Guild Wars 2, developed by MMO savant ArenaNet, released back in August of 2012 and offered enough alternatives to the traditions of the genre that it almost broke the mold. Gone was the “holy trinity” of in-game parties. For those who don’t know, this entailed making sure that your party had at least one tank (someone to draw and maintain the enemy’s attention), one healer (self explanatory), and the rest DPS (damage per second, or damage dealers) characters. Guild Wars 2 set out to allow every class in the game the ability to perform roles in their own three-way setup: damage, support, and control. Allow me to explain the way ArenaNet intended this system to work:

  • Damage is effectively the same as it is in other MMOs. People with a damage setup will oftentimes have gear that improves their power, precision (increases critical hit chance), and critical damage bonus. Sometimes they will also have gear that improves their damage on conditions (i.e. burns, bleeds, torment, and confusion applied to enemies), but this is not necessary.
  • Support is meant to heal, remove conditions from allies, and apply boons (buffs) to them as well. Generally a support character will have stat bonuses to vitality, healing power, boon duration, and toughness, as they are largely defensive characters. Their job is to keep the DPS upright and chip in damage of their own when they have nothing better to do.
  • Control characters are the condition appliers. They will often use skills that effect a wide area in order to both damage and inflict statuses on enemies, namely stun, daze, immobilize, or any other skill that would normally interrupt attacks. These characters will usually have condition damage/duration builds, with bonuses to other stats as needed.

Now, I’m sure ArenaNet meant well when they came up with this system, as based on any given party there are certain merits to each setup. However, the game has wound up being fairly unbalanced and has led many to discover that damage builds are the only viable setup when doing high-level or endgame content, such as dungeons.

Speaking from my own experience, my main character is an elementalist. Elementalists are the resident “jack-of-all-trades” class, because they can do a little bit of everything reasonably well. Changing weapons grants varied skill sets, ranging from high single-target damage to full melee to massive area damage and control. However, they have the lowest health pool of all eight classes, are light armored (meaning they get squished quickly), and have a steep learning curve. Over the course of my time playing the game, I’ve tried different builds. First I went with a full offensive build, known within the community as a “glass cannon” setup. I put everything into maximizing my damage. However, as I still wasn’t very good at avoidance and such, I died a lot… to the point that I changed it up. I kept all my gear the way it was, which was for the most part offensive, but instead put my traits into defense. I had more health, better toughness, and could stay alive longer. However, my damage effectively cratered, as I was down 300 points in power and precision, and I even noticed that my group heals were still inadequate. That’s when I realized that the best builds are the offensive ones.

This is not to say that you can’t succeed playing some other way. Open world content and player vs. player are still there for those who prefer more balance or full support, but against the toughest of monsters, one needs only to remember the following: a dead enemy does no damage. The quickest method for ending the threat of getting killed by a boss is to kill it first. While you can mitigate the damage and keep removing conditions all you want with support builds, it’s only going to take you that much longer to eliminate the target, and more time defending means a greater chance of a mistake or having to wait for your heals to cool down. Is the hardest content still doable with a non-glass cannon setup? Sure, given enough skill and tenacity.

ArenaNet pounded the “play the way you want” mantra into everyone’s heads leading up to the release of Guild Wars 2. Over a year after its release, the verdict I give is that their statement is partially true. If you’re simply trying to complete the content at hand with no regard to time spent or loot gained over time, then yes, you can certainly play the way you want. However, if you’re a hardcore gamer who wants to maximize the potential of your character, well, you’re going to have to play the way the game rewards most and deal with it.

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