GW2: Dependency vs. Self-sufficiency

A couple of designers and developers from ArenaNet have been on reddit today for Q&A sessions about Guild Wars 2. These are questions on the spot, from fans/critics/interested parties, and while not everything gets answered, there are some interesting aspects of the game being explored. I’d like to pick out one to discuss here: the (attempted, or alleged) scrapping of the MMORPG ‘Holy Trinity’, and how a team works together.

'scuse the old art for Caithe.

This has always been a sticking point for some people when it comes to Guild Wars 2. For many, it’s a dream come true: a game where you don’t have to pick one role at character creation and run with it, specialising in the name of efficiency until you’re so much a cog in the machine that you hardly feel like a player. For other people, removing the tried-and-true ‘holy trinity’ of heal, tank, DPS will inevitably result in a mess of independent action – until players re-instate the trinity of their own volition to co-ordinate themselves.

Personally, as a self-confessed fangirl of ArenaNet who adores them for their ambitious attempt to think outside of established conventions, I’m biased. I can’t help but feel that those who swear a game of this scale will never work without the trinity roles are simply saying that because recent games have been so dependent on them. The point of GW2 is to not just copy conventions as players have come to expect them, but to think them through and decide, is this really how we want our game to work? Is it really the best way, or just the usual way? Shaking up what feels like an increasingly stale way of organising party roles is a great example of this. Of course, none of us will really know whether the vision works in practice until we get to play the game, so it’s all theoretical for now.

For those unfamiliar with the trinity model, the basics of it are that all characters and builds ultimately come under one of three categories: Heal, Tank, DPS. Healers heal, naturally, and their responsibility is to watch all of their allies’ health so they don’t have to. Attacking as well divides your attention, and when the healer lets someone else die the whole party balance is upset, so healers shouldn’t really do anything but heal – monks in the original Guild Wars are a good example of this role. Tanks are there to take damage for the party. They have to be tough and attract attention to themselves, taking the beating on behalf of squishier characters who might not survive on their own. Warriors and fighter classes tend to represent this role. DPS stands for Damage Per Second, and these characters are the ones that really dish out the damage. To balance their sheer destructive potential, they’re often vulnerable without a tank – think wizards and mages.

The upshot of this system is that is forces players to work together. No single role is going to survive and get through high-level content alone, but together, they can be a well-oiled machine. Every party member knows what they’re doing and focuses on their specific part of the overall plan. The downside is that you need every role filled, and done well. A group who lacks a healer (or any other vital role) can’t attempt anything, and if one person lets the team down, the whole machine comes crashing on top of them. Additionally, you can get trapped into your role, never doing anything in the game except what your role demands of you. Anyone who’s monked in GW and realised they never once looked up from their party’s health bars in that mission can understand this.

DPS elementalist - who can shift to healer in a second.

Guild Wars 2 takes a new approach by making each of their eight professions able to fill any of the trinity roles, and potentially more than one in an encounter. No longer do the heavily-armoured professions have a monopoly on the tank role: necromancers can produce minions to soak up the damage like shambling, fleshy punching bags. Magic-users are no longer forced to be the damage-dealers with no armour: a fire-flinging elementalist can switch to earth to defend herself when things get close, or dash out and switch to water to play healer until her guardian friend is done with a particularly nasty foe. The key is flexibility and reactivity – once you know what your character is capable of, you should have any number of resources to draw on when you suddenly have to compensate for a downed party member.

After all this introduction, let’s get down to the discussion on reddit, specifically that sparked by Jon’s (I think?) comment that “[t]rinity doesn’t promote team play it forces team dependencies.” This is what I was discussing above; each party member needs to do their specific job well, and if any one person fails in their job, everyone loses, because the party is build on this hyper-specialisation. Not everyone agreed with the statement though:
“Disagree… Dependency IS what makes a team a team. This is my biggest turn off for the game. Its an interesting idea, but specialization often matches peoples real life character.”

The arguement that some people like to be depended on because it makes them feel special doesn’t hold much weight with me, and I don’t think it requires specialised roles (just decent team-mates). Shortly afterwards, however, came this comment:
“While much can be said about the problems of Trinity, I don’t think that, in practice, removing those dependencies actually improves team play…As in, people won’t actually ever work together, instead they’ll work on top of each other or in spite of each other except for actual organized, official groups.”
Give everyone the capacity to play and survive on their own, and most will just barrel on ahead without much concern for what others around them are doing. This is a possibility. Restricted roles force people to rely on others, and give everyone a clear way they can contribute to a group.

But do we really want to force people to rely on others? This can breed resentment as easily as it can encourage co-operation. It all works well until someone else is responsible for your failure. ArenaNet staff have oft repeated the motto “you should always be glad to see another player”, whoever they are. The greatest hope for achieving this is the ‘gel’ effect, so promisingly described by Ravious here. If a party of players can get together and work out their role just by playing, observing, seeing a need and filling it, preparing your Holy Trinity beforehand won’t be so important. For good or for ill, ArenaNet are assuming that you actually want to play with other people here. Honestly, it’s an over-used retort, but if you hate being forced to co-operate with other people, don’t play an MMO.

I’d like to finish with a full version of the quote I pulled out above:
“The lack of trinity comes from forcing flexibility in combat. Trinity doesn’t promote team play it forces team dependencies. That is something we really wanted to avoid, and so people will say we got rid of it to get rid of the LFG stuff, but the real reason is because we want people to play TOGETHER, not next to each other…”

I love this. If it wasn’t for Guild Wars 2, I might never have realised how bad many other MMORPGs are at actually encouraging people to play together as friendly, co-operative allies. Not necessary evils for the content level, not like bad AI, not as other cogs in a machine. Be a band of adventurers exploring the world and fighting evil. Have relationships, even with the random passers-by who jump into dynamic events with you. Remember that you’re playing with people.

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One Response to GW2: Dependency vs. Self-sufficiency

  1. Pingback: Guild Wars 2: Traits and Attributes | Psychopomp

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