Flameseeker Chronicles: How do trinities work?

No, no -- there's three characters. That must mean there's a trinity.
People have had varying reactions to Jon Peters' post on ArenaNet's blog last week, which explained the newest system of traits and attributes for Guild Wars 2. There've been all sorts of thoughts about it: that it's awesome, that it's unnecessary, that it's a whole lot of words to keep track of (I'm saying that, in fact, and I'm firmly in the camp of folks who think it's all pretty great). Specifically, the inclusion of the compassion attribute, which improves a character's healing output, has raised a glaring red flag for some players who are afraid this is the first step toward holy trinities and dedicated healers. I respectfully disagree.

To begin with, I think some of us have managed to misunderstand each other. I've heard, for months and more, people worrying about party roles and feeling clever for noticing that most groups tend be composed of some distribution of damage, control, and support players -- as if that's somehow the first step down a slippery slope. Just because the "holy trinity" of MMOs is gone doesn't mean that any sort of trinity, ever, has been abolished. In fact, in his article (from way, way back) about healing and death, Jon Peters didn't even reject the term trinity. He said:
Instead of the traditional trinity, every Guild Wars 2 profession is self reliant -- not only can they all help each other by reviving in combat, but all professions have ways to build their characters differently to make them more versatile for group play. Ultimately, DPS/heal/tank just didn't cut it in our book... er, game. Our players demand more from Guild Wars 2 and we intend to deliver on that demand instead of delivering more of the same. Not only is the trinity very formulaic, but it leaves out a lot of gameplay elements that make many other games so much fun. Instead, we break these trinity categories down into a cooler, more versatile system.
Peters then went on to explain the modified system of damage/support/control that had replaced the DPS/heal/tank paradigm for Guild Wars 2. I think that the term "soft trinity" has become standard for this new system, although I mentioned it to someone the other day and he seemed new to the phrase, so I could be wrong. Anyway, it's very fitting.

What the soft trinity means is that the idea of group roles isn't gone or even changed in a hugely dramatic way. The roles of the holy trinity have been generalized. Rather than just putting out the biggest numbers possible for DPS, players can choose the style of damage-infliction that best suits them. Instead of focusing on making red bars go up, support-oriented folks can enable their allies to keep themselves hale and hearty. And without the option to give the finger to mobs in order to attract their ire, players instead focus on control by imposing their will on enemies in more sophisticated ways.

The strength of this system is that it eliminates reliance on specific skills and classes. There isn't just one class that can be supportive or a class that is a god at control but awful at anything else. You can use the same character to fill any of the three roles, by turns. Additionally, the idea of redundant roles isn't really borne out in play -- you don't need one and only one of any sort of player. You can choose not to have anyone in a group playing support, or you can have multiple players running control, or any variation. That is the extent of the abolition of the holy trinity.

Guild Wars 2
I've heard the argument that even though things like a dedicated healing class aren't built into Guild Wars 2, players will find a way to fabricate them. "Yo, Elementalist -- gz, you're the new healing class. You're bringing a staff and you're only ever healing us." That sounds like it might be reasonable; after all, an Elementalist with a staff has three whole skills that provide healing to allies. Of course, one of them is all but negligible (the first skill, with no recharge, does minimal healing on allies in a small blast radius), and the other two are on a 20- and 45-second cooldown. Suddenly, that looks less effective.

"But wait," I hear the min/maxers crying, "You can stack your points to shorten the recharge on water spells!" That's a fair point, min/maxers, but a 15% decrease on that longer cooldown still leaves you with more than 30 seconds before your most effective heal is ready for use again. That might still be a kind of valid way to play, and it might be considered effective, but it so badly limits the Elementalist that it shouldn't really even be on the table for discussion because instead of waiting around for a cooldown to run out, the Elementalist can provide support in other ways.

Every attunement offers condition-type skills when you're using a staff, so Elementalists can slow down foes that are harrying the front-line fighters a little too much with a crippling or chilling spell. If crippling, chilling, or immobilizing skills from foes are causing problems for the melee types, healing them isn't actually the best way to support them; instead, the Elementalist has the ability to switch attunements to air and use Windborne Speed to aid allies by removing any slowing effects and giving them a brief speed boost. By then, maybe it's time to switch back to water and throw in some more heals, and maybe those heals are really super effective because you've put all your available trait points into water-type spells. But don't you see how much more effective you've been by switching away for a moment? That doesn't even begin to consider how throwing down crippling or burning skills is going to help make your Necromancer buddy's axe and dagger skills more effective by giving him more conditions to feed off of. The "dedicated healer" who focuses only on healing to support allies is going to be less effective than one who understands the more holistic definition of support in Guild Wars 2.

That was an example of one weapon for one profession in one party role. There are similar examples across the board, and they all point to the fact that while a three-role party system may still exist, it's been simplified to allow for a lot more freedom in how those roles can be filled. I actually don't want this whole column to be about defending the soft trinity, so please bear with me as we press on to traits and attributes and what they mean for the party roles in Guild Wars 2.

Guild Wars 2
A big premise behind profession design in Guild Wars 2 is that you pick your profession based on your playstyle more than on what kind of role you want to fulfill within a group. What this new iteration of the trait and attribute system is doing, from what I can see, is allowing players to then tailor their professions to their preferred combat roles. You like magic and typically prefer to be the back-line in battle? Great, you might be an Elementalist. But previously, there wasn't a lot of choice about really making that profession your own -- you could wear gear that boosts one stat over the other, sure, but that didn't really give the feeling of customizing your playstyle.

That's what attributes and traits are for, again as I understand them. Maybe as a support-type person, I know that I'm gonna be in the world doing a lot of big-group stuff because that's the sort of thing I love. So I'll choose to improve boon duration in order to spread my support over as large a group as possible. Maybe I don't really care to keep track of conditions and how they affect my skills, so as a thief I focus on increasing my critical damage multiplier rather than the length or efficacy of conditions I apply. Conversely, maybe I'm just crazy about setting things on fire and having them stay on fire for a really long time, so I focus a good number of attribute points and a trait or two on that and then have fun seeing how much havoc I can wreak with that type of set up.

I've kind of avoided the topic of the respec fee and having to go to a trainer to change up traits and attributes. I'm not sure I'm going to change anyone's thoughts about it, but I don't really object to it, and that's as far as my opinion goes. I wouldn't mind if ArenaNet made things more convenient by removing the travel requirement while leaving in the associated fee, but it also wouldn't make me likely to change up my attributes more often. As has been pointed out, you can always play around with attributes in the PvP lobby, so if you're dead set against paying a single copper more than you absolutely have to, maybe keep a spare character slot and mess around with prototype builds before you make big point-allocation decisions.

At some point, someone in a PUG will probably tell me that my condition-heavy Warrior is dumb and I should respec for tanking by upping my toughness at the expense of all other things. It'll probably be right before we go into a dungeon, and I'll probably say no, thanks, but that I'm happy to leave the group if they want to find someone who likes that sort of play. That wouldn't be because I felt trapped by the system; if I want to change my playstyle to fit the group, I will. Otherwise, I'll find a group full of people who don't spend their time deciding how total strangers ought to play their characters.

This is a big topic that's getting looked at from many, many angles. If you've still got qualms, you might consider reading Lewis B's piece over at Guild Wars 2 Guru; he very calmly explains why this does not call for panic. Dak's written an article for Under the Pale Tree that supports the idea of respec fees' lending weight to your decisions. In fact, the community's getting big enough that I can no longer conceive of conveniently linking to everything that's come up. In its own way, that's tremendously exciting.

Elisabeth Cardy is a longtime Guild Wars player, a personal friend of Rytlock Brimstone, and the writer of Flameseeker Chronicles here at Massively. The column updates on Tuesdays and keeps a close eye on Guild Wars, Guild Wars 2, and anything bridging the two. Email Elisabeth at elisabeth@massively.com.
This article was originally published on Massively.