The Trinity Five Years Ago, and Now

Rowan Blaze over at I Have Touched the Sky had a quick blog post up today, and linked an old post he wrote about “The Unholy Trinity.”

It was written more than five years ago, in a time when WoW was king and neither GW2 or SWTOR was even out yet. (Let alone TSW or FFXIV or Rift.)

I find it an interesting look back at how the holy trinity was commonly perceived then, tank/dps/heals, fixed roles, taunting, etc.

Harbinger Zero apparently even managed to suggest an alternative trinity of offense, control and support, which *ahem* sounds suspiciously close to GW2’s later proposal of damage/support/control.

Today, looking back at our current existing MMOs, beyond alternative trinities (or quadruples or multiplicities), we see overall more of a relaxation on how fixed or difficult it is to swap roles or specs, and the provision of possibilities for individual players to “feel heroic” by temporarily swapping role/functions to off-tank, off-heal, crowd control, battle rez, what-have-you…

…Perhaps as a genre, MMOs have progressed a little further than we realize. (Even if it’s slower than some of us like.)

GW2: Vale Guardian and the Trinity

If Gorseval is sorta kinda fun, and Sabetha is scary, Vale Guardian is the one I have the most mixed feelings about.

On the one hand, it’s the first boss of the first raid wing, probably the most numbers of people have learnt/encountered/experienced the fight mechanics, folks have managed to down it fairly fast with an assortment of fairly flexible raid compositions, certain pro groups are selling it for a mere 80g (meaning they feel they can carry at least 1-2 complete deadweights on their team through VG)…

…thus it’s logically probably the easiest thing to PUG and objectively the best chance I have of a consistent flow of a mere ONE Legendary Insight a week, in lieu of any other better alternatives (like a solo one? *coughs*)

If only for that reason, I have to feel somewhat positive about its existence.

In the last two weeks, the raid group I’ve been running with has, more or less, started to gel and down VG in the very first try (or a couple tries at most.)

On a personal level, I’ve been somewhat pleased to note that I’m still asked to bring my burnzerker to the party (even post-nerf), possibly because VG’s timer is slightly more generous, it still produces an acceptable level of condi, and evidently there is a preference for a sturdier consistent coverage of green circles by players who rarely miss them (hoorah for situational awareness and sword 2 leap mobility) or go down in them (hoorah for warrior sturdiness and crowd control options) over top meta dps of the month. (Tough choice maybe, but if your raid member doesn’t have that class raid ready, what can you do, right?)

That special snowflake feeling? Where you feel what you did in a specific role, or as a player had a significant effect? That holy trinity tanks or healers seem to like so much?

Yep, I feel it here. And I didn’t even have to tank or heal.

(It is, however, an interesting point to note that the moment the raid leader decided our team was competent enough to offer a ‘free carry’ to one or two other less experienced guild members, all-out carnage descended upon our VG attempts and we were back to square one – mistake, wipe, restart, try again, for hours.

Did said less experienced members distract the others somehow? Was it simply insufficient dps or those members  not carrying unspoken skills and traits that were actually critical and brought along/covered by more experienced players? Who knows.)

Which brings me to the other hand of Vale Guardian:

VG2Likely the only way my guardian main is seeing the inside of Spirit Vale without a tank or hammer dps build. Walking into a cleared instance on my own.

To me, it feels like VG is where idealist dreams die.

Every time I set foot on those stones, I cannot help but remember the immense cockblocked frustration of two to three solid months of watching OTHER people manage to do VG, while I sat around not exactly challenged per se by the fight mechanics, but by the corresponding social requirements of finding a reliable and competent raid group of nine other people whose schedules managed to coincide with mine.

To me, Heart of Thorns zone timers don’t even rank on the frustration scale in comparison.

(This has still not been settled to 100% satisfaction. It probably never will be. For now, it’s looking good, but who knows how long it’ll last?

Cos I’m old enough to remember that everything has an end, that even my first and best social organization of MUD/MMO life where we ran around like kings in the best raid loot possible, eventually died from attrition and disinterest as players got distracted by newer, shinier games.

Even while I’m thanking my lucky stars that the planets have managed to align for a little while and gotten me into a raid group competent enough to clear three bosses and not get super-uptight about mistakes, I’m thinking ahead to “what’s going to happen to me if/when it ends?” Back to being frustrated and grumpy again, most likely.)

I can’t help but remember the failed attempts of other groups and assorted collections of people who have given it a go.

Oceanic TTS appears to have canceled their weekly training raids for the time being.

I’m not sure if their progression raids have had any success (having never gotten into one, thanks, left-out-on-the-playground feeling) but either they’ve gotten their kills and gotten it on farm, only spending a short amount of time running it weekly, and decided they don’t need to recruit further slot fillers…

…or the leaders have lost interest in organizing further attempts for the moment and decided to go back to a more open ‘classic raids’ style where a whole load of people can join in to do Teq and Triple Trouble. Because duh, huge open world raids are where GW2 stands out. (And I have had to miss attending many these past few months, just for Spirit Vale. Thanks, no-alternative loot.)

Since the Oceanic timezone is not exactly as populous as NA, and I can see the same 100-200+ names appearing in various guilds and turning up for Teq/TT, I also sorta kinda remember those that have shown up once or twice for attempts at VG…

…died a bit, made some mistakes, generally looked less experienced, fell off the raid wagon…

…and then failed to ever get up again.

They said nothing. The raid (beyond one memorable loudmouthed boor in a random group) said nothing.

They just silently stopped coming.

Not blaming or saying that it’s bad, mind you. They could have decided, after giving it a try, that they had many other things in life more worth prioritizing than the effort required to meet other peoples’ schedules and learn/work towards all the little ‘required’ nuances for a successful kill.

Or they could have felt bad and had their self-esteem damaged somewhat and decided to quit (the raid or the game, who knows) because they didn’t feel they were up to the challenge (and never wanted so much damn challenge in the game that attracted them originally, thank you.)

And this state of affairs makes me feel sad.

It’s the sheer divisiveness of raids.

Some people relish the challenge and thrive in it.

Some, like me, grit their teeth, buckle down and stubbornly endure the pain because reasons.

Both of us cross the line and end up over there.

Still others (and I think there are very many, and the majority tends to win) choose not to even bother making the attempt, because reasons.

They wind up over here.

Both sides look at each other across a chasm of not-really-understanding each other, not-willing-to-play-with each other.

To have this happen in -GW2-, the previous home of the ‘everyone is welcome and an extra helping hand’ community, makes me really really sad.


Vale Guardian.

It’s mostly holy-trinity-esque, with a heavy helping of control and buffs, a sprinkling of GW2-specific mechanics, and the extra requirement that a few more people than the tank and healer know what the hell they’re doing.

You need a tank that knows the ideal mob positioning pattern for Vale Guardian.

As mentioned previously, the ‘tank’ shorthand in GW2 simply means someone with higher toughness than the others. Not necessarily ludicrously higher toughness. No silly taunting needed. It’s mostly about control of mob positioning using your body, doing damage, and oh, not dying, of course.

You need a healer that can actually heal. As in, knows how to time their skills to best effect when people are going to take large amounts of damage, not just spam 1 and hope the trickle heals suffice.

Preferably a healer that also knows about control, as they are often assigned to a position where having knockbacks come in handy.

(One of the best healers I’ve seen though managed to upkeep a regeneration boon, rather than just stick to reactive healing. It’s often overlooked, but I suspect that buff is stronger than it first appears. Having the protection boon, of course, also helps to reduce the amount of reactive healing required.

I’m sure there are many nuances of healing I’m failing to appreciate, since I don’t really care for that function, but given the varied performances observed from different healers, presumably with different builds and know-how, I’m sure it’s there.)

From firsthand experience, I can definitely attest to the carnage that happens when a healer isn’t even averagely competent.

I took a most unusual, shocking amount of damage on one of the sturdiest classes. It was most noticeable. It also tended to cause the raid to wipe as people went down, failing a raid mechanic.

That failed healer also attracted the attention of said loudmouthed boor, who spent a decent amount of time calling the person out.

I have to admit that after some ten repeated tries of dying myself and watching others die, because I’d run out of controls and knew very well that another healer could have supplemented the  extra control needed, I too felt the need to speak out and suggest the most diplomatic solution that I could think of – which was to do a roles swap with another player, shifting the poorer player into the position that could be covered by others, and gain a competent healer.

Just like that, the raid stopped dying and the boss died on the next go.

I haven’t seen that player back for raids since.


I feel bad, but what can you do when the format of raids insists on a certain baseline of competence?

(Especially since they decided to balance it using expert theorycrafting guilds, and provide no variable difficulty level options.)

The common line of thinking then is that everybody else can be focused on damage.

Except if you do just that, the raid mysteriously tends to fail for one indiscernible reason or another. Someone takes too much damage and dies. VG hits the enrage timer and folks can’t keep upright any longer under the increased damage onslaught. Something. It just goes wrong.

What I suspect these groups are missing, is sufficient attention to  raid composition and making sure enough dps players are armed with a side helping of control (in lieu of maximum dps uber alles selfish builds.)

Ideally, a side helping of dps-buffer-types that provide sufficient (read: maximum) offensive buffs to the damage dealing group is taken along too.


The fight starts by the tank walking in, auto-aggroing the Vale Guardian via proximity and letting it approach (since it only has melee attacks, it will close in) a pillar.

No one is supposed to start attacking yet, as that saves a couple of extra seconds for groups that struggle with sufficient dps to get past the enrage timer.

The tank usually then holds the mob stationary, so that everybody can use more of their higher-damage channels or skills that hit a certain location.

Since VG periodically produces blue circles in melee range that teleport anyone standing in them, the tank must also master the timing of using invulnerabity frames (usually from dodges) to hold in place. This is both skill and latency dependent – I suspect given the same level of skill, OCE raid tanks see more accidental teleports than NA ones.

After enough tries at VG to learn its patterns, one will also note that VG swerves in direction (the arrow indicating facing swings 180 degrees away from the tank) just before it spawns the blue circles. That’s a good cue for all of us poor 250-300ms ping folks to use.

VG4Random PUG raid. Only screenshot of green circles I can find right now.

The Vale Guardian will also produces green circles on a timer (usually alternating with blue ones.) This requires a minimum of 4 people to be inside them, to take some damage once the lightning flash hits (as indicated when the inner green circle shrinks to nothingness.)

Else the whole raid eats a Distributed Magic attack for heaps and heaps of damage, creating what amounts to a raid wipe – either too many people go down, or a whole bunch of people die.

I have gone through an uncountable number of raid attempts that fail this mechanic.

It’s the first thing I check in the combat log when I suddenly and inexplicably die, and usually there’s been a Distributed Magic strike.

Either people miss seeing the green circle, or just aren’t expecting it and thus run to it too late, or, and this is a biggy, they’re too squishy and they go down just before the lightning strike hits. (Downed people don’t count.)

Bad memories tend to cause me to wince every time I see elementalists, thieves or mesmers assigned to the circle running group. (I’m sure there are good players of those classes that can manage the circles and know what they’re doing, but eh, on average… *wince*)

Complicating the affair is the tendency of Red Seeker orbs to like to approach either the group attacking the Vale Guardian (thus pressuring the tank’s ability to survive) or the green circle group.

These things pulse a fairly enormous amount of damage if in melee range of them (as indicated by the red circle around them.) They’re considerably resistant to damage and effectively cannot be killed to clear them, thus forcing crowd control back to the forefront.

The ranged green circle team -needs- knockbacks, or in a pinch, knockdowns or immobilizes. (The latter two are more proactive controls, requiring a little more anticipatory skill, used on seekers that aren’t already in the danger zone but will be.)

Usually at least two people have to have some control equipped, as most effective knockbacks are on a ~40 second cooldown and you can see green circles come up twice within that time.

The more the merrier, if there’s less communication/coordination and people blow their controls on the same seeker, or if more seekers converge, necessitating emergency cc.

A stunning amount of ordinary players never figure this out, even as they helplessly stand in the green circles and soak all the damage of an enroaching red seeker orb. They just never realize that they can swap some utility skills around or have a control weapon on swap or -something-.

I have no idea what’s going through their minds. They’re taking damage, it must be the healer’s fault for not keeping them upright? Or they’re just overwhelmed and panicking, who knows.

Google “[class] skills GW2” and do a search on the wiki for “knock” and “immobilize.” I’m sure most classes have -something-.

Once the green circle group gets the hang of it, that’s about half the battle won.

Groups use the time taken to force Vale Guardian into a split to evaluate if there’s sufficient dps for a successful run.

Hitting the 6.00 min mark is probably the baseline, 6.30 is good, 6.45 or  higher is great; 5.30-5.45 is worrying and probably won’t make it, any less and you may as well not waste your time and go figure out what’s wrong with everybody’s builds.

Once brought down to said magic health number, Vale Guardian runs off into the center of the arena and three smaller guardians spawn, one at each pillar, red, green and blue.

Red guardian requires condition damage in order to take down, so most raid groups will usually have three condi builds for this specific role. Two may work in a pinch but it’s a slight time delay.

Blue guardian produces the green circle (which now require a minimum of three people to stand in it, or the whole raid takes Distributed Magic yet again) and also has a boon that makes it invulnerable to damage.

Boon stripping, that rarely seen mechanic in GW2, comes into play here. Mesmers are usually used for this purpose, as their sword autoattack does it automatically. There are, of course, other classes that have this ability (even if the player doesn’t realize it) and I personally stick a Sigil of Nullification onto my PS warrior’s weapon swap mace for emergencies (say, the mesmer dies.)

Green guardian is the most ordinary, taking normal damage and merely producing the blue teleport circles to be avoided.

The intended method appears to be a normal split of 3 people per guardian, with one extra backup wherever, as each player is marked with a colored icon over their heads at the beginning of the split phase, depending on which sector they are standing in. Each colored guardian produces an aura which damages anyone with the wrong color.


In the usual fashion of players, to see how many intended mechanics they can overcome with clever synergy (aka no updraft Gorsevals), some raid groups will also pull green guardian over to the blue one. This requires a really strong healer to keep everyone upright through the overlapping damage auras.

It’s ostensibly time saved as both mobs can be cleaved at once, and presumably confuses new people less as they don’t have to locate the correct directions to anywhere specific, but imo, either way works fine.

Once their health bar is reduced to 0, each guardian also has a break bar to be broken before they die. Again, it’s a sneaky way to encourage all players to bring sufficient cc.

The Vale Guardian then reforms for round 2.

This time, one sector of the three-part arena will light up and cause damage to anyone standing within it. This makes getting teleported by blue circles potentially dangerous, not to mention a dps loss.

Afterwards, there is another identical split, and round 3 involves two parts of the arena lighting up, with only one safe sector.

This right here is another quarter of the battle, a competent tank that knows how to use their body to mob position and kite appropriately. Keeping the Vale Guardian moving tends to mean a drop in dps as everybody chases, so there’s a balance between shifting the guardian away from oncoming Seekers and into the next sector, as well as keeping him stationary as much as possible.

It’s mostly boiled down to a particular pattern I find it hard to describe offhand, having zero tanking experience at VG and only watching it, but in the words of someone I screenshotted, “circle breakbar circle move – circle circle move – circle breakbar circle move -”

The idea, I believe, is to shift VG as much as possible into the new sector as it clears up (sometimes the tank will run into a still lit up section ahead to position the boss over the sector line, while still allowing melee dps to hit in safety from the presently clear sector.)

This is because VG produces green circles in the sector it currently is in. If the boss doesn’t cross over fast enough, a green circle spawns in a lit up section, which can be fairly challenging for a green circle group to cover. (In this case, they should delay walking in as long as possible and only be there for the lightning strike, and pray that they’re innately sturdy, have good self-heals and healer is on the ball. Which may or may not happen.)

Hence there is a sort of interlinked dependence between a good tank and the green circle group (the healer, often positioned in the green circle team, may also have to top off the tank every now and then.)

Cluttering up the issue and making sure the melee dps group can’t get away scot-free with no responsibility, is the Vale Guardian’s break bar.

The Vale Guardian has a breakbar attack where it stops in its tracks (ignoring the tank’s efforts to move it), raises its arm and produces an AoE shower of red circles that deal damage.

Left unchecked, this is often fatal to the green circle group, which have to be in a limited area and still avoid the red circles, whereupon someone may accidentally step in one and go down, or conversely panic and dodge away and out of both red circle and green circle… which then subsequently causes a raid wipe through Distributed Magic.

Should everyone somehow miraculously survive this chaos, the very fact that the guardian is no longer moving means the tank can’t position it to the next sector in time, the floor lights up doing damage to everyone in it, the AoE shower is still damaging all and sundry, and the green circle will appear in a lit sector, which should seal the deal.

It stops this attack when its break bar is broken.

In other words, the second ‘health’ bar has to go down super duper uber quickly spike damage fast.

The ranged team is usually focused on green circles, which may randomly turn up further away, and may not be able to manage the break bar simultaneously. Especially if they’re already using their knockbacks to control the seekers.

It’s the melee team, that are already on VG, that has to primarily cover the controls here. You’d be surprised how many try to sneak in as a low-responsibility melee dps and fail to manage this little extra expanding of their role/function.

I’ve seen Vale Guardian attempts go from failure to success the instant a PS warrior is told point blank that they should have Headbutt, a mace or two ready on weapon swap, Wild Blow if necessary, and/or revenants told they should put a staff on weapon swap and use staff 5 to take out the break bar.

All that was missing was a little extra focus on control to help to the group, at the expense of a little bit of personal dps.

It is amazing how many damage-dealers walk in and fight VG umpteen times, wiping constantly, without realizing this. “Someone else died. It’s not me. I’m okay. My job is damage. I don’t have to change anything.”

I put full blame on the holy trinity.

It’s hard to think outside the box when your box is a narrow worldview of tank/dps/heals.

GW2: Sabetha

Sabetha, on the other hand, terrifies me.


Yep, this lone unassuming figure hides a fight of intense mental overload.

This encounter tears right through any pretense of contribution and reaches through the screen to challenge every single member of the ten person raid group. Every. Single. One.

The primary way it does this is to create a huge number of things to keep track of at once, in practically every corner of the screen, not to mention your skill bar at the bottom, and oh, the actual fast-paced action happening right this very instant in your center focus.

When you walk in new, it is massively overwhelming.

Even when you’re not new, it can still be pretty durned overwhelming.

It is up to each individual raid group to choose how and if they’re going to distribute specific areas of focus to different members, preferably in such a way that the person can cope with the number of things to manage on their plate.

Difficulty shoots through the roof if the raid pretty much just asks every member to keep track of it all.


We deviate immediately from the holy trinity, as there is no tank for Sabetha.

It’s not her autoattacks you have to worry about. She never moves from the center of her platform, so there’s no mob positioning to bother with either.

One healer is brought along to cover mistakes, and everybody else is buff-dps or even-more-dps.


The first thing you have to worry about: her Timed Bomb attacks.

A red “Timed Bomb” message pings up in your chat box, white “Timed Bomb” words slowly scroll across your screen as a big orange circle appears, with a quickly expanding darker orange circle inside. And yeah, there’s that graphical icon thing over your head too.

Once both circles meet, it explodes.


It doesn’t deal that much damage to the target, but -wrecks- anyone else within.

So instead of everyone running away from this and losing dps, the target is expected to move the hell away from the group.

Someone discovered that she throws this on the person with the closest proximity to her. (Presumably to spoil everyone-stack-and-melee-mindlessly tactics.)

The tactic that has evolved is to ask a fairly sturdy person who is already meleeing anyway to stay in the closest proximity (aka usually stacked right on top of her), while everyone else stands at max melee range.

In other words, the PS warrior (berserker) that is likely to be coming along anyway as a might-stacking banner bot.

That’s *groan* usually going to be me, since I lack the mental capacity and finger adroitness to play more complex classes like elementalists or engineers, and gravitated to “Hi, I r warrior, I headbutt things and thump things with a great big sword” gameplay.

The amount of reaction time you get, with oceanic/SEA ping? Not terribly much.

You need to be anticipating it, and once you see the orange circle, you go, pronto. You can’t quite rely on helpful white words appearing in the center of your screen, it’ll be too late.

Instead, your best prompt is take your eyes off the action and sneak a peek at the chatbox to see if the red words are there, and the little hissing noise it makes (like one of those cartoon bomb fuses.)

Then you best be gone.

(You do still want to check because there are also plenty of other orange circles appearing from other attacks, and you’d be mucking up your job if you ran off on the wrong cue.)

Did we mention that the warrior skill rotation makes heavy intense use of the channeled Hundred Blades skill, which you -normally- want to let complete uninterrupted as the last strike does extra damage?

Moving interrupts this, and normally I’m trying to train myself to let it complete properly and not jitter around nervously (because my guardian main doesn’t have that issue, and any other dps class that uses the seaweed salad consumable -should- keep moving in order to get the 10% extra damage boost.)

But if you see the Timed Bomb, you gotta stop and go and give up that Hundred Blades. Easier said than done if you’ve tunnel visioned onto your skill rotation, or conversely gotten distracted keeping track of one of the many other things going on.

The only piece of good news is that greatsword 3 Whirlwind Attack is a pretty fast way of getting out and quickly moving from point A to point B.

Point B preferably being an area with no other players in it.

I’m still not picture-perfect at this, and tend to end up giving the one player away from the group a heart attack 50% of the time by spinning near them, while both of us screech to a halt and try to break off in opposite directions to avoid a collision.

What’s that one player doing?


Well, they are worrying about what Sabetha does to the person at the -furthest- proximity from her.

Every seven seconds or so, she’s tossing these flaming fire fields in their direction. Standing in them burns. Duh. As in, applies nasty stacks of burning which add up and really hurt. The standard “Don’t stand in the fire, guys” that I presume (without any experience whatsoever) is part and parcel of many raids.

So they’re kiting these things away from the main group in a circle and doing damage at range to Sabetha too. Different groups assign different classes to this function – I’ve seen it done by a druid healer, as well as a condi necro. Presumably any ranged attacker whose player knows what they’re doing and won’t die works.

The rest of the raid isn’t given a free pass once these two mechanics are dealt with.

Every 30 seconds, in a pattern best laid out in Dulfy’s Sabetha guide, a cannon spawns on a higher platform that has to be dealt with, or else it will start firing a whole bunch of orange circles in a cone-shaped spread on that part of the platform.


Not only do standing in these orange circles hurt, once the incoming cannon shots land (so the standard GW2 ‘avoid orange circles’ concept applies), but they actually deal damage to the platform itself, as measured by another bar.


Once the platform health reaches zero, it collapses and the raid wipes.

So it is both a sort of soft timer (you can’t run around forever, the platform will wear away eventually) and an encouragement for raid groups to deal as efficiently with the cannon mechanic as desired. (There is a sort of hard mode achievement for leaving one cannon alive and managing to kill Sabetha too.)

How do you deal with the cannons?

Through a teamwork mechanic. Bandit sapper adds spawn every now and then, targeting somebody to throw a bomb to. Said person receives a green circle around them, and their special action key lights up with an icon.

Apparently they like to spawn in the direction opposite the target cannon and throw it to the person closest to them.

In some raid groups, you might find the person already kiting the fire fields will also take on some of the responsibility of being near the sapper and catching the bomb, but frankly, once a fight is in progress, it can be a bit of a random crapshoot. That person may not always be available or in position, and basically -anyone- might happen to be closest to a sapper and catch the bomb.

So -everybody- is expected to know what the hell to do with it, if they get it.

Basically, you run up close enough to the appropriate launchpad, and toss it with your special action key onto the person whose job it is to deal with the cannons in that direction.

Who should be also positioning themselves there at the same time. (They can’t be there too long beforehand, as it’s again dps loss, and they might also catch a fire field of instant death from being the furthest from Sabetha.)


The green circle moves from you to them, the bomb flies over to them, and triggers the launch pad and they bounce up… and then glide over and land on the cannon platform to deal with said cannon.

sabetha10The view from the west cannon platform, sans cannon and sans Sabetha, in a cleared instance.

Then they get to glide back to join the fight, catching an updraft for a boost or to delay their landing if needed.

Why do they need to delay their landing?

Well, every so often, depending on how much health Sabetha is down to, THIS happens.


She screams “Burn, Burn!” as your warning cue, and an arrow will appear, targeting a player (or a pet, for extra unpredictability.)


Shortly after, a big wall of insta-kill flame sweeps around the arena a full 360 degrees in an anti-clockwise direction.

It’s basically a vertical plane of death. Players can’t glide over it, can’t dodge through it, can’t stand inside Sabetha, it hits ’em all.

Odd unlucky things have been known to happen with this arrow. Just today, it failed to appear on my screen, so I had no visual cue to react to and I just insta-died because I was busy standing inside Sabetha worrying about time bombs.

(I suppose a better player might have known when the time bombs were coming and when Sabetha was likely to output a flamewall, but I’m very much -not- well-versed with this lady.)

We’ve had the flame wall target a pair of people mid-bomb throw (much ouch – theoretically controllable if we were all super-pro players who knew when and how to hold back dps while this was ongoing, but in practice, more of a “welp, that was unlucky, wipe and restart.”)

And we’ve even had a glitch now and again with an invisible flamewall in once place, while showing up someplace else visually, thus disintegrating the unlucky individual or two who had no idea it was there. “Wipe and restart, yet again.”

It generally works ok, about 95% of the time, and fulfills the function of forcing all players to either react quickly and step to the left of the arrow, then shift just a little to the right as it finishes its sweep, and/or run around in a circle a few steps ahead of the impending wall of doom.

What it does rather successfully do is confound many players’ sense of direction after they’ve been spinning around in a circle, especially if they’re new, and/or keeping track of many other things at once.

Remember, actually knowing cardinal directions is important because if said player gets the bomb, they have to go to the correct cannon launchpad to throw it.

How exactly does each player figure out cardinal directions, and how quickly can they do this?

This is one of the major challenges of the Sabetha encounter, not so much a tank-dps-heals holy trinity encounter.

The player could use the minimap… but that involves taking one’s eyes off the fight and possibly getting smited by an AoE they didn’t see, and making sure their minimap  was fixed and doesn’t rotate as they turn.

After a considerable amount of confusion my first time at Sabetha, I tried to figure out if there was a more original Guild Wars 2 solution of using the visual environment itself as a cue, so my player focus didn’t have to be staring at the UI and distracted from the fight.

Partial success.

Most directions look the same on first glance, all gloomy and bandit tree fort.


North is the easiest to recognize, as it has a bright red banner hanging as a visual cue.


This is east. No particularly distinguishable landmarks, beyond the entrance to the platform on the left (northeast).


This is south. My personal cue is the little greenish glimmer of the Ley Line Rift on the metal walkway. (On looking at it again now, it also has an entirely missing right pillar/netting thing.)


And this is west. I guess, it, erm… has more tree leaves…

Turns out, I can barely remember or distinguish such teensy little details in the split seconds needed to find the correct platform and toss the bomb, especially when the whole world is lighting on fire and there’s orange circles everywhere.

Raid groups try to minimize the processing time on most members’ parts by asking the raid to stack on a person and pre-face the cannon direction that is upcoming.

Cannons go by a known S, W, N, E, then a S, N, W, E pattern and repeat. (Purposefully confusing pattern must be purposeful. Frankly, I lose track most of the time and rely on the designated raid caller to announce it.)


Post-patch, raid groups have one more trick up their sleeves, having been given raid markers.

In our particular raid, a designated lieutenant marks out the current platform to be throwing to, and shifts it about as the pattern changes. This, I think, does help processing time for some people, loading most of the mental work to that one lieutenant.

I can easily see other raid groups using colors instead of cardinal directions, and going, “ok, throw to blue now!” or “throw to purple!”

Still, the lieutenant has to know how to orientate him or herself, and I was really relieved when I found a method that did work somewhat well for me, even without markers.

Basically, know where north is at all times. Look for the red banner. Kinda keep it in view most of the time, keep it in mind if one has to shift about.

Maybe it’s just how my brain works, but I realized that once I knew where north was, the other directions could then be easily derived from north. I am ever so slightly better at passing the bomb now, even if I do have a tendency to tunnel vision on swinging my sword and forget that bombs exist.

Different raid groups also designate different amounts of people to deal with cannons. You’d think four would make sense, one for each launch pad. But that relies on four people not screwing up.

Hearsay has it that some raids use one of those grey exploits where one player can deal with three cannons by clambering on tree branches and gliding and some such, presumably at the cost of said player not doing dps on Sabetha.

The raid group I killed Sabetha with initially tried four, which worked iffily, and has dropped to two people alternating cannons, who are very practiced at that role/function. Everyone still has to be on their toes to throw the bomb to them, though.


Assuming the raid group has managed to cope with those main mechanics and drop Sabetha to the next magic health level, she switches out and brings her first flunky in, Kernan.

This bandit (apparently it’s a she? I have no idea, it’s not like I can actually see much mid-fight) does a thief-like pistol attack, a spreading cone that starts narrow and ends wide.

It’s a very GW2 solution to this problem. Ideally, you dodge through her and to her back, avoiding the whole frontal cleave. Less ideally, you sidestep or side-dodge away.

Of course, this tends to fuck up your sense of direction more.

Now that I’ve had a few more Sabetha fights under my belt, I’ve had the time to observe her animations and anticipate a little more her attack. She’ll lift her two pistols up and point them in the direction of the person she decided to target. So if she’s pointing at you, now’s the time to vamoose and not wait for the orange cones to appear!

In a fashion similar to Gorseval, the fight ramps up slightly with Heavy Bomb objects that spawn on the platform. They don’t hurt players, but take off chunks of the platform bar as they explode. So, yet another player is usually designated to “Kick” them off by hitting the F use key on them. Again, more of a unique GW2 thing.

Get past Kernan, and Sabetha reappears for round 2, rinse and repeat the whole shebang with Heavy Bombs in play (and Timed Bombs, and cannons, and fire fields and so on.)

(Oh yes, she reappears and does a flame wall WHILE Kernan is still alive with a sliver of hp left. So now your group has to deal with the flunky’s special mechanic and be trying to off them, while spinning around in a circle.)

Knuckles is the next flunky and we’re back to breakbar management again.

Fail to break the bar and he’ll launch the whole raid near him up into the air, and possibly off the platform.

Pre-arranged coordination of sufficient ccs is best as his bar comes up two or three times in relatively quick succession. “X goes first, followed by Y, and the rest of the group” or something similar.

Importance of control? Pretty decent. Enough to make it a contender.

Finish with Knuckles, dealing with Sabetha’s flamewall while Knuckles is still up, and the fight continues, now with -two- Timed Bombs. So at least two players have to be on the lookout and move them away from the group.

Karde is the final flunky and she has a flamethrower cone attack, dealt with in similar vein to the first flunky.


She also spawns those turrets of bullet hell.


Just like in Gorseval, one or two people are tasked with object clearing duty.

All out madness is released once Karde is down to a small amount of health remaining, Sabetha returns with her flame wall, Karde is still running riot with her flamethrower and turrets, and rocks fall from the sky.

No, really. Little orange circles spawn all over the platform, heralding bits of falling debris that will smash through your health bar if you’re still in the circle when they crash down on your head.

There’s fire everywhere from flamethrowers, flamewall, flame turrets, and -yes-, the cannons are still going and have to be dealt with, Karde has to die to cease -some- of this madness, and let’s not lose sight of the original goal, to off Sabetha before she enrages.

Oh yeah, don’t die.

That’s important too.

I get exhausted just describing it. 🙂

Proponents of the holy trinity might say, “Well, this is what you get when you don’t have clear cut tank/dps/heals roles.”

Truth is, for the most part, I think the Sabetha fight would be fun in a GW2 action-y way without the mental overload from the cardinal direction cannons.

Most of the mechanics used in the Sabetha fight are very GW2 specific ones – reading animations, movement, dodging, break bar, F’ing objects, avoiding orange circles, and test that sort of reflexes/action-based combat.

It adds up to a very different style of fight from the more predictable holy trinity style combat.

Layer attempting to keep track of the cannons on top, and that’s about the limit that my overtaxed brain can deal with.

I suppose, over time, with raiding being a team sport and all, that if one is able to trust that each raid group member can handle their own unique parts, my brain might be able to relax enough to stop worrying about keeping track of cannon directions and to just look for the raid marker, knowing that someone already handled that part of the equation.

Right now, my brain still likes to be in “Grok all of Sabetha” mode, and it’s really too much for one person to handle.

I suspect this reason is why different people just randomly up and die every now and then, early on in the phases, causing our raid leader to call for a wipe and reset. Again and again.

(I’m guilty of some of those. Sometimes it’s tunnel vision causing slow reaction. A few times it’s just wonky glitches or rubberbanding.)

Fortunately for my sense of self-esteem, all of the members of my current raid group are prone to human error, and have all taken turns slipping up. This does wonders for my innate insecurity and need to seem/feel competent in group content.

Unfortunately, this does add a certain level of frustration to a Sabetha fight, because one early death (which can be quite prone to happening in a group of ten people) means wiping and restarting over and over. A lot of the mechanics are insta-kill, so there’s no recourse for last minute rescue from one’s teammates, and who slipped up is super-obvious.

(This can be, of course, pretty dangerous a scenario for toxicity in the wrong group.)

In my usual explorer fashion though, I’ve found that a massive weight has slipped off my shoulders the instant I scored that first Sabetha kill.

That’s it. I’ve seen the content. There’s no more novelty taunting me.

I’m essentially done. Everything else is a bonus.

(Still need one more Sab kill where no one dies to get the Eternal title. Maybe some chievos. Continue to join raids to socialize, help others, tickle the achiever by accumulating kills slowly, but the pressure and stress has evaporated.)

GW2: A Really Long Treatise on Gorseval

It’s serendipitous that the topic of the holy trinity has come up in the blogosphere again.

I’ve been pondering over how to blog about GW2 raids without sounding like I’m a jilted grouch (because you’ve read too much of my cognitive dissonance between competing values already) or bragging elitist (by writing completion/accomplishment posts that interest no one – those that have already done it go “what took you so long, noob?” and those that haven’t get grouchier.)

Nor did I want to write raid guides (because there’s already coverage by others far more proficient than me, and who actually feel passionate about this type of content) or sound like I love this content so much that the devs are encouraged to spend more resources on creating more raids at the expense of everything else.

That would be a personal nightmare. I’m actually quite relieved to hear thirdhand from someone with a vested interests in raids (via presumably interactions with raid devs) that the management of Anet is terrified of having raids become the be-all and end-all of the game.

Kindly stay terrified. I suspect the game’s been hemorrhaging players post-expansion, between anecdotal responses via quitting GW2 blog posts and Reddit posts about how many guild members haven’t been logging in lately. WvW fix, then Living Story 3 soon, please.

Hell, revive dungeons, I think you’ve lost a lot of easy fun group content players with that, even if I don’t run in those circles much and don’t really give a damn either way, I’ve observed a number of my friendslist not logging on lately after interest in regular dungeoneering died.

Discussing the raids from a commentary standpoint though, and explaining in greater depth and nuance to a general audience how GW2’s combat system can deviate from a pure tank/heals/dps trinity and be equally or more compelling, I think I can do.

First things first, a disclaimer that I’m just telling things as it is, from my personal perspective and observation of my raid groups (mostly oceanic timezone, with one or two super-casual NA forays.)

Values, priorities and perspectives may differ from raid group to raid group, especially in different timezones or cross cultures, and at different skill levels.

More importantly, my telling it how it is does NOT imply that I personally agree with or like the design or the rules/boundaries/limitations set or any of the implicit behavior that it encourages. When in Rome, you do as the Romans do, especially when you want the Romans to succeed and reap the rewards with as little pain and inconvenience to oneself as possible.

Facts are facts. The boss died when we did this. The boss did not die (and we wiped) when we did that. Therefore we should do more of this, and less of that.

If “this” is not a desirable state of affairs, then developers have to act and adjust “this,” groups bitch a bit and then adapt to the current state of affairs and move on to the next best thing. That’s generally how it goes.

Since this is not a guide post, I’m going to start out of order and discuss my personal favorite mob of the trio.



Mind you, this is post-glider fix. I have never dared to attempt it before that, and I’m positive that consistent unpredictable glider failure (since my entire raid group is on the other side of the world) would have greatly colored my feelings about this fight.

As it happens, my only experience with Gorse is a fight where 9 out of 10 gliders work most of the time, with at most one or two unlucky people catching a spot of bad lag or not being skilful at glider control and thus falling out of the sky.

It turns out that I am the least grumpy when I feel a sense of autonomy about the fight, that it is within my/our skill and power and control to influence success.

A fight where -someone else- keeps dying or screwing up, forcing the whole group to voluntarily wipe because we know we can’t get past the enrage timer without said person, is a fight where I silently get grumpier and grumpier. (Keep this in mind when we get to my Sabetha post later on.)

I don’t blame, I know everyone’s human and makes mistakes. It’s just supremely frustrating emotionally to be doing everything right and then have to reset and restart because an oops happened by someone else. Success relying on ten people acting like machines of consistency doesn’t quite make sense or appeal to me. #justmethings

Anyway, fortunately, without the vagaries of glider inconsistencies, Gorseval is a fight that to me, feels the most like a traditional raid boss.


For starters, he’s pretty big.

You get a small group of little people hacking away at a giant mountain of a monster feeling.

He also has a frontal cleave, so you get the traditional strategy where damage-dealers should be staying to his back or sides, while a tank faces him away and moves him about as needed.

This is where proponents of the holy trinity caper about and go “lol, see, you have tank/dps/heals, you now have a trinity in GW2, lololol.”

No one’s arguing that these functions – holding mob aggro, controling mob positioning, damage, damage mitigation, etc. – don’t exist in a non-holy trinity game. Non-holy trinity games offer considerably more flexibility and variation in roles though.

The GW2 tank is not necessarily a heavy armor wearer spamming taunt skills to gather sufficient threat to offset that generated by healers or dps.

Pretty much every class is capable of tanking, with the right build, and as long as they’re wearing gear that gives them a higher toughness than anyone else in the party. Control of mob aggro (specific to Spirit Vale’s Vale Guardian and Gorseval anyway) is a preset affair, where the whole raid group must play a part, opting to wear gear that has zero toughness, so as not to steal aggro from the agreed-upon tank.

Sneaking in with higher toughness is not possible as the boss will home in unerringly on said player, making it obvious to all that something is not right, and questions regarding the offending player’s toughness will be asked.

Fixing this becomes a joint give-and-take affair, either the player must remove or swap the gear with toughness, or the tank has to pile on more toughness to offset that. This ends up a minor social conundrum, due to possible difficulties in obtaining appropriate statted gear, depending on how casual either player is – different groups may opt to allow the offender to stay (if friends or known quantities) or replace them, some tanks may have more flexibility of gear swaps than others, and so on.

Once all the other players meet the established toughness baseline, the tank then puts on enough toughness gear he or she needs to survive (dependent on player skill, heals received, confidence, trial and error, etc.) and devotes the rest of their attention to surviving, proper mob positioning -and- damage, the more the merrier. Spamming taunt is non-essential (for this raid wing anyway.)

Of course, there can easily be a future set encounter where spamming controls like taunts and pulls are expected mechanics of the fight. The GW2 combat system allows for replication of the holy trinity, as well as breaking away from it, in other words. It’s that powerful. (So stop dissing it. Sheesh.)


The boss is dragged to the side by a sacrificial volunteer, who then leaps off and respawns, so that the group can gather at one side to get ready before beginning.

Gorseval begins as you might expect, the tank approaches to aggro the mob.


Gorseval will do an arm swipe (his frontal cleave attack), and then raise his arm for a stomp/smash attack that knocks back if it hits.


This attack is avoidable using the GW2 mechanic of dodging and evading with an invulnerability frame. No tank can save a poor dps player from this, and heals are not strictly necessary as it does not do an extreme amount of damage.


What it does do, is affect dps, as the player cannot attack for the seconds he or she is knocked down and recovering. Over time, a poorer player’s dps will drop in comparison to someone who can dodge consistently. As Gorseval utilizes some rather strict dps checks / has a tight enrage timer, this can affect group success if too many members’ dps is interrupted.

It can take a while to learn and get accustomed to the pattern, but over time, this attack is fairly predictable. Subconsciously or otherwise, you figure out that he will swipe, then smash at the beginning… then there’s a lull as he goes into his breakbar attack, and just as the tank begins pulling to the first updraft, Gorse will do his swipe, smash again.

But since his attacks can cycle a little non-consistently now and again, mostly, the cue you watch for is the one arm raise, then dodge.

This is in contrast to when he sort of half-raises both his arms, which heralds the start of his ground pounding breakbar attack.

In this attack, Gorseval teleports to the center of the arena and starts pounding around with both his arms. Black damaging goo will start spreading in a pattern.


For the first times he does this, the center stays clear for several heartbeats before it fills up and begins covering the entire arena.  It is desirable to break it as fast as possible, or your raid takes damage from the goo, plus Gorseval heavily reflects damage during this phase (like a buffed retaliation), and it can add up to a wipe if left uncontrolled.

Here we enter the province of (arguably) control: the specifically “unique” breakbar management of GW2.

Depleting this second bar requires repeated hard cc in quick succession. The wiki lists a bunch of examples of such cc.

Revenant staff 5 and warrior headbutt is favored fairly often in my particular raid group for break bars. Gorseval, in particular, is vulnerable to engineer slick shoes, which apparently takes advantage of his larger hitbox to spread a larger oil slick effect, which in turn demolishes his break bar.

I suppose one could file this trick in the questionably grey spectrum between “skill” and “exploit.”

Like it or not, raid groups forever chasing the optimal will do it. Some to eke out the last bit of dps they need because they’re struggling. Some because they’re the natural spade explorer-of-systems types and will break these things by their very nature, or in their optimizing search for better, faster, harder.

Personally, I confess that it bothers me very little.

Across the lifespan of the game, we’ve seen little tricks like fiery greatsword rush into walls, pre-nerf ice bow on large hitboxes, linecasting, purposeful positioning to cleave double hitboxes on dragon “objects” and the triple trouble wurm, “faceblocking” husks at wurm (aka standing at a special spot while using an invulnerability skill, which prevents the creation of husks altogether, ie. a sort of extreme egg-reflecting), pre-using potent potions of elemental slaying so that they continue to last while inside the raid instance, burnzerker stacking of their Scorched Earth fire-field to overlap onto a boss’s hitbox so that burns ticked twice or thrice (RIP), swimming underwater to kill the mossman, standing on conveniently/badly placed tree branches to kill mossman, and the recent hilarity of the creative use of conveniently/badly placed adrenal mushrooms to recreate the GW1 minion master to bleedingly devastating effect… (hell, I want one before it’s fixed…)

Some tricks take a certain amount of skill to perform, some don’t; most involve a lot of out of the box / fourth wall breaking understanding of game mechanics to figure out such a thing is possible, and most produce rather OP results, which is why they’re used.

Generally, my thinking is, if what happens is not intended by the devs, and determined to be undesirable, they should and will get around to patching it out. If it’s deemed fine or too unimportant to fix, it’s left in and people keep using it, whatever it is.

Once fixed, people adapt and move on to the next best thing. On and on the cycle goes.

Anyhow, once Gorseval’s break bar is broken, by whichever means, a coordinated cc spike or one really good engineer player (mind you, not everyone can do it. It takes know how and practice,) he crashes to the ground and the group gets a few valuable seconds of dps in.


It is also possible, in a no breakbar chak gerent fashion, to try a delayed breakbar strategy in order for more dps time. This does requires some strong healing to outheal the goop and retaliation damage though.

Healing in GW2 is currently the area where most groups have opted to stick closest to the holy trinity.

It’s not the combat system per se, there have been groups that have managed the Vale Guardian with tempest (elementalist) healers, a revenant healer in Ventari spec, a ten-man all-guardian kill where presumably at least one of the guardians was on heal coverage duty. Theorycrafting has suggested even thieves and necromancers with the right builds can output decent amounts of heals.

However, for a multitude of reasons, for now druid (ranger) healers seem the most popular.

Popular opinion holds that it’s the class most capable of producing a really high consistent output of directed (aka controllable and predictable) healing.

I also suspect that many ranger players, who probably went for the class because it offered the convenience of sitting back and plinking away at range at first glance, are closet healer players. They -like- the trinity healer playstyle. So given the option of fulfilling such a specialist role, many leapt at the chance. Contrast this to, say, thief classes whose players likely gravitated to the concept to do big damage and lots of it, and a willing specialist thief “healer” is much harder to come by, beyond bored already-on-farm groups open to experimentation.

The trinity healer concept is also easiest to grasp from an outsider standpoint, so the natural tendency for simplification becomes “We need a healer! Ok, who has a druid? Grab one from LFG if not.”

Strictly speaking, the pigeon-holing is not necessitated by the combat system. But players being players, they do gravitate to the option of least resistance and perceived most optimum.

I’m not 100% certain, but it seems that both the Vale Guardian and Gorseval produce auras that damage everybody for around 1000-1400 per pulse now and then. This steady trickle of damage encourages the use of at least one healer to offset it. They also help the tank stay upright, and top off the big damaging hits that players who are bad at dodging are likely to take (especially on squishy classes like elementalists or thieves.)

In a really pro group though, I’m not sure there’s a dedicated healer per se. I haven’t spent that much time analyzing this no updraft kill of Gorseval by the Snow Crows group, I just glanced through it for a couple minutes while constructing this post. From the druid’s POV, he’s dps’ing with a sword most of the time, and most of the members are making do with their self-heals and good positioning and dodging. Some members catch a protection boon now and then, and there seems to be a near constant source of regeneration being pulsed from someone, which I am not sure who exactly.

But you know why they take a druid? The druid also has one big advantage. It has buffs. Desirable boons. Frost spirit. Spotter. Grace of the land.


An example of a buff bar that still leaves a little something to be desired.

(To be frank, I don’t yet know half of the icons on the second bar by heart. I know what warrior banners look like because I play warriors very often but the rest is fuzzy. We had some less experienced players as the mightbots on this particular run and somehow, through build, gear or playstyle, party members weren’t catching 25 stacks of might consistently.)

Here we leave the realm of pure holy trinity, and veer more toward the realm of City of Heroes, where proactive buffs were just as important as, and could even replace pure healers.

Where GW2 is concerned, offensive buffs are a must-have always-maintain affair. This stems from the raid designers balancing the raid based on supergroups that do care about maximizing all this support at all times. Without them, other raid groups tend to struggle to output sufficient dps to overcome the enrage timer.

So, 25 might stacks. Given to the primary dps’ers at a minimum. Fury to up critical chance. Quickness and alacrity to speed up attacks and reduce skill cooldowns. Specific class traits like Empower Allies from warriors and Spotter from rangers.

Defensive buffs like regeneration and protection are nice to haves. Protection, especially, preemptively cuts down the amount of group damage taken, relieving stress on the primary healer.

One thing I’ve noticed in my runs, anecdotally, groups who pay attention to appropriate group composition and distribution of boons end up heaps more successful than groups who do not.

A GW2 raid composition has a tendency to saves about 4-6 slots for buffers, 1 for healing. (Optimal raid compositions are still in experimental flux, but mostly for the purposes of min-maxing to fit in more dps, and hybridizing for even more dps, rather than making room for more pure tanks or healers.)

In my book, that makes buffing as important a function and probably -more- important than pure healing.

Might is the province of PS warriors-berserkers and revenant-heralds. Strictly speaking, these are not the only might generators out there. But again, there is a tendency toward cookie cutter simplicity, due to the ease of might generation with these two builds, and the relative simplicity of operating both of these classes.

Fury can be covered by a revenant, but lately, has been moving towards the province of the druid (since it is coming along anyway as a healer, so it may as well provide more buffs too.)

Quickness/Alacrity has mostly been the province of chronomancers. Since the patch that nerfed them somewhat, there have been hints that guardians may also have a slight inroad along this front, but the meta hasn’t really changed in that direction yet.

Guardians though have a place when protection is desired. Hammer guardian-dragonhunter dps has lately been talked up, and hammer guardians are one of the best at laying down a constant field of protection. Revenants too have the flexibility to output protection in lieu of guardians.

The raid group I’m in tends to utilize two PS warriors, one or two revenants, a druid and a chronomancer at a bare mininum before filling the rest of the slots with a tank, and extra classes as needed by the encounter (eg. condi classes for VG, good ranged dps for Gorseval, etc.)

All this can and is likely to change when the next raid wing launches. If, for example, an encounter regularly flips boons into conditions, the need for high condition cleanse and avoidance of boon production is likely to create demand for a whole different set of builds/classes. Necros might then be in really high demand for taking conditions from their allies and sending it back to the appropriate party, fer instance.


Back to Gorseval. Once the break bar sequence is done, and he gets up and mobile again, the intended mechanic (if your group is not pro deeps) works like this.

The tank leads him over to one of the updrafts in the arena. There are four of them in the NW, NE, SW, SE cardinal directions (visible as the swirly things on the minimap.)

Simultaneously, a number of things have to happen. A wall needs to be broken to allow the raid to escape once Gorseval starts his World Eater attack. Loose spirits have to be killed or else Gorseval will consume them after his World Eater and be correspondingly buffed in power, increasing the damage he outputs.

Oh, and Gorseval still needs to be attacked constantly, or you’ll fail the upcoming dps check.

The overall strategy generally relies on some party members to pull (aka crowd control) souls toward Gorseval and the raid group, clumping them up, so that they can be aoe’d down or melee cleaved down at the same time while maintaining damage on Gorseval.

Melee cleaving should also be taking place on the wall, so that it comes down as well. In a pinch, if, say something goes wrong, folks get delayed by rezzing a downed person or whatever, it’s possible to focus everyone on the wall to get that down first too. On the fly target prioritization balance has to take place.

Condi necros have a decent niche here, as epidemic can spread conditions around to all the souls and be hitting Gorseval too. Their viper horror build which produces many itty bitty minions of bleeding goodness is currently making its rounds, courtesy of Reddit.

Generally, ranged AoE damage dealers are the popular pick. Staff elementalists are the current reigning champion, after burnzerkers fell off their perch of OPness.

Sometime around here, Gorseval does his swipe, then arm smash again, and then he starts his World Eater attack. A speading orange circle of doom indicates the time left until staying in the arena = instant death.


As the updraft only lasts so long a time, a party member cannot panic and jump off first. He or she will drain the time on the updraft, leaving the rest of the raid to fall to their doom. Also, that’s lost dps time.

So the whole raid stays and dps methodically until the circles almost touch… whereupon everyone jumps off, takes flight with glider wings, gets uplifted by the updraft and then glides back down to Gorseval when his World Eater is done.

Pray no glider malfunctions occur.

If they do, that person insta-splats to the ground and the raid leader will often call for a voluntary wipe, because that one missing person is often crucial lost dps.

Ideally, the tank lands first, to one side of Gorseval, and everyone else lands on the other side. In practice, well, our group isn’t pro pro, so it’s more of a random cluster.

Around this time again, Gorse will do his swipe and arm smash yet again. One raid group I joined suggested it was best to stay aloft until he finishes this smash then land. Another raid group I joined was fine with just landing and starting the attack asap and dodging as appropriate. Each group’s mileage will differ. It’s mostly a tension between as much dps as possible and safety in not having people downed (dps loss when someone else – probably many someones – stop attacking to rez) or permanently dead (may as well wipe now.)

Then he segues back into his break bar ground-pounding sequence. Repeat previous solution.

Now comes the dps check. ~33% of his health bar must have fallen off throughout the entire sequence above, before he completes his next World Eater attack.

Basically, there are only so many updrafts to use, so you cannot use an updraft at this stage. He must be brought down to ~66% of his health bar and forcibly shoved into his next Charged Souls phase.

If sufficient damage is dealt, the message “Gorseval Beckons For Souls” appears, he goes invulnerable, and four Charged Souls appear at each NW, NE, SW and SE direction. These souls proceed to walk with a one-track mind, ignoring anything aggro or tank-related, towards Gorseval.

If one of them reaches Gorseval, he eats it, then does a World Eater attack that wipes the raid. The end.


So. The other missing member from a tank-dps-heals trinity comes right back into play. Control. Specifically SOFT control. These guys ignore the hard cc that everyone is now used to throwing onto a break bar. They do not get knocked back, launched, pushed, pulled, stunned, dazed, the works.

You need cripples, chills, and most of all, immobilizes.

No neat tank, dps, healer lines here. It’s what your class and build has and can bring to the table. Depending on the raid group, strategies can range from splitting up the raid group equally to both slow and burn them down before they reach Gorseval, or assigning three individuals who know what they’re doing and have the required control to immobilize and slow the souls long enough while the rest of the raid zergs down one soul and then proceeds to deal with the rest in systematic fashion.

This is a point which can trip up newbies to the raid fairly often. As mentioned in a prior post, the first time I did Gorseval, I had some spectacular screwups of the “what am I supposed to do again?!” variety. Just today, I watched new members repeat the lil incident I had, in even more spectacular fail fashion (couldn’t even find the soul in the correct cardinal direction, then of course, spectacularly fail to slow it down, let alone hold it sufficiently.)

Importance of control? Very.

Once the four Charged Souls are dead, Gorseval becomes vulnerable again and the entire sequence repeats.

Arm swipe, arm smash, break bar. Drag to wall, arm swipe, arm smash, break wall, clear spirits. World Eater, jump and glide. Land, arm swipe, arm smash, break bar. DPS to the next magic health number.

Oh, but now you get the added complication of orbs of darkity-dark. (Okay, “Orbs of Spectral Darkness.”)


These things pop up randomly all over like bad mushrooms and spread a growing aura of debuffing badness. If you wander into them, you catch stacks of this debuff. The more stacks on you, the more damage you take, the less damage you do. It’s all hits on overall dps.

To get rid of the debuff, an orb has to be killed, and then you walk over the yellow glowy mini-orb it leaves behind.

Usually, the ranged attacking elementalist(s) are given the additional role of cleaning up the area in the vicinity of the raid of said orbs. I dunno what you’d call this – there’s damage involved, and it’s also both a form of support and crowd control? It’s not tanking or healing, anyway.

So we rinse and repeat (with orbs) until that magic number we were talking about, which happens to be ~33% of the health bar.

Enter Charged Souls phase 2 (now with orbs.)

Once that’s done, the whole sequence repeats one more time (with orbs) and now, with an additional Ghostly Traps/Egg attack.

Gorseval arm swipes, arm smashes, and then he spits ghostly traps at every player. Orange circles appear under each player’s feet. Moving out of it / dodging out is critical.

Here we’re back to utilizing GW2’s unique movement/dodge mechanic again. No tank can save you. No healer can save you. Each player has to learn how to avoid it.

Fail to do so, and you’re entrapped in a ghostly egg which pulses damage on you. Similar to certain spider-egg attacks in open world GW2, others have to break you out by dealing damage to the egg (dps loss on Gorseval, remember!) and/or you should be spamming the new special action key in order to break free.

But really, try not to get caught in the first place…

(Our group isn’t 100% pro, as mentioned, so every so often, there are 1-4 eggs popping up while our raid leader grouses that everyone should really know better. Damned human frailty.)

Now if your raid’s composition and dps is really good, Gorseval should be dead by the end of this third sequence/updraft.

Maybe our group sucks, or because it’s mostly Oceanic and on the other side of the world, if Gorseval ain’t dead yet, there is a tiny amount of leeway to use the fourth updraft to buy a little more dps time.

It depends. Let us not forget that there is a hard enrage timer on Gorseval as well and it’s been ticking down too. Depending on the total amount of time left, the raid leader might decide to use the fourth updraft or just say, fuck it, dps the crap out of it and hope it dies (because there’s not enough time left to do the whole gliding shebang) or whatever.

Personal success rates have been iffy, but possible. As mentioned, when burnzerkers were a thing, there was apparently a great deal of cheesing the hell out of Gorseval. I only got in rather late on that, but did at least do one successful kill with some 3+ burnzerkers of mass destruction.

Post burnzerker readjustment, I did score at least one other successful kill PS warrior-ing (I fail to recall if it’s one or two kills, there was one extremely memorable clutch kill of Gorseval with one quarter of the raid dead and the remaining were downed as he went into enrage, and that has wiped out any memory of a “normal” kill.)

Why do I like Gorseval the most? (Insofar as I could be said to “like” a raid.)

Well, first of all, even though the phases sound really convoluted and elaborate on first reading, and I thought it would be really hard to absorb or learn in practice, Gorseval’s phases are very predictable and build on each other in an understandable, ramping up slightly pattern.

He’s big, thus his animations are easier to read, the encounter has more of that epic ‘raid’ feeling.

Group wipes are generally at predictable points and phases, so it feels easier to learn, you get a longer time to see full cycles of the same repeating pattern and absorb it, rather than randomly wipe and die because someone just screwed up right then. If you wipe at Gorseval, it’s usually a group failure to pass whatever checkpoint or milestone that was (or glider malfunction, but we won’t talk about that.)

If you manage phase 1, you can usually keep going past phase 1 until the group manages phase 2, and the same for phase 3. There’s very little backward progress because an individual just randomly screwed up in phase 1. The phases ramp up gradually, allowing for gradual learning, and never hit a point of insanity.

The dps check comes early – if your group can get past to the Charged Souls, the group theoretically has enough damage to kill him in time, as long as people don’t make too many mistakes. Success feels possible.

Second of all, the whole thing takes place pretty quickly in real time. He has a 7 minute timer. Full stop. (Do I personally think it’s a little too tight? Yeah. But it shows how compressed in time the phases are.)

It adds up to a very quick and actiony sequence that flows seamlessly from one into another, while not being super-complicated to the point of brain overload. Folks who like more strategically-paced combat might shudder at this, but I do personally like the quicker pace of action combat.

Lastly, I think the Gorseval fight showcases pretty much most of the aspects of the GW2 combat system. Yes, aggro exists. Yes, there is a tank, insofar as someone wearing a +4 infusion of toughness (not my group, a pro group) could be said to be tanking. The mob positioning is there. Sturdiness, not so much. Taunting and threat fighting over doing damage? Nope.

Yes, there can be a healer, again insofar as a druid in berserker gear and not doing that much healing per se (not my group again) could be said to be healing. Or if the group needs it to stay upright enough to deal sufficient group dps, there can be a greater focus towards healing power and a more specialist role.

Hell yes, you’re still going to have to read animations and dodge.

You’re still going to need buffs out the wazoo.

Oh, and you’d better understand all aspects of control, or you’ll be sorry.

And yeah, you need to do damage, but you’re probably already really really good at that, right?

Gee, I almost forgot, you need to be able to glide and have those masteries and what not. (By now, most HoT owners have them though.)

There’s a group split, there’s a group reforming, hell, there’s even zerging (that’s GW2 players for you. Circle strat for the win.)

It’s quite the showcase, really.

Is it maybe a bit too tightly tuned and unforgiving of groups who don’t max out every buff in existence, don’t have picture-perfect skill rotations and the ping to execute them and overly focused on maximizing dps, to the extent that it encourages dps meter-ing? Maaaybe.

But he is pretty fun to fight, -if- your raid composition was good to begin with, and man, a mini of him would look great underfoot.

Why Are We Even Arguing About The Holy Trinity?

I really didn’t want to jump on this bandwagon again, but I mostly felt the need to defend the often maligned GW2 combat system, often perceived as “zerg all the things, press 1” or “everyone is dps, stack and cleave.” This argument is often used by holy trinity proponents as an example of non-holy trinity failure and mostly demonstrates their lack of understanding of said system.

Folks, the above is a result of keeping difficulty levels easy and simple, because casuals don’t like it to be more complex than that, and pissing off the casual playerbase is a good way to have loads of unhappy customers.

Hell, -I- personally like to have many parts of my game simple, relaxing, easy fun where I can turn off my brain after a hard day’s work and go farm stuff by myself, or get rewards for hitting a loot pinata with a bunch of other people. Champion trains, Edge of the Mists player vs door trains, Silverwaste chest farms are popular for that very reason!

The GW2 combat system has always been foundationally capable of a lot more, and if people haven’t figured that out by now, they’re voluntarily playing at easier difficulty levels, or they just haven’t bothered to learn.

This will be a multi-part post. The first is a more general rant against the holy trinity (and I can get very acerbic in places, so don’t say I didn’t warn you if you do happen to be pro-holy trinity) and I’ll get to more specific GW2 “how raids work sans holy trinity” posts over the next few days/weekend.

Now on to the fun rant:

Seriously, why are we even talking about this any longer, in this day and age?

The holy trinity is dead. It never really existed to begin with, beyond a brief blip of fame with the super-simplified World of Warcraft.

Everquest players will tell you that crowd control was a vaunted and valuable function and role where certain classes were desired and sought after.

An old MUD player like myself will point out that many different MUDs experimented with a variety of combat roles/systems beyond the pure tank/dps/heals trinity. 

Some used standing in the frontline position as a way to ‘tank’ or dictate who got hit preferentially. The MUD I played mainly used who entered the room first and engaged with fighting the mob as the set tank, with one class able to ‘rescue’ in order to swap tanking positions.

Heals might be self-heals, besides being cast by another player. The MUD I played used a sort of Diablo-esque precursor system. Heal spells were pre-brewed into potions by the cleric class. The cleric couldn’t cast heal spells as fast as you could quaff said potions. So the cleric stayed at home and crafted, and you brought a more damage-focused character to kill things, armed with some 200-500 heal potions, depending on how much you could carry.

ARPGs today still use a variation of that, you can always self-heal with potions, even if they make room for specialist classes to also heal you up, while playing in a group.

See, there have always been a couple of functions that exist in most typical combat systems.

Damage, of course, is one. You can’t “kill” things without doing damage. 

Variations include melee or ranged damage (aka coupling damage with positioning); or instant direct damage vs damage over time (DoTs, aka coupling damage over time. GW1 added the concept of degeneration, basically a really -fast- damage over time status effect or condition or debuff); or how many things you hit at one time (single target or area of effect, often with many fun shapes beyond circles now, courtesy of Wildstar and GW2.)

Survivability or damage mitigation is another. Basically how high your health pool is, how much armor you have, if you can dodge or evade or otherwise negate hits in some fashion, etc. 

City of Heroes broke this down nicely for us into two major types – resistance, where you took only a percentage of damage dealt each time, or defence, where you had a percentage chance to completely not get hit at all. The first led to more predictably sturdy characters whose health bar whittled down slowly, the latter to characters that felt invulnerable, until they failed a roll invisibly and then got an almighty punch to the face that slapped down a large portion of health, surprising everybody.

Controling of mob aggro is yet another function, ie. who the mob chooses to hit. Your typical MMO does this with a threat generation system which takes into account damage dealt, healing output, and then tends to ruin it all by giving certain classes skills that merely add huge globs of threat to this invisible counter (well, invisible until someone runs an add-on.)

It’s a convention that doesn’t necessarily have to be this way though. The Guild Wars series is the best example of spinning this concept on its head. 

The first game used a PvP-like priority system, the mobs liked to pick on casters and healers and light armor wearers and lowest health players. Makes more sense than picking on the heavily armored tank calling its mother names, no?

In PvE, there was the added concept of proximity aggro, as marked by the danger zone circle on one’s minimap. I’ll frankly confess that prior to playing City of Heroes and absorbing more of these aggro concepts subconsciously, I’d get into serious serious trouble playing Guild Wars 1, unable to conceive of backing away and pulling mobs, and thus causing my aggro circle to overlap multiple groups of patroling mobs, which led to chaos and carnage among my party. 

Post-CoH, when I went back to playing GW1, everything felt surprisingly easier, because I was methodically pulling and clearing single groups at a time without even realising I was doing so.

GW2’s aggro system has always existed, but has been frankly, invisible to many many players and not general knowledge until raids came about and made it a necessity. From the start, the wiki spelled it out. Toughness, proximity, damage dealt are the biggest factors, and each mob is capable of varying behaviors based on these factors, even at different phases of their hp. 

Many mobs respect highest toughness as the primary factor, unless they’ve been set to prioritize lowest toughness instead (very rarely occurs, eg. might be what’s happening during Lupicus phase 2 when he chooses a shadowstep target.)

When toughness is equal, aka everyone is in berserker gear or 0 toughness gear, with no other traits that give toughness, they default to proximity and damage dealt. We blend the two because it’s hard to tell what takes precedence, melee damage tends to do a considerable amount of damage, backing off to drop aggro lowers both proximity and damage dealt over time, so yeah…

…except when the mob is again set to consider something different as a target, such as Mai Trin’s favorite attack that often fucks up the most scaredy cat ranged attacker of the group (aka the furthest away from her.)

Then there’s player positioning and mob positioning. Typically, the first is the onus of every player to be where they’re supposed to, in or out of harm’s way, able to hurt or aid as appropriate. The second is often the purview of the tank and off-tanks, to move mobs where they need to be.

Again, it doesn’t have to be so. Most crowd control roles would do well to understand appropriate mob positioning, be it through pulls, knockbacks, roots/immobilizes, or just via body-blocking (in games that support that) or line of sight pulls or kiting. GW2 ups the ante by asking that most/all players learn this in harder group content.

Plenty of games these days have brought control back to the forefront as a fourth comer to shatter the trinity. City of Heroes, Wildstar, GW2 have all experimented with variations on this count.

CoH used controllers as a tank substitute, negating the alpha strike from a pack of mobs and holding them in place to be beat on. No more waiting for that one special self-important egomaniac “tank” before the group can proceed to play.

Wildstar used the Interupt Armor concept as a mitigating defence against CoH’s binary controls. (When on, they were all powerful. When off, they did absolutely nothing, much to frustration of the classes that relied on it and had to fight mobs made invulnerable to controls. Control magnitude and purple triangles on mobs turning up or down to indicate periods of vulnerability were a half-baked way to address this, but never to much satisfaction, it was too random most of the time, the very antithesis of control.)

So Wildstar brought in Interrupt Armor stacks. Each control strips off one status effect buff that protected the mob from CC. The next CC takes effect. Now there was group contribution and the possibility of group coordinating a CC spike. I don’t play Wildstar, so I have no idea which part of the trinity took on the CC role as well, but if we’re lucky, maybe -all- of them.

GW2 decided that even this was too binary and random. Given the fast pace of the game, it would be quite frustrating to strip off stacks and then have a short control take effect over a long one, just because that short one happened to land when all the invulnerability was off.

So they went for a controlled pre-set effect to take place, when a “break bar” was sufficiently depleted by coordinated CC. Different controls could also be given more weight using this system, rather than all controls being equivalent with a more binary on/off system.

Bhagpuss argues that this then becomes just another health bar to take down.

In a way, yes, there is a resemblance, but I don’t think that resemblance is unhealthy. It’ an easier concept for most people to grasp, the idea of a second health bar that can only be damaged by a different set of skills. There is added complexity in having to balance both – take more skills to do damage to real health, or take more skills to damage the other bar, in order to prevent a wipe or to help add more overall combined group damage when said mob is controlled successfully.

There is one major difference though, that has this second “health bar” echo something out of GW1. It can and often regenerates very quickly. As quickly as GW1 health bars do, under the effect of heals and regeneration. The coordinated spike of burst damage is again brought into play, a very PvPish concept, as opposed to the more PvE-like whittling down of a very large health reservoir.

Interrupts, as a concept, are really about the optimal timing of controls, often within a short interval, while the other party is in the middle of a skill cast.

Enough about control variations, what about support?

There’s reactive support, heals being the prime example. Something happens, the player does something else in response to mitigate this.

Healing, like damage, also sports all of its variations. Funny AoE shapes, instant or DoTs, affects others, affects self, the works. (Self-healing, though, should be pointed out as a critical decision point that affects how reliant on others an individual player has to be. More on that later.)

There’s proactive support, the player does something before the bad stuff happens. (Or at least while it’s happening, which would overlap in the proactive to reactive spectrum.) This is the realm of offensive (damage boosting) and defensive buffs (shielding/protection), of damage reflecting / retaliation, and so on.

Support can be always-on, or short-lived. The first are usually of the fire and forget buff variety, mostly pre-cast and made long as a convenience so that the poor buffers don’t get RSI. The second is more challenging, and either requires good skill rotation to maintain permanence if possible, or appropriate timing for best effect (such as the guardian aegis in GW2, which can completely block and negate one big hit for the group.)

The last trick is that of summoning or pets or minions. The player gets to create mobs from nothing, that can then take on some or all of the above functions, from damage, sturdiness, taking mob aggro, controls, support or heals.

Truth is, across the huge spectrum of games these days, from MOBAs and FPSes, ARPGs to yes, MMOs, you’ll see this variation of functions and combat concepts, which range from 4-7 in number, very rarely the pure holy trinity.

The uniqueness comes when the different games start assigning different classes roles and functions that pick and choose from these 4-6 general concepts.

One class could have the sturdiness of a typical tank, but lack means of aggro control, and be more focused on damage, a superhero style bruiser/brute archetype.

MOBAs, especially, have gone down one extreme, where each special character played has its own unique schtick to keep in mind, along with a vague general role function. This makes game mastery an exercise in specific game knowledge, after one memorizes/learns 48, 72, 112, 123, characters…

(I presume that Marvel Heroes follows a similar-ish route, though probably with less depth than most MOBAs.)

Pro-holy trinity-ians have long lost this battle.

No, really, we should leave this poor dead horse where it is, and take up arms around the real crux of the matter.

It’s not about tank/heals/dps, it’s about how group-reliant they want other players to be. 

Dare I say it, it’s about how dependent on others they want for everyone in their game to be, about how self-important they can feel having a special unique snowflake of a role that is irreplaceable (at least until another identical class shows up. /duh.)

Sorry, folks, I can’t keep the scorn out of my writing for such a mindset.

It’s an argument in similar vein to, “I want other people to play with me, so please force them to, by offering them no choice whatsoever,” regardless of how introverted or disinterested the other person is with regards to playing in a group, or how their schedules look like.

It also makes no sense whatsoever.

As mentioned, even in a game with utterly pure unique roles, that healer is still replaceable by another healer, that tank for another tank.

There is no harm in allowing two (or more) classes to cover the same roles, to overlap in role function. If we don’t have X class, ok, someone can bring Y class (that they do have) and that part of the fight can be covered. 

Added flexibility reduces stand around and wait to play time.

There can still be group interdependence and synergy in a holy-trinityless game. 

City of Heroes generally needed an alpha strike taker in their groups (tank, controller types, plus the villainous brutes, dominators, masterminds, or even buffer/debuffers with enough cojones to self-survive through it), plus enough buff/debuffs made everyone a god of war. Plenty of room for damage-dealers, mob-positioners, supporters, the works. 

The whole was generally larger than the sum of its parts (at least, until Incarnate powers and loot came along.)

There’s even room for special roles for that special snowflake feeling. They just take on more game-specific, build-specific names. GW1 had the imbagon, aka the imbalanced crazy buffer paragon that armored everyone into invincibility, among plenty of other ‘required’ components of a specialized group.

GW2 will always require might-stackers, most often covered by the PS warrior, but now with added flexibility by having a revenant in Herald elite spec also able to perform a similar function. The chronomancer is a must-have in many raid parties for quickness and alacrity generation (guardian quickness is not yet part of the meta but there seem to be some suggestions that the wind might be blowing a little in that direction…)

There’s plenty of encounter-specific roles as well, and a shit load of group interdependence in raids that I can only address in another post.

The only real defence for the holy trinity, that I -might- acquiesce to, is this: Simplicity.

The “it’s too hard for me to understand anything more complex” “casuals want to just drop in and have mindless fun, and feel comforted and familiar with a system they’ve already learned” argument. 

Maybe even the “I want to get carried as a no-responsibility dps because I’m not good at / have no time to learn anything more about this game” argument.

Because, as I said earlier, I have nothing against mindless fun. I like it a lot. I like being lazy and relaxing most of the time, taking the easiest route and the path of least resistance. 

I also don’t like turning away those that aren’t good at the game. If there’s a way for stronger players to support or carry weaker players to success, then all the merrier. That’s a true social game, helping others, being helped in return, because we’re all good at some things and not good at all at other things. (But let’s face it, neither mindless fun, an easy to grasp system or being able to cover for others -requires- the holy trinity.)

Catering to the lowest common denominator is the road to popularity and $$$, contrary to what most of the self-proclaimed “hardcore” will say. An easy to grasp, approachable game that doesn’t frustrate or turn away the bulk of its players at first contact will have a larger population to support it. It so happens that WoW has trained this said bulk of players to be familiar with only one combat system playstyle, so well, if you’re copycatting,  or cloning WoW, holy trinity is probably your best bet.

The instant a defender of the holy trinity brings up the complexity of tanking or healing or getting skill rotations just right as a dps though, I start to scoff. “Then why not broaden your horizons further and learn more of the other specialist functions and of other games that let you play a hybrid class that can be equally good at two things at once? Isn’t that more hardcore, special snowflake heroic, complex and laudable? Why content yourself with doing one thing well, when you can do two, three, four things well?”

Bottom line, it goes back to “I don’t like or want to learn or play any other roles or combinations thereof. I just like this one and am not flexible or adaptable.”

So let’s just say it how it is. Holy trinity defenders are sticks-in-the-mud that want to feel special and want to force other people to roll around in the mud with them.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. A preference is a preference.

It’s just not going to be a game that suits -me.-

And you won’t catch me playing a game designed in such a way for long.