Saturday, April 25, 2020

Why I don't play tanks any more

Back in the olden days of EQOA one of my favorite classes to play was a Shadowknight.  It was a tank class that held aggro with a mixture of taunts and sustained damage.  Generally in a PUG, the main goal was to pull mobs one at a time and kill them as quickly and safely as possible.  A good tank was one that was able to consistently pull mobs without getting adds, and was able to lock down aggro quickly.  I found tanks fun to play back then in EQOA and other MMOs because it was expected that the rest of the party would try to work with you towards the goal of aggro management, rather than against you.  There's something really satisfying about taking all the hits and trying to keep everyone else safe.

The two main parts of playing a DPS skillfully were managing your mana well so that the party didn't have to rest often (or at least not more often than the healer needed), and knowing when it was safe start doing damage.  A good DPS actually waited for the tank to get aggro before opening up.  A DPS that pulled aggro off of the tank constantly, or ... shudder ... actually pulled stuff themselves was considered a bad player.  Repeat offenses would get you booted from a PUG.  That was bad, because in those days you sure as heck didn't want to try and play a squishy DPS class solo. 

Things have changed.  That's not how "skill" as a DPS is generally measured these days.  First off it's nearly impossible to run out of mana or the equivalent in most modern MMOs.   Second, DPS players are often all about trying win the damage meter contest.  This trains them to try and start hitting mobs before anyone else in a pull.  It also trains them to engineer massive group pulls, where they can use their AOE abilities to best effect.  Hitting a bunch of mobs at once has a multiplicative effect on the damage you are putting out, and is one of the main ways to consistently top a damage meter.

The effect of all this is that in most modern games players tend to pull everything in sight and spam massive AoE abilities constantly.  They run through an instance as if there is a bad man standing behind them irl, holding a pistol to their head and whispering emphatically "Don't wait for anything!" It's a chaotic style of play that is either exciting or quickly exhausts me depending on my mood.   It's also an environment where I absolutely refuse to play a tank.

In modern PUGs if you are playing a tank you are basically a crappy DPS for most of an instance. Apart from boss fights, where at least some strategy is still the norm, the DPS are usually going to be tagging every mob in sight with their hardest hitting abilities like it's last five seconds of the apocalypse.   The only thing you are good for as a tank through 90% of an instance is getting mobs off the healer in a pinch, and even then only when your snap aggro abilities happen to be off cool down.  I used to really enjoy playing tanks, and now it's far and away my least favorite class role in most MMOs.

The thing that puzzles me about all this is that there is a really easy solution: make it easier for tanks to hold aggro.  If a tank goes all in spamming taunts and other abilities that serve no purpose save to generate threat, to me it makes sense that they should be able to lock down big groups of mobs regardless of who pulls them.  Yet in most MMOs that absolutely isn't true.  It's pretty much always up to the whim of the DPS players whether a tank can hold aggro.  If you don't get those first few hits in, you are not generally going to get aggro back from a DPS that's going all out.  Most tank classes do have snap aggro abilities that can bypass this limitation, but the abilities are also usually on such long cooldowns that you can't use them in every fight.

In WoW, SWTOR and many other modern games players expect you to know an instance like the back of your hand if you que up as a tank.  On top of this, for whatever strange reason, the mechanics of most MMOs also make it much harder to hold down aggro than to heal or do DPS.  All-in-all it's a a stressful and often thankless role to take on.

I certainly don't mean to come across as too whiny about the whole thing.  In modern MMOs playing a DPS is arguably much more fun than it used to be.  I sure as hell would not want to go back to the dark days of launch era EQ where half the classes were all but useless solo.  I like being able to make progress in these games on my schedule.  The pace of modern MMOs may have ruined tanking for me, but on the balance I'd say it was a good trade for everything else we gained.

[This post brought to you by the Tank's Lament  at Going Commando]


  1. "I sure as hell would not want to go back to the dark days of launch era EQ where half the classes were all but useless solo."

    I would. Not out of masochism but because I feel very strongly that the goal of MMORPG design should be to ensure every player is able to play the game the way they want, NOT that every class should be able to do so. Yes, there should be good, enjoyable options to play the game solo, duo, in small groups, full groups, raids but those options should exist for the player not the character. If you want to solo, play a class that's designed to solo. If you want to group, play a class that's designed for group play. If you want to do both, play more than one character.

    I see the issue as being with the way the mantra "everyone should be able to play with their friends" ended up meaning "I should be able to play any class I want in any situation". If you want to play with your friends, discuss with them what classes would make a good synergy and play that. Don't roll the dps class you play in every game "because that's what I always play" and then expect the game to be re-designed to suit your inflexibility.

    I probably ought to do a post on this myself.

    1. I would read that post :-) Of course I don't begrudge party only classes existing for players that want them. My problem is when most of the classes can't solo their way out of a wet paper sack, and the game gives you zero guidance about it on the character creation screen.

      I remember one of the first questions that used to get asked on message boards was often "can class X" solo, or "what is the solo class?" Without that guidance, making a new character was basically a game of roulette for anyone that wanted to make progress solo. EQ, EQoA, DAoC, and FFXI all put you in that same boat, it was considered the norm back then. That's really what I don't want to go back to, not party only classes existing.

      Modern EQ has relented a lot on this point. If you scroll down on the class descriptions, you now get warned which classes can solo and which ones do better in a party. I don't remember that being very clear in the launch game. Mercenaries will also get you to at least the 50s solo on pretty much any class.

  2. I feel the same way, for the exact same reasons you stated.

    In my case it was FFXIV that soured me on tanking for good. Just two minutes into a dungeon run I had the serious urge to smack the DPS players in the face, hard, at least three out of four times. It was just not fun at all.

    I used to love playing tanks, and when it's a versatile and fun class like EQII's Bruiser I'd still roll one over a DPS class any day, but my days of tanking for pugs are over for good.

    1. I haven't gotten around to FFIV yet, but that has long been on my list to try. I agree that EQ II had some interesting takes on them, the Shadowknight there was a lot of fun if you just play it as a melee DPS that happens to wear plate.