Sunday, September 27, 2015

Make Way! Druid Coming Through! : GW2

Back when GW2 was still in Closed Beta I was feeling somewhat anxious. I knew it was an MMORPG I wanted to play but some of the aspects ArenaNet were promoting most heavily made me wonder whether they were making a game I'd find difficult to enjoy.

My primary area of concern was the emphasis on active combat and dodging. I don't like Action RPGs very much and at that time I had little experience of any that required constant ducking and rolling to survive. It sounded like a lot of work and not much fun.

I remember quizzing the Kill Ten Rats team, who at that time were quite deep in the loop, on how the combat felt and whether a traditional stand-and-cast player coming from an EQ/WoW background would be able to cope. They were re-assuring but it wasn't until the first open beta weekend that I got to test the waters for myself to find out whether they were warm and balmy or filled with sharp rocks and sharks.

As I wrote at the time "I was apprehensive about some of the things I'd read about GW2's "action combat" so I went with a class that could stand off a ways and see what was going on. That class, of course, was The Ranger and, as I soon discovered, a ranger in GW2 doesn't have to dodge at all. Not for nothing has playing a ranger in the open world been seen as playing the game on easy-mode ever since.

Staff envy
I stuck with my Charr ranger through all the beta weekends and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. When headstart arrived I simply re-made him and started over. He was the first character I leveled to 80 and he's still one of the key members of my team three years later.

Rangers have long had good utility in what ANet now likes to call the "soft trinity". They can stand in all three corners. They bring excellent "Control" (almost unsurpassably so, as was discovered to the detriment of many Mannequin runs) when using a bear pet as a tank. Damage is decent, with exceptionally good burst DPS on the Longbow and a range of conditions elsewhere. What has been less celebrated, although Zubon spotted it as long ago as November 2012, is their capacity for group healing.

Over the years a lot changed and it must be a very long time indeed since rangers were anyone's go-to healers in or out of a dungeon. GW2, of course, famously doesn't have a specialist healer class. The nearest would probably be an Elementalist in Water, a very common and required role in WvW, but there's never been anything even close to the kind of dedicated pure healer role of an EQ cleric or a WoW priest. Until now.

On Friday ANet lifted the veil on the final Elite specialization: The Druid. It brought the HoT wheel full circle. The Ranger was the very first class to have its Elite publicly named and its new weapon, the Staff, announced - all the way back at the start of the year. For once, when all is revealed, the method in ANet's mystery makes sense.

The Druid offers GW2's first and only full-time, full-on, full-function healing spec. Had that been made known back when we saw a ranger waving a stick for the first time there would have been uproar. Rangers get the shaft again. Why do ANet hate rangers? Well that's it - deleting my ranger now! And so on and so on.

Six months later there may not quite be a deafening roar of unanimous approval but there's plenty of love going around in the lengthy discussions and dissections of the new skills, traits and gameplay options offered by The Druid. The addition of raids to the game, the harder open-world content coming in the expansion and, most especially, direct statements of intent from the developers along the lines of "Upcoming content will have stuff that you can’t just dodge to survive" and "The Berserk meta is going away" make it quite clear that the class that gets the best healing is getting a plum job.

Not going to cut it in HoT. Allegedly.

Naturally that won't please every ranger. Not everyone wants to spend their play-session keeping the other folks upright. Enjoying playing a dedicated healer requires a particular personality. After three years in a game with almost no outlet for those tendencies is it likely there are even any would-be full healers still playing and if there are would they be playing rangers?

Well, I am. It's a long, long time since I filled the straight-up, main healer slot but it remains my favorite MMORPG group role. And what's more I don't just have my semi-meta zerker Charr ranger, I also already have a max-level Asuran Ranger, fully kitted out in Apothecary exotics and Ascended trinkets, who, when he hit 80, was specced with healing as his focus. Don't ask why. He just was.

What's more, in a piece of remarkable foresight (even if at the time it looked like a careless mistake) both rangers are on the same account and it's the one that's got HoT. I'm all set up ready for The Druid and I have to say the reveal has significantly increased my excitement for and interest in the expansion.

It was all so simple then. And we had hats.

It won't all happen at once. There will be an inordinate amount of theorycrafting and trial-and-error for weeks if not months before the inevitable codifying and concreting of The New Meta. Fun for those that like that kind of thing. Maybe in the end it won't turn out to be as spectacular as it looks on paper. Maybe it will be so overpowered it will die the death of a thousand nerfs.

I don't care. I'm just happy to see it tried. I've given the lengthy list of new skills and traits the once-over, surprising myself with just how many times I've nodded and smiled and murmured approval. For now I'm happy to wait until its time to test it out in the field.

There's one more beta weekend to come but I'm working the first day and going on holiday on the second so the first chance I'll have will be at launch. Can't wait!

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