The holy trinity is well known. The DPS fight the mobs with damage. The Healer fights the damage from the mobs. And, the Tank fights the agro from the DPS and Healer. In World of Warcraft the formula is pretty well set for easy gameplay. Lord of the Rings gets a bit hazier with their use of hybrid classes, range tanking, and tank swapping, but for the most part it follows the doctrine of the holy trinity.
Guild Wars came very close to shirking the entire thing. Agro does not really exist like it does in World of Warcraft or Lord of the Rings Online. Each battle with PvE mobs is reminiscent of a PvP battle. Players have 8 bodies against the team of enemies to kill. Because PvE can feel so much like PvP (especially in comparison to the stark contrast of PvE/PvP in World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings Online), ArenaNet moved away from the holy trinity to a more enlightened trinity: the three lines.
The three lines role system is a simple concept. The front line is most reminiscent of the holy trinity’s tanks. The front line tries to harrass, damage, and cripple the enemy as much as possible. They try to lower the efficiency of the enemy group by forcing kiting and generally distracting the focus of the group. They are generally more durable than the other lines, but they have no way of forcing mobs on to them in the heat of battle because there is no vanilla agro in Guild Wars. The main difference is where the holy trinity’s tanks try to focus the enemy on to them, the enlightened trinity tries to disrupt the enemy.
The mid-line are most reminiscent of the holy trinity’s DPS. This is not wholly accurate because the front line can deal plenty of damage. The mid-line is a versatile anomaly. The mid-line can DPS, disrupt, and harass just like the front-line, but the main difference between the front line and the mid-line is the tradeoff of power and versatility for survivability. The mid-line are usually casters or ranged attackers that can target a wider area without needing to chase down their quarry in to melee range. The specific roles are most diverse in the mid-line.
Now before I get to the backline, I have to interrupt the flow with the problem, as I see it. For the most part with the front line and mid-line, ArenaNet stayed away from the tank-healer-DPS combo. Battles were more dynamic in both PvP and PvE where weak spots had to be located. The problem (again in my limited world-view opinion) is that the game was built for PvP. The developers, when creating Prophecies, fully expected the nice little storybook campaign they created to lead the majority of players to PvP. Still, they did have some PvE, which had to be balanced between difficulty and fun. Every PvE encounter could not emulate a full blown PvP match, and even worse was that in PvP intelligent opponents had some modicum of survival instilled in their lizard brains. In PvE the mobs basically commit kamikaze like a rabid animal. In PvP, if 3 of your 8 teammembers are dead when you win, you still win. In PvE if 3 of your 8 teammembers are dead after the battle, you were on your way to losing because of death penalty.
Enter the monk profession. Monks repaired the balance in PvE because they could offset the damage caused by reckless, kamikaze PvE mobs, and they then destroyed the enlightened trinity. The backline were healers, and healers were the backline. Sure, the healers felt more proactive than the healers in other MMOs, but just like in the holy trinity in Guild Wars healers were required in PvE. The elegant versatility of the front line and mid-line makeup was overshadowed by the pressing need, always, for a monk or two. This one profession completely shaped the gameplay throughout all of Guild Wars 1. Cries of “looking for one monk, then ready to go” were very common in the days of Guild Wars Prophecies, and rarely, if ever, did a group need another specific profession.
Now my turn to give some terrible idea. In my dream MMO, there would be no healer. Players would have skills that healed themselves and reinforced their class concept like the few heals the non-healer classes have in Guild Wars. A good example is the Mesmer heal which steals energy from an enemy and converts it to life for the Mesmer. Even moreso, for a game with a three-line trinity concept I would split the healing between the lines to reinforce the line concept. Frontline crusaders would have strong heals which only target themselves or allies standing next to them. Midline casters would have weak spot heals and heal-over-time spells, and the backline would have expensive group heals to control the flow of battle. I would not have given one class the title of healer.
Guild Wars 2 mechanics information should be coming “soonish,” and they have been very quiet about the professions that would be available. My hope is that they further reinforce their path to an enlightened, versatile line trinity and completely separate themselves from ye old holy trinity. Guild Wars 1’s class role system, though, is set. Barring a complete overhaul little can be done to soften the healing prowess of one class, the monks. For Guild Wars 2 I have hope that the holy trinity will be properly vanquished and we shall soonish see how much they disagree or agree with me.
how long should we play the martyr