Guild Wars Holy Trinity

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

39 thoughts on “Guild Wars Holy Trinity”

  1. Ravious, an enlightened posting. There was indeed only one profession leftover from the trinity in PvE, and that was the healer, almost always a monk. It was and is also mandatory. OK, nowadays heroes can fill the role, but the healer is always a necessity.

    So yeah, your idea is not terrible, but spot on. Guild Wars already has a monk skill line that focuses less on healing but on supporting damage mitigation, the PROTECTION line. Why not make monks fighters that can dish out a lot in a martial arts way or let them focus on the role of the protector, without making it the best bet and almost mandatory for the party?

    (I excluded things like the Shadowform builds and other “tank” or farming builds from this explanation. They exist, but they are rather special, and I often think especially in the case of Shadowform we woul be better of if they would not exist)

    1. Protection line is great, but all it is, to be blunt, is proactive healing. It fits well with Guild Wars, but once you add in divine favor it goes back to healing. I love my time in RA playing a boon-prot monk… but it was still healing.

      1. Yes, definitely. I just think they could salvage some ideas from the protection line for Guild Wars 2.

        It would be great if they manage to break the trinity completely for Guild Wars 2. Imagine that, MMO combat without a punching bag and a healer, dynamic and depending on the people in your party.

        OK, probably there will be party combos that are just better than others and people will probably demand them… but one can dream, after all. :)

        1. One thing that gives me hope is that there are no quests, it’s an event system. You can’t rely on there being healers (monks) around for every event you are at, and honestly losing an event because you didn’t have healers sounds like a pretty crappy system to me.

          That’s part of the reason PQs in WAR failed… they ultimately required the holy trinitiy to beat them. They were supposed to be pick up things… but if 4 black orcs and a choppa were all you had, it was worthless to try it out.

          1. PQs did work without healers, maybe not the harder ones but the medium or easy difficulty ones DEFINETLY did, but the hard ones NEVER where suppost to be as simple as pugs with random people. The hard ones where suppost to be the test of either communication or numbers. They where still possible with no healer, I did it before, BUT it was tougher in the 9+ pqs to not have a healer you HAD to make up for it in dps. I don’t think we had anyone TANKING in any pqs up until hard ones in t4…. How long did you play and on what server/side? Just saying the pq system worked how mythic seemed to have intended (coming from the closed beta and seeing the questions they asked and how they tweaked them).

            1. I played for about three months, and because I was so hard on for PQs I did everyone I could try.

              I played with XoO on Chaos, I can’t remember which server, but it was pretty populated in the beginning. By the three month mark PQs in the lower three tiers were completely empty.

              You have a point with the easy/medium PQs, and I think Mythic did too with the Stages. Still without just doing them overkill, they liked having the trinity more than not.

              I did not remember playing them much after they did that huge PQ overhaul, but like I said they were ghost towns in Tier 2 and 3 by then.

      2. No, it wasn’t:

        – Healing occurs after damage. Protection occurs before damage.
        – Healing can be done with eyes glued to the party list, protection requires watching the play.
        – Protection often scales to be more effective the more people are attacking the target (Guardian, Prot Spirit, Spirit Bond). Healing doesn’t (skills like ‘Healing Seed’ are really protection, in my book).

        I definitely agree with you that there should be more focus on all classes healing themselves. But removing the monk from the class design would be awful, the monk is the biggest thing setting Guild Wars apart from other online RPG play. And that is due solely to the existence of Protection skills.

  2. I would KILL for an open skills system (like what has been explained for us in The Secret World where you choose your skill sets based on how you wish to roll).
    This way you can add a heal to your tanking abilities or DPS to your healing factor…
    Age of Conan came close, but instead they made healers worthless, then went even further with their 1.05 gear patch, which made the game feel too close to WoW, and then people needed a healer.
    Dragon Age and Divinity 2 are other games (just not MMO’s)that lets you stray over most of the map and choose what you wish (with Divinity 2 letting you enter ALL fields from Ranger, Mage, Heals, DPS and Tank).
    Luckily, Guild Wars and the dual class system was a win for not having this dire need of Tank/Spank/Heals that most MMO’s suffer.

    Now, I will side with you, and hope Guild Wars 2 doesn’t screw up and go to the “Trinity”.

    Good post

  3. GW might indeed have been the start of a revolution. Some tried their own version, i believe warhammer online had some new setup but failed.

    As most probably know by now, more games are following their example. Even WoW is giving up on their poor and ancient method and are slowing moving to less dedicated roles.

    SWTOR is doing the next step of not having a healer at all. They have taken it one step further, no class is marked as ‘healer’ – GW still had the monk that had the look and feel of a healer.

    The ancient and terrible setup of tank/dps/heal is dying, just a matter of time now that more and more games follow the example. Then games might actually become realistic again.

    1. Originally WAR was not going to have a healer, but it went directly in to the trinity.

      I am interested in WoW. From what I hear on forums and from other bloggers is hybrid classes allow you to choose more roles, but the roles are still defined by the trinity. Could be wrong though since I don’t play WoW anymore.

      1. Your observations are right, today you are ideally a Paladin, then you have all three possible roles in one package.

        The pure DPS classes are played less and less, rogues and warlocks and even the once too numerous hunters are the least played classes by now. The unpopular exception among the hybrids are Shamans, they still did not get popular. Some blame the totem mechanics.

    2. I can’t wait for games to become more realistic again either. I know in Afghanistan when the Marines are fighting a dragon and one of them gets roasted they don’t need a damn healer. There has never been a need for dedicated medical personnel in any conflict in the history of humanity. Why the hell should I need one in a video game?

  4. “In my dream MMO, there would be no healer.”

    that is because you are bad.

    “Protection line is great, but all it is, to be blunt, is proactive healing. It fits well with Guild Wars, but once you add in divine favor it goes back to healing. I love my time in RA playing a boon-prot monk… but it was still healing.”

    wow bullshit. you reasoning with ra clearly shows you have no idea what you are talking about.

    1. Yeah, maybe I went to hyperbolistic with prot = healing, but prot really just further amplifies the role of the monk. I guess that was my point. Prot line reinforces monks role as a backline healer rather than diversify their role.

      1. my point is, 1. it is not good to remove 1 role from the game by adding it to everyone 2. it would be a retarded mess 3. if you really want to do damage on a monk, go /w, bring some attack skills, go to RA and laugh your ass off but why did you choose that profession in the first place? yes. to heal. and that is why you can’t(and should not) do anything else on it. 4. we are talking about pve pugging here so 1 could go /mo and bring some healing or whatever if he/she wanted to. 5. this article is 4-5 years late

  5. Beautiful post showcasing the beauty of GW’s design. The holy trinity is still kinda kept alive and he defacto standard by the fantasy trope of instantaneous magical healing. Instantaneous damage is a very real world concept, in contrast. So why NOT do away with magical healing (even LotRO’s semantic dodge via ‘morale’ or a sci-fi setting’s dodge of ‘sheilds’)? Well it’s kinda a vicious circle, isn’t it? The fantasy trope is brought to gaming because for the sake of a game we need to give the player a means to instantly recover from setbacks.

    Look to Pirates of the Burning Sea, methinks, or WWII online for the alternative. Combat is no longer about burning through a stack of hit points, but a more realistic (and more complex to model and master, and some say less fun) system of protecting and exploiting vulnerabilities.

    Also, GW is allowed their class and combat elegance due to the ability to body-block. That one thing makes 99% of the difference because its existence, a mathematical aggro-meter is virtually unneeded.

  6. While I think you’re onto something (although it’s not new), I think healers should still be a viable career in GW2. It’s sometimes fun to play. It has become essential because GW1 was built around some sort of trinity (tank-nuker-healer or the 3 lines). Trinity is also what you find in starcraft.

    Smiting is an original line of spells, it’d be interesting to provide exclusive but not OP healing/prot to a healer, while balancing all other classes so that they don’t need one, as you explained.

    1. “GW1 was built around some sort of trinity (tank-nuker-healer or the 3 lines)” what the fuck are you talking about?

  7. Personaly i loved the monk becouse of its teamwork.
    But as soon as everyone is healing themselfs its not about teamwork anymore?

    1. Yeah, which is why I always play support. I played a priest in WoW, a necro in most of GW (when people didn’t think I was good support), and I play a Captain in LOTRO. I love teamwork, and I don’t want it to go away.

      But why would teamwork disappear? Guild Wars came so close to having a completely shared teamwork where all “roles” could be filled regardless of profession. Monks though completely took a role to the degree that no one else compares.

      I am not advocating you only heal yourself ever again, but watch out for events in GW2 because you might have to be a lot more self-sufficient.

      1. “Guild Wars came so close to having a completely shared teamwork where all “roles” could be filled regardless of profession.”
        you rupt, snare and condition spread with a ranger, you deal big melee dommoges with a war, you shut people down, rupt and annoy them with a mesmer, you play gimmicks with a necro therefore it could be deleted aswell, you heal, protect and remove shit on people with a monk and you deal big ranged dommmoges/KD/blind/weaken/snare enemies with an ele, you can’t do these things as effectively on another profession(or if you do, then there is a balance problem). the 4 professions introduced in the expansions can’t do anything that couldn’t be replicated with the original ones(except targeted unremovable enchantments called weapon spells and unremovable paragon shit that are basically ele wards without positioning) therefore they serve no purpose besides breaking the game. what im saying is that your statement is untrue. at least in pvp, and noone gives a rat’s ass about pve because you can win with anything there.

      2. Bring the player, not the class? If everyone has the ability to heal and/or react to tactically interesting situations, regardless of what they chose at character creation, the game becomes more about who you play with, not what classes you need.

        Imagine that, an MMO actually being *more* social because everyone has a baseline self-sufficiency.

  8. Thanks for the link! I guess I picked a good name for the blog–it seems to come up naturally in discussion a fair bit. :)

    Another way to enliven MMO combat is to make encounters more atomic and self-contained, and give everyone full health and mana after each encounter. That way, you can completely tax a group of players with difficult and interesting encounters without ruining their fun. The game could be about survival and narrow victories instead of the boring rompfest that themepark MMOs habitually become.

  9. I wholeheartedly agree with you Ravious.
    The problem with Guild Wars is the monk.
    (among others)

    A healer is one thing, making the healer essential is quite another. Which is why whenever I played a monk, I went smiting, just to piss people off.

    Wall of text incoming.

    For thous who think you can’t have teamwork without a healer, look at EVE. You have logistics ships which are essentially the healers of EVE, but their role is very limited.
    By in large, most fleets go without it.

    Do those fleets lack teamwork without outside healing/repair?
    Fuck no.
    EVE did it right in this respect.

    You can have teamwork, and good combat without a healer holding your hand every step of the way.

    For example. I’m currently playing Monster Hunter Freedom Unite on my PSP. It has online capability, but the way combat functions is that you have to keep you wits about you and take every opportunity to avoid taking damage.

    The reason for this is that A: every attack you and enemies use can be avoided or blocked.
    B: self healing is very limit, and puts you at considerable risk.

    So what do I mean by that? First, you don’t regenerate health in the traditional, Guild Wars like sense.
    When you take damage, 2 3rds of the damage makes your bar go red, the last 3rd goes gray.
    Red health bar will regenerate provided you take NO more damage, but only up to the gray bar.
    Gray health bar does not regenerate, period.

    Oh, and if you get hit again, all that red bar turn gray.
    It’s also quite common to see 1/4 to 2/3 of you health bar go in a single boss attack, so it’s very, very easy to die.

    Now how do you heal in this game?
    Only 2 ways. (in combat)
    The most common, and only really combat feasible means is potions. Depending on the type, it can heal between 1/4 and 1/2 of you health bar.
    But hears the kicker, you can only hold 10 of any given potion.
    (not including combination items to make more potions)

    In short, you have a limited supply of healing, which makes it precious.

    The second, is that because there are no skills in this game, there are very few reusable abilities to heal yourself.
    Only two as far as I know. One that you pet cat can get, but it almost never uses it.
    And another that a music hammer can use IF you have the right type, and can play the right notes in the right order.
    Of coarse, playing music in battle is suicide, at least solo it is.

    So, you are forced to learn how to play your role/weapon, in such a way as to not get hit. Because if you do, you may very well not get another chance.
    Bosses tend to have an nasty habit of jumping on you while you sucking dirt, and just not giving you time to recover.

    A bit hardcore, but it’s an example of a truly good healing system.

    I’d much rather learn how to survive, and not take damage in the first place, then to be dependent on another for my own survival.

    And if there is healing, I’d rather it be voluntary rather than mandatory.

    Rant over.


    1. “I’d much rather learn how to survive, and not take damage in the first place, then to be dependent on another for my own survival.”

      its called teamplay. if you don’t like it, go back to your crappy psp game. these are additional roles, you will just make the game less diverse, more boring and degenerate if you take them away.

    2. “For thous who think you can’t have teamwork without a healer, look at EVE. You have logistics ships which are essentially the healers of EVE, but their role is very limited.
      By in large, most fleets go without it.”

      You have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. In the vast majority of medium-large fleet battles in Eve, logistics ships are required if you want to win. Logistics ships are the first ships targeted by any competent FC, and they are the ships that get defended with the drones and fighters. In fact, it is extremely common in my experience for fleet commanders to ban fitting self shield and armor repairers completely and telling people to fit remote repairers so they can only heal other people only.

      The reason is, is that if you are targetted in a fleet conflict you have way more incoming damage than you can possibly heal yourself. The slots taken up by self-reppers are much better used by fitting a larger tank. The only way that you will live is if your fleet remote reps you.

      The trinity is alive and well in Eve. As it should be. There is no depth in a tactical conflict simulation without role specialization.

      Of course, since the people asking for the demise of the trinity have no idea about game mechanics in the first place, perhaps the answer to making them happy is just tricking them and renaming the various tactical roles to something else. They probably wont notice.

  10. Well just started playing GW, so pretty new to the game and learning about the 3 lines. But from what I’ve been reading and looking at specs on PVXwiki and trying things out in game, there does seem to more to damage prevention in the game not involving the monk class.

    Think you are being a bit too rigid with your definition of backline, I’d include party buffs in that too and consider conditions like blindness and weakness which prevent a load of damage, then there’s paragons with damage reduction shouts and party healing chants (sure not a primary healer but good backup), ritualists are healers too, and there seems to be a lot of builds Necromancer/Ritualist because of the energy gains from the soul-reaping primary stat, and funnily enough there is the concept of meat-shield provided by minion masters. So yeah definitely enjoy that flexibility and hopefully like you said it gets built upon.

  11. It doesn’t matter what other professions you bring, as long as you deal damage and disruption. The Monk is required. So I concur with your observation. I think Protection prayers are proactive, and apart from the long-lasting passive effects, they have a positive impact on the game.
    Something that could have been interesting: what if they had made Blind (and/or Dazed) exclusive to the Smiting line?
    A think the best example of a GW meta without monks is the IWAY in Tombs. Sure, that build lacked diversity, but that’s an example of self-sufficiency with support.
    I look forward to GW2 professions being self-sufficient *in their own ways*. Spike and pressure will always be around, but that doesn’t mean that Protection-like skills can’t be spread amongst professions.
    Thanks for posting Ravious, it’s been food for thought.

  12. The “Holy Trinity” is just something that MUD-makers found convenient in the 90s. It’s not written in stone. Saying you have to have the Holy Trinity is like saying you can only make games about invaders from space or dot-eating mouths because that’s the way the Founding Fathers did it.

    There are thousands of successful combat systems, including RPG systems, that don’t give healing a prominent role. If you think about it, combat is a race between two sides where the first side to 0 HP first loses, and all healers do in the end is slow down the rate at which the sides get down to 0 HP. So it’s not a big deal to re-jigger the damage numbers so healers aren’t required. (And I say this as someone who almost always plays a cleric in D&D.)

    On the flip side, having healers doesn’t do any real harm, either, except in terms of flavor (e.g. having dedicated healers in COH, when there has never in the history of superhero comics been a major characters whose primary power is healing others.)

    Now if you want to rant about something, rant about aggro, another concept that was invented as a convenience by MUD-makers in the 90s. That’s actively harmed MMOs, as it’s trained players to think that dedicated “aggro managers” should be able to make mobs act like complete idiots, and that the game is broken if they can’t. Aggro has made MMOs (and, increasingly, single-player CRPGs and pen-and-paper RPGS) predictable and dull.

  13. To a certain degree its true that Guild Wars still relies when it comes to mainstream play on the Tank – Nuker – Healer Trinity.
    But thanks to the flexible class system there are many viable if not superior alternatives like:

    Discordway and Sabway – a Teambuild that can be played with only Necromancers. Cause of their soul reaping abillity they can heal nearyl as good as a classic heal monk can. Since these tactics relie on a minion meat shield strategy there is no tank neeeded either.

    Paraway – even thought paragons haven been nerfed a couple of times in the past the concept of a pure paragon team is still viable. You can beat most of the hardmode and elite instances in the game with this tactic. Thx to the high armor and party buff abillities of the paragon there is not classical healer or tank needed.

    There are many others like the allready mentioned IWAY, ranger trapper teams, ritualist spiritspam teams and dervways. Some of them like a trapper team might not be as fast as a tank – nuker – healer tactic but they are certanly viable enough to master some of the toughest areas in Guild Wars.
    Monks might be still the main healers in the game but after four expansions the Guild Wars meta has more to offer than just the classic tank/nuker/healer strategy.
    For me its ok if pugs still prefer to play in classic formations as long as i have the possibillity to play these alternative tactics with my guild mates.

  14. So *that’s* why I never got into GW, I was trying to play the PvE part of a PvP game like I would play the PvE part of a PvE game.

  15. Guild Wars doesn’t require Monks in the party, it merely requires the players to be flexible enough with their builds to synergise with one another.

    You can heal with a Me/Rt quite easily Ritualists have some rather strong heals and there are Mesmer skills to make up for the lack of health removal.

    With the professions in Guild Wars as they are now, if you should be able to take any 8 given primary professions and get the ammount of healing, support and damage you need to achieve your goal. A professions need for healing seems to go down with that professions ability to heal.

    1. Saying that protection is just proactive healing is stupid. You can just as easily say healing is reactive protection.

      Anyway I’m pro have a healer because I find the role fun, what isn’t fun is a system that has been suggested which is effectively having a team of 8 hybrids.

  16. The Paragon class was an attempt at this idea, with the Motivation line it could heal, and with spear mastery/command it could dmg. Most of the classes in GW have some self heals (which progressed as GW grew) Wars got Lions Comfort and Heal Sig, Dervishes could self heal GREATLY, Paras had self and group heals, Assassins have heals in teh shadow line, Mesmers have skills in inspiration that now heal while giving energy (ether something or other, its late and I forget)Necros have self heal through blood line and Rangers have troll unguent and heal trap and of course the monk heals like hell…

    So, while the monk is the STRONGEST healer, and thus makes him a valuable asset, a team COULD possibly survive without one, using the right builds… I think however that GW2 will expand on this idea and make the Monk less of a class and more of a support. Just my $.02

    1. Which is really all I want. I don’t want every class to be the same, but I do want it to be a *decision* with what class to bring for each line.

Comments are closed.