Where Guild Wars 2 goes wrong

I’m not going to lie to you, people: Guild Wars 2 is a darn good game.

Hard-hitting truths, I know. The game won our 2012 Game of the Year award for good reason. There’s a lot to praise within that package, from the art direction to the game mechanics to the flexibility. Many parts of it push the design paradigm in interesting ways and could lead to a much better understanding of what can be done with online games.

And then there are places where the paradigm pushes back.

I come here not to praise Guild Wars 2 but to look at the game after the honeymoon has ended and we’ve all had a chance to settle down. It deserves its status as the best game released this year, but man there are some places where the game is an irritating piece of work. And there are lessons to be found here both for future development on the game and for anyone thinking that it’s a gold standard.

Roles are horribly underexplained and unclear

Some people have a major issue with the trinity setup in games. I don’t, but I can understand why some people do. Guild Wars 2 took on the trinity in a manner reminiscent of a man discussing his ex-wife. It seemed at times that you literally could not read a single promo piece from the company without at least one or two mentions about the game not having a traditional trinity setup.

That’s fine. If you want to yank out one of the fundamental engines that people assume MMOs are built upon, points for you. But those points are immediately lost when you decide not to tell anyone how your replacement works.

Digging around on ArenaNet’s site, I can’t find a single discussion of how the game actually intends to break down roles. The closest I can find is an old installment of our weekly GW2 column, Flameseeker Chronicles, talking about something entirely different. There’s certainly nothing explaining exactly what you’re supposed to be trying to build for or look for when crafting your character.

Is this an issue? I’m not the only person to find that the game’s actual group dungeons lack much in the way of structure, and group combat feels more like a mess of people trying to overwhelm events and enemies with numbers instead of finesse. And there’s literally nothing in place meant to imply what you’re supposed to be doing — trait lines enhance stats, which suggests one playstyle, but sometimes the abilities offered by that trait line don’t suggest a similar style.

There’s nothing to answer the question of “what in the world should I do with my character?” The game and the website alike provide nothing in the way of guidance. And the tired old chestnut of “what do you want to do?” doesn’t help in this situation because there are clearly right and wrong ways to play. What weapons work well with a venom build? Which healing skills fit better here? Should I go down one trait line or another if I want to focus on damage?

It’s not the lack of a trinity that causes these problems; it’s the fact that all of this works just fine in the minds of the developers but doesn’t ever get explained to players. And not only is this a problem in and of itself, it also leads to some major issues with the game’s group dynamics as a whole. Groups are frequently beyond messy; there’s no clear way to understand how someone else’s character is supposed to work and formulate a strategy based on that.

In short, the whole thing would almost have worked better with a trinity setup. If the game had, for example, allowed any class to perform any role or given each member of a party a role and granted abilities accordingly, that might have accomplished the net goal (not shackling players to having a tank and healer) without the current issue. But even if the designers just take the time and effort to explain how they want the game to work now, that would be an improvement.

As it is, the lack of roles results in things just being a disconnected mess. This is not what anyone wants.