be a fundamentally better system than simply getting your tanks to control aggro, and everyone else to work on heals and damage? We’ll see. I really like the sound of combat in EQN, but I’ll need to see it to believe.
Bill Murphy / Bill Murphy is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He wants to be able to block attacks with his shield, and heal people if he wants to, dammit. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.