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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