Overall, I’ve been pretty excited about all of the news that has been releasing thus far on Guild Wars 2. ArenaNet has a well-deserved reputation for taking mechanics considered “standard” and turning them on their head – in a very good way.
I’m even pretty pleased with the recent article about Healing (sorry, Support!) and Death in the game. As a player with limited time, taking some of the “punishment” out of death, and rethinking the holy trinity of Tank/Healer/DPS, can only be good. Greater flexibility in character classes and skills, a little more self-reliance within each class, and some streamlining of grouping and questing means that I spend more of my limited gaming time having fun. Not “preparing to have fun” as the article puts it; waiting for the right combination can be a hassle.
This is one thing that’s never made sense to me: when building the “holy trinity”, why is there only one class that can fill such a critical role? Granted, in LotRO there is more than one class that can heal, but out of nine total classes, only one is a true healer. WoW has one class (maybe two) out of ten. The Old Republic presumably has two out of eight (or sixteen). The list goes on. For a role that is so critical, you’d think developers would create more options.
I loved the “last stand” mechanic of Borderlands (and the Left 4 Dead games); when you’re reduced to near-death, the game gives you a few moments to rally. In Borderlands, if you can defeat any enemy within that half-minute-or-so, you’re restored to working health and can continue fighting. In Left 4 Dead, it’s up to your teammates to help you out, but you can still fire your pistols when downed, contributing something to the fight. Guild Wars 2 will apparently take a similar approach, and I’m all for this. A dynamic scale of effectiveness, as in decreased ability when one’s health/morale approaches zero, is a great idea. I can definitely see how it will add a new layer to combat. Rubi Bayer puts it perfectly in her article on Massively: “If you’ve got an enemy at 10% HP, why is he still fighting and casting at full strength?”.
However, Mr. Peter’s (or maybe I should say the game’s) attitude towards death doesn’t sit quite right with me. One particular statement really stuck with me (emphasis added): “Death penalties make death in-game a more tense experience. It just isn’t fun. We want to get you back into the action (fun) as quickly as possible.” The association seems to be that Tension = Not Fun.
While I’m all for maximizing fun, it seems like ArenaNet has missed the point here. At the least, I think they’ve taken their philosophy of “no mechanic is sacred” a bit too far. A death penalty isn’t just a way for the developers to slap a “Suck” sticker on our foreheads. It’s a part of the Risk-Reward game lends meaning to our actions, and pretty much sits at the core of all gaming. Sure, combat is fun (it better be for how much time we spend fighting!), but being in combat for the sake of combat is just shallow. The possibility of failure, even when the penalty is relatively mild, lends some depth and challenge to combat. And yes, some tension. Why can’t fun be tense? Why is tension anathema to enjoyment? I think many fans of horror movies would have something to say here.
It’s not a huge thing. Considering that we’ve yet to learn all there is to Guild Wars 2, it could be a very small thing. But it’s indiciative of ArenaNet’s thinking. And it’s the first thing I’ve learned about Guild Wars 2 that’s given me a moment of pause, and doubt.