The Mindset of Roles

The "new trinity", by Mesmer.PL

A Trinity Affair

For many of us with an MMO background, a role is an all-important thing.  It determines your entire focus in the game, whether you are there to tank, damage or heal.  We took pride in knowing that we’ve perfected the play of our role and that we were good at one thing.  That was what the first industrial revolution was about, or what the assembly line was about; people doing one thing well.  Guild Wars 2 though, tells us something very different.  You don’t need to be good at only one thing or specialize in one thing, in fact; you most likely should not specialize in one thing.  What happens now is our own revolution.  Roles have been changed and in ways so should our way of thinking about them.

Traditionally, we have someone to take the damage, someone to deal damage, and someone to heal damage.  Condense these concepts together and you have the very simple idea of controlling the flow of damage.  It is a two-way dynamic between your team and those that you are trying to defeat; minimize the damage coming in and maximize the damage going out.  This is the core of the holy trinity and what haunts players to this day.  This is also what made groups necessary, an individual needed others to be there to mitigate damage and to deal damage.  It would be unfair to say that Guild Wars 2 gets rid of the holy trinity, because it exists in the individual.  A player is responsible to be their own tank, damage dealer, and healer, no more and no less.  In a sense this creates a very independent environment for an online game.

The Flexible Solution

ArenaNet though, found a way to make something like this still work in an MMO.  Just because all the responsibility of holy trinity roles falls to the individual it doesn’t mean they are in the best place to control the flow of damage.  What links people together in Guild Wars 2 is something much in tune with that fundamental concept of damage flows, or as it is described, the Damage, Control, and Support combat roles.  This doesn’t mean though we have gone from one trinity to another trinity.  Though they are labeled as roles, you really shouldn’t think of them as such.  These roles are much more flexible than what most people approach them thinking.

Let’s delve a little deeper in the old role mindset.  A role describes the expected behavior patterns associated with it.  In the holy trinity you are assigned one role and only one role to play, some limited by the works of a class alone.  Later on we found things a little more flexible.  You can save a build to use for damage, then if the chance or your group allows, you can switch to it and actually bash some skulls.  Guild Wars 2 though treats this in a more fluid case.  As you are doing damage you can also be supporting or controlling or even all three at once.  Think of it like a dynamic pie chart split into three parts, as you progress in battle, the percentages of each section change with each action.  One moment you will be at doing things with an 88% damage function, 10% support function, and 2% as a control function.  A few seconds later you find yourself doing things that have a 55% damage oriented, 45% support oriented, and 0% control.

(These shifts works for Guild Wars 2 because of how elegantly the boons and conditions system is implemented.  This will be analyzed in future Boons & Conditions articles as well as content.)

Support can be used to augment damage or mitigate damage, control is used for damage mitigation or when opponents are vulnerable maximize damage, and damage is just damage.  Every profession and every character has access to these functions.  You are not in a team to spam as many boons as possible and say “Oh, I’m playing support.”  You are in a team to make sure you can complement your teammates, augment their damage with support, mitigate damage with control, and let them do the same to you.  You are your own team but you need an army of teams to handle Guild Wars 2 content.

What This all Comes Down To

In a traditional game when fighting something as big as the Shatterer, a massive dynamic event boss, there would have been a need for large amounts of players, each in subgroups of the holy trinity.  In Guild Wars 2 you also need a lot of people but because they are their own sub-trinity, the teamwork focus shifts.  You want every player to do more damage and you want every player to take less.  No one is left behind in the content when it comes to plummeting hammers, shooting lighting, inflicting disease, or causing disarray to the big ugly.  Here’s the kicker, to do that everyone will have to be able to play all three roles: damage, support, and control.

In reality, that’s an indication of how hard Guild Wars 2 content can be.  If everyone is their own trinity, think of how it would look in a traditional game.  Theoretically speaking a five-man dungeon is really a fifteen-man dungeon because of all the factors that are in play.  It can sound very simple to play smart, play dynamic, and play thinking of other people, though it can still be hard to get out of that old mindset of doing one specific thing at once.  It certainly sounds more efficient or could be logical to be so specialized, but does it create fun?  Well, is an assembly line fun?  That’s for you to decide, but for Guild Wars 2 think of the all the possibilities.  Sure you won’t be able to brag that you are the best “tank” in all the land.  You can claim, however, that your efforts and spectacular skill in being able to shift and adapt to group needs, saved the lives of many and played a central role in felling a dragon.  The heroes of old didn’t “tank” nor “heal” nor “dps.”  King Arthur didn’t tell Sir Lancelot to tank the invading Vikings; they worked together, supporting each other with sword and shield in hand.

Past games gave us a lot of interesting things to try, in ways, like eating pies.  You can either pick a strawberry pie or a blueberry pie.  Later ones let us have a taste of each at a different time.  But, in Guild Wars 2, you are getting both flavors at once.  They might even change flavors right in your mouth.  See what flavors you get, it might just chance your mind.


  • http://twitter.com/TikGillis Tik

    I think that in any game that the “holy trinity” exists it’s almost impossible to give a sense of a real large scale battle. 
    In order to get away from having just a tank and a group of healers while everyone else eats away at the boss, you would need to give it all kinds of gimmicky mechanics. I think that would really take away from the epic feel.

    I’m looking forward to the B&C article on B&C… <.<

  • Mardok

    I think too much emphasis is put on control/support/damage.  Anet only defined those terms quell the uproar when they announced they were abolishing the holy mmo trinity.  Now unfortunately everything is judged through the lenses of this new trinity.

    • Minty Mint

      Exactly, it’s hard to get out of the mindset of having a specific role during a continuous time-frame in combat.  I tend to cringe a bit when ever someone posts a “healing” build.  It’s so harsh seeing something that isn’t as flexible as it needs to be in a game where dynamic flexibility is key. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Christopher-Kerry/100002910300155 Christopher Kerry

    I like pie. I am even excited to share that pie with others. Embrace change specally when it involves pie. 

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