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What Does Class Diversity Mean?

Alexander Wilkie Posted:
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At launch, Guild Wars 2 was an MMO that strove to break the boundaries set by the classics of the genre.  The game sought to achieve this through a diverse set of skills and abilities that each class could bring to an encounter- self healing and a combat system centred on dodging damage being an enormous part of this. This system of personal sustain has been unable to survive, as encounters have grown and developed. Now more than ever, the game and the community expect certain roles for any difficult encounter, with specific classes fulfilling these roles either exclusively or objectively better than any other.

When it comes to raw damage, most classes are competitive with one another. Outliers emerge on either side often, with Elementalist more often than not (read: always) coming out on top, and the Necromancer more often than not sitting well below average. Some balance passes manage to throw up new top tier builds, honestly through bugs half the time, but for the most part everyone sits close together, clustered in a middle pack. If this was any other MMO, players would be content with this situation. A game that allows anyone (bar the Necromancer, naturally) to come in and fill a raid slot? Absolutely fantastic! And honestly, even the worst of the classes when it comes to DPS can put out enough to clear even the Raid content on a decent build, the most difficult PvE content in the game. So, if the game lets us all fill a role in a raid comp, and the damage is similar for most of us, then just what are the class diversity problems in Guild Wars 2?

The arising issues centre around the boon and buff system that the game uses- with the buffs applied from certain classes equating to enormous amounts of damage. And when I say majority, being fully buffed in Guild Wars 2 can contribute over 100% of the damage that many classes are putting out, making raid groups fully rely on buff uptime to get through any encounter. With skills capping out for the most part at 5 allies, this means that in a typical raid setup, 6/10 spots are already solidified with specific classes, Warrior, Mesmer, Ranger (using their respective Elite Specialisations).  Fractals are slowly migrating to the same attitude, especially at the highest levels, where elite groups find it mandatory to take the same classes for their clears.

As I said before though, it is certainly possible to clear the raid content with other setups and builds. Once, I was a believer that this meant that the game itself was diverse- and that the community was self-inflicting elitist behaviour on itself. But after teaching a raid group from scratch, it has become apparent that even the slightest change in comp- missing a Druid healer, missing a PS Warrior, a poor Chronomancer, is for anyone inexperienced a death sentence. As we spoke about before, the buff uptime makes up too much of the damage, meaning that in a group with players not on optimal builds and setups who are not experts in every encounter and their class, the raid becomes unclearable. A group that normally takes Vale Guardian in 1 push suddenly becomes hopeless with the loss of PS warriors, spending hours trying again and again but failing DPS checks for even the simplest boss. 

Unique buffs make up an even larger part of the narrowing diversity- with many classes bringing buffs that only they can do. Druid, despite being a lower healer, sits solidified in the metagame above higher healing output classes simply because of unique buffs that it brings to the table that benefit a groups damage by an amount too large to sacrifice. Chronomancer is not the only class who gives out Quickness- but they also bring invulnerability sharing, Alacrity (33% reduced cooldowns), countless utility skills and the ability to bounce any boon in the game back to the group. The first balance patch post Path of Fire took enormous leaps to diversifying classes, removing one of the most commonly talked about unique buffs. But still fails to meet the expectations that countless players have- that their class should be able to do everything in the game.

So, in the end, what does it mean to have class diversity? For many, it is the ability for each and every class to have a role to fulfil inside the game that can perform on equal footing with any profession. For others, and this applies heavily to fans of the Guild Wars 2 approach, it is the ability for their class to fulfil any role in the game as effectively as anyone else- or at least at a level accepted by others in the community. To me personally, the ability for everyone to take on a role- no matter what that role is- is all that matters. But I would love to see more people taking on utility roles in the future just to spice it up!

 Where do you stand on class diversity, and the direction the game has taken? Let us know in the comments!


Alexander Wilkie