Sunday, September 16, 2012

Rethinking Roles in Guild Wars 2

Last night our not-so-little guild Combat Wombat tackled a number of dungeons.  We put together one group of +40's that ran Caudecus Manor (the second dungeon in the game), and then because we were done so quickly, we ran Twilight Arbor.  And because enough people are now in their mid-thirties, we actually had two groups doing Ascalon Catacombs for the first time.  At one time I counted 16 people on Vent - which for me, is awesome.  It's hard to say how nice it is to be a part of a thriving, fun, like-minded group in the early days of what is sure to be a long-lived, epic MMO.

This morning though, the runs sparked a lively and interesting post-dungeon discussion on what exactly people's roles are on a five man dungeon team.  Do people even have roles - and if so, how can we fulfill them?  One thing I've noticed about Guild Wars 2 is that there is actually a lot more that comes out of Guild Wars 1 than it first appears, and I think one of the things they carried forward is their philosophy towards group roles.  So based on observations from playing the first game, and from what I've experienced in the dungeon runs I've done so far, I wanted to offer up some thoughts on group roles in GW2, intended especially for those that perhaps never played the original game, or only ever dabbled in it, and are coming from a more traditional MMO design like World of Warcraft.

No Trinity Whee!!
This has been a clarion call for ANet's design from the very beginning.  They stated over and over again that gone would be the days where you had to get the exact right collection of classes to run a group event.  Specific tank, healer, dps trinity is gone, you can go with what you have!  But what does this mean, exactly? Does it mean if five dual-dagger thieves show up to run a dungeon, you're good to go?

Well to a certain extent, you can.  That is, there has been a great deal of thought into GW2's dungeon design.  And while things may not go easy, due to the way bosses are layed out, and the placement of waypoints throughout the dungeon, just about all of the most difficult bosses will allow for some degree of graveyard rushing.  That is, it's possible in most cases to down a boss simply by making sure at least one person stays in the fight, and every time you are killed you can rez and run back and keep the fight going.  So while it may not be pretty, you can in fact progress and succeed in completing the dungeon in exactly such a fashion.  For the last two bosses in our first run of Ascalonian Catacombs, this was exactly what our group did.  And from what I hear, is how most groups are finishing that dungeon on at least their initial runs.

But if you're like me you're thinking this probably isn't what the designer's intended for downing a boss.  It's a nice stop gap for learning the dungeon, but what you really want is to down the boss with a minimum of graveyard rushing.  And if you want to succeed at that, then you're going to have to take specific roles.  And you probably shouldn't all take the same role.

Damage, Control, & Support
When ArenaNet said there was no trinity, what they meant is that the traditional trinity didn't exist.  Because there is still a trinity of roles, and there it is:  Damage, Control, and Support.  This should be your new mantra for creating a team, and should be what you're thinking about when approaching a dungeon.  Let's talk a few seconds about each of these roles.

Well duh, this one's the easiest, as it's the same as it's ever been.  Pour on the damage, burn monsters down as quickly as possible.

Control is movement control, and it comes in a huge variety of forms.  Traps that snare, frost effects that cool, attacks that stun.   In Guild Wars 1, there was never any taunt ability.  That's because the notion of aggro control, as you traditionally thought of it, didn't exist.  Warriors in Guild Wars 1 didn't taunt mobs.  Instead, they were referred to as the front-liners, and their job was to keep the mobs from getting to your back-liners - casters.  To do so, you would physically block them, slow them, root them, knock them down, etc.  Mobs would try to rush past the warriors up front to get to the squishys in the back, and it was the front-liner's job to make sure they couldn't do that.  But it didn't involve taunting.  It involved physically preventing the mobs from getting there.  This concept is still very much alive and kicking in Guild Wars 2.  The job of Control is to is to prevent the mobs from firing their actions through interrupts, which include stuns, dazes, and knockdowns, and to prevent them from moving, with cripples, slows, and knockdowns.

Yay healing!  Well, yes and no.  Healing is, in fact, one of the functions of support, but it is by far away not at all the most important aspect.  Because it is every bit as much involved in damage mitigation, and condition control.  Damage mitigation is just that, and there are a wide variety of ways to achieve it.  From straight up evading, to mitigate your own damage, to abilities that block projectiles and blind opponents, to managing of conditions.  And I cannot overstate how important condition and boon management is in Guild Wars 2.  The ArenaNet designers rely heavily on conditions (debuffs), and boons (buffs) as a combat mechanic, and you are expected to react accordingly.  So abilities that strip conditions from allies, or remove boons from enemies and places them on allies, or places conditions on enemies - all of those are very important to the support role, and you absolutely must take advantage of them.

Your Class is Not Your Role
If you take nothing else out of this post, please take this away.  Because it is the one that's the hardest to wrap your head around.  I struggle with this one regularly.  I think - I'm a thief, my job is to damage.  End of story.  And I was stunned to learn that yes, there is a quite viable build for thieves to perform in a support role - including healing.  So you must break out of the mold of thinking that specific class defines your complete role.

However, this Isn't Rift
Which is to say, while I think you should maintain an attitude of versatility with respect to what role you want to play with your class, you can't stand at the beginning of a dungeon, and completely retool your entire class to take on whatever role you want.  Due to the way traits work, you do make decisions about what kind of role you want to take in general, and you will be allocating trait points to better fulfill that role.  While you can  re-allocate your traits, it's a time-consuming and expensive process.  But even within skill point selection and weapon selection, you have quite a bit of variability.  So even if you're traited up for dual dagger damage dealing class, that's not to say you can't swap out some skills before you start a run and add some support and/or control abilties.   Additionally, to sort of add a caveat to class != role point I tried to make above, some classes are perhaps better suited to certain roles than others.  If you start a dungeon run without anyone in plate, it's not to say you can't complete it, because you can.  But having someone in heavy armor up front dealing damage and dishing out those control abilities I spoke of before is going to allow for the back-liners to do their jobs, whether it be damage, control, or support.

Group Friendly
I think the sort of last thing I want to say is to realize that there are definitely some group friendly skills that you should consider when tackling a group.  If you're just starting to run dungeons, so far you've most likely built your class around a single function - dealing damage.  Perhaps some survivability, but mostly dealing damage.  So before you start, take some time to rummage through your skills, and see if there are some things you can pick up.  For instance, last night before we started, I picked up Shadow Refuge, and equipped that.  It places a spot on the ground that cloaks everyone in stealth, and provides healing over time.  It was very useful in the fight.  If you're geared specifically around damage, then look at your ability tree and see if there are some things in control and support that you can also bring, that will help the group out.  And finally, remember everyone is still new at this.  In World of Warcraft, class roles are so strict, and people are so familiar with the game, that a norm has developed of joining a group, and just plugging through the content without talking at all.  Ditch that mentality now.  Don't be afraid to explain some of your abilities to your group mates, and let them know how you're trying to help.  If your aura creates a giant pulsating circle with a house on top, let people know what they can expect by standing in that aura.  They may have never seen a healing fountain before, or a projectile dome.  Personally, I would rather risk offending someone by explaining something they may already know, than have them not take advantage of the abilities I'm trying to provide simply because they don't recognize the abilities.

Much of Guild Wars 2 appears very familiar.  But it turns out, the game actually plays quite differently than what you might be used to.  And ArenaNet has always taken an attitude (whether you like it or not), of just putting stuff out there and letting the players figure it out.  A lot of people are going to try to fit traditional roles and methods (where's my taunt?) onto these mechanics, and they're going to be frustrated when they don't work.  Hopefully this will help you take a fresh perspective, and in turn, appreciate the differences, instead of struggling against them.