A Guide to Boons and Conditions Part 1: Complexity and Simplicity without the Mess
Boons and conditions make up a large part of Guild Wars 2 combat. One of the best things about having a system based exclusively on a set number of conditions and boons is that it really simplifies a game without removing complexity. For this article we are going to take a look at how boons and conditions fulfill their intended purposes and much much more.
When looking at boons and conditions, it is really not much of a stretch to think buff and debuffs. That’s basically what they are if we subtract the idea of control effects such as pushes things like dazes. What makes these buffs and debuffs different in implementation from other games is that every profession has access to a majority of them. This not only creates a fair environment but also allows for a bit of simplicity in designing skills. It effectively lowers skill caps on playing the game but still supports the complexity for higher level play.
Looking back, veteran MMO fans are familiar with all the unique buffs/debuffs/effects a class could have in a game. A melee DPS class has one version of something that increases damage and a caster DPS has another version. These skills have different names and to various degrees different tooltip text on what they actually do. Guild Wars 2 simplifies this this down to a very versatile core. Dealing more damage, just throw in a Might buff. You don’t need to read through a paragraph of text to know you’ll be doing more damage. You know that Might will increase your damage because it increases your power. To a certain degree the same can be said about conditions. This effectively lowers the amount of knowledge you need to know to play a character.
Don’t be fooled though, you will still need to know what every boon and every condition does and when to use them. However, this simplification makes it easier to learn what a character does. You don’t have to deal with knowing that “Chains Unbound” & “Lifeless Savagery” will composite a 12% damage increase with a 15% movement boost at the cost of 5% armor reduction. What you get in this case is perhaps 2 stacks of Might, 5 seconds of Swiftness, and 3 seconds of Vulnerability. In addition, it also lowers starting knowledge cap Player vs Player. More serious players will still memorize every skill animation, but for someone just starting out, knowing what a boon or condition does go a long way. Identifying what makes an opponent so powerful or hard to kill comes with many advantages, especially if you don’t have to read an entire wiki page dedicated to the profession/character type just to know what their skills are capable of individually.
Just to drill it in a little bit more, let’s take a look at Magic: The Gathering. Flooded with keywords and abilities, Magic can sometimes seem very complex to the new player. From effects like Trample to Shadow to Lifelink to Morbid, if you are playing in some extended format it’s hard to keep track of every single keyword. The same thing applies to a lot of old MMOs. Each class has access to numerous abilities with many effects with unique descriptions but basically do the same thing. Guild Wars 2 simplifies this by making effects more universally accessible through boons and conditions. Some could argue that it is the complexity that makes a game fun. Though that can be true, it is hard not to get carried away when complexity equals fun is made into a precedent.
Without boons and conditions it would be nigh impossible to identify a character “role.” The r-word, though, should be used lightly because it can create very stagnant mindsets. Remember, specialized characters in terms of role have advantages and disadvantages, and in Guild Wars 2 it would be fair to say it could possibly create more disadvantages. The interesting thing here is that even boons and conditions are not limited by any kind of segregation. They are very flexible in themselves in that they can be used in complex ways that surpasses any “role” assignments they can get.
For example, we have the the Vulnerability condition. It reduces the armor of the target when applied; essentially raising the damage of yourself and anyone else who is attacking the target. In this situation you are fulfilling DPS maximization for yourself, but also supporting your allies by maximizing their DPS. Consequently you can take down the target faster and move onto other targets. Can you tell what role is played by the person inflicting vulnerability? They are doing more damage, so are they DPS? Well, they also increased the damage of their allies, so maybe they are support? As a consequence, the party gained more foothold in the area because there is one less foe to deal with, so is it control? Depending on perspective there could be a definitive answer, but it really highlights the beauty of a flexible system. Likewise, we can switch the Vulnerability condition with a Protection boon, which grants you damage reduction. Minimizing the damage you take allows you more time to deal more damage, and while affected by the boon you can take the brunt of a hit and support allies who are weakened, consequently the control of the flow of damage to your party members is lessened because it is focused on you. The latter of the examples could be a matter of semantics, but once again, we see a very flexible system in action.
As mentioned in a previous article, the core of engagement when it comes to MMOs certainly is a matter of damage flow. Boons and conditions help augment that flow with various effects for yourself and your team. In order to make sure that variety and flexibility survives, you most definitely have to make the most out of your boons and conditions. Remember a difficult boss in another game? Guild Wars 2 provides so many tools at your disposal to defeat that boss. You can grant yourself Fury or make the boss Burn while you smash its head in. You can grant Might and cause Vulnerability for a damage spike. You can even grant Protection and wear the boss down with Poison. These are the tools at your disposal. We aren’t as limited as we used to be. A warlock-like class isn’t the only one with access to degenerative abilities, nor does a tank-like class have exclusive holds on being able to block or protection oriented buffs. The tools are all at your disposal.
(Note: Certain liberties were taken when addressing the “control role.” More empirical observations could confine its definition to control effects. However, it would be foolish to not look at how augmented damage affects mentality and control over a character’s actions when a healer isn’t present.
Further discussions will be made at a later part in the B&C Boons and Conditions Guide series.)