There is a problem facing massively multiplayer online role playing games today, folks, and it’s been facing us for some time: finding good healers and tanks. You’ll never, ever find a shortage of people who want to shoot at things and smack stuff with a stick but you may not even have trouble finding healers or tanks but finding a good one is hard; finding one you’ll want to stick by and slide into your friends list is even harder. These guys are kind of a dying breed, especially in games like World of Warcraft where there’s so many different play styles between classes that it’s even harder to find exactly what you’re looking for.
However, there’s some pretty general rules that all tanks should know across all games and while this feature is going to focus primarily on my adventures in tanking in Final Fantasy XIV, I thought that since this seems to be a larger problem across MMOs all around the world, this would be a great place to start.
So, you’ve decided to become a tank? That’s awesome. Think of a party like a rock band: whereas the DPS roles are like the lead guitarists and singers, the healer is like the bassist, the tank is a drummer of the party; they are the foundation by which all of the other party members can function. Tanking well is extremely important as most of the wipes – that is, when everyone in a party dies – I’ve ever been a part of start when the tank/tanks die first. It’s more of an exception that the tanks would die and the party still be able to proceed. With that in mind, you have to know that your role in the party is integral and a lot of people count on you to do a good job – including people who don’t know how to keep their mouths or their emotions in check, so, be very mindful of that.
What kind of tank you play as depends on the game, really: generally speaking there’s two or three main tanking play styles to choose from. You would have your true definition of a tank, usually named Paladin or something similar, which provides the armor grade of the party: this guy is mainly there to attract attention from all the enemies out there and have them hit him repeatedly. They’re usually a great tanking class for people not used to tanking. There’s damage-based tanking classes that vary greatly from game to game; these guys have a more active role in the party, either by means of buffs, damage, or debuffs that allow them to make up for their lack of defense – their main tanking focus, usually, is an increased Vitality stat or buffs towards HP gain or totals. The last general tanking class that is available is the hybrid – this isn’t always available and this varies greatly between the games in which they’re available: there are many classes available, for example, where companions or minions can be used as secondary tanks or even backups in case the main tank dies. They are great to have as a crutch in case things go bad but one should note that these hybrid classes are almost never for newbies to tanking and shouldn’t be relied on unless the class – Death Knight in World of Warcraft and Dark Knight in Final Fantasy XIV, for example – is strictly meant for hybrid tanking duties.
Now that you’ve learned your role and what class you want to be, it’s time to learn the basics of tanking as a party member.
Possibly the most important part of being a tank is understanding how “aggro” works. Aggro is the equivalent of holding an enemy’s attention on you and making sure they’re hitting you and only you but every one of those enemies has a mean streak and some kind of attention disorder; if you can picture this kind of vividly, you kind of understand what it means to be a tank. You have to increase your aggro constantly and maintain it to ensure that enemies have all of their eyes on you and only you.
One of the biggest things that one should learn about aggro is that all actions cause aggro to be gained. Even if you just smack an enemy once, that increases that enemy’s aggro towards the attacker. Generally speaking, the tank, healer, and highest damage dealer are always the ones fighting for aggro but the tank should be well-versed in keeping it and will typically have abilities built around that.
You should know that all parties are built in different ways and not all are thinking about your well being or even understand what tanking is all about; this is where your ability to adapt comes in. If your DPS roles in the party are rushing the party through a task, instance, dungeon, or quest, you have to think: okay, will they take enough damage to get through without hurting themselves? Will they take the healer’s attention off of you? Will they die constantly and turn every simple fight into a struggle? This is why understanding aggro is important. You need to keep that aggro up and you most certainly need to know your abilities well so you can adapt to situations.
Know Your Rotations, Love Your Rotations
One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give any tank is this – and this could be said of any MMO player, really: familiarize yourself with your skills. Memorize them. Arrange your hotbar so that way everything is easy to access and easy to change up in case you get new skills or items to use. Getting used to the interface is about as important as learning how to play the game itself and one of the biggest parts of that is your rotations.
For example, my main character in Final Fantasy XIV is a Dark Knight, currently: the way I have him set up is to have three main rotations; four, if you’re nasty. I usually stick with one but I can branch out to the others, depending on the situation. 90% of the time I will only be using two. One to dole out damage and gain attention, the other to gain MP and HP back slowly. Everything is dependent on the situation and I can adapt pretty smoothly because my hotbar is like a second nature to me.
Knowing your abilities and your hotbar are also important to keeping your party moving well; you always have to be thinking of how your party is operating and what challenges they may give you. There are certain instances where there may be chaos and it’s up to you and the healer during those times to regain control.
You’re not lost in the dark with your directions being given to you in the form of an airplane manual, though: most games will give you a pretty steady introduction to your role, your skills – as you get them – and your play style. Even if you’re not being guided through with your hand held or you decide to ignore texts and tutorials, there’s almost always labels for your skills and how they interact with one another. In Final Fantasy XIV, they’ve even gone one step further by adding a border to the skills appropriate to a rotation as the combo effect becomes active. So… pay attention!
As shown in the graphic above, party placement is pretty important when attacking enemies, especially in groups. You will want to keep the enemy party as tightly knit as possible, keeping them facing away from the player party. You’ll also want to keep in mind to not put your back against a wall or, even worse, a cliff. That could spell trouble for the party and, in certain instances, even a wipe.
However, this isn’t always going to be possible: in some cases, it’s not even going to be remotely possible. You have to try your best to position your party and the enemy party as much as possible but just keep in mind you’re only expected to do your best with that.
Respect Your Healer
This is one of my pet peeves – when someone gives healers shit for not doing their job properly. There are a lot of junk healers out there, don’t get me wrong, but the job is just about as important to the party as a tank is so the role itself deserves a lot of respect. Thankfully, though, respecting your healer doesn’t have to be all wild praises, commendations, and ass-kissing: respecting your healer is one of those things that, like all social graces, can be better communicated through actions.
The best way to respect your healer is to avoid damage. I know this sounds kind of stupid as, earlier, I said the point of a tank was to be a kind of damage sponge, as it were, but there’s something to it: while your job is to take damage and manage aggro, you don’t have to take all damage. AOE – area of effect – spells, for example, require a casting period that varies depending on the ability. In almost all modern MMOs, that ability or spell pastes a pattern on the ground showing you the area of effect for it, meaning… well, if you’re standing in it, get out of there before the spell or ability finishes its casting period; avoiding the damage and/or debuff from that AOE casting area helps the healer because, then, he doesn’t have to heal you as much and can focus on the party as a whole if they need to (or the DPS just suck, mind you).
Another great way, as a tank, to help them and show them respect is something a little more advanced called “damage mitigation” which, in lay man’s terms, means abilities and buffs that reduce damage, do healing over time, or otherwise make it so you’re either healing or not taking as much damage. Again, this serves the same purpose but you can do this as well as avoiding AOE damage and this makes the healer’s job even easier. You’ll find things go a lot smoother as this goes on.
Let’s not forget, tanks-to-be and tanks-in-training, to have fun: find a play style that works for you. Everything I’ve talked about is merely a guideline and there’s no reason you can’t adjust it to meet your own tastes and preferences. If you deviate from the standard, you’re gonna catch some hell, but fuck ’em, I say: you do what’s good for you and your party and they’ll take care of you back, most times.
Let’s all get back to it and play the role proudly!