Killing the MMO Trinity

Guild Wars 2 turns six months old in two weeks. I haven’t written about it in a while due to the fact that I’m a news breakin’, review makin’ sorta guy who has to stay bleeding-edge, baby. However, I have put considerable time into it since launch, rounding out around 200 hours so far with no intention of stopping. So, when talking to a good friend of mine about it, I was a bit taken aback by his insistence that if he’s going to play an MMO, he’ll just play WoW. This makes no sense to me for several reasons. But then I realized that people still don’t get how different GW2 is from any other MMO.

The biggest misconception is that GW2 lacks roles in PvE combat or that combat is anything like WoW’s. And I’d like to focus on that, perhaps touching on horizontal vs. vertical growth or directionless motivation later. It all boils down to ArenaNet’s removal of what MMO players call the trinity; or the Tank, Healer and DPS. While a bit touchy to some, it is the best thing about the game, period.


The core issue with the trinity is that is it too necessary. You need each part to run a dungeon and that’s that. Classes are carved into one of those roles, adzing away the nuances of each one until — really — there is no point to have more than three. To take a beautiful, detailed class and whittle away all of its knobs and tricks is mindless to me. With the removal of the trinity, classes can remain defined, burly and woody with unique grains and branches.

Take the Guardian as an example in Guild Wars 2. It is undeniably the closest thing to a tank, someone capable of standing on the frontline and taking damage. Oddly enough, it is the profession with the lowest pool of HP. What you get in the place of massive HP is the ability to mitigate damage and regenerate health. In other words, instead of just tank’n’spanking a boss down, sucking in health from your Healer, you have to be aware and ready to activate abilities, dodge and give out boons. See a huge attack coming? Don’t just stand there, dodge it or get a block up. I’ve always been of the opinion that player responsibility is more fun than auto-pilot and it is.

Now the Healer is wholly gone, so RIP. While any class can spec into boon / healing skillsets, you won’t have the potency to turn the tide as you traditionally would. (Ironically, the best healing-other-people class is also the Guardian.) Every character is best at healing themselves, again putting more responsibility on the player. What you can do is give boons out. These are short buffs like receiving 33% less damage or wholly blocking the next attack. The interesting thing is how they stack — some in intensity and some in duration. They are also typically tied to an ability that has other combat functionality, so you can still participate in inching the boss’s HP bar down while contributing to group survivability.


Because of this, there is no need to stop attacking. There is a need to multi-task in ways few MMOs demand, though. Sure your up-front Warrior can deal a ton of damage, but you can only blame yourself when you’re floored. It’s your HP to manage. To balance this out, magic is not a thing. All your abilities are on cooldowns, ready to blow as soon as they reach zero.

Which brings us finally and simply to DPS. Everyone gets to take down the health bar and this makes everyone a quasi-DPS. My Mesmer can give swiftness, aegis and might out but while doing so I can also give the enemy poison, slow and vulnerability. My role is not just to support. In other words, while you can spec into any build you choose, you will always deal viable damage. Everyone is important.

Now, what about teamwork? Regarding that, I always felt the trinity hampered teamwork drastically. Do you want to deal damage? Be a DPS. Want to support? Heal. Want to boss everyone around? Be a Tank. Sure the Healer is intrinsically linked to the Tank, but it’s less teamwork than fulfilling a rote role. And — as always — poor, poor DPS is out there alone, hoping not to die. Again, not so much teamwork as it is puzzle piece. And unlike other MMOs, standing in front of a boss for more than 3 seconds will end in death, even if you have the whole team pouring support on to you.


But in Guild Wars 2 any team setup is viable, professions synergizing brilliantly. If we have a hunky, beefcake Warrior, I’ll start buffing him; if there is another squishy Mesmer in the party, I’ll make it rain conditions like a tropical storm. When someone goes down, the world isn’t over. The team has to res the person by standing over them removed from combat, like a third-person shooter. The more people there, the faster you res, but you’ll also be drawing more fire. There are no excuses like “I can’t heal you; I’m a Tank!” if everyone can res and everyone can heal themselves.

Lastly, it’s not for everyone. This isn’t supposed to be an insult, but some people like being told what to do and what role to fill. In those ways Guild Wars 2 is directionless in the best ways, offering neither.

Written by: Nick Cane

Game writer, fervent lover of mac and cheese. Favorite games are ES4: Oblivion, Kirby's Adventure, Link's Awakening, Final Fantasy 8 and Mario Galaxy.