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.