Four out of Five doctors agree, three days straight of solid Guild Wars 2 is probably not good for your health. It is, however, amazing for your fun.
Amazing for your fun? What does that even mean?
I’m not as young as I used to be (which is good; no space-time anomalies), and I’m feeling last weekend like a bad hangover. I’m pretty sure I remembered to eat, but I can’t make promises. It’s all one big blur of wild particle effects and body counts in the hundreds. You think I would’ve learned from the first beta weekend.
I did not.
I wasn’t really comfortable talking about GW2 after the first BWE (the official acronym for “beta weekend”). I hadn’t played all of the professions and didn’t touch crafting. Over a day and a half were sunk into tinkering with builds and running PVP arenas until my eyes fell out. It was good for getting a feel on the game mechanics, but not for exploring the scope and depth of the content available. After another weekend under my belt, I now feel qualified to at least talk about the game.
But before I do that, I need to get a certain Internet debate out of the way.
The Holy Trinity
Yeah, I wrote a whole article on it a ways back. You know, the concept of Tank/Healer/Damage roles in MMORPG design. December ’11 feels like a long time ago now.
Clockwork, you all hate on the Holy Trinity and stuff. What do you think about Guild Wars 2′s eliminating the Holy Trinity?
Tch. I don’t “hate on” the Holy Trinity. (Yes he does.) I just grow weary of it as a symbol of stagnation in MMO design. It makes games come across as recolors of each other. I brought up Champions Online in that article, because it was an example of one route. It maintained, more or less, MMO conventions, but deemphasized the Holy Trinity by emphasizing diversity. The Holy Trinity functions through characters specializing in a role, which was suboptimal in that game. Heals weren’t spammable (at launch) and any sort of piling into a single area came with diminishing returns and losses in possibly important areas.
Guild Wars 2 goes about it another way. ArenaNet designed a game that, from the ground up, disregarded those conventions. That’s a whole different world. It doesn’t approach the problem with any purposeful eye towards weakening the Holy Trinity. It makes a game where you wouldn’t think to use it.
Think about a generic, first person, squad based shooter. (Wow, looks kind of brown.) Your squad encounters a brood of alien zombie nazis and a firefight ensues. You and an ally are taking heavy fire. He is the beefier of you, so he takes a nearby position and opens up with a heavy weapon, gaining their attention. Relatively unharassed, you are free to peak out and squeeze off a few headshots. Your buddy isn’t just soaking up bullets. He’s smart about it. But he doesn’t see a stray grenade, and it deals a nasty blow to him. You both see a health pack on the floor, but its out in the open where anyone can be easily shot. Knowing your friend needs the health, you toss a smoke grenade, blinding your enemies and buying him the opening he needs to dart out and grab it.
There’s no clear, defined roles involved. There are character strengths and weaknesses, but you use them organically with the situation. This is the kind of game ArenaNet set out to make, from its roots. It’s not an avoidance of Holy Trinity. Quite the opposite, it’s a design that would feel forced if they tried to make that convention work.
Talk, talk, talk. I want examples.
Fine, an Example
Okay, here’s a very intense moment I had during this last beta. I was playing on my Necromancer and happened upon a yet unchallenged dynamic event (it was fairly late at night). I had to destroy five evil brazers in a cave, which I did with only minimal opposition. Upon completion, a very powerful demon appeared and promptly began to show me my ass by way of my mouth. I barely escaped with my loins in place and enlisted the aid of the only two players I could find nearby. I, being stouter than the average caster, and the sturdy looking charr in chainmail took the fight to the demon’s face while the engineer hung back and rained status effecting bullets from behind us. My healing spell, while on a long cooldown, had an area effect, and so we stayed strong by being evasive with the occasional extra top off from me.
The fight was going well until minions began streaming in gradually from all sides. I, hanging towards the middle, only had the demon to contend with, but my allies, favoring the edges, were beginning to collect trash like golf cleats in a landfill.
The engineer went down.
It’s important here to mention GW2′s “Rally” system. When your health hits zero, you enter a downed state. You’re on your back with a limited set of skills and a gradually diminishing health bar. If that bar hits zero, you die. Dead allies can be revived by another player, but it takes more time than can be spared in a fight like this. But if an enemy that the downed player is fighting is defeated, they rally back to their feet with maybe 25% or so health.
The skills engineers get while downed suck. They can be debilitating, but they rarely kill anything.
So I switched to my pair of daggers, darted to the minion that had him downed and carved it like a holiday roast. The engineer sprung to his feet. I dropped my healing well on the ground to get him back in the game and rushed back to the demon. Unfortunately, the melee charr had been left to tend both the demon and the minions in my absense. I realized I shouldn’t have wasted my heal, because he needed it badly.
Necromancers have an ability to change into an alternate form called Death Shroud. As they kill and maim things, they fill up a green meter called “life force” (no, not the Gradius spin-off). In Death Shroud form, this green bar temporarily becomes your health meter and gradually ticks down until it runs out or you switch back. It’s like having a second health bar and makes Necromancers very tough to kill. Like the downed state, you have a limited set of abilities unique to Death Shroud. One of those is Life Transfer, which is a massive area effect, blasting everything nearby and filling up your life force.
As a fun side effect, if you hadn’t pulled any monsters on you before, you’re probably in for a real big party real soon.
I could only keep Shadow Shroud up for about five seconds under the onslaught I inherited, but it bought my ally enough time to get his “not dying” situation in order.
The fight went on like this for a while. The demon had a lot of health and minions sprinkled in on the regular. Those two focused mostly on the demon, both getting downed but never dying. I stayed away from where minions entered and bounced freely between them as extra muscle became needed. When the demon finally fell over, I don’t think any of us had more than a sliver of health or a heart rate under 100 bpm.
Through it all, none of us “tanked” in the traditional respect. The demon could easily three shot any one of us, given the chance. And we sure as hell couldn’t “heal through it”. Not when I was waiting 40 seconds between heals. It took all of our tools; dodges, blocks, blinds, cripples, heals, weaknesses, damage bursts; acting on the situation as we saw it unfold.
So, Not the Holy Trinity?
Perhaps the biggest departure from a Holy Trinity based game is that of what your role is. In a Holy Trinity heavy game, your role defines not just what you should do, but what you should not do. Everyone can do damage, but not everyone necessarily should. If you have a healing ability, but you aren’t a healer, you probably shouldn’t bother healing. Now, obviously, there are going to be exceptions that a skilled player will find within the nuances of the game. I don’t want to hear, “nuh uh, my ret pali so totally uses his heals and it makes me hardcore!” There’s a logical fallacy for that. We’re talking HT 101 rules here.
Your role in GW2 is defined purely by what you are able to do. You only get 10 skills, 5 decided by your choice of equipment, and you need to make them work in the confines of the challenges presented to you.
My guardian uses a mace and shield to endure large groups pounding down on her. But in one event, enemies are stealing eggs and running off with them. I switch to my scepter, which I normally use as my backup ranged weapon. It has Chains of Light, which instantly immobilize a distant target. I can use that to pin down any runners that get away. That becomes my role.
It isn’t “class homogenization”, like I’ve been hearing cried far and wide. The diversity in professions is definitely there. You just aren’t playing The Lost Vikings in RPG form.
(Reference Hint: The Lost Vikings was a puzzle platformer by Silicon & Synapse (aka, Blizzard; yes, that Blizzard) in 1992 in which three strangely specialized vikings must work together to fight enemies, cross stages and reach goals. Each is largely worthless without the abilities of his mates, which combine in various ways to solve puzzles. Yeah, my wit is boundless.)
“Hide not your talents. They for use were made. What’s a sundial in the shade?”
– Benjamin Franklin
More GW2 talk to come. Probably.