11 Jan 2012

Pure DPS: The One True Class

Every so often I hear this argument crop up: character classes that can only deal damage shouldn’t exist in modern MMOs. Every class should instead be able to switch to tanking or healing, or possibly even both. The idea is that a shortage of any one of the three roles should be resolved by players switching over to fill that demand.

I’ll admit that it is a tempting concept. When I was designing my own MMO I was keen to allow players to pick any direction they wanted to head in. By providing them with freedom for their character, the idea was that you’d end up with an even population of tanks, healers and DPS depending on the demand for those roles. Interestingly, this is the same concept now being used in The Secret World.

I also don’t think it’ll work.

The problem’s a basic one. Very few people actually enjoy healing or tanking. You need a will as tough as iron to handle these roles without being reduced to a wreck when the blame truck rolls into town and tries to work out why we’ve failed to kill the raid boss for the fifth time that evening. For everyone else, pick a DPS class that you know will never ever be asked to tank or heal. Ever.

So what’s the solution? Remove tanking and healing. Everyone plays DPS.

Think about it – there’s no longer a burden of responsibility for a tank to get boss positioning pixel perfect, or for a healer to make sure their spells land spot-on every time. Instead, everyone becomes personally responsible for their own health bar. You die, your fault.

Each class could instead handle a little bit of damage through regeneration, mitigation or soaking. You could also boost this effect through studious use of cooldowns. It means everyone gets involved in sharing the pain and shuffling the boss around. There’s no longer the idea of being able to stand at the back and nuke.

It means that boss fights become much more mobile. Instead of the traditional setup of tanking zone, healers nearby and DPS strategically placed in safe locations, you’d expect the boss to swap target every 20 seconds or so. Kiting, ping ponging and guarding/blocking versus dealing damage would be the order of the day.

The instant reaction is that it’ll simplify gaming, that you’ll be handing over the sacred MMO gameplay to legions of frenzied button mashers. This isn’t something that I buy into. I think boss fights will become much more mobile and dynamic, but I don’t think there’ll be any less skill involved. Players will move around more because the gameplay mechanics require it, not because of bad stuff on the ground or constant phase changes.

There’s also the concept of setup, deterioration and recovery. Raids can be formed from player availability – no more waiting for that elusive tank or healer. There are no more critical roles in the bossfight, no tank to die, no reason to call an instant wipe. Instead of the raid switching from alive to dead on the clicks of a few, fights would collapse gradually as fewer characters remained alive to help manage the boss. The chance for individuals to shine, to achieve heroic things in tough scenarios, would be greater.

I don’t want MMOs to be packed full of encounters that put all the responsibility on a small number of players. Instead I want the rapid-fire action of Street Fighter, the arcade feel of Xenon and Space Invaders and the teamwork of Counter Strike etc. I don’t think that propping up the holy trinity of MMO roles through hybridisation is the right way to go.

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28 Responses to Pure DPS: The One True Class

  1. Arioch says:

    Interesting, but how would you deal with class homogenization? If everyone just does DPS and everyone needs some sort of tool set to help themselves survive you might run out of unique and interesting class kits.

    Although they are few, I do know people that ONLY tank or ONLY heal. They like the pressure or they don’t like DPS. Can you come up with a way to interest players that want that next level without causing DPS to be completely unbalanced?
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    • Gazimoff says:

      On how to make classes feel different: Use different ways of dealing damage (melee weapon, melee unarmed, ranged weapon, ranged spell), different resource styles and different ways of generating effects (combos, ability chaining, etc) to give each class a really individual feel. Couple with different ways of handling incoming damage (avoidance through armour/parry, soak through constitution/shields or regen through species traits or biotics) and you’ve got a fairly broad palette there.

      On people who like playing under pressure – the idea is to share the load more evenly among all players. If they want to ratchet things up then then heroic modes etc should have that level they need. It does mean they’re cranking up the difficulty for everyone though.

  2. Arazu says:

    Some people don’t enjoy dps classes the same way you might not enjoy tanking. I’m also confused how your post seems to imply dps people aren’t important. One or two dps dying early in the fight is just as much a guaranteed wipe in heroic-10s as losing your tank is. Losing a dps late in the fight on Heroic Blackhorn is even worse than losing your tank.

    There actually is an MMO where npcs switch targets about every 20 seconds. It doesn’t have traditional tank classes (though it still does have a tank class, it just isn’t traditional), but it sure does have healers. 7 dps 3 heals is the group composition there.

    • Gazimoff says:

      That’s interesting – from my own experience of heroic 10s you could afford to lose a DPS or two and still down the fight.

      I’d love to know more about the other MMO you mentioned – do you have a name for it by any chance?

  3. Longasc says:

    I support your train of thought! :)

    I also think that everyone can be “DPS” and still do it differently and provide support to his teammates through certain actions, not by being a class with a particularly needed ability bound to a hotkey, like an instant heal.

    It’s not easy but think of Battlefield 3. Even if you don’t play it. ;) EVERYONE fights. Nobody stands back. And there are still classes with different abilities. But it’s not one guy taking all bullets for the team and the medic fixing him up while someone else shoots back.

    Good luck!

    • Gazimoff says:

      Aye, it’s partly the Battlefield 3/Counter Strike feel that I was looking at chasing after in terms of very fluid, very dynamic combat. Things like the rapid character death are things I’d want to tune out, but the feeling of teamwork and dynamism are definitely things that could be encouraged.

  4. Ahtchu says:

    Disagree throughout? As a basic premise, I think anyone can agree that purebreds give structure where hybrids give flexibility. There are places and times for both, and they enhance each other.
    Just as you offer a recropping argument, you use one of your own: Very few people actually enjoy healing or tanking. Where have their been any proofs of this?
    Sure, witness a random LFG tool in any MMORPG and we can jump to the conclusion that “obviously” the proof is in the pudding here. But is that “proof” fully indicative of the actual mechanics themselves? I doubt it.
    DPS isn’t ‘stressful’ because it is a tasked shared amongst a crowd. The zebra-effect comes into play. If a random 5man group called for 3 tanks 1 dps 1 healer, would we see a rise in people playing tanks? Center-mass creates the critical mass concept.
    Designers also show their hand at a desire to make DPS more interesting than the other archetypes, ending up with far more attempts at the concept given the slots in a random group than do the other roles enjoy (eg). Would we see an increase in the amount of healers or tanks if the same attempts were made in those veins? I would greatly suspect so, as we gamers react to the efforts of designers, every step of the game.
    And lastly, I cannot agree that homogenization is the saving path. We ultimately play games for choice, amongst other things. I want to know that my input in class selection, ability usage etc carry meaningful results. Part of the necessary evil of ‘waiting for a niche’ is that there is an alternate game being played: one of preparation. Personal, as well as collective. Games exist at all canopy levels.
    Removing or streamlining things, continued ad nauseum, and I’d much rather just scroll the end credits: the game just became a movie.

    Great thought-provoking post, despite my disagreements with it :)
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    • Gazimoff says:

      You make an interesting counterpoint. That said, we’ve been clinging to this model of tank-healer-DPS for years now, and it’s resulted in predictable experiences, particularly at end-game. Instead of focusing on hybridisation so that characters can play any of the roles, I think it’s time to reassess whether we really need that framework and what combat styles would be possible by removing it completely.

  5. Spinks says:

    I also am not sure everyone wants to be dps IF they’re in a dps race situation where people will be analysing their rotation and damage done to the 5th decimal place. Playing dps is fun. Playing minmaxed analysed-to-death dps is not fun for a lot of people (I know this is one of the reasons I sometimes prefer tanking because it’s judged more about how you handle your positioning/ interrupts than ‘omg you missed two ability X out of the last 25 rotations, noob!!!’)

    If there was no ultra minmaxing then I’d agree with you. And I think pushing more emphasis onto utility/ interrupts etc and away from pure dps would be the way to go.

    • Gazimoff says:

      I agree with you about the meters! Even though I play DPS almost exclusively, I’m not a fan of WoL/rotation analysis as it moves away from what makes the class fun.

      I agree – pushing more utility, more strategy and more coordination is the way to go. Make it less about hitting the right button sequence all the time and more about coordinating your actions well as part of the team.

  6. Hestiah says:

    I find this concept really interesting, to say the least. Mostly because I find that I’m almost, in essence, doing exactly this as I solo through Heroics on my own in SWTOR. Sometimes I pull badly, or my companion doesn’t pull enough aggro and I’m forced to run out or, well, die. But it makes for interesting encounters! I feel more accomplished when I’m able to do them solo. Sure it might take me a lot longer, but I’m forced to learn from my mistakes more quickly. Adjust, adapt, and re-execute.

    This is what’s making me a better SWTOR player. Not bum-rushing through content with friends who are 10-20 levels higher than the content.

    Needless to say, I’d play the game you suggest, whatever it is, out of sheer curiosity.
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  7. Jay (@returningtolife) says:

    Very interesting article Gaz. The premise is very intriguing and a different take. Instead of hybridizing stuff where everyone does everything, you are advocating moving in an entirely different direction

    It reminded me of this.. the death of healing.
    http://www.guildwars2.com/en/the-game/combat/healing-death/

  8. Tomaj says:

    Here’s my take.

    On the good:

    * Responsibility is evenly shared between all raid members.
    * It provides a relatively interesting mechanic through the possibility of health regen as a stat.

    On the bad:
    * Responsibility is evenly shared between all raid members.
    * This still leaves a tank to be desired. A lot of people have zero interest in tanking, for any period of time.
    * In the same way as a tank, it still leaves a healer to be desired.
    * It nullifies melee DPS. In order for this kind of system to work, all classes MUST be ranged. Either that, or everyone should be melee. Cleaves are an important mechanic for many bosses in all levels of play, and having them gives a lot of issue should a ranged player pull aggro.
    * It requires overuse of threat gain and threat drop mechanics. See above on cleaves. Managing threat almost would need to be brought to a science. “Wait for three sunders” rule, and then some. At this point, it doesn’t become downing the boss, but waiting on timers for threat gains/losses, as well as survival cooldowns. Moreover, it becomes an arms race for who has the best cooldowns/self-healing while sustaining the highest overall damage. That isn’t fun.

    Personally, I see both arguments as invalid and silly, for a variety of reasons. If anything, there aren’t enough support classes in modern MMOs. For example, the Bard and Archon in Rift are great examples – key things to any 20-man raid, and usually one or the other in a 10-man raid. It still breaks the holy trinity of healer/tank/damage dealer, but does it in a different way. I think that, for any MMO, the three roles are a guaranteed win. I guess I just don’t agree that it should all be one role. Rather, have all classes be available to the majority of roles or all roles and let the players go from there.

    Going back to Rift, Rift actually does this pretty well. Mages can deal damage, heal or support; Rogues can tank, deal damage or support; Clerics can tank, heal or deal damage; Warriors can tank or deal damage (and one of the tank classes has some support capabilities). So each calling has three of the available roles (save Warriors, who get like, 2.5), and the idea is that each role, regardless of who is performing it, is about equally capable. The exception, in a PvE environment, is the Dominator soul for mages, but that’s got its own specific niches, mostly as a sub-class or PvP soul.
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    • Gazimoff says:

      With all respect, I think you’re missing the point slightly. I’ll try to explain with an example:

      If you had no tanks in a bossfight, each character would only be able to cope with holding boss threat for about 5 to 10 seconds before they’d get pounded into the ground. It could be possible to extend this through the use of cooldowns (increase to parry/dodge for 20s, absorption shields, distractions and so on). Many classes already have these – rogues have evasion and mages have absorption shields and mirror image as an example.

      In order to maintain combat with a boss for any meaningful length of time, alternative tactics would be needed. This might involve deliberately moving the boss around or frequently swapping who has highest threat on the boss. It also might involve kiting, using line of sight to your advantage and a whole host of other methods for controlling a boss and restricting the danger it presents to a group.

      Once tanks are no longer required to manage the boss and soak damage, you start to remove the requirement for dedicated healing too. Players become responsible for their own health levels, their own ways of handling boss damage and so on, instead of relying on a healer to keep them up. It’s this level of personal responsibility that makes combat more engaging for a larger number of raid participants.

      Melee DPS wouldn’t be nullified. Cone attacks, cleave attacks and so on would be just as valid. It would encourage players to be more careful about how they position themselves relative to the boss, not only to be able to handle taking over boss aggro but also to minimise damage to others.

      On the issue of threat management, I personally believe that making threat meaningful again would be a good thing. The current attitude of glueing a boss to a tank makes for boring, predictable bossfights. In 7 years of Warcraft the core fight mechanics haven’t changed, they’ve just become simpler and more predictable. Careful threat management would be a great thing, although it’s possible to ease boss twitch through hysteresis functions rather than discrete threat switch values.

      In terms of arms race – not really. If each player is needed in order to help with both dealing damage and boss handling, then it becomes less of an arms race and more of a teamwork plan. Besides, surely it would make the game *easier* to balance if all classes have a damage dealing and damage handling component? That aside, the main objective would be to place less reliance on absolute values of output and soak, and more reliance on both individual and team skill to manage the encounter successfully.

      I think that the increasing hybridisation of classes (such as the route Rift has taken) is a blind alley, as it just means you have more of the same style of combat. To me it doesn’t matter if you can play a tank one day, a healer the next and DPS at weekends – the core basis of boss fights hasn’t changed from someone tanking the boss, someone else healing the tank and everyone else dealing damage. After ten years of this it’s getting boring, stale and predictable. In order to maintain interest in the MMO genre as a whole it’s sensible to explore other options that could revitalise combat and make it more interesting for all involved.

      • Arazu says:

        Threat was made a non-factor because people are busy dealing with other things during fights, which ends in a much more enjoyable raid.

        There actually is a fight in heroic dragon soul where my raid has to watch their threat and pulling is possible, and people having to watch little threat bars again in addition to all the things going on doesn’t make the fight more fun. Back in vanilla or burning crusade threat was a factor because there really weren’t a lot of other mechanics to worry about and you had lots of time to stare at threat bars, now that raids are more action-y and fun there really isn’t time. Threat bars were also novel at the time, since for experienced raiders coming to wow they’d never existed before, so at the time they were a cool new thing. It takes a lot more than being able to see your threat to impress a wow player nowadays.

        • Gazimoff says:

          Aren’t the new fight elements just gimmicks on the same basic fight though? When you’re always expecting fights to include a tanked boss and healers to keep the raid alive, there’s only so many times you can vary things up before it starts becoming repetitive.

          • Arazu says:

            Not really, no. Cataclysm raids have been pretty awesome. I’ve been a raider for 12 years and it’s never been better than this imo. Tier 11 was the best raid content I’ve ever seen in any game, meanwhile during vanilla and most of BC wow wasn’t the game with the best raid content in the genre.

          • Gazimoff says:

            I guess I’ll just have to disagree with you there – I’ve really not been a fan of Cata raiding at all. For me, raiding peaked back in TBC. Although Ulduar was great fun in Wrath, it was blighted by ToC, Naxx 2.0 and Ruby Sanctum.

          • Arazu says:

            Your threat thing, for example. Right now it’s nice not to have to care about threat because I have to juggle seven tank cooldowns, plus watch for things the adds are doing, plus watch what the boss is doing, plus position correctly, plus react to major boss abilities or new adds. If I flub one of my tank cooldowns at the wrong time I will actually die, rather than BC or wrath where I would just take a bit extra damage but be fine. If anyone in the raid misses reacting the right way to a certain boss ability, they die and then we all die soon after. Including our dps players.

            The tank-healer-damage paradigm might be the same (though I would argue it’s not, since all three of those parts have changed dramatically since wrath), but the fights aren’t the same, and the way we handle these fights aren’t even close to the same. Both tier 11 and tier 12 set the bar for “hardest raid content wow has ever had”, the only reason tier 13 didn’t is because they actually made the decision to dial it back some. They didn’t dial it back very far.

      • Tomaj says:

        I get the point – I just don’t agree with it, and I’m explaining why. ;)

        In terms of arms race – not really.

        It absolutely does. Between both the player “tanking” as well as external cooldowns (such as Pain Suppression) cooldowns become a necessity – more so than they already are. You say cleaves would still be a valid tactic, but I don’t know. If the fight is intended to be more mobile and ping pong bosses around, this leaves melee players open to cleaves for one, and for two, causes melee players to have to move around *A LOT,* severely hindering their DPS. All these things kind of tie in together.

        As for hybridization, it actually goes a little further than that.

        Mage healing (for example) is primarily doing damage to heal. There are cleric specs that can do so as well, but not to the degree of mages.

        Cleric tanks actually have most of their threat gains through healing the raid and themselves. Rogues are the only dual wield tanks, and are different in both that and the fact that they constantly must keep up damage reduction abilities, plus still rely on combo points. Warriors have four tank specs – one that deals with buffing and debuffing (warlord), one for heavy magic mitigation (void knight), one for heavy physical mitigation (paladin), and one that relies more on self-healing for survivability (reaver).

        All of the DPS specs are a good deal different from each other, too. Homogenization comes from more than just “each class is capable of so-and-so,” but also from the standpoint of each class does so-and-so in the same manner. I wrote a post on homogenization a while back myself. In the terms of performing equally and capably, I don’t see this as a bad thing. Hybridization would imply that each class would be capable of each of those things at the same time. Interestingly, your idea is exactly that.

        The reason I say it’s partially an arms race is because, as I mentioned, people will need to sustain the highest DPS possible while maintaining the highest possible survivability. Right now, for example, that doesn’t include hunters. Deterrence only does so much, never mind minimum range (even though this is going away in MoP), and Distracting Shot not working on bosses. This is just an example, though. I just don’t like the idea of going from set people being tanks to “everyone is a tank” – because in the end, this is what the idea implies.

        As for personal responsibility on the player for their health bars, trust me, I’d love to go back to the days where bandages mattered, and you could use three different healthstones, and potions could be used multiple times in an encounter. I say this as both a healer and a DPS (and in BC, I raided on my warlock, so I was definitely greatly impacted by this). The problem is also that not only do encounters of today have absurdly high and frequent raid damage (meaning, bandages get interrupted), but also that they have ridiculously high DPS requirements, meaning that taking the time out to bandage or whatnot is a severe DPS loss, and hinders the chance of getting a boss kill.
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  9. Squelchy says:

    I have often wondered what an MMO would be without the holy trinity of tanks, DPS, and healers. You put forth an intriguing model. You could also have group-wide mitigation (rather like an anti-magic shell from DKs in WoW), and that would potentially (as you said) encourage movement in a more organic fashion.

    I do wonder, though, how many players would stick around for fights where the boss could one-shot you unless another DPSer is quick on the draw. :)
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  10. Tesh says:

    I’ve written before about breaking the Holy Trinity. I’m all for making situational awareness more important and asking players to step up and take responsibility for their own survival. One idea I like is giving everyone self-heals and “tanking” abilities that allow them to mitigate damage for a short time, whether it’s a cooldown thing or a stance or something else.

    I’ve noted that a lot of players like the status quo, though. It’s kind of frustrating sometimes.
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    • Syl says:

      On the same boat as Tesh here; give us DPS classes only, with some self-sustenance and means of control, mitigation etc.

      This will ultimately also force developers to create interesting, dynamic encounters that challenge teamplay rather than setup. the holy trinity has been a design crutch for long enough.
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  11. Vatec says:

    I too am thoroughly sick of the whole tank/healer/DPS paradigm. As I’ve stated many times in many venues, it’s ludicrous that a thousand-year-old dragon would continue beating on the one guy he can barely hurt rather than the healers who are healing that guy and the DPS who are actually hurting him.

    I would take the idea in a different direction, though.

    All melee are responsible for tanking. It’s the guys with the shields, armor, and/or dodging ability who are responsible for keeping the enemy hemmed in, tied down, and too busy defending himself to deal with the healers and damage-dealers.

    Control specialists can substitute for this function, by rooting the enemy, summoning zombies to restrict the enemy’s movement, or by evoking a wall of fire around him.

    Healers and buffers are responsible for keeping everyone alive, not just one guy. You would probably want to avoid the whole whack-a-mole healing mechanic and go with something like Age of Conan’s blue and green healing (aimable cone and point blank AOE healing, don’t remember which color was which kind, though) or Rift’s Justicar and Chloromancer healing styles. In high-end raiding, the healers would probably be reviving fallen characters, healing them up, and rebuffing some of their defenses.

    Ranged DPS would have the “easiest” job, though they’d still be responsible for trying to keep themselves alive if the enemy breaks out, targets them with a ranged attack, or summons adds.

    I would foresee this model revolving around positioning the enemy through teamwork, maximizing the amount of damage while keeping enough tanks, healers, and controllers to keep the enemy contained.

    FWIW, this is a lot like the way large fights worked in Asheron’s Call, where most mages could heal, most non-mages could heal themselves, and aggro was based entirely on proximity and amount of damage dealt rather than artificial silliness like taunts. Of course, in order for it to work, you need collision detection. So far, Asheron’s Call and Age of Conan are the only major MMOs to manage this aspect. So there are technical obstacles to overcome. But I would expect this paradigm to produce far more interesting and tactical battles than the current paradigm ever will.

  12. Goronwy says:

    This is why Diablo 3 exists. I don’t know about other MMO’s but as far as Blizzard is concerned, why change WoW when you have other games that will satisfy this desire?

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