Why can’t everyone tank? (aka What if everyone secretly hates me…)

This is a thread that caught my eye this week, and it’s from a dps player who is explaining that he’d have more fun if he didn’t have to wait around for tanks and crowd control.

I just realized how stupid the idea of tank is when I played with some dudes in ST, the tank left for some reason and we continued to play while waiting in queue for another tank. After we cleared half of the dungeon, eventually some tank finally showed up and everyone agreed that “the fun was over”.

And that is true, this game is turning into a middle age women match 3 game, where you do everything nice and steady, healers sleeping in the back, dps pushing bored their one or two buttons macro, and the tank who is actually the only one who plays the game and when someone makes a mistake he has to take all the blame.

A lot of responders in this thread thought that the original poster was trolling, but I don’t think he is. He just had a lot more fun in a group where they didn’t have to worry about tanking. He even gets bored as dps when he has to wait for the tank to mark and call CC and then just go kill everything in the right order.

Blizzard mentioned in last week’s developer chat that crowd control will feature more highly in Cataclysm instances than it did in Wrath (i.e. not at all.) And … the big issue with crowd control, even more than tanking, is that everyone hates it except for the guys with the crowd control spells. In every single game I’ve ever played which featured crowd control, gamers did everything they possibly could to bypass that system. And yet, one of my favourite classes to play from any game ever was my sorceress in DaoC, which was a crowd control specialist.

I don’t hate crowd control as a tank, it adds a level of strategic interest to handling a pull. But I have also gotten quite used to not being forced to rely on other players to let me tank an instance. And given the general nastiness of some dps in random groups, I’m not dreadfully enthusiastic about trying to force crappy mage #335 to remember where his sheep spell is. And let’s not even start with the fears. Or with the spectre of people kicking group members from random groups because they don’t have enough crowd control.

But we’ll deal with that bridge when we come to it – maybe a greater need for cooperation in instances will get people talking. Maybe people will adapt. Or maybe people will dump the LFD in favour of guild and server groups again. We’ll see.

But still, I also have fond memories of crazy groups in other games where we didn’t have a tank but everyone had heavy armour. It wasn’t completely without tactics and mobs did have to be bounced around. But it was fun. This is key – however much we talk about intricate strategies and learning curves, it’s fun to cut loose.

I also thought the comment about the middle age women match 3 game was interesting. He doesn’t like the puzzle aspect of organising a pull, and PvE has traditionally been a puzzle game. You have to figure out how best to pull some mobs, and how best to kill them. And how best to clear an instance and achieve any instance objectives.  But how many people would actually rather have an action game – say, Diablo — than a puzzle game? I love puzzles, and it’s very key to my enjoyment of PvE and of tanking.

Oh no! What if it’s me?

I’m paranoid now. In every group where I’m tanking, is everyone else fuming silently and thinking about how much more fun it would be for everyone if I wasn’t there? Do they all wish that they could get instant groups without having to wait for a tank? Do they wish I wasn’t being bossy when I yell at them for pulling shit randomly? Oh god, does  this platemail make my bum look big?

Maybe everyone does secretly (or not secretly) hate tanks. The comment, “tank who is actually the only one who plays the game”, rings very true. Even with crowd control in the group, it was the tank who told everyone else what to do, which mobs to control, and which order to kill. Would the game be more fun for more players if tanks didn’t have that level of authority/ responsibility? Or didn’t exist at all? And then I wonder some more about Diablo, and whether Blizzard might be planning some MMO type functions for it.

Who is the most important person in your group?

One of the great things about well designed team games is that every single member of the team can feel important. They each have a part to play. If they play their part particularly well, they can see it make a difference to the team.

And that’s good because, for self-esteem, everyone likes to feel that they were contributing. (If you aren’t in the team for self esteem then what you mostly want is everyone else to think you were contributing while you actually find somewhere quiet to hide at the back, in much the same way that I used to pick my position in the school rounders team.) I wouldn’t be surprised if the boost to self esteem from running in successful groups is one of the reasons people enjoy grouping so much in games.

I’ve seen a lot of blog articles and forum posts since the new dungeon finder came out explaining how the writer and their class/ role single-handedly can carry a group. I’ve read posts by smug tanks, healers, and dps explaining how it doesn’t really matter what everyone else does, because they are the sole reason for success. And I think … well, OK, but they can’t all be right. Can they? Even allowing for people playing with rose-coloured blinkers.

If the team game is genuinely good, then each member of the team should have a chance to shine. That means it shouldn’t always be one team member who has to shoulder the burden. So probably it’s right that everyone sees this differently and feels that they personally carry their groups to victory.

From running instances recently in WoW on different alts, I changed my view on this. (Note: this does vary based on different encounters, different classes, and different games but I think it’s interesting to compare how in control the different roles and classes can feel.)

As a tank: Yup, I control the run. I can make it smooth and easy as long as the other members of the team are vaguely together. It won’t matter if all four of them are undergeared and inexperienced, I’ll make things work. It might feel like hard work at times, and I can’t always make up for a really incompetent healer – although I have soloed a few bosses from about 20% to dead in the past couple of weeks. If the group is bouncy and insists on pulling way too many extra groups, I can probably handle it although it’ll make me grouchy. If anything goes really badly wrong with a pull, I can pick it up as long as I get some heals along the way.

So yes, I feel pretty much in control as a tank. If the group is good, I can find fun things to do to keep my interest. I can step up the pace, or give myself marks out of 10 for getting all the mobs in a pull on top of each other when I use shockwave, for example.

As a healer: I almost always feel useful, but I never really feel that I am carrying a run unless something else has gone catastrophically wrong, in which case I still need the tank and dps to be doing something about it. All I can do as a healer is buy them time. I can make up for poor dps to some extent by simply not running out of mana before a boss dies.

So I don’t really understand where healers feel that they can single handedly pull things together. The only way that happens is if everyone else has failed horribly, which isn’t really that common. If the group is really good, it’s quite dull to heal (which is good if you want to sit back and farm some emblems). If not, it can be extremely exciting with plenty of chances to shine – when you spin the random dungeon you don’t know which you might be getting or how quickly a group can switch from one to the other.

I don’t feel in control as a healer, but I don’t heal in order to feel in control. I heal when I want a break from that and want to just chug along behind the group and sling some heals around.

As a dps: This is where I changed my mind after having pimped up my Death Knight to the point where I can talk my way into TotC and ICC PUG raids and have people asking to put me on their friends list afterwards. (6.5k on ICC trash yesterday, I don’t even know how that happened!)

As a high powered dps, I do feel that I am a powerhouse in groups. It barely matters what the rest of the group are doing, I will kill things quickly, can pull annoying mobs into position, have some crowd control, and can even tank in a pinch. So I feel really useful in runs where things are going well, but also really handy in an emergency where everything has gone pear shaped. Plus, even if all the other dps die in a fire, I’ll make up for them in boss fights.

I don’t control the run, but I have a lot of power over the more important side of it – the bits that involve mass slaughter of innocent mobs as efficiently as possible. If the group is good, I can always try to beat the other dps on meters. It may partly be the Death Knight, which feels incredibly potent as a character, since I don’t remember feeling like this on my warlock.

I don’t know which role I prefer, because it depends on my mood. I do like having the options available though – only possible for me because I’ve been playing WoW for long enough to have a few geared alts. But I do find it funny that so many people feel as though they are the most important person in every group they run.

SWTOR: Jedi, Jedi Everywhere (and all the stars did sink)

Hurrah for Europe and for publishers who don’t realise that in these internet-enabled days, even a magazine article in *gasp* a foreign language will be translated and spread all over the net in a matter of hours. Thanks to german magazine “PC Games” (PC Spielen?), the final two classes have been revealed for Bioware’s upcoming Star Wars MMO.

As Massively report in the previous link, Bioware did confirm that the Jedi Consular and Sith Inquisitor will complete the lineup. They have chosen to keep the numbers of classes small, and have stated that each class will have its own personal epic storyline.

So, what do we have on offer? I’m going to run down the list and make some assumptions about the styles of the storylines and what sort of role each class might play in combat. I am assuming a holy trinity based game, I love Dragon Age as if it was my own child, but Bioware’s strength is in storytelling and producing awesome gaming experiences, not in reinventing the rule book.

Republic

Trooper

“The fate of the galaxy rests upon ordinary men becoming extraordinary heroes. This is the path of the Republic Trooper.”

The Knights of the Jedi Order have defended the Republic for generations, but they have not fought alone. A host of unsung heroes have marched at the Jedi’s side—common men courageous enough to enlist and face the same risks as their Jedi comrades despite not having access to the Jedi powers of protection.”

It sounds as though this storyline is all about how ordinary guys and gals in the Republic special forces become extraordinary heroes and end up fighting alongside Jedi and … err.. smugglers. The gear has a strong military flavour.

As far as their role in combat goes, the official site has this to say:

“A Trooper’s rifle is his best friend, and the military is constantly challenged to design faster, more powerful and more reliable blaster rifles every year. Wielding such rifles and wearing protective battle armor designed by the Republic’s top engineers, the Trooper will not hesitate to step right into the crossfire.”

Sounds like a mostly ranged class to me.

Smuggler

“Stacking up enemies as fast as they stack up credits, Smugglers only survive in this galaxy by being slick, sneaky and street-smart.”

“Experienced in flying under the radar, Smugglers are amazingly elusive. Yet when backed into a corner, they quickly become cunning and often deadly combatants.”

OK, so the smuggler is Han Solo. Since he was the coolest character in Star Wars, that’s not a bad thing, and it  gives a good indication of the sort of storylines to expect.

For the role in combat:

“Smugglers often rely on the element of surprise, using stealth and trickery to catch opponents off guard. Despite the sly tactics, they are more than capable of holding their own in a fair fight.”

So it’ll be roguish, probably with some tricks and traps, but the flavour text sounds as though they prefer pistols to melee.

Jedi Knight

“A source of inspiration to allies and intimidation to adversaries, the Jedi Knight’s presence is welcome in any confrontation.”

“With unwavering allegiance to the Republic and the light side of the Force, the Jedi Knight fights with valiant determination, wading into the thick of any battle to protect freedom and democracy and hold fast against those who oppose it.”

Wading into the thick of battle to protect X  and Y, and hold fast against Z screams tank to me.

The combat tactics section reads:

“Whether defending allies by deflecting a barrage of blaster-fire or charging in to challenge a Sith Lord, the Knight’s role is crucial in any conflict.”

Defending, charging in to challenge nasty Sith Lords … it’s a tank. I have no idea where the storyline might unfold for this one, but I’m thinking Knight at King Arthur’s Court for the style of story and moral dilemma.

Jedi Consular

Not one but TWO Jedi classes on each side. We don’t have much information about this class yet, but it is known to be a ranged heal/ CC type of support class.

Sith

The Sith classes  sound stronger than their Republic counterparts — maybe to encourage players to pick the side they haven’t seen so much about in the films.

Bounty Hunter

“In the bounty business, one’s name is everything, and with each mark a Bounty Hunter takes down, his reputation grows, as does his price.”

Well that pretty much sums up what I’d expect in the storyline.

Tracking elusive targets across multiple star systems requires expertise, especially when the targets can be prominent, powerful, and often prepared for confrontation.”

“Bounty Hunters are renowned for their versatility on the battlefield and their ability to go toe-to-toe with force-users.”

“Whoever they must face, however, the Bounty Hunter comes armed with the most-advanced weaponry on the black market, packing heavy firepower but always keeping a variety of tricks and gadgets ready to go.”

It certainly sounds more flexible than the poor Trooper who only has her rifle to fall back on. The Bounty Hunter here sounds like a strong dps class with lots of tricks and gadgets up her sleeve.

Imperial Agent

“Agents of Imperial Intelligence track down and eliminate the Empire’s enemies—from intractable Republic senators to traitorous Imperial Moffs to bloodthirsty rebels with Republic ties.”

Though there are few idealists in Imperial Intelligence, the art of professional perfection is held in deep reverence, and the Agent embodies the Imperial ideal in this respect.”

So you’re going to be Evil James Bond if you play one of these chaps.

“Though striking from a distance or from the shadows plays to the Agent’s strengths, a well-equipped operative is more than capable of evading his enemies when necessary or moving in close to quietly slide a blade between an opponent’s ribs.”

Again, the Agent sounds like a more flexible class than her Republic counterpart. They will be stealthers, with some ability for assassination, and also have ranged capabilities.

Sith Warrior

“Sith Warriors crush their opponents and stride toward their goals with dreadful determination, leaving ruin and annihilation in their wake.”

A natural leader in any context, a Sith Warrior inspires both fear and undying loyalty into his followers and allies.”

It’s a tank.

“Protected by heavy armor and his powers of intimidation, the Warrior wades into the thick of the fight and unleashes pure hatred and fury to eliminate all who would stand against him.”

Huh, the Sith Warrior actually gets heavy armour. Well that screws up the plans for total world domination via robe.

Sith Inquisitor

The other newly revealed class, as with the Consular we don’t know a lot about this one yet. But it’s likely to fill a similar role.

Keeping down the Jedi numbers

So I think that all the Jedi are actually going to be support classes in this game. The Knight and Warrior will be tanking classes, and the Consular and Inquisitor will be support. The non-jedi will make up the bulk of dps and stealthers.

You have to admit, that’s quite a smart way to keep the numbers of Jedi limited …

The Way of the Shield

2615Stikfas-Paladin-in-Hell

There’s something about shields. It is not only a piece of armour that marks you out as a defensive fighter but also one that is traditionally decorated to identify the user. Is it any wonder that shield using fighters in games feel attached to their shields? More than that, even though offensive fighters and gladiators in real life did use shields, in MMOs the shield has become associated with tanks.

It is the armour piece that says ‘I’m here to protect other characters’, and ‘this is not my PvP spec’. It’s strange how bound up your online identity can be with one item. Often players like to show off their weapons (sic), and compare the glows, the stats, the size. And you’ll find the tanks in a corner eyeing up each other’s shields instead. Even in a game like WoW which has tanking druids and death knights, there’s always a sneaking feeling that you can’t be a real tank without a shield.

Shields have always been decorative as well as useful, even when the decoration was mainly to mark you out as friend or foe on the battlefield. Graphics guys have really come home for us with shields, even in games that don’t massively feature glowing, speaking, skull-laden equipment. On Spinks, I love that my shield is big and solid and unsubtle. No one could mistake it for anything other than a tank’s shield. And somehow it isn’t as aggressively butch as a glowy weapon. But still, my character feels badass when she picks up a shield. She’s not just getting ready for a bit of light self defence before running off and screaming, she’s a defensive warrior, gearing for action. When a badass monster turns up, she’s going to grit her teeth, find solid footing and stand her ground. She’s the first person into a fight and the last (wo)man out.

I imagine the shield being heavy and unwieldy enough that if any other type of character was to pick it up and heft the weight, they’d wonder at how it could be used in battle and look at our tanks with grudging respect because they shoulder the weight daily.

So, I love shields. I love blocking attacks, I love hitting people in the face with a shield slam,  and I wanted to show off a few of the cooler ones I have come across during my time in WoW.

shield 1

shield 2

shield 3

Draconian Deflector and Red Dragonscale Protector, from UBRS and BWL respectively.

shield 4

Bulwark of Azzinoth, also known as the fridge door.

shield 5

Hero’s Surrender (Naxx).

Raiding and the Great Tank Problem

One of the most difficult things to do in WoW (and probably any game with similar class/ endgame design) is to get a regular spot as a tank in a raiding group.

The reasons for this are basically a pure numbers game. There isn’t room for very many tanks in a typical raid encounter. Often only one main tank. By comparison, every instance or small group needs someone to tank for it. So by the time you get to end game, you need lots of tanks to work the small group content but there’s no room for most of them in raids. Something’s gotta give.

If you have few enough tanks for everyone to get a raid spot then groups will be sitting around for hours waiting for their tank spots to be filled. If there are enough tanks for the groups to form quickly then most of them will never get to tank in raids.

There are other reasons too. Because the main tank is such a singular position, it makes sense for them to need the best gear, the most practice, and be among the most reliable in attendance. Raids are really far too dependent on their tanks, which makes it tough for more casual players to break in.

Add to this the fact that tanks tend to stick with their raid groups. They all know how difficult it is to find a spot as a raid tank so they hang on when they have achieved one. Mature raid groups rarely seek tanks. So as well as struggling to find a spot at all, it’s also not a very mobile role. In a game where you can argue that it’s sensible to move around until you find a group that suits your needs, being a tank is a real detriment. The group you want may not want you (and probably won’t.)

Unsurprisingly, a lot of endgame tanks quit once they give up on getting raid spots. They may respec and try out a different role, but they mostly stop tanking. After all, what’s the point in gathering gear that is intended for content where you’ll never be able to use it? So there is a shortage of non-raid tanks, and then new people roll alts and the cycle starts again.

I’m quite sure that this is why so many people have unplayed warriors and that as soon as the class gets buffed they’ll quite likely switch back to them. There’s an underlying demand from people who want to play the role but can’t, due to numbers.

If you think WoW is bad, EQ2 is worse

This is a post from the EQ2 boards where Nutznichts looked at the class balance in some of their top raid guilds. Four out of the least common eight classes are tanks. It’s worse than it sounds because the most common classes are significantly more common than the least (23 times more common in this sample!)

This is like saying, “If you think you might ever even vaguely consider raiding, don’t roll class X.” And to add insult to injury, the most common classes in raids are not the worst soloers. It is absolutely possible in that game to pick a good soloing class that is also needed in raids. Just make sure it isn’t a tank.

EQ2 is working on the class balance in the next patch, making some of the same decisions that the WoW designers made at the beginning of Wrath and letting buffing classes buff the whole raid. That should even some of the imbalances out. But it won’t help the tanks.

How WoW is trying to help

In Wrath, the situation is better than it has been since vanilla WoW. Ten man raids really do help a lot, because they require tanks in the same ratios as 5 man instances. i.e. a 5 man instance needs one tank, a 10 man raid needs two. So that works. I’d recommend anyone who want to try end game tanking to get into some ten man raids. It’s a good way to learn the encounters, the more geared tanks are probably bored of them, and they do need tanks.

Dual specs helps a lot also. It’s easier than it has ever been to play a character that is dps or healing in 25 man raids and switching to tank in 10 mans and instances. There’s still a lot of work involved, you need to gather two sets of gear, but the game caters much better to that playing style than it ever did before.

But still, tanking for a 25 man group is pretty much the premier tanking content in the game. And it is an experience reserved for very few people, excluding casual players by the intensely competitive nature of getting a spot.

Sure, you can tank for a casual raid group (like I do). But the process of getting that spot is connected with the fact I’ve been playing with them for the last two years. It’s hardly easy.

Is the tank/heals/dps model the problem? Or is it the raids themselves?

It’s the combination of raiding and the standard PvE class model that raises the issues. There are very few games which allow tanking to be a coordinated and shared role in the same way that healing or dps can be. DaoC allowed a tank to block for someone else as long as they were nearby. So raid tanking always involved two people. One main tank and one specialist shield tank who was blocking for them. The shield tank job wasn’t especially exciting but it did let another person have a role in the raid.

You could imagine a game where tanks (or anyone who can pick up a shield) could execute complex roman army-style formations with actual shield walls, wedges, tortoises, and squares.

You could imagine games where tanks have to swap aggro a lot because they can only tank for limited amounts of time.

But I wonder increasingly if tanks are the real problem in the tank/heal/dps model. I enjoy the role, but I also know that I get the lion’s share of the complexity in most encounters. It’s fun, but is it fair that I do all that while dps are getting bored at the back?

The best designed raid encounters keep everyone busy on useful tasks. But I think current class design makes that a tougher challenge than it needs to be. If we got rid of the idea of the main tank and the main tanking classes altogether, it might be that games would become more fun all round.

Otherwise, the majority of tanks are doomed to never see a raid spot.