Trinity Combat , a history and how it will likely work in Star Wars: The Old Republic as well as other combat thoughts
The Trinity system has been firmly in place in MMORPGs since WoW and its many imitators-but World of Warcraft did not invent this system. They actually took the more complex combat model of EverQuest, streamlined and made it easier, as they did with so many features, thereby bringing in a much larger pool of casual players. So What is the trinity system and what does it refer to? The trinity refers to the roles that classes perform in combat-the three roles making up the trinity are the tank, the healer and the damage dealer. Everquest had a fourth role, crowd control (link), but while WoW uses CC it does not have a class dedicated to it, instead spreading around a few CC abilities to different classes (and later I’ve heard homogenized these abilities in almost every class do to PvP mainly) (link to CC and PvP or explanation) and it far, far less necessary than it was in EQ. The damage dealer and healer seem obvious enough, but they are actually slightly more complicated when you take the core of any good group into account: the tank. MMORPG combat is based on “threat” or “agro”. When you come in to range of an aggressive NPC (link) they will instantly have “agro” towards you, meaning they attack. The tank’s obvious job is to soak up damage, so the wispy, low-hp casters and healers don’t take damage, but their real role is in managing threat. Enemies choose their target based on threat calculations; whoever has generated the most threat to an NPC will be attacked. Threat is generated mainly through damage done to the NPC and healing done to group members. This seemingly leaves the tank in a quandary-they soak up damage, but don’t output much usually. So tanks are given a number of threat generating abilities, the most common of these are called “taunts” (link). A taunt is a special ability which causes threat; for some reason giant rats really don’t like it when you insult their mothers. Besides taunt, tanks have other attack abilities that do damage and cause additional threat, far more than the damage would alone. They also possess AoE (link) taunt abilities for fighting multiple enemies. A good tank is vital to a well-functioning group. They generally set the pace and “lead” the group. They are also usually the “puller” (link). You don’t want to just wander into a group of monsters. You scout a group of them out, find the best place for combat, then try your best to draw one, or as few of them towards you as once-usually the tank does this with a ranged attack (tanks not generally built for high powered ranged attacks-SW:TOR being an exception with its ranged-tank trooper-this attack does negligible damage and only serves to draw the enemies attention). Even after the pull, the tank has to keep an eye on the entire situation, watching out for “adds” (link) and watching all the other members of the group. When I played a healer in WoW with a bad PuG (link) I would often have to say “on me” multiple times before the tank would finally pull the monster’s attention towards himself, so I not only wouldn’t die, but could actually cast spells. With the best tank I ever played with, an incredible player named Nephelos, not only was this not NEVER necessary, he wouldn’t even wait until the monster was on me to get its attention; he noticed the SECOND it started moving towards me (or another caster) and intercepted it before it could even reach me. In short without a good tank, trying to do difficult content is basically pointless. Now, you would think the other roles, the damage dealer and healer, are absurdly simple at first glance, right? The damage dealer deals as much damage as possible, the healer heals as much possible. Wrong. Because of the way threat works, this is often a losing strategy. Too much damage and the DD (link) takes threat from the tank. Too much healing puts the monster’s attention straight on the healer (as a healer I can’t tell you how annoying it was to see those “heal pls” messages from non-tanks not currently taking damage who were at 80% health-I knew when to heal and who to heal, and I like to think I was a pretty good healer). Of course when the tank loses agro do to over-damaging or over-healing they are often blamed, making them even more rarely played (more on this later). The actual optimal strategy will depend on many factors, the type of enemies you’re facing (trash mobs (link) or elites (link)), how many, the skill of the group, the possibility of adds, etc. etc. The threat system can actually be used fairly effectively, with skilled players “ping-ponging” (link?) monsters between them, by carefully managing threat, they keep the monster running back and forth between two players, doing hardly any damage, while they are whittled away. So what are the rough populations of the three roles? Well, it seems 90%+ like to play damage dealers-its in human nature (or male human nature at least) to be the one hitting the enemy with an axe (or light saber) or throwing fireballs at them. Consequently these players have the hardest time finding groups. I used to think healers were the rarest, but from information gathered more recently, it seems tanks may actually be, due to the pressure on them as “leader”, the group living or dying based on their actions, and the blame, usually misplaced, they often get. But anyway, if you want to be able to get a group quickly, playing a tank or healer is usually the way to go. But will SW:TOR work the same way? Bioware is using a form of the trinity system, but a seemingly “softer” version. Because of their views on “heroic combat” they plan for players to fight larger groups of enemies than in most games, and seldom fight one giant boss creature with many players. This fact alone seems to imply that every player will have to “tank” a little bit, simply due to the large number of enemies-a single tank probably can’t handle them all. The differences in damage between the three main roles also seems to be much less than most other games of the type, and the variety of actions that tanks and healers can do is greatly increased, so a tank can do a significant amount of damage, and also some crowd control, while the healer, along with buffing (link) and CC will also be able to do decent damage. The fact that almost all advanced classes (link) has 3 talent trees to spend points on, one shared between the base class (link) the advanced class is an outgrowth of, and one of the others focusing on damage dealing, and then either healing or tanking means there will probably be more healers and tanks in this game, especially since re-speccing (link) is supposed to be fairly easy, and even changing advanced class should be possible (the limitations of this will probably be severe, and it may be impossible after level 20 or so). There are only a few classes that focus only on damage dealing.
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The companion system also softens the trinity system. Since a player can take a companion from their ship to come adventure with them, they can choose someone to complement their abilities-a damage dealer or tank for a healer, a healer for a tank or damage dealer etc. This fact alone will do much to make the game playable and fun for all play-styles. A pure healer can now solo (link?) relatively easy if they want. And if a group is short a rare healer or tank (thought for the reasons above this shouldn’t be as much of a problem as in most other games) they can bring a companion along to fill that role. They may not be as effective as a human (supposedly companions are about 80% as effective as human players) but they should get the job done, at least for normal content; I suspect for the tough content you’ll want a full, well-rounded group of human players. And it seems that companions may not be allowed in flashpoints (link) anyway, so for the top tier content, humans will still be a necessity.From videos shown combat seems much more dynamic than many games, with every class doing multiple things-no healer just standing around waiting to toss out a needed heal, they can do some damage or crowd control in the meantime. Smugglers enter stealth before engaging enemies, sneak up on one and put it to sleep so the group can focus its attention on the other without the second’s interference. Smugglers with points in healing can send out floating droids to administer med packs to players during combat-jedi consulars can heal and also tear up chunks of earth to throw at enemies when healing isn’t necessary at the moment. Bioware has also done something simple, yet brilliant in my opinion. A seemingly small change that I think will make combat MUCH more fun, immersive and dynamic. Most games of this type have an auto-attack. Your character does a basic attack, swings his weapon etc. every turn while you wait for your timers (link?) to run down so you can use your special abilities. TOR has no auto-attack. Every attack is a “special” attack. This may seem minor, but it will greatly affect the feel of the combat system, making every click of a button count. No more sitting there watching your character attack on his own until your enemy is dead; every combat move your attacks with is under YOUR control.Classes also have different resource systems, different than the standard “mana” model (though they weren’t the first to do this type of thing). For instance, the jedi classes gain force points for doing certain special abilities and other abilities cost these force points. The trooper has an “ammo” system, and the bounty hunter has an “overheating” system, with their abilities causing their high-tech suits to heat up, necessitating them to cool down. Differences like these will make each class “feel” much different, adding even more replay value to the 200 individual story line of each base class. More on specific class abilities/roles and resource systems will be available in other articles, as well as what classes/advanced classes can fulfill which roles.One final note on roles: while the trinity system has been ingrained into the genre at a fairly deep level there are other roles, if not primary ones. Combat buffers/debuffers can increase their allies stats and abilities while lowering their enemies and inflicting them with ailments ranging from blindness to slower attack speed, to slower movement speed (a great boon for kiting (link)). Crowd control may not be a full on role like it was in EQ, but its still important (and fun, if somewhat overpowered in PvP, although SW:TOR has answer for that I’ll look at in my PvP article). Out of combat buffs, increasing mana (link?) (force)and health regeneration (link?) as well as movement speed (always a favorite of players-players are often tipped in-game currency for this spell being cast on them). Utility abilities also usually exist, from levitation, to slow fall so as not to take damage from falls, to breathing underwater (although there will be no swimming in SW:TOR, at launch at least-I expect to see it in the first or second expansion), to conjuring food and water if they are necessary to teleport spells (another sought after player ability with sometimes incredible amounts being paid for it do to mudflation (link? Article?).Oh, and for people who complain about the trinity system, and push for class-less skill-based systems or other mechanics-the trinity system has been copied so much because at a fundamental level it “works”. It gives players defined roles so multiple players can interact with each other in combat, with each person performing their tasks, getting the timing perfect, one class following up with an ability after another class casts a spell-for an instance someone casts a spell (or uses an ability) that makes the enemy susceptible to fire (or laser fire), the other classes follow that up with fire, or laser attacks. Skill-based games often have a best or “flavor of the month”(link) build, which everyone uses (Ultima Online’s tank mage probably being the earliest example) and combat often devolves to everyone pretty much doing the same thing, without regard for what the others in the group are doing. This is not to say I dislike skill-based systems-I think they are perfect for PvP games, and eventually some sort of hybrid system (which I have some bizarre thoughts on) will hopefully take the best of both, but for now, PvE content (link) is best and most fun, with a class-based trinity (although it doesn’t have to be 3, I wouldn’t like to see the crowd controller come back as a full role, or the buffer/debuffer somehow become a full role-if a game had a huge amount of roles, and choices within those roles, my ideal class would be one with healing (preferably there would be multiple types of healing you could choose from), crowd control (again, with multiple choices) and buffing/debuffing (again…) and absolutely no damage potential, maybe not even a basic attack! I’d be completely reliant on groups, but I’d love it.I’m not too worried about SW: TOR’s combat system personally-I liked WoW’s well enough (it was just the rest of the game that was rather lacking) and while TOR may not be completely revolutionary (to be honest I don’t want a lot of the revolutionary features others seem to want, for instance guild wars actual moving out of the way to dodge, and positioning being so important) it is a solid evolution, getting rid of the things that didn’t work, weren’t as fun as they could be, and building on what does work. Almost all of the recent PvP impressions that have come out have been overwhelmingly positive, and while some of the people who played demos at conventions said the game was too easy, the difficulty was turned down for these expos so players wouldn’t spend their time constantly dying, and many of the people complaining about the easiness I saw on the forums, which is a good sign that they are fairly hard-core, or at least experienced MMORPG players. I just hope there are a good amount of out of combat abilities as well, even “useless” ones. One of my favorite parts of EverQust was the enchanter’s (the crowd control class of EQ) illusion ability, allowing them to change their appearance to other races, etc. I hope for “fun” things like this, and given the time this game has been in development that doesn’t seem like too much to ask for.