Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Guild Wars 2 - Ok, you have my attention now

Well, to be honest, Guild Wars 2 had already garnered my interest, and I haven't been ignoring it . . . exactly.  Maybe a little.  I really don't want to get burned by the hype for another MMO that isn't even going to be out this year.  Still, I follow Kill Ten Rats and in a post today Ravious talked about running dungeons in GW2, and the party makeup required to be successful.

The short version is -- there isn't one.  Guild Wars 2 is being designed to do away with the "holy trinity" of classes that have been the backbone of MMORPG fantasy games since Everquest.  If you want to get technical, it really dates back to the days of pen-and-paper Dungeons and Dragons, where sensible players would put their beefiest most heavily armored characters in the path of danger, the fragile mages would lurk in the background tossing spells, rogues would skulk around the edge of the battle trying to stab things in the back, and clerics would keep everyone alive as best they could.  It's a model that has been essentially unchanged for decades, and one that most (but not all) MMORPGs have followed.

Guild Wars 2 developers have been claiming for a while that they've done away with all that.  I've nodded appreciatively and essentially dismissed the claim with "I'll believe it when I see it."  Ravious, apparently, has seen it, and my interest in this game just jumped up a few notches.

The "holy trinity" is tired, and just doesn't work that well from a social standpoint in an MMORPG setting.  Tanks and healers have a lot of responsibility.  Responsibility makes things feel like work.  Games are (generally) played for fun, not work, so the roles of tank and healer are shunned by a majority of players.  This has no impact on general questing and adventuring out and about in the game world, but it has a huge impact when it comes time to run group content like instanced dungeons.

Rift attempted to alleviate the holy trinity by giving almost every character the ability to play almost any role by flipping a switch.  Sadly, it doesn't seem to have been enough, because it doesn't address the underlying issue that people don't want the responsibility of being the tank or the healer, especially in pickup groups, even if they actually like playing the tank or healer class.  So even in Rift it is often very hard to find a tank or healer for groups.

Guild Wars 2 is trying to avoid that entirely, and it sounds like they're succeeding.  Groups still need to work as a team, and content is not cakewalk easy, but it should be possible to form successful groups with almost any class composition.  This suggests groups will be much easier to form, and group content will be, dare I say it, more accessible. I'm all for accessibility through clever game design rather than the dumbing down of content.  Time will tell whether it really works on a broader scale, but I'm more optimistic at this point that Guild Wars 2 really will be something new and different.


  1. As someone who usually plays a member of the trinity of classes, I beg to differ.

    As I've seen it, every game that's tried to get rid of classes and class responsibilities has ended up as a mess of barely-differentiated DPS classes. They may have a slight focus in one area or another but they try to be all things to all people.

    Putting on my MMO curmudgeon hat...I agree MMOs should be fun, but the sense of accomplishment is somewhat diminished if there isn't any work t go along with it. The work doesn't have to be the boring kill 100 foozles kinds of quests either, but it should represent some amount of labor. What I say is, make the work to get the achievement fun but still make it mean something.

    The main reason I quit playing WoW is that (prior to Cataclysm when I quit) dungeons were in speed-run mode. There wasn't even a question of whether you'd finish a heroic, only whether you finished it before someone got pissed at the speed of pulls and quit.

    I wish MMO development would go the other direction. Make classes more differentiated. Make multiple tanks/healers/dps that play differently. Make leveling take a long time. Make accomplishments represent a bigger jump in the player power curve. Just don't do it in the same manner as EQ did.

  2. Hmmm... Does responsibility really always feel like work?

    Granted, being responsible for keeping my kitchen and toilet clean does feel like work but... that's because it is.

    Keeping other player's characters alive through a gruelling pummeling is fun for me, though. It doesn't feel like work because I like doing it. IRL people strive to find a place for themselves in the world, a task they can dedicate themselves to in order to be useful for society. When playing a game I find myself doing the same thing, only this time I can choose a role that best entertains me.

    And in terms of responsability, it falls on everyone's head. One can argue that DPS characters are responsible for hitting the right thing at the right time which, to me, seems as important as anything else.

    In short, what I'm saying is that this current holy trinity gives people the choice of taking on certain differentiated roles with different kinds of responsabilities and people seem to like that, taking into account how successful the formula seems to continue to be.

    I'm not saying there isn't room for something different because Lord knows I'd love a change of pace and to try out something new.

  3. And you are both speaking as people who play healers, and clearly don't have a problem with playing healers :)

    I think you represent the people who don't think the responsibility of being a tank/healer feels like work, but I also think the class distribution in trinity-based games shows you're in the minority. If there were more people like you, the trinity would work better, but there aren't, so it doesn't.

    Whether Guild Wars 2 classes are clearly differentiated or going to a non-trinity based system results in a mess of blah-barely-differentiated-dps classes is yet to be seen. From Ravious' write-up at Kill Ten Rats we see that each person in the group had a specific role to fill, it just wasn't tank-dps-healer.

    As long as different classes can do different things in different ways and serve different roles in a group, I think it can work. We'll see!