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The Devil's Advocate: The Holy Trinity is Great

Column By Michael Bitton on September 01, 2011

Disclaimer: The Devil's Advocate is a place where the MMO-Loving world can go to hear the unpopular opinion. Please note that this article does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the staff of MMORPG.com, the article’s writer or any of the game companies that may be discussed.  The Devil's Advocate is an opportunity for the oft-shunned and little discussed “Other Side of the Story” to be heard, promoting open discussion on a heavily contested subject.

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The Holy Trinity is reviled by many for its rigidness and is pointed to as one of the main causes behind the stagnation of MMO genre.

Au contraire…

The ‘Holy Trinity’ paradigm requires that groups consist of DPS, healers, and tanks. The trinity has long been considered one of the major issues of MMO design, but it became even more prevalent with the launch of games like World of Warcraft. Since then, MMOs have taken a considerable turn towards hybridization, with what seems like every successive game emphasizing the flexibility players can have with their class choices and roles. No longer will we have to focus singularly on DPS, or tanking, or healing.

The lines continue to blur each year: from Warhammer Online’s Archmage, to RIFT’s super flexible soul system, all the way to Guild Wars 2’s absolute abolishment of the trinity. Heck, even Star Wars: The Old Republic places a strong emphasis on flexibility and hybridization. Classes like the Sith Inquisitor can fulfill the roles that span the entirety of the holy trinity between its two Advanced Classes.

But, what’s so bad about the holy trinity, anyways? We’ve all seen what it’s like in World of Warcraft; most people can’t even handle focusing on a single role, and those who can take great pride in their ability to be an excellent tank or healer. MMOs strive to make players feel special, and well, it’s hard to feel ‘special’ when just about anyone else can do what you can do in a group. It feels great as a Bard to bring unique buffs and utility to the group, or as a Warrior to know that your deft handling of a chaotic encounter was instrumental in your group coming out on top.

The trinity, as divisive as it can sometimes be, also helps forge community. That feeling of being special lends itself well to allowing players to establish a reputation for themselves. You might want that guy because he’s a great and reliable tank or healer, for example. In light of the growing trend of MMO designs accommodating ‘solo play’ in every way imaginable, the erosion of the trinity only exacerbates this issue. Soon enough, players will form groups consisting of completely self-sufficient characters that only come together briefly because the encounter is designed such that it requires X amount of bodies present. Where’s the fun in this?

Flexibility also causes additional loot drama. Maybe not so much for guilds with strict systems for loot distribution, but certainly in PUGs or more casual guilds. I’m sure you’ve all been there. You’ve been running some instance or raid about 100 times looking for this perfect trinket for your class and some goob rolls on it for his ‘off-spec’.

Let’s not forget that removing the trinity is really an all-or-nothing idea. You can add all the flexibility and hybrid classes you like, but when it comes down to tackling a raid, most players are going to look for the classes that are fully focused on healing, tanking, or DPSing. Hybrids often turn out to be little more than a novelty. RIFT is a great example of this. Sure, you can have multiple specs that are completely different from one another, but creating a single build that hits a number of things is not likely to be received well in a tough encounter that demands top-end performance in any one area (mitigation, damage, healing).

For all the flexibility devs can offer them, players will usually gravitate to what is familiar and works well in their experience. For example, The Secret World will allow you to put together your own sets of skills. That freedom will allow you to put together something totally off-the wall, but good luck getting into a group tackling high-end content with some wonky build. Certain abilities will inevitably be deemed by the community as optimal for DPS, tanking, or healing, and you can expect that players will put together these builds accordingly. Ultimately, as long as aggro mechanics remain as they are, the holy trinity is likely here to stay. Players will figure out how to shoehorn it into any design that allows for flexibility or attempts to abolish it outright.

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