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One of the first things most of us learned about Guild Wars 2 is that its combat was going to remove the “holy trinity” (meaning damage dealers, healers and tanks being required to do things like run instances). As time has gone on we have gotten a better understanding of what this means in relation to the game. So for those who have not actually gotten in to it yet and want to learn what it truly means, this is for you!

Holy Trinity

Most games require a holy trinity when dealing with tough group based combat. You use a tank or two to hold aggression of enemies (depending on how many enemies there are, group sizes, etc. in each game), a number of healers to keep the tank or tanks alive, and a lot of damage dealers to drop enemies quickly. The concept behind this is pretty simple:

  • Tanks have high defense and therefore survivability, but are weak enough that it would take a considerable amount of time to take down enemies
  • Healers have weak defense and can usually hold their own if they are constantly healing themselves, but this leaves no time for attacking
  • Damage dealers have high attack power but low defense and no real healing power, so they will die if they take on enemies alone

This effectively creates a nice balance where each type of character is needed in tough battles. It also makes a requirement that each person be able to play effectively. If a tank, for example, is having problems, they could end up wiping their group. The same often goes for healers as well. Damage dealers are usually immune to this, just because the tanks and healers can hold their own. They will have problems killing things, but for the most part (depending on how the game works) they can resurrect any damage dealers that happened to die.

I am one of the many players who loves the concept behind the tank, healer and damage dealer system. It lets everyone know ahead of time exactly what their job is, and because of this you do not have to keep learning new roles. Rift came in and changed that a little by allowing each class to play almost every role, but the concept remained the same behind the various builds.

Guild Wars 2 advertised their desire to remove this system altogether, so everyone could play the way they want instead of feeling like they are being forced to change their play style to fit what a group wants them to do. It was definitely an ambitious task, but it also raised quite a few concerns. In my case, for example, I questioned the viability of doing this. To me, great content that is based on groups needs to be difficult. I love the challenges and having to learn and plan to get past content. I have no problems with working on the same enemy, dungeon, etc. for weeks until it is finally downed. Being used to the normal way of classes and their roles, this is where my fear came in. If the content does not require healers or tanks, how difficult could it possibly be? There is no way to create tough content without giving some method of pre determined roles out, otherwise you could have everyone running around as pure damage dealers. And in this case having a boss that does a lot of AoE's would create nothing but problems. More or less you can not possibly balance the content around groups if each group is completely different from one another, right?

And then Guild Wars 2 was released and let us see how Arena Net envisions the system working.

Roles in Guild Wars 2

In Guild Wars 2, each class has a lot of different skills. Some of these can be used to set up builds where you can heal allies, and some are set up more as tanks. All of them are able to deal out damage, though, so in a sense the roles can all really be considered as hybrids.

Often people will ask whether or not you are a “bunker.” This just means built for tanking. Guardians are excellent for this, as are Engineers. Other classes can use bunker builds as well, although they are less common because they require a lot of skill to do so.

When it comes to healers, it turns in to a group effort. There is no true healer in the game, despite the sometimes tough enemies. Instead, you rely on each person having at least one type of heal they can toss out on the group, and with everyone having one it can amount to a lot of healing power. Along with this, you often have to deal with downed players, resurrecting them as soon as possible when they die. Especially on some boss fights, this is needed and you will spend more time resurrecting allies than you do actually fighting the bosses. This is really the extent to which healing goes, though. While some bosses and other fights would be better off with a dedicated healer, it is something that does not exist due to the removal of the holy trinity.

When running dungeons, having a tank is pretty much a necessity. The mobs within dungeons will kill other players extremely quick, so you need either a Guardian or a Warrior in the group (preferably a Guardian) to deal with taking the bulk of the damage. For this purpose, while Engineers do have a bunker build, they are inefficient.

Remember the talk about how there is no healer/damage dealer/tank requirement? In dungeons that is simply not true. All of these are needed (though as stated you do not need a dedicated healer, as there is no such thing). This is to be expected, though, as the dungeons are pretty tough. If the roles were truly removed, the balancing of dungeons would make them so ridiculously easy that there would be no challenge at all, and no sense of accomplishment in completing them (though some players that run the dungeons all the time will likely say that they are pretty easy, but that is more due to experience than anything).

This does really set up some hard limits on what all can be done in relation to how the dungeons work, as the balance needs to be set up in such a way that everyone is able to take part and still be effective. Rather than putting certain groups of players through a new dungeon and being able to tell whether it needs to be tweaked or not, they have to run through many different iterations with many different setups. If this were not done, the balance would always end up swayed towards one end of the spectrum or another (either too easy or too difficult).

What Does the Future Hold?

My hope is that over the course of attempts to get more class balance in the game, some thought is put in to allowing us to make pure healer builds as well. While I do not think it should really factor in to whether or not you can do dungeons without a dedicated healer, the option would be very nice. You would be trading in some damage for healing, which would make the battles a little longer, but the survivability could be well worth it.

Should my wishes be granted, though, I hope Arena Net remains with the mindset that dedicated healers should never be needed. Giving us more choices in how we play the game makes it all the more enjoyable, and this would just be one more step in the right direction. As they have shown in their past updates and changes to the game, they care greatly about what the players want, so this should not become an issue in the future, but you never know!

Side Notes

I am in no way against what is often considered as the gold standard of MMORPG's. I completely understand where the holy trinity comes from, as well as why it is generally used. It gives each player a real spot in a team, and creates situations where everyone must either play effectively or the entire team is dragged down. This is not coming from someone who only plays damage dealers, either. Often times I will either tank or heal, depending on what groups need at the time. But what I like about this is that as a healer I have a set job to do and I can keep working at becoming better at that specific job. The same goes for tanking as well. In games like Guild Wars 2 that skill level is completely removed, as you never know from one battle to the next what your job is going to be. If you are used to playing solo, for example, getting in to the groove of running with a group can be very intimidating, and so players will often choose not to do it. Sometimes it is the fear of feeling like you have failed your group, and others it is because there are elitists that will make you feel horrible about every single mistake you make. In either case, this is a very big problem.

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