My Feelings On The MMO Trinity

June 16, 2010

The “Holy Trinity” system is a classic concept in MMOs and in many ways I feel it’s a good gameplay system because it creates distinctive roles for players to fill. It’s a formula that’s straight-forward, tried and true — one person protects, one person damages, and one heals. There’s no confusion to anyone as to what part you’re supposed to play as soon as you step into a group. Over the years, several games have taken this concept and evolved it into the different variations we see today (like hybrids), or they’ve taken individual classes and extended their roles to include other utilities (CC, buffs, etc.) Despite all this, in most cases it still boils down to Tank, Healer, DPS.

While the trinity may help players organize themselves in group settings, admittedly it does tend to place constraints on player choice as characters are forced to spec in specific ways in order to be effective in their duties. Situations also arise where players will call for specific classes to fill a trinity role when attempting group content. Once you’re invited, your role usually does not change for the duration of the instance-run, and after a while, gameplay can start to feel a little redundant and stale.

Today’s G4TV E3 hands-on of Star Wars: The Old Republic made many wonder how the Trinity system will play out in this game. Bioware has said before that they were aiming for a “heroic” feel, and that the 25-raiders-beating-on-a-boss style was not it. Some people have assumed that this means there won’t be a Trinity concept in SWTOR, but I wasn’t so sure (the very fact we will have companions as back up tells me that there will be important roles to fill). And to be honest, I was a little relieved to see a bit of the Tank-Healer-DPS synergy happening in the video.

That said, while the video clearly shows that there will be tanking, there will be healing, and there will be nuking, I did notice how the smuggler in the background was running around doing crowd control, DPS, and a little healing while he was taking care of loose trash. This is a definite sign that there will be some flexibility, and there’s the possibility that this won’t be a standard trinity.

I know there are some who were disappointed by this “lack of innovation”, but I personally found out today that I may be a bigger fan of the Trinity system than I realized. I thought I was all for new ideas, and yeah sometimes I get tired of staring at my big bear butt…but deep down, I guess I do still have a soft spot for defined roles.

I like order, dammit!


  1. A fun single player game that is connected to a traditional MMO for those that crave forced grouping and/ or level based PvP? This is sounding more and more awesome to me.

    • I’ll probably be playing a mix of both solo and grouping, but no pvp for me, thanks! 😀

  2. hmmm i wonder if spies and bounty hunters get the same origin world?

    as for your trinity thoughts. yeah i think theres a reason its so prevalent, it works. I’m not gangbusters to see it broken up in any game although I will be interested to see what happens in gw2. just don’t make me heal other people, I’m not the healing kind.

    i couldn’t quite make out the smuggler in the video, i’ll have to watch it again later.

    i noticed in an article I read on massively they talked about space exploration in a mass effect style. How does this effect our bet?

    • Actually, I think the IA and BH do start on the same world (Hutta I believe). The SI and SW are on Korriban for sure.

      And yeah, I can understand why they would have gone with something more traditional. In any case, I wouldn’t have minded seeing something new but I’m in no hurry to see games do away with Trinity either.

      I don’t think our bet is affected at all…I read that Massively interview too about how they were looking to have some interesting things for space, but that really doesn’t tell us much. There are people who are drawing conclusions already and saying there will for sure be space combat or no space combat. I speculate, but I wouldn’t go as far as to close the case like that based on just a few words.

  3. One thing I’ve heard is the prospect that different specs will let classes take on different roles. It’d be pretty cool!

    • Yeah, what he’s saying in the video makes me think you can spec into healing or dps or tanking etc. depending on your preferred play style. It seems you may be able to perform multiple duties in a single encounter as well…I think I read on Darth Hater a smuggler was able to be CC and back up healer, and that a jedi knight acted as DPS and secondary tank. That’s good news for me, since I love playing flexible roles. In WoW, my favorite classes were always the hybrids for that reason.

      • It’s good news for me, too: a close friend and I both want to be Consulars, and it’ll be nice to play together but not be completely boned when it came to roles.

  4. It looks like a lot of fun and ranged tanking will be cool but yeah, it’s not breaking the holy trinity mold at all. Nothing wrong with that really because we’ve yet to see any sort of mechanic that can replace it. Better for SW:TOR to produce great game utlising the trinity that a sub-par game without that all for the sake of innovation.

    • Well said…I’d rather SWTOR to be more traditional and a good game than one that ends up with a broken system because they were trying to implement something radical. As long as there’s some flexibility in the roles (and from the video it looks like there will be a little) I’m pretty content.

  5. This is one of the suggested articles in the list at the bottom of your post: http://hzero.wordpress.com/2009/05/14/redesigning-the-tank/

    I think he brings up an interesting point. Aggro tables are an artifact of what I would call pseudo-intelligence (as opposed to artificial intelligence) which leads to manipulation of aggro through taunts and other tanking abilities. In real life, depending on the actual intelligence of the hostile creature or group, it would be attacking the the support and DPS characters, Not necessarily the guy in its face shouting and waving his arms.

    That may be why so many players enjoy PvP (though I am with you on this one GeeCee). They prefer to fight an intelligent, potentially unpredictable, opponent.

    Not that I am advocating a shift away from the trinity necessarily. Just pointing out that it is a construct of the game. I think may post about this myself. I have more to say, but don’t want to fill up your comments box. 😛

    • Ooh, that’s Harbinger Zero, a blog I just discovered myself and have on my blog roll 😛

      I think over time, many of these mechanics have built up and we just can’t go back anymore without making sweeping changes to gameplay. Some roles are pretty set in stone, like the fact clothies will never be able to melee tank because they’ll be shred to bits.

      I agree a lot of it has to do with “pseudo-intelligence” and a necessary means for players to manipulate mob behavior…after all, as you’ve pointed out, a truly intelligent mob won’t be bothering with the guy with a sword and board, they’d be going straight for the squishy healers who are keeping him alive. Of course, stuff like aggro ranges and other tried and true mechanics will also go straight out the window.

      Sometimes, fun means making things understandable and less frustrating for players, and so I guess I can live with those constructs. You bring up good points, and I’m looking forward to what you’ll write on the topic 🙂

  6. Thats the best in game footage yet. I have no problem with the trinity as long as it works and its fun. The consular’s job looks a bit dull though doesn’t it?

    • Yeah, a lot of people who watched that were wondering that too. I guess you can’t fault the player, no one at this point has had enough time with the game to become an expert, but I wonder if the JC couldn’t have run into the fray every now and then to force push or swipe at the droid with a lightsaber instead of running around aimlessly 😛

  7. I can’t argue that the trinity doesn’t work. It does what it needs to do. I would like to see something a little more realistic (meaning tactics, positioning, zones of control, etc.) someday.

    • Me too. Admittedly, the gang-beating-on-one-big-mob thing is getting kind of old, as well as the whole process of sheeping/shackling/banishing/etc a mob and not having to worry about it for the next 10 or so seconds. I’d rather everyone have their own enemies to take on.

      Speaking of which, in the video, even though it appears a main tank is still required to take on the strongest mob, it looks like everyone else (except maybe the JC) was actively taking care of their own mobs, making things look more hectic and interesting to me.

  8. […] an older post about the “MMO Holy Trinity”, I talked about how I was happy to see it alive and well in SWTOR. Even so, I also expressed a […]

  9. Well, this video killed off any interest of mine in SWTOR. I find the trinity unbearable, and it looks like it’s going to be a big feature of the game. About fight Lord Sectus, the cybernetic mastermind whose tactical skills are legendary? Have the tank pull him into a corner and get everyone to shoot him in the back while he stands there taking it. Just like in the movies.

    Sorry, but no.

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