Guild Wars 2 breaks the shackles of life, death, and the holy trinity

I feel increasingly that big upcoming MMOs are now marketing to the post-WoW player base. Instead of “If you like WoW, try this too; it’s like WoW with new content/ free,” we’re getting more targeted messages which can be interpreted as, “If you liked WoW but are tired of it, try this; it’s like WoW with a new twist.”

So we have Final Fantasy 14 with the ability to switch classes any time you like. We have SWTOR with the long class specific storylines and smart companions. And then there is Guild Wars 2.

Of all the new AAA MMO devs, Arenanet seem most inclined to pry apart and rebuild their MMO from the ground up. Maybe once we all get to play it, the reaction will be, “Huh, it really is just like WoW with a couple of minor twists. Psych!”  Or maybe they’ll be forced to make the game more WoW-like after taking player feedback.

But the current dev blog slips some intriguing details about their plans.

Always look on the bright side of death

In GW2, there will be a two stage death process. After your character has lost all their health, they are downed. They will still have some special last ditch abilities that can be used in a downed state, so they can still contribute to the fight while hoping someone else will come heal them. If you actually manage to kill an enemy when you are downed, then you recover!

Then if a downed player is attacked some more, they can be defeated – which sounds more like a classic MMO death. You can either be ressed by another player or return via a waypoint/ graveyard (and they will let you pick any waypoint which you have already discovered on the world map which opens up some possibly unintentional opportunities for death travel.)

This has similarities with the current D&D rules, in which a player isn’t actually dead until they are on –10 health. At 0 health, you’re down and bleeding but not yet out.

I find this concept very appealing. I like the idea of having a last ditch chance to throw a rock at an enemy, get in a lucky shot from prone position, or something similar. I do think it will make near death experiences a lot more exciting in the game.

Also, does any warrior not wish they had this ability (given as an example of how some character abilities will interact with the fallen/ defeated state). Res/ rally someone by killing a monster nearby? Yes please!

… when a warrior uses “I Will Avenge You,” and then kills an enemy nearby his fallen allies, his allies will rally.

It’s always people who hate healing who want to destroy the tank/heal/dps trinity

Every time I’ve read an article by a player or developer who wanted to destroy the holy gaming role trinity, it’s always been someone who hated healing. Is it really only healers and support classes who benefit from the trinity setup? I always rather liked having such different roles available.

Anyhow, the GW2 devs want to go a different route.

We keep hearing other MMO developers espousing the “holy trinity” of DPS/ heal/tank with such reverence, as if this is the most entertaining combat they have ever played. Frankly, we don’t like sitting around spamming “looking for healer” to global chat.

It might be truer to say that they aim to redefine the trinity and share the responsibility across all classes. So instead of dps/heal/tank, they discuss dps/support/control. I think it’s a great idea to identify tanking with control and share the responsibility around the group.

But their definition of support is focussed on short term buffs and situational abilities rather than healing. I think it sounds fun and fast paced, but not entirely sure how much dedicated support players are going to like it.

Healing is for when you are already losing. In Guild Wars 2 we prefer that you support your allies before they take a beating. Sure, there are some healing spells in Guild Wars 2, but they make up a small portion of the support lines that are spread throughout the professions.

Having said that, the idea of someone at the back of the group casting heal spells while you take damage has never been particularly immersive.

Maybe it’s because I could use a break from the WoW-type formula that I’m intrigued to try this myself. I wonder though whether this new scheme will tend to encourage an ‘each for himself’ mentality in groups as opposed to deep roles for players to learn. It will be interesting to find out.

Does the notion of a more PvP style of PvE appeal to you?

(Hm, I wonder if it’s really a good idea to tag this post with ‘holy trinity’ …)

How MMOs infect single player games, and other syphilitic themes

This was inspired by Tam’s syphilis meme, where he bravely offered to suggest personalised topics to all comers. So with no more ado, my topic is:

  • How do you think playing WoW influences our attitude to and engagement in other games?

Before I start on the lists, one comment. I wrote a few posts about Dragon Age while I was playing it and loving it, even though this blog is usually focussed on MMOs. Why? Because I never doubted that the vast majority of people I knew who played MMOs would also love Dragon Age. Not for a single moment was there a flicker of doubt. (Also Bioware are apparently working on some teeny and totally unhyped MMO that some of you may have heard about …)

Sharing our Games with Other People

gamers benimoto@flickr

There was a time when playing a single player game meant buying a box, taking it home, loading it up and … that was it. Maybe there would be computer magazine articles to read with hints or tips. Perhaps you’d discuss it with other kids at school. I even played Diablo II like this, it never really occurred to me to do any research into useful builds or optimal gear, or to want to talk to other players beyond trying to get my friends to try it. I just experimented on my own and had fun with it that way.

But MMOs aren’t really like that. The whole point is that other people are there, whether or not you choose to interact with them. They are right there in your game and possibly in your face. The game offers a variety of activities to do with them too, whether it be trading, sharing craft skills, running instances, or just ganking their noob arses. And a lot of players do want to interact even beyond this. WoW, as the biggest player on the block, has spawned thousands and thousands of fansites, blogs, bulletin boards, databases, tweets, facebook pages, and other ways for players to get together and discuss the game. They are brilliant, and lively, and smart, and sometimes very wtf. But don’t ever doubt that these games spawn huge amounts of player generated content, it just isn’t inside the game itself.

And now … now it’s hard for me to play a single player game without wanting to talk about it online too. Or to find out what other people are doing with it, to get some hints and tips, and maybe to even try out the multiplayer options.

Much of this is due to the rise of social networking in general. We’re all more likely to talk about everything online,and it’s much easier to find a community of fellow hobbyists who share your interests. But I never used to share my gaming experiences – my solo games were private time. Now I can’t stop talking about how awesome the dog is in Dragon Age and how my dwarf rogue chick managed to wipe out an entire town of elves. And I know that other people are interested too because my post on Dragon Age endings got more hits from search engines than just about anything else I have ever posted.

Even though those other people are not actually in my single player game, I feel that I’m sharing experiences as if they were. It’s subtle, but it is a different approach. This is even more marked for people who want to share their achievements, their speed runs, their cool or crazy tactics, or bizarre things they have managed to do in single player games.

Developers are responding to this with more multi player options, more social networking, more ways to share achievements or to chat to other people while playing solo. And I love it.

Drilling Down into Tactics

tactics

Another way in which playing MMOs has changed single player games for a lot of people is the idea that we’d sit down and discuss tactics at all. Or spend time thinking about them in depth.

Single player games are often a smooth flow of experience, you learn one level and then move on to the next. Sometimes you will hit a brick wall and have to rethink your tactics. But otherwise, unless you are very focussed on optimising, playing well enough is going to be good enough. It’s a far cry from writing long posts on guild forums about tactics for a raid boss that we haven’t yet beaten. And despite all the complaints about games being dumbed down, let’s remember that tactics can get very complex when there are 25 players to consider. No single player game approaches that sort of complexity.

I don’t mean by this that everyone needs to optimise their play — games are about having fun — but being exposed to in depth strategy discussions in guilds for MMOs has forever changed the way I play single player games. I will spend more time wondering if there is a way that I could  do things more efficiently or more neatly. Single player games also help with this by offering save points so that levels can easily be replayed.

It has also thrown up some particularly amusing raid leader diagrams – I wish I could find some good links to old strategy guides for WoW raids in vanilla. I know our raid leaders loved producing them, and they always got a good reaction from players.

And because of learning all those raid boss strategies in WoW, I’ll recognise similar puzzles when they come up in a single player game. Dragon Age was a great example of this, with different boss fights that feature adds to be picked up, pressure points to stand on, multiple phases, resistance gear, and so on. Of course the single player examples seem simple, there aren’t 24 other people involved.

Rolling the Play, Playing the Role

Playing a single character or a single game for months and months is a very different experience to most single player games. It’s easy to identify strongly with a main character, and that can affect how people approach subsequent games also. For example, people who always roll healers or support classes, or people who always roll tanks. Not every single player game offers those options, instead you play what you are given. But having developed a gaming ‘identity’ in MMOs, it’s easy to feel more at home with a similar role.

And I think that having played an MMO, I appreciate more the ability to customise my character in single player games. There’s no real excuse for at least not having male or female options, for example.

The Things are Also People

Playing MMOs will give you an appreciation for the vast and varied way in which different people can choose to play the same game. This appreciation may take the form of wishing you could kick them in the nuts through your monitor.

And although single player games are happy retreats from the uglier side of MMOs, safe from players who call you a noob, gank you, or steal your kills, I wonder if seeing other play styles in action does bleed over into how we play. Ever spent more time fussing over your appearance in a single player game, from having played with people in MMOs who did that? Ever considered a speed run in a single player game just from having played with a hardcore raid guild where other players did that?

The Holy Trinity

This is the core of most current MMO gameplay, and once you have learned about it, you will see similar undercurrents in a lot of other games also. And when I say learn about it, what I really mean is once you have lived it.

Because our characters in MMOs are so immersive and so focussed, you only have to play in a few groups before you understand how the different roles are meant to work deep in your bones.

After that, the first approach you will take to any new party based game will be a tank/ support/ dps one. Possibly with some crowd control if you are feeling fancy. This has the amusing side effect of making you feel like an instant expert if the game has a long, patient tutorial mode.

the holy trinity #2, a metaphor for everything

Matt had a post on World of Matticus about how he downed his final exam boss, to which I’m sure every WoW player can relate. And it doesn’t stop with exams – it turns out that the holy trinity, and raid boss fights, are actually an awesome metaphor for absolutely everything.

I know that I’ve had good line managers who ‘tanked’ senior management so that the dev team could get on with finishing their project on time. How does it fit into single player games? Well, the metaphor is so pervasive that it’s easy to feel that you just tanked a level or that some NPC is your personal support class even when there’s no tanking or healing involved at all.

Designers who want to throw out the holy trinity do so at their peril, there’s something in that setup that speaks very deeply to gamers.

And … some more about Dragon Age, the RPG for MMO players

Where does Dragon Age fit into all of this. Certainly it was an experience that could be widely shared online, Bioware had a social network all set up. We chatted about it on bulletin boards and blogs also.

But the actual core of the gameplay was familiar to MMO players from the start. This is where the RPG of the MMORPG came from, it wasn’t from the tabletop world, but from the single player RPGs of which Dragon Age is just a recent iteration. There was the large world with the detailed setting, the gear collecting, the holy trinity based squad combat, the quests, the NPCs, the storylines.

It played like a single player MMO, and that was what dazzled a lot of MMO players who hadn’t dabbled much recently in single player games. And that alone shows how much times have changed, because I remember early MMOs being described as ‘just like multi player RPGs.’

Tam, my challenge to you in return is to write about how playing MMOs has affected you in real life. Anyone else, feel free to join in also.

SWTOR: Jedi, Jedi Everywhere (and all the stars did sink)

Hurrah for Europe and for publishers who don’t realise that in these internet-enabled days, even a magazine article in *gasp* a foreign language will be translated and spread all over the net in a matter of hours. Thanks to german magazine “PC Games” (PC Spielen?), the final two classes have been revealed for Bioware’s upcoming Star Wars MMO.

As Massively report in the previous link, Bioware did confirm that the Jedi Consular and Sith Inquisitor will complete the lineup. They have chosen to keep the numbers of classes small, and have stated that each class will have its own personal epic storyline.

So, what do we have on offer? I’m going to run down the list and make some assumptions about the styles of the storylines and what sort of role each class might play in combat. I am assuming a holy trinity based game, I love Dragon Age as if it was my own child, but Bioware’s strength is in storytelling and producing awesome gaming experiences, not in reinventing the rule book.

Republic

Trooper

“The fate of the galaxy rests upon ordinary men becoming extraordinary heroes. This is the path of the Republic Trooper.”

The Knights of the Jedi Order have defended the Republic for generations, but they have not fought alone. A host of unsung heroes have marched at the Jedi’s side—common men courageous enough to enlist and face the same risks as their Jedi comrades despite not having access to the Jedi powers of protection.”

It sounds as though this storyline is all about how ordinary guys and gals in the Republic special forces become extraordinary heroes and end up fighting alongside Jedi and … err.. smugglers. The gear has a strong military flavour.

As far as their role in combat goes, the official site has this to say:

“A Trooper’s rifle is his best friend, and the military is constantly challenged to design faster, more powerful and more reliable blaster rifles every year. Wielding such rifles and wearing protective battle armor designed by the Republic’s top engineers, the Trooper will not hesitate to step right into the crossfire.”

Sounds like a mostly ranged class to me.

Smuggler

“Stacking up enemies as fast as they stack up credits, Smugglers only survive in this galaxy by being slick, sneaky and street-smart.”

“Experienced in flying under the radar, Smugglers are amazingly elusive. Yet when backed into a corner, they quickly become cunning and often deadly combatants.”

OK, so the smuggler is Han Solo. Since he was the coolest character in Star Wars, that’s not a bad thing, and it  gives a good indication of the sort of storylines to expect.

For the role in combat:

“Smugglers often rely on the element of surprise, using stealth and trickery to catch opponents off guard. Despite the sly tactics, they are more than capable of holding their own in a fair fight.”

So it’ll be roguish, probably with some tricks and traps, but the flavour text sounds as though they prefer pistols to melee.

Jedi Knight

“A source of inspiration to allies and intimidation to adversaries, the Jedi Knight’s presence is welcome in any confrontation.”

“With unwavering allegiance to the Republic and the light side of the Force, the Jedi Knight fights with valiant determination, wading into the thick of any battle to protect freedom and democracy and hold fast against those who oppose it.”

Wading into the thick of battle to protect X  and Y, and hold fast against Z screams tank to me.

The combat tactics section reads:

“Whether defending allies by deflecting a barrage of blaster-fire or charging in to challenge a Sith Lord, the Knight’s role is crucial in any conflict.”

Defending, charging in to challenge nasty Sith Lords … it’s a tank. I have no idea where the storyline might unfold for this one, but I’m thinking Knight at King Arthur’s Court for the style of story and moral dilemma.

Jedi Consular

Not one but TWO Jedi classes on each side. We don’t have much information about this class yet, but it is known to be a ranged heal/ CC type of support class.

Sith

The Sith classes  sound stronger than their Republic counterparts — maybe to encourage players to pick the side they haven’t seen so much about in the films.

Bounty Hunter

“In the bounty business, one’s name is everything, and with each mark a Bounty Hunter takes down, his reputation grows, as does his price.”

Well that pretty much sums up what I’d expect in the storyline.

Tracking elusive targets across multiple star systems requires expertise, especially when the targets can be prominent, powerful, and often prepared for confrontation.”

“Bounty Hunters are renowned for their versatility on the battlefield and their ability to go toe-to-toe with force-users.”

“Whoever they must face, however, the Bounty Hunter comes armed with the most-advanced weaponry on the black market, packing heavy firepower but always keeping a variety of tricks and gadgets ready to go.”

It certainly sounds more flexible than the poor Trooper who only has her rifle to fall back on. The Bounty Hunter here sounds like a strong dps class with lots of tricks and gadgets up her sleeve.

Imperial Agent

“Agents of Imperial Intelligence track down and eliminate the Empire’s enemies—from intractable Republic senators to traitorous Imperial Moffs to bloodthirsty rebels with Republic ties.”

Though there are few idealists in Imperial Intelligence, the art of professional perfection is held in deep reverence, and the Agent embodies the Imperial ideal in this respect.”

So you’re going to be Evil James Bond if you play one of these chaps.

“Though striking from a distance or from the shadows plays to the Agent’s strengths, a well-equipped operative is more than capable of evading his enemies when necessary or moving in close to quietly slide a blade between an opponent’s ribs.”

Again, the Agent sounds like a more flexible class than her Republic counterpart. They will be stealthers, with some ability for assassination, and also have ranged capabilities.

Sith Warrior

“Sith Warriors crush their opponents and stride toward their goals with dreadful determination, leaving ruin and annihilation in their wake.”

A natural leader in any context, a Sith Warrior inspires both fear and undying loyalty into his followers and allies.”

It’s a tank.

“Protected by heavy armor and his powers of intimidation, the Warrior wades into the thick of the fight and unleashes pure hatred and fury to eliminate all who would stand against him.”

Huh, the Sith Warrior actually gets heavy armour. Well that screws up the plans for total world domination via robe.

Sith Inquisitor

The other newly revealed class, as with the Consular we don’t know a lot about this one yet. But it’s likely to fill a similar role.

Keeping down the Jedi numbers

So I think that all the Jedi are actually going to be support classes in this game. The Knight and Warrior will be tanking classes, and the Consular and Inquisitor will be support. The non-jedi will make up the bulk of dps and stealthers.

You have to admit, that’s quite a smart way to keep the numbers of Jedi limited …