“Who’s the best tank?” is the kind of question you see in internet forums all the time. Typically this is a question about which of the six subclassses of the fighter archetype is the “best” for tanking. People who ask this question, by the way, usually believe that Guardians make the best tanks, particularly in raid situation.
My stance is that the best tank is the one with the best player sitting at the keyboard. I’ve been successful with most of the tank subclasses, and I’ve had problems with a Guardian as the main tank. So, I thought I’d put down my thoughts about what makes a good tank.
The first job of the tank is, of course, to keep aggro. This isn’t just a matter of which subclasses have the most buttons with the word “taunt” or “hate” in their description, however. For example, a paladin can generate a lot of hate by healing and warding themselves. And by nuking. Neither of those say “taunt” on them. So, a good tank will study his skills, and think about how best to hold aggro.
The game is set up to make keeping aggro difficult. Nuking, healing and the massive damage output of a scout can all pull aggro, so keeping aggro on the tank is a cooperative venture. This makes it pretty important that the tank be able to stand up to the mob for the first few seconds of the fight while he generates some heat. The best tanks know that this is best accomplished if they can wait for the healer’s short-term buff, be it regen, ward, or reactive heal. Many times I’ve seen the tank just get his bloodlust up and pull without waiting for these, with dire consequences. The priest has to heal too soon, gets aggro, and things go pear-shaped.
Tunnel vision is very standard in combat. People naturally zero in on beating the tar out of the mobs in front of them, and tend to ignore most everything else. The combats in EQ2 are much shorter and more intense than the ones in EQ1, so this is doubly true. However, the best tanks have have trained themselves to have situational awareness. They notice if a wanderer is coming close. They notice if someone has aggro, or is getting hurt, or is running out of power. They learn where the respawn points are.
The standard approach to the game is what I would call a “one-trick pony” approach. Groups must have 6 members, which are, ideally, one Guardian as main tank, two healers, with one being a templar, and 3 other dps classes, with preference given to warlocks, wizards and conjurors, though scouts are welcome. This group succeeds by killing stuff fast, faster than they can be killed.
However, not all situations are the same. Sometimes you can’t put together an ideal group, and frankly it isn’t much fun, either. Stuff dies too fast for you to feel like you were challenged, or else it eats your lunch because it’s red and you can’t touch it.
So, a good tank is adaptable. He understands how the other classes work and can change his tactics to accomodate the current group. This is a big issue with me, being an enchanter. With no enchanter in the group, the tank is responsible for adds, and must switch targets and taunt the adds to keep control of the situation. With an enchanter (like me) in the group, it’s more efficient for him to stay on target and let me deal with the adds, unless there are a whole lot of them, in which case his taunts aren’t going to get the situation under control, either. A good tank can adjust to that.
Not all mobs are the same either, some are fighters, some are mages, some are priests, a good tank, in his main assist role will learn which are which and adjust the tactics accordingly.
A good tank will turn the mob around so that its back is to the scout and the mages. This lets the scout do more damage, and protects the mages from the attacks like Barrage which damage everything in an arc in front of the mob.
A good tank keeps his gear and skills up to date. I think that Adept III level skills cost more than they are worth, generally, but most skills should be up to Adept I, and all but perhaps the newest ones at at least Apprentice 3 or 4. Armor is really important to a good tank, and should be kept orange or yellow. Weapons are probably less important than most people think, though I firmly believe that, since some mobs are immune to some types of damage, tanks should have a good weapon of each type(slash, crush, pierce), and have the corresponding skills up to date.
A good tank communicates. He has a pull call, he lets people know when the group is moving. He reads his chat, which is in a different window from his battle spam, and thus is aware when the healer has just gone afk for a biobreak and holds pulls. DPS classes can often get away with not paying too much attention to these things, but not the tank, he controls the pace of the group.
Finally, the intangibles. A good tank is always trying to improve, and to learn. He shines a light on problems, but keeps the heat off. He makes it fun for the other players, and helps them succeed, rather than making them feel like failures. He takes responsibility, when appropriate, when things go bad. There’s a world of difference between “You screwed up, you loser” and “Next time, it would be better if…” I’ll put up with a lot of errors from a tank that is enthusiastic, fun to be around, and can be taught. After all, Everquest II is a game.