Guild Wars 2 Beta: Combat Impressions

Hammer time!

 

To say I was enjoying the first pre-purchase beta weekend for Guild Wars 2 would be an understatement. The game is amazing, even in pre-release condition. We’re in the middle of an “unscheduled break” at the moment on this fine Saturday evening, so I thought I’d post my initial impressions of the combat.

Simple word associations would be: Fast, Dynamic, Responsive, Challenging, Fun and Powerful!

FAST

If you’re coming from WoW and have raiding or PvP experience, you may have had to interrupt boss/player abilities which required good timing and reflexes. To an extent, that is how every fight in Guild Wars 2 feels like. You have to pay attention and you have to react. The main difference is rather than stare at an enemy cast bar, you look for visual cues that tell you an attack is about to come your way. This can be tricky in a crowded dynamic event when 1000 particle effects are assaulting your screen and there are nameplates everywhere, but if you can get away from the other players for some solo encounters you can really get a feel for it. As someone who always suffered from moving too much in games like WoW and even SW:TOR, this kind of combat really appeals to me. The skill and the fun comes in NOT getting hit in the first place.

DYNAMIC

You can kill a lot of enemies by spamming your first ability for each weapon while circle strafing. In a one on one fight with a normal mook, you’ll be fine. Against multiple enemies or veterans or mixed groups which feature a mix of melee, caster and ranged enemies, that kind of play will get you killed. You need to know your weapon abilities, and you need to know the optimal time to use them. There aren’t any static rotations to memorize. Using your conditions to put a damage over time condition on the enemy and cripple them will allow you to kite them a bit while you regen health after a hit. Blinding them at the right time will make their next ability miss. A knockdown or knockback may turn the tide. There are no tanks in the game, but there is some fashion of proximity based aggro. Learning when to close with enemies and when to fall back is part of the learning curve. I’ve had a lot of fun on my Guardian using the pull ability with my greatsword to yank enemies off my girlfriend’s Elementalist and then using my whirlwind to carve them up. If I start taking too much punishment, I roll out and pop my heal. Taken as a whole it really keeps me engaged and actively playing instead of becoming passive and complacent.

RESPONSIVE

Dodging and movement feels very fluid, without feeling “floaty”. Even with numerous people playing around me, I never experienced any ability lag. Everything just works. It takes a server crash or a pop up feedback questionnaire to remind me I’m playing in a beta.

CHALLENGING

This combat will punish you. Some of the dynamic event scaling works almost too well. A Flame Shaman in the Charr zone took about 40 players to bring down and was probably a thirty minute fight. He had adds, a bubble that blocked and reflected damage and his AoE abilities could two shot even the toughest of players. A lot of the fight entailed hanging back and getting downed/dead players up and back in the fight. You have a limited dodge resource that allows you to roll out a couple of times back to back before it is exhausted and will need to recharge, so using it at the right time is key. You are immune to all damage for the duration of the dodge animation, so using it correctly along with intelligent positioning will mean the difference between victory and defeat. If you’re like me and fall in love with your AoE melee abilities, you’ll get into trouble. I died A LOT more than I should have by charging in and hitting my Guardian’s Whirling Wrath without maybe first making sure the mobs were stunned or blinded. If you’re a button mashing berserker, you aren’t going to get very far. It is very rewarding to have a challenge in open world PvE. I can only imagine it ramps up even more in PvP and in dungeons.

FUN

I catch myself laughing and shouting at the screen. Our neighbors probably think I’m watching a MMA fight or a hockey game. The sheer amount of joy I am getting from playing isn’t easy to quantify. GW2 gives you a sense of freedom, a sense of challenge and a sense of accomplishment and that is just in what is normally the boring leveling phase of most other MMOs. I can’t wait for it to release!

POWERFUL

I get a real sense of power even at the early levels. My characters feel like heroes instead of mooks who just learned how to pick up a sword. Each of my abilities has a feel of weight with it – especially if I’m using a two handed hammer. That thing is a MONSTER on both the Warrior and Guardian. When you hit someone with it, it just looks and sounds like it should hurt. Other abilities, like the Guardian’s Cleansing Flame (where I breathe fire in a frontal cone) look, sound and feel amazing!

 

I’ll be sure to post more of my impressions later, but the server is back up now, and there are worlds to conquer!

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Guild Wars 2 Beta Weekend! Digital copies SOLD OUT!

 

THE FIRST PRE-PURCHASE BETA WEEKEND IS HERE!

Time to release the hounds!

Not only are we only hours away from the first beta weekend, but it is free of any NDAs, which means gaming sites around the world are about to explode with Guild Wars 2 information!

This site will be no exception.

 

I will be playing with friends on the Sorrow’s Furnace server this weekend, and will be posting several articles about my experiences this weekend. I am also having my better half/editor/video guru fire up Fraps on her system so we can capture some video content as well.

This weekend promises to be absolutely crazy, as ArenaNet has already stated that digital pre-orders of the game are officially SOLD OUT for the time being. How do you sell out digital copies? Well I guess you exceed your sales expectations to the point where fitting everyone on your beta servers becomes a concern. That’s the theory at least. Consider that rough estimates are that each server tops out with a population of around 3000 players, and that 48 servers are listed for this weekend, and you may get a good idea of the number of people they’d have to be looking at in order to cut off sales temporarily. Even if you’re conservative with your estimates, it has to be a TON of people for ArenaNet to turn off what is essentially a cash printing machine.

Hope to see you in game!

Here is a full list of beta servers for this weekend:

US Worlds

Anvil Rock
Borlis Pass
Yak’s Bend
Henge of Denravi
Maguuma
Sorrow’s Furnace
Kaineng
Jade Quarry
Fort Aspenwood
Ehmry Bay
Ferguson’s Crossing
Darkhaven
Vasburg
Eredon Terrace
Crystal Desert
Tarnished Coast
Steamspur Mountains
Blazeridge Mountains
Isle of Janthir
Sea of Sorrows
Deldrimor
Scavenger’s Causeway
Moladune
Eternal Grove

EU Worlds

Kodonur
Gandara
Kodash
Blacktide
Istan
Vabbi
Kourna
Fissure of Woe
Underworld
Ring of Fire
Far Shiverpeaks
Petrified Forest
Jade Sea
Desolation
Magus Falls
Whiteside Ridge
Fort Ranik
Ruins of Surmia
Sharp’s Corner
Aurora Glade
Riverside
Elona Reach
Augury Rock
Abaddon’s Mouth

Review: Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition (PC)

The Witcher 2 was the best game of 2011 that I completely ignored upon release. I never experienced the original game, so I couldn’t grasp from the screenshots why I should care about a guy who carried two swords yet couldn’t bother to take a single shower. It turns out this was a huge mistake. With the release of the Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition on the Xbox 360, I immediately corrected this oversight by promptly ignoring the $60 Xbox version and picking up the PC Enhanced Edition on Steam for $42 instead. I figure a rough, world weary protagonist like Geralt would approve.

I haven’t finished the game yet, but I can already tell you beyond a doubt that it is worth every penny. If you are even remotely interested in a fantasy RPG, then go buy it. The game’s voice acting is good, the story and setting are gritty, mature and deep, and the combat will punish you if you get complacent. Graphically, the world of Witcher 2 is stunning. I was extremely impressed by the aesthetics of the game everywhere I turned. I didn’t notice any major graphical flaws, and the animations were spot on. The sound effects and music are immersive and extremely well done. It’s no wonder the game scored so highly when it released.

The only real downside I’ve encountered thus far is the lack of user friendly design in some cases. Something as simple as changing your keybinds cannot be done from inside the game. This may not bother most people, but as someone who primarily controls his virtual movements via Nostromo game pad and Naga mouse, concepts like WASD binds don’t really apply. It is a minor complaint, but it turned my first few play sessions into a series of rapid restarts just to get everything sorted out. There doesn’t really seem to be any sort of tooltip description for your abilities either. You can bring up a radial menu of spells with interesting sounding names, but you won’t be told what any of them do. I ended up playing with a cheat sheet next to me just to minimize deaths from using the wrong ability at the wrong time. My final UI complaint revolves around the quest log which is hit or miss about telling you where to go next. It works for the most part, but it isn’t perfect. Even early on I had to alt-tab out a few times and Google the quest name to figure out the next step. Fortunately, the game shines in nearly every other respect, and these problems in no way diminish what a great experience it is.

I’m not a huge fan of spoiling the story elements of a game during a review, but I can give you some of the basics. Witchers are something like Rangers from Dungeons & Dragons had they been raised by a coven of witches instead of being armed members of the ASPCA like they are in most other fantasy settings. They’re monster hunters, alchemists, accomplished swordsman and generally distrusted for the dark arts they employ and their nasty reputations. I get the feeling from talking to the common folk in the game that calling upon a Witcher is a last resort in the eyes of most.

In Witcher 2, like the original, you take on the role of a particular Witcher named Geralt of Rivia, and apparently you’re fairly notorious at the start of the game. I’ve heard that if you have a save file from the original game that it does a wonderful job of weaving your prior exploits into the sequel, but I can’t speak to it. What I do know is that the Geralt in my story has lost his memory somewhere along the way, but that doesn’t stop him from being in the good graces of a King and waking up in bed with a hot sorceress within five minutes of the game’s opening sequence. Unfortunately, just as in real life, our hero’s day can only go downhill after that kind of morning.

Along your journey, you will use your steel sword for slaying human foes and your silver sword for everything else. You’ll have numerous traps, spells and poisons at your disposal, and you will need every advantage you can to defeat the enemies that the game throws at you. This game not only refuses to hold you by the hand, it threatens to chop it clean off with disturbing regularity. It isn’t quite to the level of absurdity that Dark Souls is, but the enemy AI clearly isn’t pulling any punches. Enemies will use pack tactics to corner you and mince you to pulpy bits. Considering that a single sword hit can take off roughly a third of your health bar, facing five or six foes can be quite a challenge. Save early. Save often.

I originally picked up Witcher 2 just to see what I was missing, and planned on weaving my play time in with other titles that I’m currently enjoying. I quickly had to rethink that plan. As the game progresses you’ll absolutely need to have the combat mechanics be second nature in order to survive. A single false step or firing off the wrong spell at the wrong moment will mean a reload of your last save is quickly to follow. I found this level of challenge frustrating in a good way. It reminded me of old school gaming, and I love that it rewards skillful play. Those first few failures make your victories much more gratifying because you had to earn them. I wish more games embraced this idea.

The other reason that Witcher 2 makes a poor “part time” title is that the story is dense and packed with complex characters. It can be easy to forget the interrelationships of characters you meet, their motivations and their machinations, and believe me, everyone has their own agenda. In an odd way, it reminds me a great deal of Game of Thrones. There doesn’t seem to be much Black and White here, only various shades of Grey. Call me a pessimist, but I think it adds an additional level of realism when everyone is flawed, self-centered and out to protect and advance their own interests. The game world is a harsh one where even kings can be murdered, and where terrible creatures prowl the night not far from the relative safety of city walls. A stalwart hero who valiantly fought with honor would probably end up with a dagger in his back his first night at the local inn. Corruption is rampant, and I often find myself accepting quests from the people who I’m least likely to want to impale or set on fire.

If you have the time to dedicate to it, Witcher 2 is an incredible RPG that will reward your patience and skill with a dark, mature story and visceral combat. The game is reported to control extremely well on the 360, although the PC version does look a little better. Ultimately you can’t go wrong either way.

At the time of this review, The Witcher 2: Assassins Of Kings Enhanced Edition for Xbox 360 is available at Amazon for only $44!

The Witcher 2: Assassins Of Kings Enhanced Edition for PC is only $35! That’s cheaper than I got it on Steam, but the instant gratification of downloading it was worth it.

Stop whining. Why Faction Imbalance in SW:TOR doesn’t matter.

Good vs Evil.

Jedi vs Sith.

Star Wars: The Old Republic centers on the classic confrontations between Light and Dark that we all know and love from the films.

The one thing I don’t recall seeing in the movies was a time when members of the Republic just sat around complaining about how they were outnumbered, and how it was unfair, and that George Lucas should stop shooting the movie and do something about it. You think Luke Skywalker would have wasted time on forums? HELL NO! He capitalized on years of practical womp rat killing experience and blew up the friggin Death Star! Unfortunately, I can’t read a SW:TOR forum or listen to a podcast without hearing how faction imbalance in the game is some sort of atrocity that needs fixed or moderated somehow by BioWare. A number of players seem to suffer from the mass delusion that imbalance in SW:TOR actually means something, and they’re all wrong.

This is why.

1. The leveling experience is fairly tame.

Don't worry, Republic. The Imperials aren't threatening till max level.

SW:TOR offers a very insulated and safe leveling experience, even on PvP servers. You won’t cross paths with members of the opposite faction until you’re about half way to max level. Oldrepublic.net features an impressive planet progression map which highlights this. This gives ample time for players to familiarize themselves with their abilities safe from predatory players. A fair number of the planets are even faction specific and don’t even allow the opposing faction to set foot on them. As it stands, there won’t be any sort of plundering and occupation of Coruscant or Korriban unless BioWare decides to create some sort of special instanced event.

Beyond this segregation, the other big factor that impedes spontaneous open world encounters is how frustratingly tedious it is to go from one planet to another. While patch 1.2 has cut down on the number of orbital station load screens we have to suffer through needlessly, that doesn’t mean that getting around is convenient. There aren’t any summoning mechanics or methods of fast travel directly from one planet to another. People tend to stay one whatever planet they’re on and focus on some other non-PvP oriented task rather than roaming the galaxy looking to pick a fight.

Even if you stumble over an enemy player in the open world somewhere, and even if you decide to fight, you always have the option to simply rez at the medical center and avoid corpse camping – essentially eliminating one of the major driving factors of open world PvP. It makes perfect sense from the point of view of BioWare wanting to reduce player frustration. Odd as it may seem however, corpse camping led to escalation of warfare in other games. Many a Southshore vs Tarren Mill battle in WoW began as single player getting camped and calling for backup, and ended up looking like something out of Braveheart. With the aforementioned inconvenience involved with planet hopping, even if you happen to need help, it probably isn’t going to come from another planet. At best you may see a handful of local players get involved, especially on lower population servers.

2. Instanced PvP is King – and the King is Benevolent.

PvP in SW:TOR means Warzones. That’s where the rewards primarily come from, so that’s where people go. Without any incentive for open world PvP, and with Ilum broken and discarded for the time being, Warzones are where players need to go to kill one another with elegant weapons during this civilized age. Faction imbalance in other games can make queues for battlegrounds an extremely hit or miss affair. Prior to cross servers BGs in WoW, it was quite common to wait for over an hour for a single game. Today’s players don’t have the patience for that anymore, nor should they. Luckily BioWare came along and gave us the possibility of fighting in Warzones against your own faction. Even if you’re server’s faction balance is skewed to comical proportions, you can still find near instant queues provided your server has a decent population to begin with.  Until patch 1.2 this may have meant a whole lot of Huttball for some people, but we have more inter-faction options available now. Everyone can participate and earn rewards.

At the very worst, one could theorize that faction imbalance may have given one faction more Huttball practice than the other. So what? That same logic means the minority faction got more consistent time in the other Warzones. You could also make the argument that inter-faction Warzones meant that the faction with superior numbers could gear up faster, but even this is pretty thin. With patch 1.2 you can purchase PvP gear with credits so no one has to start from scratch. It still may come down to which team has the highest amount of expertise on their gear, but it probably has a lot more with which team has two  partial premades of Battlemasters on it.

3. SW:TOR encourages, promotes and incentivizes cross-faction alts on the same server. 

Legacy is a pretty big thing in SW:TOR, and the bonuses apply cross-faction. There are so many incentives to level characters on both sides of the force that some guild leaders complained during the Guild Summit that BioWare was eroding the cohesiveness of their guilds. Everyone has a main, at least in theory, but tons of people have already leveled and geared up multiple characters in both PvE and PvP. It isn’t exactly hard to do in SW:TOR. Not everyone has the same time available to them as everyone else, but that’s sort of a non-issue on a long enough timeline. If you believe the grass is greener on Korriban (it isn’t), then nothing is stopping you from coming to the Dark Side and trying it out.

I love my Powertech. There is no doubt I consider that Bounty Hunter as my main. On the PvP front however, I had the most fun in SW:TOR I’ve ever experienced on my Vanguard. I didn’t have to tank with him. There was never a need to respec or worry over multiple gear sets. It was the mirror class, but offered just enough differences to be unique. Hell, it was worth it for the story alone. If I really wanted to swap sides and center on Republic as my PvP faction of choice, I could do so with my Trooper very easily and without the hesitations or aversions I have towards doing so in other MMOs. You fight your own faction in Warzones half the time anyway, so what does it really matter?

BioWare clearly understands that the strength of their game resides in the leveling experience, so which faction you’re on and who outnumbers who is mostly irrelevant. Go where you have the most fun. You don’t really have to worry about which side of the fence is greener when BioWare added a revolving door.

4. Players say they want an Open World PvP zone, but they really don’t.

James Ohlen, a man I greatly respect and admire from his Baldur’s Gate contributions, is a pretty smart guy.

After the Ilum collapse, he created a poll and forum topic asking players what they want in an Open PvP experience. Here are the options:

What kind of Open World PVP excites you most?

‘Raw’ Open World – faction vs faction, with no faction population restriction mechanics AKA ‘true’ Open World PvP. Factions claim objectives.

PvPvE balanced – bolstering the underdog faction through NPCs, turrets, etc. Factions claim objectives.

Faction population capped – strict balancing in place between faction populations in objective areas. Factions claim objectives.

Guild based – everyone is your enemy except players in your guild. Guilds claim objectives.

The majority of players currently opted for the PvPvE balanced approach with almost 50% of total votes. But that’s not true open world PvP. It’s Wintergrasp 2.0 in the making. Once you create mechanics to make everything ‘fair and balanced’, it isn’t open anymore. Since that isn’t the case, the whole concept of faction imbalance no longer applies.

Ilum was egg on BioWare’s face, and I’d wager it was enough that they lost subscriptions over it when combined with buggy Operations and lack of other basic MMO features that 1.2 has now partially corrected. They’re smart though. Just listen to Georg Zoeller speak, and tell me he doesn’t sound like a Bond villain. I’m willing to bet that, whatever they have in mind, they’re smart enough not to make the same mistakes twice. I’m not sure what form it will take, or how long it will take to implement, but I’m hopeful it will be the last nail in the faction imbalance argument – at least for a little while. You may never fully put it to rest in a game centered on binary factions, but in SW:TOR imbalance doesn’t really count for much.

MMO Evolution – Life after the Holy Trinity

I have had a few discussions recently involving the usefulness of the Holy Trinity in MMO design, and whether or not a move away from it is the next step in MMO evolution. In this article, I’ll speak of what I refer to as “Traditional MMOs”. MMOs in this category are those including World of Warcraft, Star Wars: The Old Republic and other similar titles where the Trinity exists. While these titles are certainly successful, they represent old design that makes for static, UI driven combat which brings people together out of co-dependence rather than interdependence.  (More on that later.)

Let’s begin with what exactly the phrase Holy Trinity means.

WHAT IS THE HOLY TRINITY?

The Holy Trinity in MMOs refers to three basic and traditional roles that every single character falls into:

1. Tank – A high health, highly damage resistant player who has the sole focus of getting and maintaining the attention of enemies and withstanding the punishment they dish out.  The idea is that the demon/dragon/giant enemy crab would kill anyone else in a single blow, but the Tank survives because his or her gear, class and skills/talents are all focused on mitigating or avoiding enough of it to take a few hits. They’re the masochists of the MMO genre, and pride themselves on being able to take a punch. Every fight revolves around the same concept for tanks… “How can I put myself in harm’s way?”

If you’ve ever watched the original Rocky, then you’ve seen a perfect example of a tank.

Meat Shield

While it may surprise you as to which one in the picture I’ve given the title to, the reason for this is pretty simple: tanks aren’t really good for much other than this one, highly specific job. Dedicated tanks often romanticize their role, (I’ve been guilty of it) and there can be aspects of tanking that are dynamic and require precision and timing. At the end of the day however, the boss is a German Shepard, and the tank is a hotdog stuffed inside a chew toy. In a traditional MMO only 1 or 2 players per group are tanks, depending on group size, for this very reason.

2. DPS – Stands for “Damage Per Second” – a basic measurement for how much pain you can dish out over the course of a fight. The higher the number, the better you are at video games and the more attractive you are to members of the opposite sex. The acronym also stands for the people who will make up the majority of your group in a traditional MMO. They are the sadists of the MMO genre. They can be split into melee or ranged DPS, but generally share common traits of being egotistical, completely self-absorbed and dedicated to one thing and one thing only – their own damage output relative to everyone else around them. And by everything else I mean their own survival, the survival of those around them, or even if the enemy you’re fighting dies or not. All of it is secondary. They may possess some utility abilities as well (like being able to crowd control enemies and prevent them for hurting other players), but since there are no meters to track the numerical significance of such things, they generally don’t do them unless tasked to do so. If they die, someone else is generally to blame. If the group fails, it is because of a weak link elsewhere in the chain (and they have the combat log numbers to prove it). DPS players are the least important members of the Trinity, yet suffer from the deepest delusions of self-importance.  Certainly there are exceptions to this mindset, but not many.

The fact remains, however, that the only reason DPS is important is because (in most traditional MMO boss encounters) there are artificially imposed fail conditions called “enrage timers” that are put into place to prevent groups from stacking enough tanks and healers to slowly defeat the boss without much effort. Unless you have enough DPS in your group, the boss finally has enough of you, gets bored and finally obliterates you for willingly entering its lair. How he is suddenly only now able to do this requires a suspension of disbelief that good encounter designers must stay up all night thinking about, searching for ways to logically weave the reason into the story. Mediocre designers on the other hand, just don’t give a shit.

Need an example of DPS? Say hello to Clubber Lang.

"My Prediction? Pain."

3. Healer – Last, but certainly not least, we have the healer. If tanks are masochists, and DPS are sadists, then healers are the enablers of traditional MMOs. The reason I list them last is because without the other two, they really have no purpose. They only exist to ensure others can live to do their jobs, and their role is to make sure that no one else has to suffer the consequences of standing in front of a boss and intentionally taking damage, or blindly wandering into areas containing fire, acid, poison or any manner of deadly hazards.

"I TOLD him not to fight. I was OOM!"

They are highly specialized players, like tanks, only their specialization is to sit back and essentially play a separate mini-game from everyone else. This game is usually played by mousing over draining health bars and making them fill up again by pressing different buttons depending on how much of the bar they need to fill and how much available time they have to fill it. The skill of this game centers on managing a limited healing resource – like mana – in order to fuel your heals. This game is generally the same, offering only slight variations in the background location it’s played in, and regardless of the complexity of the encounter everyone else is participating in. In fact, I’d wager anyone with some rudimentary programming skills could make a downloadable app for the iOS called “MMO HEALER!” that simulated this easily enough without costing $15 a month to play.

Good healers will be there for you no matter how reckless you are, or how many times you blame them for your own stupid mistakes. If you’re lucky, they won’t even say “I told you so” and remind you how they told you NOT to pull the next pack of mobs until they were at full mana. Typically you only bring the bare minimum number of healers needed to keep everyone alive since they tend to nag a lot and wear silly red hats.

So… what’s the problem? Obviously the Holy Trinity works. Ten million WoW players can’t be wrong.

  • It forces people to depend on each other because no one can survive alone, at least not on challenging and interesting content. Isn’t playing together the whole point of MMOs? In that regard, I’d say the Trinity certainly has a lot going for it. Everyone needs someone else.
  • Everyone knows what their job is. It allows specialization to the point of exclusion of all else. You can excel at one aspect of the Trinity and be hailed as a great and powerful slayer of pixels. People in traditional MMOs are constantly looking for quality tanks and healers to group with. You’re a walking commodity! What’s not cool about that?
  • It reduces loot drama. Hybridization aside, most gear that drops in traditional MMOs is so specific to one of the Trinity’s roles, it all may as well be as color coded as the Mass Effect 3 endings.
  • It makes content easier to design and execute. The existence of the Trinity means that content is formulaic, even in the most complex of encounters. Encounter designers can assume up front that you’ll have x number of tanks, y number of healers and z number of DPS. Then it just becomes a matter of figuring out the correct method to balance the encounter to those numbers. Someone is always supposed to have aggro. Someone else is supposed to heal. Everyone else is supposed to kill the boss. It’s familiar, and it means every fight can be approached in essentially the same way.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE HOLY TRINITY?

Short version: It is stale. It is predictable. It makes content formulaic. It centers on playing the UI and not the game. And it brings people together out of co-dependency instead of interdependency.

Allow me to expand on that a bit.

Familiarity can be a good thing. As my friend Emmet summarized, developers stick with the Trinity because “there is no risk of spending millions of dollars over several years to create a system that is either intrinsically broken or is so unfamiliar to the gamers that you do not succeed”.  But familiarity ofter breeds contempt as well. The Trinity isn’t broken, but we’ll never really push the MMO genre forward unless we’re unafraid to take risks. Status quo design leads to stale gameplay and games that are just new versions of ones we’ve all played before.

The same formulaic content that makes group content easy to approach in Trinity games also makes them boring. We live in an era of gaming where boss strategies can be found as fast as you can alt-tab out to a website. Sure, it takes execution to succeed, but it is still essentially paint by numbers. The top 1% of players will kill a boss, the strategies will find their way online, and the remaining 99% just follow it step by step. The very knowledge that you’ll have a set number of tanks, healers and DPS each and every time means encounters have to fall within certain parameters that are predictable. Furthermore, once you defeat the boss the first time and it gets placed on “farm status”, it just becomes a repetitive task. It is static content. I could still log into WoW right now and defeat content based almost entirely on memory.

As far as the UI differences go between games that are built around the Holy Trinity and those that aren’t, I have an entire article about it already on the site . The short version is that games that are based around the Trinity end up being experiences where you play the UI instead of the game. This is especially true for healers. Your screen is not only cluttered with a myriad of different abilities – most of which are situational but that you need on hand in case that one situation pops up – but you also need meters and bars and mods to support your gameplay. Below is an example of what I mean. Grid is a powerful addon for WoW, but it is often the only thing many healers stare at during encounters. This is your game. Everything else going on around you is just scenery. Sometimes that scenery may kill you if you’re not looking, but that’s what peripheral vision and other mods are for.

Image from Mystic Chicanery

So what is with all the psychological references about dependency?

The idea about this article was rolling around in the back of my head, and I just happened to be listening to the Tales of Tyria podcast on the way to work one morning. (ToT is an excellent Guild Wars 2 podcast! Check your local listings.) During this particular episode, at around the 18:30 mark they began discussing a PC Gamer article in which author Chris Thursten asked developers at ArenaNet about Guild Wars 2 and its departure from using the Holy Trinity. In the article, and during the podcast, questions arose regarding teamwork vs dependency and co-dependence vs interdependence. I realized these kinds of themes really helped me put my ideas into context, and how I see it is this…

Co-dependence is relying on others to provide what we are not providing for ourselves.

In traditional MMOs, this is exactly what the Trinity is designed to do. We can’t fully provide for ourselves. Just sit in any city or population hub in a traditional MMO and look at general chat. Try to find a dungeon group as a DPS player. How long do you typically wait? How many times do you see phrases like “Looking for Tank” or “Need Heals” scroll by your text window? The level of specialization offered by the Trinity comes at a price.

Even in player versus player combat, the team with the best healers generally wins. You can get by without a tank just fine (although depending on the MMO and the type of battleground you’re in, a tank can be a big benefit), but fighting without healers is suicide. It gets to a point that controlling and neutralizing the enemy healers becomes the main objective instead of the actual objective the game expects you to focus on.

In fact, in any traditional MMO, you will reach a point that the game becomes unplayable unless you have the right balance of the Trinity represented. That is co-dependence. The other real downside is that once you fill your needed tanking and healing roles, you don’t really need more. It limits your ability to play with the people you want to play with unless they also happen to fill the appropriate role you happen to need. You may hear phrases like “Bring the player, not the class”, but that only gets you so far in a Trinity game.

Independence is being self-reliant and completely capable of providing for your own needs.

In an MMO setting, this is solo play. It’s just you, and maybe a pet or non-player companion, against the world.

This is also what champions of the Holy Trinity rally against and cite as an example of what threatens to make MMOs who stray from it bland and homogenized. After all, if you can do everything, then why do you need other people? It’s a fair point, and one that needs to be explored as more and more MMOs become more solo-friendly. I consider this fear to be unfounded, however, given the other ways we have to differentiate ourselves from other players in different game genres. I think the article quote from ArenaNet developer Jon Peters says it best when he’s talking about shooters like Team Fortress 2. “No-one would tell you that everyone in Team Fortress just does damage,” he says. “No-one would say a Spy and a Heavy are the same because they both do damage – they’re very different playstyles. They have a very good sense of purpose.”

The incentive to group with people shouldn’t be limited to a cost-benefit analysis of the specific buffs they bring or role they fill inside the Trinity. You can remain independent and fully capable and not have that automatically mean you’re a loner or a carbon copy of everyone else around you. In fact, a group of independent people can still come together and become greater than the sum of their parts. Which brings us to…

Interdependence – The synergistic combination of  multiple self-reliant people who provide for the needs of the whole.

Taking a queue from Jon, and drawing upon my own recent experience with Tribes: Ascend, I can honestly say there is no way I feel a team in Capture The Flag feels homogenized. I can fill every role as a Technician. I can guard our flag, capture the enemy flag, chase down enemy runners, provide support for our runners, and guard and repair our team’s generator and base defenses. I may be better suited towards generator defense, and there are reasons Technicians excel at it, but I can be just as brutally effective in other ways on the battlefield.  On the other hand, I can decide to play a Doombringer or a Pathfinder and have a very different playing experience within the same game even though we’re all similarly equipped with guns and jetpacks. I can choose to do it, but I don’t have to. And even if I stick with my Technician across 20 games in a row, I can end up with 20 different experiences based on what roles my team has covered and what they need most when I join. It is my willingness and ability to adapt to the situation, and that same willingness and ability in others around me, that makes us a team.

That is interdependence, and that is why it is superior to co-dependence.

And that’s why there is not only life after the Holy Trinity, but why better and more dynamic MMO experiences are on the horizon.

Paladins wish they were me

OUT WITH THE OLD. IN WITH THE NEW.

So how can we play in a MMO without dedicated tanks and healers? ArenaNet hopes to answer that question with Guild Wars 2 when it launches later this year.

In Guild Wars 2, each of the eight classes are designed to be interdependent. Everyone has the ability to self-heal, and you can heal others with proximity and ground targeted abilities. The lack of direct target healing means you can play the same game as your friends without the need to stare at health bars. Everyone can tank based upon proximity to the mob you’re fighting, but not for long. Tank swapping is something you’ll work together with everyone to do, like a pack of wolves taking down dangerous prey. To top it off, everyone can put out respectable damage while supporting the group as a whole. The specialization and customization comes from how you want to perform these roles and which you’d prefer to focus on most.

You leave Tank, Healer and DPS behind and you move on to Control, Support and Damage.

CONTROL isn’t a totally new concept to MMOs, but the emphasis placed on it in Guild Wars 2 will be a step forward. Most damage in the game is avoidable. You can dodge out of it or control your opponents in such a way as to negate their ability to harm you. This is something new for people coming from WoW or SW:TOR, and it can seem like a bitter pill to swallow for people who love healing and tanking in those games. The good news for these players is they can still be just as valuable. It just requires a new mindset.

I liken it it to a dilemma I recently had. For an upcoming Pathfinder game, my friends and I were all currently deciding which classes to play. No one wanted to be stuck with the healer. It can be a gratifying role, but it is more of a necessary evil than anything. In researching classes, I discovered an article about playing a Wizard in which the author stated  that dedicated healers aren’t useful in combat because they are reactive instead of proactive.

He states that, “The Wizard will alter reality to prevent damage, a healer will try to do damage control  after the damage has been taken. The mechanics of the game make preventing damage more efficient then healing damage after the fact. That’s not to say a well placed heal never has use in combat – but if you’re doing your job – it should never be required as a primary role.”

In Guild Wars 2, there are all sorts of ways to control your enemies via conditions. You can blind, cripple, fear, bleed, knockdown, daze, immobilize, push, pull and even confuse your enemy – which actually makes your enemy take damage if they use an ability. Tanks and healers can now look to become controllers who prevent damage and dictate what enemies do (and to whom) by use of positioning and conditions. If you want to center your class build around control through liberal use of conditions, you can easily do so.

SUPPORT is the other way you can gain the upper hand on your opponents and boost the effectiveness of your allies. Again, it isn’t a new concept, but it is cranked up to eleven in Guild Wars  2. It isn’t about providing a few class specific buffs before the fight, but rather giving your allies boons they can benefit from in the middle of the action. You can boost their damage output, critical strike rating, health regeneration, movement speed, ability to sustain damage and even make it so enemies take damage if they attack them.

You can also support your allies through interesting skill and talent choices unlike anything I’ve seen in other MMOs. For example, it is possible to build a Thief who every time he uses his Steal ability will poison and weaken his opponent while buffing his nearby allies with increased damage, critical strike rating and movement speed. Furthermore, every time he uses a poison utility skill, the poison will apply to his allies’ weapons as well. It is just one of several ways you can build out a thief, but the fact that you can take a class that isn’t traditionally known for being supportive and have it fill a heavy support role is impressive.

DAMAGE is still very much the same old role, but now everyone can do it. No one has to feel like they need to respec or grab a friend in order to walk around in the open world and be able to hold their own. You can still specialize in damage output, but you have to realize up front that your survival is primarily your own responsibility. Glass cannons won’t have anyone else to blame if they die.

The end result is that combat and content can be much more dynamic. Tanking and spanking won’t cut it. Everyone needs to adapt to situations that can change in a much more fluid way, and no one can afford to get complacent because no one is safe. You can play with your friends regardless of their class and tackle anything the game throws at you as long as you are skilled enough to defeat it.

Only time will tell if ArenaNet’s gamble will pay off, but I have a feeling that its very existence will be enough to bring much needed change to the MMO genre.

If you’d like to delve even deeper into the subject, here are a few resources that can help:

There is an awesome video by WoodenPotatoes that covers the lack of Holy Trinity in Guild Wars 2.

A great article by MesmerPL highlights the transition from Holy Trinity to the Control, Support and Damage model of Guild Wars 2.

Finally, Guild Wars Insider has a page that details all of the conditions and boons present in Guild Wars 2, so you can get a clearer picture of how these all work.

Bad To The Bone: Why Playing Evil Characters Can Be Fun

On the recent Lion’s Arch Radio podcast, one of my favorite Guild Wars 2 podcasts, the  question came up about what type of morality people tend to play during games and why. While this question can apply to MMOs, it can easily apply to other video game RPGs, and it is certainly relevant whenever you discuss traditional pen and paper roleplaying games. Some players are habitual heroes, constantly answering the call of duty and honor regardless of what setting they’re in. This group of people either can’t imagine playing evil characters, or just aren’t comfortable with the idea. Perhaps their own moral compass won’t allow them to take actions that they wouldn’t take in real life. Perhaps they just don’t understand that not all evil is homicidal psychosis. In fact, I think the greatest challenge and satisfaction of playing an evil character is realizing that concepts like good or evil are subjective, and everyone is the hero of his or her own story.

Everything has a beginning. Some villains were once normal, well-adjusted individuals who were victimized by violence or circumstance. Some realize that desperate times call for desperate measures. Some are fully aware of the nature of their actions, but believe the greater good is being served. Others still are jaded realists, hardened by their surroundings and experiences. They’ve learned that honor, valor and decency are traits than can get you killed… just ask Ned Stark.

Darth Vader thought he was brining order to the galaxy, ending a destructive civil war. Dexter Morgan is a serial killer who stalks other murderers, if only because some good comes from giving in to his compulsion. In V for Vendetta, the protagonist is a hero at heart who commits heinous acts in order to avenge an entire society victimized by a tyrannical government. Each of them can kill without flinching, and each feels perfectly justified in their actions.

Hero or Terrorist?

Another reason people enjoy playing evil characters is that they’re so much fun! Villains aren’t restricted by the rules of society like the rest of us are. Might makes right! How many times have you played a good character and really been tempted to bend your morals in order to accomplish your goals? How many times has someone offended or insulted you while you kept your sword sheathed or gun holstered? How many times have you had your enemy at your mercy, only to have that mercy come back to bite you later on? Sure, Batman is a hero, but how many innocents have died as a result of his inability to kill the Joker?

I know my favorite characters are ones who fall into grim realism. There is a threat out there, an evil much larger than anything most people can imagine. They are unprepared. They talk of action, yet never take any. This evil doesn’t have morals or mercy. It doesn’t feel pity or remorse. It cannot be bargained with or reasoned with, and it will not stop until it destroys us all. Fortunately, our hero knows the secret to victory lies in fighting fire with fire. No pity. No remorse. No rules. It’s just survival. Sometimes doing the right thing means doing a lot of wrong things.

Chances are, you have a mental picture of who I am talking about and the threat they’re facing. I know a few examples come to mind for me:

  • Kyle Reese from The Terminator
  • Morpheus from The Matrix
  • Detective John McClaine from the Diehard series
  • Captain Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly and Serenity

Hey! Wait a second! Those are all good guys!

Are they? Or are we just sympathetic to them based on how they are portrayed? How many innocents would Kyle Reese have let die if it meant protecting Sarah Conner? Morpheus had no remorse killing innocent people who were still plugged into The Matrix because, as he told Neo, ” if you are not one of us, you are one of them”. McClaine took matters into his own hands and risked the life of every hostage in the Nakatomi building in the process. Sure, it worked out in the end, but what if it hadn’t? Captain Reynolds is my favorite space cowboy, but threatening to shoot your friends unless they shut the hell up and secure the bodies of dead innocents to the outside of your ship isn’t exactly his finest moment. In the context of the movie, he’s doing whatever it takes to accomplish his goal and put an end to a threat to the galaxy… but in that regard, how is he any different than The Operative he’s fighting against?

"What I do is evil. I have no illusions about it, but it must be done."

There is also a misconception regarding evil characters that they are horrible, monstrous individuals in everything they do. Not every antihero is a mindless, homicidal psychotic. Part of the challenge and enjoyment of creating such a character is grounding them just enough to make them sympathetic, despite the evil they’re capable of. In Watchmen, the character of Rorschach is sympathetic because he’s the only one fighting corruption by any means necessary. It is the indifference of society that allows real evil to fester. He’s a horrible, vile individual, yet he’s the only character in Watchmen who is unwavering in his honesty and sense of honor.

In 3:10 To Yuma, the outlaw Ben Wade leads a ruthless gang of cutthroats and bandits. He’s charming and charismatic, and even likable at times. But as he tells the impressionable son of William Evans, “Kid, I wouldn’t last five minutes leading an outfit like that if I wasn’t as rotten as hell”. Despite his criminal nature, he still manages to respect the grit and determination he sees in William Evans, which certainly takes the ending of the movie in an unexpected direction. He empathizes with Evans and we empathize with him. We come to like Ben Wade. We even root for him at times. But he never once apologizes for what he’s done or claims to be anything else other than what he is. My favorite moment with Wade is when he kills a man for insulting his mother. He has plenty of other reasons to do it, and it isn’t like he’s a stranger to killing, but that triggering event somehow makes Wade more relatable to me. It may be warped, but the love for his mother is one of those universal common bonds we all share.

"Even bad men love their mommas."


In conclusion, my advice is if you’ve never played an evil character, you should really give it a try. Just think of a hero that rides the line between good and evil, and then give him a little nudge over the edge. If you’ve grounded him and made him a real flesh and bone person instead of just a guy wearing a black hat/armor/robe, you may be pleasantly surprised on how good it is to be bad.

Review: Tribes Ascend

Most of the time, I consider shooters to be B Tier entertainment. I respect the skill that goes into mastering them, especially since I lack most of it, but they’re not my first stop for my gaming fix. On a whim, I decided to give Tribes: Ascend a shot since it was totally free-to-play without any up front cost at all, and because I had read more than a few complimentary remarks concerning the game’s beta test. The game officially launched last week, and I’ve already sunk a fair bit of time into playing it. It is a fantastic game!

For anyone unfamiliar with Tribes and what sets it apart from other shooter titles, I have two words for you: jetpacks and skiing.

Tribes is about movement and speed. It takes time to adjust and much longer to excel at it, but it is an incredible amount of fun. And when that time comes when you finally pull off that amazing shot against a mid-air player while screaming along at 100mph, it will be worth all of the deaths you’ve suffered up to that point.

What really impresses me about this title is the incorporation of “skiiing” as a full feature. From my understanding, this high speed frictionless skimming of the ground was a bug/exploit in previous Tribes titles. Players figured out a way to get around faster, and it became another skill to master. In Tribes: Ascend, the developer decided to incorporate it intentionally, and it still has quite a learning curve.

Classes are split up into Light, Medium and Heavy weight classes, each of which has a different level of mobility and health. These classes divide up further into specializations. You start the game with access to three unlocked classes, one for each weight class: the Pathfinder, Soldier, and Juggernaut. You can unlock more classes and upgrades for every class through either experience gained through playing or through microtransactions via cash for gold. You can also purchase xp boosters with gold as well, and if you make even a single gold purchase, you are upgraded to a VIP account which nets you a permanent 50% xp increase.

I like this setup because it allows impatient players, or players who don’t have a ton of free time on their hands (like me) to experiment with the different classes to find one they enjoy right from the start. The unlockable classes aren’t more powerful than the free ones you start with either; rather they just fill a different niche. I played a Soldier for an afternoon to get the feel for the game. I realized that this was a wonderful game, that I was having fun, and that the developer should be rewarded with my hard earned money for creating it. I happily paid a small amount of money in order to unlock the Technician class much faster than I would have just through xp alone, and it just kicked up the whole experience another notch.

Say hello to my little friend!

While I’m certain each and every class is fun to play, the Technician allows me to focus on defense. I don’t have to cap flags. I don’t really have to chase other players around very much, because the action always comes to me. This means my basic skiing skills won’t be too much of a weakness. I usually find a nice, enclosed area where those Light classes can’t hop around too much. I grab my Thumper (imagine a cross between a shotgun and a grenade launcher), drop some light turrets to protect our team’s generator, and get to work repairing our defenses and guarding our flag. I scatter in some motion sensors that warn me of opposition and that drain some of their energy as they pass by, which reduces their mobility. For my skill level and play style, its perfect!

Thus far, I have only tried out the Capture The Flag game mode, but there are others:

  • Team Deathmatch – With a unique twist.
  • Rabbit – Score points when you have the flag. Everyone else tries to kill you for it.
  • Capture And Hold – Reminds me of Keep assaults from MMOs like Warhammer Online.

If you enjoy shooters at all, you’ll enjoy Tribes: Ascend. It’s lacking in any sort of single player or co-op mode, but that’s almost a relief seeing how most shooters don’t possess much of what I’d call a story anyway *cough* Call of Duty *cough*. The real meat of almost any shooter experience is always the multiplayer, and in Tribes you get to have a free experience that easily rivals and surpasses most games you’d pay for up front.

My advice is try it for free, and see what you think! You have nothing to lose.

Oh, and if you want an easy kill, look me up! I play under the name Evidicus. You’ll find me guarding a base somewhere.

Don’t mind the turrets. They’re really quite friendly once you get to know them.