Do We Get Rolled By Character Roles?

Lots of people from all over the place seem to be getting upset about the fact that Bioware ‘seems’ to have followed the pattern many other MMORPGs have over the years. It’s called the holy trinity: healer, tank and damage dealer.

What is wrong with that? For a character to be a jack of all trades usually makes them a master of none. When a person focuses on a certain discipline, it does not necessarily make them utterly useless at anything else.  Case in point: If a person focuses on healing, does that mean he or she can do no damage at all? I don’t know about you, but I loved being a medic in Battlefield 2 and Battlefield 2142. The shock pads in BF2 were a NICE weapon for up close and personal. One solid shot was almost always a kill. Not to mention, they were quiet. You could sneak in and do a god-awful amount of damage before you were detected.

Let’s take a closer look at Healer, Tank and DPS (damage per second). That is:

– a character specialized only to heal other characters.
– a character designed from the ground up to take damage and hold the enemy’s attention.
– a character designed to actually do lots of damage. 

The whole point is that the tank gets and holds the enemy’s attention. Whether this is a mob of bad guys or one uberly powerful boss, it makes little difference. As soon as the tank holds the attention, the ‘aggro’ in MMO parlance, he will start to take damage. Enter the healer, who keeps the tank on his or her feet and holding the enemy attention. Then the DPSer sneaks around and where possible goes for the throat of the enemy. The reason this combination it is so common is because it works. And not just in games.

What many people do not realize is that there is nothing at all new about these tactics. As far back as the Mongol conquests of much of Europe, these tactics were well known and in general practice. Not just with the Mongols, although they did use them well. Now the healing part is a bit different from historical fighting since no one that we know of had magic to heal their soldiers with at the time, but everything else is the same. You have a tank, someone heavily armored or otherwise protected who can take punishment, get the enemy’s attention and hold it while another force sneaks around to deliver a killing blow. These damaging or killing forces were usually lightly armored, and as fast as people could make them. The whole point was not to fight, but to win. And the easiest way to win? Make sure that no one on the other side survives. Not nice, but hey, all is fair in love and war, right?

But now we get into games. Ever since EverQuest, players have been clamoring for something different, something that did not force them into cookie cutter roles. Now, I never played EverQuest, but I did play World of Warcraft, until I woke up anyway. I almost always played a tank. Occasionally, I played a healer. But to do DPS in those kinds of games, you really need to have better reflexes than I possess. You also have to be willing to get killed a whole lot. In most games, there are tradeoffs. DPS characters do a god-awful amount of damage, but they can’t take it well. Lightly armored characters such as mages and rogues don’t usually deal well with battleaxes swinging at them. Tanks do not do a lot of damage when they fight, but they can take it like nobody’s business. Hitting a tank is easy. Hurting one? Not so easy. And healers… Well… depending on what specialization you chose for your healer you either are immortal, as in nothing in the game can do enough damage to overwhelm your healing, or you are made of glass and depend on everyone else to do everything for you while you keep THEM standing. And pray that nothing bad notices you while you are doing it. Nothing worse than being a healer specced character and all of the sudden, everyone runs off somewhere and leaves you to see that ominous twist of smoke start pouring out of the dragon’s nostrils. AHHHH!!!!! Run AWAY!

So… what do we see in Star Wars: The Old Republic? Not a lot so far. In the E3 group video, we see the Jedi consular character healing while the trooper gets and holds the attention of that big droid. The Jedi Knight and the smuggler work on crowd control, keeping all of the other enemies from attacking while the trooper unleashes hell on that droid. It is very interesting to see the trooper specced as a ranged tank. Tanks don’t usually go that way in video games. Of course tanks in real life are another matter.  Heavy armor, big gun and mucho mobility. Sound familiar? The problem with a tank in real life is similar to the problems for tanks in games. Unsupported, tanks in the real world are easy prey for infantry, mines or artillery. In most games, if a tank does not have some means of damage mitigation, or someone healing him, his lifespan is measured in minutes, if not seconds.

Oh sure, Kick in the door and run into a room filled with bad guys. All of whom are now pointing blasters at… Um… Does this sound like a good plan?

Not to me. I am really looking forward to playing this game, especially after the MAJOR shot in the arm for Trooper esteem everywhere that premiered at E3 this year. I want heavy armor, a big gun and lots and lots of bad guys in front of me. I can and have played as part of a team, and I look forward to seeing what interesting twists Bioware comes up with for this game. And if I have to group to do some content? I have no problem with that. As long as the group isn’t composed of Leroys. And even if it is, well, we will go out with a BIG bang.

Over to you. What roles would you want to see? What roles would you not want to see?