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In the leadup to its August launch, developer ArenaNet is making a big deal over Guild Wars 2 breaking away from the "Holy Trinity" style of MMO combat design. The Holy Trinity being a group composed of at least one tank, at least one healer and one or more damage dealers. Tank/Healer/DPS.
The tank is typically a beefy warrior-type who stands in the front lines grabbing the monsters by the scruff of the neck and absorbing the bulk of the damage directed at the group. The healer throws healing spells at the tank while the damage dealer... deals damage. It's pretty straightforward, people understand it and it's been used to some extent in most RPGs since Dungeons and Dragons.
That doesn't necessarily make it right, or the best way to do things, and ArenaNet are betting gamers will take the plunge on something quite different if it's offered to them.
Unfortunately what they've ended up doing is creating a sort of Unholy Trinity: Ranged, Regeneration and Running the hell away.
There's a little more to it, I just like the idea of an Unholy Trinity. (Suggest your own gaming-related unholy trinities in the comments?)
Anyway, part of the design of each character class is that they're all fairly self sufficient. They all have their own self-healing skills to choose from, they all have the ability to dodge/evade in a direction to get out of trouble, many have skills that let them become invincible (or at least untouchable) for varying lengths of time and every class deals around the same amount of damage, though the delivery method used varies wildly.
This is fine when comparing one class to another, either on paper or in a PvP scrap. This is also fine when it comes to PvE, where grouping for most of the regular content isn't necessary. And since any of the instanced content, like dungeons, is being designed with this class parity in mind, you can safely assume it won't be a problem when it comes to dungeons.
If you've read my love letter to Guild Wars 2's World vs World, you might already have worked out where this does become a problem!
Because most classes have similar survivability and most can do similar amounts of damage and the gear is all similarly powerful, you end up with tactics much more inspired by reality than those of other games.
In reality, people don't charge into the enemy's lines brandishing a sword or a battleaxe, they stick with their buddies and lay down machinegun fire, launch or toss explosives and generally try to avoid getting killed.
And so that's what happens in WvW. Even though death is decidedly less costly in Tyria than on Earth it can still represent a good chunk of change in repairing your gear, not to mention the time lost in having to traipse back across the map to the current battle.
Which is fine for balance and tactical planning and for other game-y reasons.
But what about melee-based characters? The crazies wielding the oversized battleaxe who, in other games, would leap valiantly off the battlements and into the thick of the fray, lopping off heads and hamstringing opponents. Or the sneaky rogues who sneakily sneak behind the enemy lines and stab the precious healers in the back. Or the Paladins charging forth with their righteous fury, protecting their allies and smiting foes in their ugly, stupid faces.
Well, they're a bit stuffed, aren't they? Running into the middle of a pack of guys who can do as much damage as you, can withstand as much damage as you and can readily escape from the reach of your battleaxe is an invitation to get pasted. If you run into the group from behind you can probably get some good hits in before too many in the group realise you're there. But as soon as even one extra person notices you, you're boned.
And it's much more likely that five or six someones will notice you. Instead of trying to beat down one opponent before he can beat you, you're taking five or six times the damage and quickly find yourself flat on your back, again, hoping your teammates will push forward enough to revive you or, more likely, choosing to respawn at a waypoint and run all the way back again...
The situation is much worse if you're trying to approach the pack head on. They're going to see you coming, they're going to recognise you as a threat and, most importantly, they're going to realise you're an easy kill.
In other games you would have the added survivability of being a melee class, with the consequent health and armour boosts. You'd also have healers looking to support you (hopefully) by keeping your health topped up while you set about disrupting the advance of your enemies. You'd have the stealth classes sneaking in behind the pack to take advantage of your distraction while the regular ranged damage dealers hang back and pick off targets of opportunity.
To be fair, this "ranged trumps all" system works okay for WvW. It's a great deal of fun standing on the battlements of a keep and raining fire down upon your enemies. Or standing in the shadow of the walls and sending fire up to the defenders. And every class in the game has options when it comes to attacking at range, with the same goal of having them all be equally effective in battle.
But for fans of hulking barbarians, sneaky dagger wielding rogues or dashing duellists, this is kind of a bummer. You're not useless in the entire game and I'm sure some melee combinations will be quite valuable in various creepy dungeons.
You're just useless when it comes to the best bit of Guild Wars 2 - massive World versus World battles!
With ArenaNet finally settling on a release date - August 28th! - it seems unlikely any radical changes will eventuate between now and then. MMOs continue to be tweaked after release, so melee characters are not necessarily screwed in perpetuity. And as a fan of both burly barbarians and righteous paladins, I will be keeping an eye on the situation as the release date approaches.
Gird ye loins, melee brethren. This could be a bumpy ride.