ArenaNet are being very bold with their claim that their upcoming title, Guild Wars 2, will not rely on the Holy Trinity (HT), a game mechanic which the genre has relied on since the beginning of time. They claim that to succeed you will not need a tank and a healer in a group. This has got me thinking: Can any developer actually claim that they did away with such an old MMO trope?
Here is a video showing five dps specced characters running Ascalonian Catacombs and ‘progressing’. The video was not actually shot by ArenaNet but it is being circulated on Google+ through the ArenaNet channel, which I take to mean that they agree with the content. I came away from the video feeling totally unconvinced for three reasons:
1) The run cannot be called smooth by any stretch of the imagination. The narrator dies a whole lot and, although he does not give any indication of how long it took them, I am guessing it was quite a slog.
2) Ascalonian Catacombs is not a high level dungeon. To really test whether a system is required or can be ignored you have to test the most difficult parts. Easier parts inherently allow more leeway for experimentation.
3) In the video, the dungeon was not completed. From what I see they just barely managed to kill the last boss shown, but apparently the last boss shown is not the final boss of the instance.
To their credit the narrator claims that, for the majority of them, this is the first time that they had been running the instance. This means that with successive tries the group would eventually learn more efficient ways to run the dungeon in a shorter time and with less casualties. However, does this video really convince anyone that ArenaNet have managed to get rid of the HT? My answer to that would be: Not by a long stretch.
Let me tackle the elephant in the room. If you want to abolish the HT in an MMO then why allow anyone to spec for tanking or healing at all?
It’s all a question of relativity. You definitely can complete these dungeons without having a healer and a tank, especially if you have a good group of players who have been playing together for some time. But why would anyone want to? Why would anyone choose to go into a dungeon, take twice as long, die multiple times and, more importantly, risk not completing the dungeon when in fact they could go a safer route and get someone to spec for healing and someone else to spec for tanking? Why would anyone decide not to try and set up a group with the highest chance of being successful if that is an option? In short: why would any group actively gimp themselves unless they want to prove something?
Remember how in vanilla WoW you could complete Stratholme with five Paladins? This was in a time where Paladins could be tank and healer specced but they did not really excel in any of those roles. To complete a high level dungeon without either a Priest or a Warrior required lots of experience, planning and practice. However, despite the fact that no instance finder existed back in the day, very few people would attempt something like that. It made more sense to be patient and wait to find a proper tank/healer rather than go into an instance knowing that the chances of completing it were remote at best. Just because it was doable did not mean that it was in any way desirable. Harcore players attempted it for the challenge and that’s about it. WoW showed that the elite could make do without a hard HT and this is the same picture that Guild Wars 2 is painting.
Some would argue that in Guild Wars 2 you can change your spec on the fly and that is definitely true. However that is beyond the point being made here. Making the HT more accessible is one thing. Claiming that you don’t need to rely on it is something else entirely. Most modern day MMOs have made the trinity more accessible by allowing classes to respec on the fly. However, just because players can, does not mean that players will. There are still barriers to entry. Let me give an example through personal experience – I have a Mage in Rift. Played up to level 29 as a damage dealer since, quite obviously, it’s the best way to level solo. I joined a group and we had no healer. No problem! I will respec. A couple of button presses and I was a healer. A healer with zero experience in healing and no real healing gear. Needless to say I did extremely badly. Moreover playing as a DPS and playing as healer/tank is not the same experience. Some players just don’t want to be the healers or the tanks even if the game allows them to.
The easiest way to claim to have beaten the Holy Trinity is to remove the Holy Trinity from your game. Groups with a healer and a tank are inherently more powerful. This fact creates quite a conundrum for the developers. Should they decide to set the difficulty level to suit an HT group then a non-HT group would find the content too hard. On the other hand should they decide to cater for non-HT groups then anyone with a classic tank/healer group would breeze through the content.
ArenaNet would be right to claim to have done away with the HT if they announced the implementation of some wicked algorithm which detects group composition and changes the instance accordingly. Bosses with more health, less damage and loose aggro rules for a full DPS group. Bosses with more health, less damage and strict aggro rules for a group with just a tank. Bosses with less health more damage and loose aggro rules for a group with just a healer. Understandably this would require a lot of work from the developer which would include removing or adding specific abilities to each boss so as to make each encounter challenging but doable regardless of group composition.
If any developer manages to provide the same level of challenge both for HT groups and non-HT groups then they can honestly claim to have created a game which revolutionised the genre in this regard. I very much doubt Guild Wars 2 will be that game.