Only a few days after revealing the Guardian profession (a Paladin archetype) for Guild Wars 2, ArenaNet has been inundated with complaints that they’re catering to the Trinity crowd — those that favor classes capable of fulfilling any of MMO gaming’s three key roles. For a game that aims to break genre paradigms, such a concession would understandably be a big no-no. Game Designer Jon Peters believes this backlash to be the product of a lack of familiarity with GW2′s combat system.
In a blog post seeking to catalog all of that information in one place, Peters quotes fellow employee Isaiah Cartwright: “Our professions aren’t dedicated healers, DPS, or tanks because frankly, we built a combat system that just doesn’t allow it.” It sure isn’t easy attempting to break both the jack-of-all-trades class system and the traditional tank/healer/dps combo, so how exactly does ArenaNet plan to do it?
- Healing Skill Slot — Every class has a Healing Slot where they must place an appropriate skill. Sure, not every profession will have access to the best heals, or even those with special, conditional uses, but ArenaNet plans to make using them the best way to sustain yourself. Added bonus? It should make you more aware of what’s going on in battle.
- Downed, Defeated, and Revival — Any player can revive any of their allies, provided that they can get to their buddies in time. And the “Downed” state insures that just being incapacitated doesn’t mean you’re entirely out of the fight, either.
- Shared Boon System — This is Guild Wars 2′s version of buffs. Though they can be applied in many different ways, those available always boil down to the same seven: Regeneration, Might, Fury, Swiftness, Protection, Vigor, and Aegis (you can probably guess what most of them do by name). World of Warcraft now does something similar, but is set up so that at least one of two or more people bringing the same buff is less useful to the group. Boons, though they don’t stack in effectiveness, do stack in terms of duration, meaning that everyone is able to contribute.
- No Allied Targeting — Guild Wars 2 features a semi-action-based combat system. Though it doesn’t seem as flexible as TERA’s at the moment, it is still highly dependent on positioning and spatial awareness. That’s to say that you won’t be able to directly target your allies, and will have to rely on movement and skill to effectively deliver your helpful spells.
- Diversity — That’s a bit of a loaded word, isn’t it? With Guild Wars 2‘s weapon-switching mechanic allows roles to be switched on the fly. Think “Warrior stances,” but for all classes, and with an automatic swap to appropriate equipment. Undoubtedly, there will be some restrictions, but the key is to allow players to adapt to constantly-changing situations.
- Mobility — Movement. Is. Key. Skills and spells work in conjunction with movement instead of against it, and that means you might be playing GW2 more like a first-person shooter than your typical MMORPG. You’ll be able to dodge and find cover while enacting more interesting tactics than “sit in one spot and spam fireball.”
The basic philosophy seems to be, oddly enough, that all classes are Trinity classes. But instead of giving every profession access to every skill, ArenaNet is simply democratizing the more critical aspects of traditional roles — those bits that would otherwise slow down or stop the flow of combat because they are dependent on time or certain archetypes being present. In the same turn, no profession will be able to accomplish such things as healing and buffing in precisely the same way, preserving class diversity.
Personally, I’m a fan. As a bitter Rogue, I’ve always played a class dropped and forgotten in the darkest recesses of the DPS well. Traditionally, the archetype can’t do much else but stab things in the back for large amounts of damage, and even such things as group buffs or enhancements have been handed out sparingly. Lord of the Rings Online attempted to bring something different to the table with the Burgler, but at least when I was playing, it just ended up being a strange class to play — one that only ended up being really useful in rare gameplay situations.
So there I’ve sat, biting my tongue, as hybrid classes waffle between being nearly as or more effective in combat than I am, while also being afforded the opportunity to fill in other roles as necessary. I’m realistic, though. Developers such as Blizzard have kind of painted themselves into a corner with the class structure they have established. If they don’t equalize the hybrid classes with the capabilities of their non-hybrid counterparts, then what’s the point of a hybrid (as typically designed) in the first place? Who would want to play them, or at least, who would bother with a particular build nailed by the nerf bat unless they really liked the play mechanics.
The solution, it seems, is to expand the flexibility of the hybrid instead of hinder it, and then give that level of flexibility to everybody else, as Guild Wars 2 appears to be doing.
The new class of MMOs, in general, seems to have several ways of dealing with this. Rift, as explored in a recent post, gives each of its four classes seven different potential roles and then allows them to mix and match those three at a time, giving rise to all sorts of possibilities. Sure, some builds will still be singled out as odd ducks, but which those are will be more difficult to distinguish.
So, then, what sets the Guardian — a Paladin-alike on the surface — apart from its Trinity stereotype? By shedding its conventions like a snake skin. All three typical roles are afforded to the Guardian — one offensive, one defensive, and one regenerative — but at any moment, they can rid themselves of these role-defining protections in order to buff those around them. Well, that’s not the only thing, of course, but a conveniently symbolic way of ending this post, isn’t it?