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Community Spotlight: Is Tanking Really Necessary?

Posted by MikeB Thursday August 12 2010 at 3:07PM
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This week’s Community Spotlight focuses on the thread “PvE without a Tank System/Mechanics is simply a Zerg Fest! Prove me wrong otherwise” by MMOExposed. While MMOExposed doesn’t do much to elaborate on his point, sometimes a bold thread title can really get a discussion going. Are tanks or tanking mechanics really necessary?  Let’s find out what the community had to say!

Tazarconan provides us with some in-depth thoughts on the matter:

“I had a huge conversation about this matter with some rl friends the other day.

I have reasons to believe that such a system could be way better than the usual tank and spank wow/style tanking system. Let me explain. I ll take as example ddo online .Tanking in ddo is something misty. There are tanking styles players paladins,warriors with shields and builds that support  survivalability of the player and also a taunt . But there is the style of the combat and the combat mechanics that u almost never see all mobs being tanked by the tank. One of the reasons is that there are many sudden encounters where 1 mob spwns next to the mage 2 in front 1-2 from left side and 1-2 from right side and all these mobs u have to fight them by tanking them at least for some seconds by almost everyone in the party.

Such situations raise adrenaline keeps u tight and alert and ofc if the combat system is actually working its way more fun and intresting than the casual tank system.Combat is becoming that way more intresting and fun (that depends on player's taste cause many ppl nowdays want always to win easilly without the need to actually fight hard or think carefully to win something). Also that way u dont just put all your talents for max dps but you have to think carefully to build a character that is also having some good standards of survival (tough to kill).

And thats one of the more intresting things also in ddo many options for the character build feats skills extra feats racial feats etc. and its also something id like to see in more and more mmorpg's that are coming a deep character advancement system ..something more than just 3 talent trees.”

Twistdstrange offers a solution that allows tanks to play a role, but aren’t quite necessary:

“A possible solution would be to allow the inclusion of tank characters, but not make them exactly necessary unless the group wants one or the situation specifically would call for one.

I think a group should be made up of anything, and players shouldn't be inclined to choose the player's class over the player herself.

As far as grouping in WoW goes, the general tank consensus is Paladin or go home.

If you were putting together a group of friends to play with, wouldn't you rather say "Let's take John [a DPS], he knows his stuff, besides he's a riot in vent."

Instead of, "Let's lurk general chat for some random tank that we can pretend to like for forty five minutes until we get our loot and drop group."”

Coman injects a bit of humor to the discussion, warranting a mention here with a simple but effective joke:

“I keep placing Siege tank at the ramp of my base. but the zerg just keeps coming does help a little though...”

Arenasb is fine with tanks, not so much tank mechanics (threat, aggro management):

“Tanks are fine, anyone to try defend the group or his teamates by soaking up damage is fine by my book. However, what I really hate are the artificial threat and aggro mechanics in games like taunt. Utilize other tactics such as body blocking, kiting, and general control is much more interesting than a threat based mechanic.

If you want to call this zerging than so be it. It is so much more interesting than having one person sit there and use threat with taunt to keep all of the mobs attention.”

I don’t really know where I’m at on the issue. I would say I’d probably lean more towards arenasb’s stance as I like the idea of the protector role in a party, but the whole taunt aggro management bit, not so much. Being able to literally rescue another player, using collision to block, and of course CC would be largely preferable to me.

Another user mentioned that tanks are useless in PvP as a result of the whole taunt mechanic because players will ignore a tank in PvP. I don’t feel that is inherently true. If tanks are given most of the CC they can be hugely disruptive and become a real nuisance that requires being dealt with. Also, another good example of PvP tanking, ironically enough, is City of Heroes, where tanks can force other players to target them by use of taunt. I’m sure a few of you will be iffy on that as it removes player control a bit (but hey, so does confusion, right?) but it was a unique take on PvP tanking nonetheless.

What are your thoughts on the role of tanks and tank mechanics in MMOs? Share them with us below!  

Loke666 writes:

Guildwars (and DDO) proved that tanks are not really making the combat more fun, it is just something they put in so they can use a crappy AI.

The whole idea of tanking is silly, who ever heard of anyone taunting a blood raged beast or a highly intelligent person anyways? Smart opponents either go for the most dangerous opponent or the easy kill first, not the one in armor who do little actual damage.

No, get rid of it and implement a more fun combat where people have to think and react faster instead. Guildwars 2 will prove this once again.

Thu Aug 12 2010 4:53PM Report
Vaettir writes:

The tank's role is, at its core, to divert / prevent as much damage as possible from being dealt to his teammates.


I don't know about the rest of you, but I can think of quite a few more interesting way to accomplish this than "Have the big tough guy stand there and take damage so we don't have to." Support, CC... actual tactics, perhaps? Anything could be made to work, with a little tweaking.

Thu Aug 12 2010 6:17PM Report
Shdwcaster writes:

"Hey big dumb angry thing!  Pay attention to me, and not the guy with the weapons!" is a pretty common trope in fiction at least.

It seems like there's a place for tanks, but I agree that the standard Tank and Spank mechanism gets real boring, real fast for most people.  Making tanking more skill dependent does seem like a good way to go to me.

Thu Aug 12 2010 6:18PM Report
shantideva writes:

I want DDO 2. Game still kicks ass in most departments. Just make it bigger and a bit more open, maybe toss in aportal to krynn or something like that.

Thu Aug 12 2010 6:24PM Report
Athcear writes:

In an encounter with a big, dangerous creature that a good must coordinate to fight, yes a tank is rather needed.  Unless every character has equal ability to avoid taking damage.  How better to ensure that the group survive the dragon's fire than my ensuring that it doesn't hit most of the group?  SWTOR is doing away with a lot of tanking (I think) by having fights with more, less powerful enemies.  But fighting a huge ogre or a dragon wouldn't work that way.

Thu Aug 12 2010 7:57PM Report
maplestone writes:

It seems to me that on the theoretical level, tanking will happen in any party-vs-monster combat whether it's intended or not - with a variety of skills and abilities, there will inevitabily be one person who is the most effective at absorbing/avoiding damage - and so that's the one who will be put out front. 

That doesn't mean that the monster AI has to accept that they will be doing the least effective thing from their side or that it has to be the same person vs every monster and every situation encountered - but it does make it easier for players to manage the group dynamics when people have a default expectation of their role.

You are going to have people who get bored with always knowing their role and you are going to have people who get frustrated (with the game or with their fellow players) when there aren't clear roles.  The trick is lining the right challenges up with the right personality types.

Thu Aug 12 2010 8:13PM Report
setilight writes:

I'm going to row against the flow here and say that tanks are a great tool for PvE. Tanks allow a battle to be organized and controlled, making room for more complex and fun tactics. If a strong opponent (dragon for example) focused on the healers, or on the glass canons, like it would if it was controlled by a human we would have to give them means of defense that would probably make those classes too strong, or they would have to kite, like someone suggested, and pretty much turn any encounter into a silly race (just ask anyone that fought the king of Inevitable City, on Warhammer Online what they think about kiting as a avoidance mechanic btw).

Of course I'm not saying it's impossible to design encounters that work without a tank - WoW has those too - but I'm sceptical that anyone is able to create a whole PvE combat system that provides consistently challenges, that are fun, without using the current tanking mechanics. Still, I would be glad if one of the upcoming MMOs proves me wrong.

Thu Aug 12 2010 8:20PM Report
chronbodi writes:

I agree with Setilight. If you take away the necessity for tanks in groups, and possibly healers as well if I read the beginning of the article correctly, Nobody will ever roll anything but dps. After all, dps is more fun right? :) I enjoy tanking but let's face it, dps can solo level faster than anyone else so there's more incentive to play pure damage.

Thu Aug 12 2010 9:17PM Report
mrwakka writes:

Personally i like DDO and AC, and was very sad when i saw Turbine drop their own styles for the more eq/wow class mechanics in lotro.

In AC, and DDO you can "tank" by the use of tactics more then aggro or threat. Find a doorway or other chokepoint and put the durable guy in front. I find it amazing how many MMO's lack collision detection on creatures rendering any real tactics moot and instead forcing the players to rely on aggro management.

How does that even make sense? if i insult the guy enough he'll attack me and not the one killing him?

PvP would also benefit with collision detection, why can't my tank hold a doorway in pvp? i would actually be serving my purpose then and not be the guy everyone ignores until the healers/dps are dead.

Regardless i've played a tank in most MMO's simply because i enjoy characters that can survive, yet none have been nearly as entertaining as my defense spec'ed mage archer in AC... sigh, why can't we have a good skill based mmo again instead of copy cat class based ones... 

Thu Aug 12 2010 11:39PM Report
mrwakka writes:

@chronbodi: if tanking or healing is not fun, but you force players in that role to succeed, i think the company has failed somewhere in their games design...

Thu Aug 12 2010 11:43PM Report
delateur writes:

I don't enjoy the Tanker role in CoH at all.  While the powersets look cool, I find I enjoy the danger of playing a somewhat more squishy scrapper and getting critical hits preferable to playing a tank and trying to increase my damage output to a respectable level to help offset my aggro cap and make me more than just a herder and damage soaker. The tanker role is just plain boring if he isn't doing decent damage...

Thu Aug 12 2010 11:45PM Report
someforumguy writes:

I dont think that aggro magnets like taunt abilities are necessary in combat. They dumb down mob AI and are easier to program I guess. The drawback is that it asks for to the holy trinity setup, which makes finding balanced teams always a problem.

But Guild Wars already showed that its not necessary to have taunt abilities. Mobs go for dangerous/easy targets in that game and the only way for a heavy armoured character to tank is to bodyblock or be a hinderance in some other way. Get in the way of the mob enough and itll change target to you.

It just asks for a little more group coordination. It is something most ppl learn in that game, simply because of the mob AI. (although with the overpowered heroes they dumbed down PVE)

Fri Aug 13 2010 12:51AM Report
ericbelser writes:

Tanks as such probably aren't required; but defined roles are. Otherwise you get the formless masses of DPS soloists that many games are becoming. There should be different playstyles and they should have ways of working together other than everyone mashing their best attack button.

Fri Aug 13 2010 1:13AM Report
Daitengu writes:

Just because EQ did it doesn't mean every game after it has to copy that mechanic.  It's why Blade & Soul, Vindictus, and Terra are lookin' pretty good to me atm.

Fri Aug 13 2010 1:34AM Report
eLdritchZ writes:

please... please wherever you stand in this discussion, please don't drag realism into this... true, in a real battle you go for the most dangerous stuff first... but in a real battle people don't take 100 arrows to the face before they keel over and pretty much everyone with a sword is dangerous ;) oh yeah and dragons and fireballs....

so why tanking? well tanks and healers are basically just roles to make the combat more of a group experience... that's all it is... to encourage team work. compare it to football... would it really be more fun if you had 11 strikers in your team? or is it neccesary to have defence and a keeper to make the game fun? in my opinion the fun in any team activity lies within the team effort. you win because you played well together and had the better coordination, not because you had Messi or Ronaldo with you...

I personally will not be playing GW2 because of exactly this reason... if everyone is DPS with a few heals and you dont really die, you just "drop" until picked up... sounds a lot like L4D to me and I think L4D gets very boring very fast because even though you might "drop" once in a while, winning those campaigns is piss easy on any difficulty... and that's exactly what i think will happen in GW2...

also... tanking and healing happen to be my favorite character roles besides debuffers/CCers... so I basically got already told off by the ANet guys for liking this boring rubbish... yeah... how dare i not like no brainer, button mashing DPS classes?

Fri Aug 13 2010 3:30AM Report
hogscraper writes:

Most games would be unplayable or completely monotonous without tanks. One class has to have high hitpoints or high AF or everyone does and PVP becomes impossible. I play MMOs for the epic battles and PVP. If the epic mobs acted liked humans they would usually slaughter the healers first. In a long epic fight, without a way to heal, you can't win. So the only way to give players a chance to win at that point would be to give healers the survivability of a tank. Now you've just completely killed PVP by making all the fights last forever.

The big three have lasted as long as they have because that is as close as you can get to making large scale npc battles doable while not making pvp a complete joke. If a monster as powerful as 40 people can be attacking you and you survive, how do you translate that to the battlefield against other players? In pvp you don't rush the tank. You might start wailing on the casters, but if their healer is any good you try to kill him or even start with the healer to begin with. Every mechanic you give a non tank player to enable them to survive like a tank makes them that much more powerful in pvp and takes away a huge amount of strategy on the battlefield. This really bothers me because many players refuse to learn a role in open combat and should die for it. No caster should be able to run into my group and survive. He should be forced to use tactics and range. Giving casters more survivability ruined RVR in Dark Age. It totally made that game a caster game where tanks were irrelevant. 

Fri Aug 13 2010 3:44AM Report
Niakad writes:

"epic battles"

My definition of the "Epic" battle would be Mace/Yoda vs Sidious, for ex.

A group of 12/24 "heroes" vs one "boss" just shows how incompetent the heroes in question are.

24 heroes vs several hundred quite ordinary goblins is quite epic, and may require even greater "teamwork" and "coordination", than 24 heroes vs one "Boss".

And "tankless" battles need not last forever. Epic one-on-one battles for ex. can be about de-buffs, buffs and anti-debuffs. So, instead of DPS race there can be quite a "tactical" battle, involving pure damage, strikes and counter-stances, (de)buffs and anti-(de)buffs. The side that makes more mistakes, loses.

Fri Aug 13 2010 5:44AM Report
kbooth writes:

Near 3 years ago two locks went into Karazhan during playing WoW. They 2 locked it up to Prince then needed a healer. Once they got their healer, They were able to take down Prince and complete the instance. Are tanks necessary?? I think in some combat yes, in others no. I was one of those locks spec'd to destro/demon at that time. Happy Gaming.

Fri Aug 13 2010 7:54AM Report
NortonGB writes:

Are tanks necessary? probably not but as a play-style they are high armored defence characters with avarage dps that can usally soke up punishment from bosses & other high output npcs.

They also often like close quater combat or to be seen to be hard up front group leaders with the healers in support & are expected to draw the aggo from the remaining of the group.

Fri Aug 13 2010 9:10AM Report
madnessman13 writes:

i dont think they are necessay at the lower lvls but when you get to the end game content they are very usefull and you wouldnt be able to do the raid without them i play wow and im a mage and when i get attacked i take 9k dmg most of the time and that really hurts and i cant take much of it sooo that is why the tank is there so we dont all die right away this is just wow btw. it may be different in other games though idk

Fri Aug 13 2010 9:26AM Report
battleaxe writes:

The idea of combat damage in MMO's is at its basic level just a fight between sponges.  Take a sponge, stick it in front of the mob, and have the mob beat the water out of it while the healer in the back tries to fill it up with buckets of water.  The mob and all of the player characters are also sponges.  A raid is a race between the mob sponge and the player sponges to see which can be run dry first.

As long as the sponge is the MMO combat model, the tank will be necessary to be the focus fire sponge.  It's easier to focus all of your buckets on one big sponge.

If you've ever seen melee combat in a movie or in real life, you know that the sponge model of combat is stupid.  People don't fight like that.  Real weapon based melee combat has opponants facing off with thrusts, feints, parries, and one or two critical blows to finish the fight.  Any serious hit HURTS!  If your leg's got a huge gash in it, you'll have a real difficult time avoiding the next strike.  If the fight goes on for much longer after that huge gash was struck, you will bleed to death.

Critical hits are instant kills.  Cut a head off, spear through the heart, an arrow through eye or heart, explode a fireball in a small room, and your target should be deader than a door-nail.  Yet these things just don't happen with the sponge model.  Only little numbers floating over heads.  Whee.

Fri Aug 13 2010 10:24AM Report
helthros writes:

The problem with tanking is that it's not very fun. Tanks will always be measured about 75% by their gear and 25% by their skill.

Not to mention your random PUG groups that seem to think it's fun for the tank to run around like mad trying to round everything up while people carelessly pull aggro and do other things that make a tanks life a living hell.

Chances are you won't be able to do much on your own (WoW added to dual specs which is nice). You'll die the most out of anyone in groups as the tank. Wearing plate, you'll have the highest repair costs.

This creates a lack of interest in tanking. Once that happens groups sit around for HOURS on end trying to find a tank for their silly dungeon. It's just a poor design.


God forbid you missed the 'gravy' train of a big new patch, new expansion, or release of a game. You'll probably just pass up dungeons/group content while leveling simply because you could outlevel them in the time it takes to find a tank.

Fri Aug 13 2010 10:34AM Report
GrumpyMel2 writes:

Not a big fan of the Holy Trinity  mechanic myself. I think it's kind of a dumb mechanic, although conceptualy it's simple and it can work ok for Fantasy based games.

I'd much rather go with the concept where people have different abilities in different spheres and the group dynamics are dependant upon using those abilities to get the group through a variety of different challenges.

So for instance the Warrior has ability in the martial sphere (offense AND defense) when the group is facing a martial based threat (say an Orc) they rely on the Warriors abilities to defeat it with the rest of the group providing assistance.

When facing a magic based threat (say a Wraith) the Mage's abilities come to the fore..

A stealth based threat (say a room full of traps) the Rogues abilities are key.

Essentialy, the exact way people are contributing to the groups success is constantly shifting based upon the type of challenge they are being faced with.

Also put me down as another person that is favor of collision detection and engagement....taunts and threat based aggro mechanics are a cheap short-cut forced by technical short-comings in the game engine. With todays tech, we shouldn't really need to rely on those anymore.





Fri Aug 13 2010 12:35PM Report
KenFisher writes:

If you make everyone in the party non-squishy, you haven't eliminated tanks.  You've made everyone tanks.

Fri Aug 13 2010 3:58PM Report
vack writes:

As a tank player, since my frist MMO, I can agree with some of what is said.  Mostly the useless feeling in most MMO's with PVP, and the lackluster taunt mechanic/aggro management.


It seems tanks these days have become what I call, a "Taunt Bot", or an "Aggro Monkey"  because in the common mechanic that plagues today's stagnant MMO's.  Honestly, if it were not for the role these companies deem for the tank, there is essentially nothing else the tank brings to the table.  Their DPS is poor, very poor.  The CC is placed on casters, and very little is melee based.  (Although this is trend of CC on casters is starting to sway towards melee).  


As for PVP, sure in WOW a Paladin can heal himself and out live certain fights.  But in the majority of other games, when the tank comes upon another opponent 1 v 1.  They will have a difficult time winning.  As DPS is always greater than defense.  I implore you to show me a game where it is not.  (I'm talking about equally geared toons).  In group PVP, the tank is always the last to be targetted, it's just tactics that is tried and true, because there is no real role out there.  Warhammer made taunt have a PVP value, and this is the first game that I've seen that used it.  (Taunt in this case reduced damage output on target to their target.)  Actually the Tank in WAR, that I played (Swordmaster)  felt about right, and well balanced. 

Further PVP arguements, are supporting cast.  Many classes in today's MMO's seem to be able to solo with some success.  I've said this in every MMO I've played, The best tank is in the world is only as good as his worse healer.  If you resign yourself to play a tank, then you best make friends fast with a reliable healer.  It's an inherant issue IMO with the class.  With many games being released that are "SOLO" friendly, the tank is still a class that needs that healer buddy to be remotely successful.


Example, that wizard can blast through 100 mobs in say 15 minutes.  Those same 100 mobs will take that tank (On the same gear/level plane as the wizard) twice that time at around 30 minutes.  (Most recently I tested this in AION, with a templar v. Sorc.

The argurment will be raised......."Yeah, but I have to regen Mana!!"  I don't know about you folks, but in everygame I've tested, played, looked at, talked to devs about etc.  It seemed to me that a Mana pool regens a hell of a lot faster than a Life poll.

Now I see GW2 comign out with very interesting Tanking things, and ways to protect a group.  I'm very interested in playing this game to see how this works.  I love the idea of positioning, in lue of a taunt to protect your group.  I hope it works, as it will add a whole new chapter to the positioning of the enemy in relation to your group. 

Anyway, I'll end there, I can talk Tank all day, anyday.  It's by far my favorite class.  In my opinion it takes a certain type of person to play one in it's current "Role".  I've always said, as a tank you have to have broad shoulders, but I hope in future games they can make it interesting for those of us that like pain.


Fri Aug 13 2010 4:52PM Report
nate1980 writes:

I'll catch flack for this as I always do and will be asked in detail how it's supposed to work, but it's not my job to figure it out, only to express what I'd like.

I'm an avid reader of fantasy fiction. One thing I like about fantasy books, movies, and television shows is that there's no such thing as tank, dps, healer, and crowd control. It's that character, this character, and his friends.

So what I'd like to see is something a bit more realistic, which is what makes everyone cringe, and also a bit why I don't game anymore. Truth be told people, I bet a one handed sword will hurt just as much as a fireball, or a pair of daggers in the kidney's. Sure, armor can mitigate damage, but so could a magic shield, or evasiveness. So people always remark how my point-of-view leaves everyone as DPS.

In a way, that's true. Everyone has the ability to kill something just as easily, although a ranged or magic user would have a better way of it. However, good game design would replace the holy trinity with tactics-based combat. Meaning, the enemy also can kill you just as easily as you can him, if not easier depending on their size and their methods of killing. So the use of tactics and team work may be required to down some otherwise impossible encounters.

For instance, a dragon isn't something an ordinary hero can tackle on his own. Okay, so that Knight can deflect his fiery breath with his shield for a few seconds until the shield possibly melts. Well that frees up some other team members to do their damage. Or maybe a Wizard has a good spell to reflect that fiery breath while the knight drives his sword in the heart of that dragon.

My point being, realism makes things interesting, because then you can approach a fight more logically. It makes combat more intuitive. It also requires more intelligence and effort from the players, because there are just some encounters that can't be tackeled solo due to the intelligence (who told the bandits to bring friends?!) of a mob, or the size (that giant will squash me in one stomp if he gets near me!!).

Fri Aug 13 2010 10:40PM Report
Echelons writes:

I personally think that a tank could be something more than the guy with the most health and damage mitigation.  Why not make the tank the guy who casts spells on their party members so they take less damage and make the enounters more objective based than, "Who's next on the list of mobs to kill?"


I think as long as you have the grind mentallity where all an instance is "hard" mode grinding, then the tank/dps/healer setup is going to survive.  I mean there have to be roles, otherwise its just a bunch of people running around killing whatever.  It's not fun.  You have to feel involved and part of a team that's working together.  But I do think that if you change the way an instance works so that it's more of an experience or an event than a brief grind with bigger enemies, then you can make room to really change the general group make-up.

Sat Aug 14 2010 5:00AM Report
Grym writes:

Unfortunately, this thread hits upon something I've bemoaned in the past. The whole concept of "balance" and the "holy trinity" and dps vs ac, etc. Personally, this is one of the biggest reasons why I haven't seriously played an MMO for over a year now. Until the RPG is put back into MMO-RPG, nothing is going to change. It also has to do with the mentality of a lot of gamers out there right now who like to turn every game into a mathmatical equation (max dps, ac, dex vs str or con, blah blah blah). You have to have the best gear and build to be effective. I enjoyed COH approach because each class was survivable and could be played independently as a hero. But, there are only so many times you can go into an instance that rehashes the same geography as others and Task forces that never change. So I quit that one too.  Players need to invest in the role play of their character. By that, I don't mean speaking prettily with "thees and thous". Role play like, a warrior who prefers chain mail vs plate because he likes the flexibility and reduced weight. Maybe a swordsman vs a walking target? Still waiting for a game that allows a player to immerse themselves in the character vs. the math dynamic.

Sun Aug 15 2010 6:35PM Report
Entropy14 writes:

I agree, tanking needs to  be reworked, I agree some classes should maybe take more punishment, have a little more health.  But not to the extreme it is now.


I would also like to see different mobs require different classes to best "tank" them, not always the guy with the shield, maybe at times it require someone fast and agile, others someone with magical shields ect...  But yes one guy having agro the whole time makes for a boring game. 

I want faster pace and more reactive combat. Combat needs to be more then just clicking 2-3 keys on your hot bar, and hoping the healers keep the tank up, that gets old very fast.


Time to progress people, or at least have a couple AAA titles with a different set of rules, not 100% of all games need to follow the same formula


Sadly SWTOR should have never implented tanks, like WTF since when in SW is there tanks. grrrr.

Sun Aug 15 2010 11:17PM Report
mCalvert writes:

Im the user that suggested that the tanking spec is useless in PVP. A tank requires a healer. Hence why the healer, CC, or support classes are targeted first. Even high DPS is more of a threat. Once done, you can kill the tank at your leisure. Why would you waste time grinding down a tank when all his buddies are killing you?

And to bring realism back into it, which is what these fantasy mmos are based in (medieval times), knights were the tanks, but they were also DPS. And in a battle you didnt all focus on one guy. Everyone was fighting everyone. Furthermore they learned that having all the armor was a hindrance, and eventually went to lighter armor, higher maneuverability.

Mon Aug 16 2010 7:20AM Report writes:
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