Oh death, where is thy sting?

I had been having some trouble, I can admit that much; I wouldn’t say that my dungeon run in Dungeons & Dragons Online was a nightmare, but I had been struggling through somewhat, with each fight having to be a careful pull and kite in order to maximise my time spent actually playing the game, rather than sitting around licking my wounds.

It’s all part of my holding pattern while I wait for Guild Wars 2 to arrive: I dabble solo in this game and that, not really finding the enthusiasm to play any single game with the traditional idolatrous fervour of the MMO addict. We’re on the taxiway with Air ArenaNet now, and the air of anticipation means that I can’t concentrate on anything – sometimes snapping alert as though from a daze, whereupon I find myself staring blankly at a half-finished inflight magazine which I don’t remember opening, let alone reading. Soon the engines of anticipation will build to full power, the excitement and tension palpable, the thrumming power of that passion, held in check, causing the cabin of the community to vibrate. The allotted take-off window arrives, and with the flip of a switch… release. A roar of exultation follows, our craft swiftly gathering momentum in its eager urgency, then with a swell and a sigh we launch, soaring onward to the peregrine climes of Tyria.

In the meantime, I really am an irascible git with respect to my gaming patience, to the point that I’m actually spending most of my time reading.

Nevertheless, I did, at some point, find myself struggling through a dungeon in DDO. It so happened that I reached a point where I could no longer progress without aid: a lever needed to be operated while another person would run through a series of gates. Having come quite far, I decided to purchase a hireling and complete my otherwise solo sortie with a little help. Being a melee sort, I decided to grab a cleric hireling, and that’s when I was reminded by just how much healing changes the game.

Just like that, my character became an irrepressible and immortal being. Where before I was tentative and circumspect, I was now transformed into a hooligan – there are those who would think themselves hooligans, but they would be compelled to stare agape at my antics and call out ‘Steady on there old chap, have a care!’. I was suddenly pulling whole groups of skeletons, pulling additional groups of skeletons, pulling the sisters of those groups of skeletons. It was carnage, at the end of which I would stand panting in the midst of a bone pile that would make Razorfen Downs blush, and my health bar would still be reading ‘Don’t know what all the fuss is about’. That was just for starters, then… then I got blasé. It’s all a bit of a blur, but I do know that by the end of it I was running back and forth naked through a series of traps, dragging a train of skeletons behind me, while I sang U Can’t Touch This. I do remember riding a clay golem. And trying to goose a fire elemental with a stick of dynamite. If we stopped to rest but briefly, I would imagine I was calmly sitting in the camp fire, stirring the embers with my feet and watching my health bar drop and rise, drop and rise.

I’m curious to see how Guild Wars 2’s healing works — whether support classes and group healing will become the essential crutch that they are in other MMOs, or if ArenaNet will find a way to balance encounters such that they are required only in the direst of situations. That’s what I hope for, not for a removal of healing altogether, but a return to it being a tactical decision, an occasional counter to an enemy’s pressed attack, rather than a vital constant where defeat is ensured if it ever goes away. GW2 certainly seems to have less emphasis on healing, and the downed mechanic makes death less of a certainty once that health bar has dropped to zero.

It’s somewhat sad that abundant healing enables our characters to achieve so much, yet restricts them so much the more if it is then ever absent. With GW2 I’m hoping to find a freer form of gameplay, although never so free as yee-hawing naked on a bucking golem through the impotent defensive lines of the minions of darkness, I grant you.

4 thoughts on “Oh death, where is thy sting?

  1. Syl

    A long time ago now, ANet said:

    “Support players want to be able to say, “Remember that one time when I saved you from certain death?” They want to stand in the line of fire and block attacks. They want to surround their allies with a swirling dome of air that keeps enemy projectiles from passing through it. It’s not about clicking on a health bar and watching it go up, it’s about being there for your friends when they need you.[…]

    Heal: Don’t belittle the SUPPORT role by calling it heal. Healing is the least dynamic kind of support there is. It is reactive instead of proactive. Healing is for when you are already losing. In Guild Wars 2 we prefer that you support your allies before they take a beating. Sure, there are some healing spells in Guild Wars 2, but they make up a small portion of the support lines that are spread throughout the professions. Other kinds of support include buffs, active defense, and cross-profession combinations. […]

    We keep hearing other MMO developers espousing the “holy trinity” of DPS/ heal/tank with such reverence, as if this is the most entertaining combat they have ever played. Frankly, we don’t like sitting around spamming “looking for healer” to global chat. That feels an awful lot like preparing to have fun instead of having fun.”

    …healing is only the very last part of support. that’s personally the approach I’ve longed and still long to see in GW2 and so far my beta experiences haven’t let me down.

  2. darkeye

    DDO annoys me for the same reason, that big difference in difficulty, rolled a TWF ranger and still at low levels so might not have all the survivability yet, it’s either bring a healing wand or a cleric hireling, the hireling is cheaper at my current level. The cannith challenges get harder with a hireling, so tend to drop it for those but that’s the only place really I’d go without.

    Looking forward to rolling that rarest of breeds, a support thief in GW2. Some of the conditions that get overlooked, immobilize, cripple and especially blind (which a thief excels at), are all great at preventing damage. Also sharing venoms, and being one of the strongest revivers, shadow refuge or quickness are really good for that.

    Likewise, a water elementalist may provide some very small amounts of splash healing, but keeping a mob chilled is going to do more for preventing damage than the actual AoE heals and regen. In the end the healing skill beats out all other sources of heals but some of the elites come close, both types are on very long cooldowns compared to other games where heal skills might have no cooldown at all.

  3. Modran

    We had a discussion with a friend recently that healing, in all those games, is just so easy… The first spell a cleric learns is often healing of some sort. And when you think about it, it should be the rarest type of spell: you play with life itself ! I’m pretty sure it’s easier to move a mountain than heal someone from a grievous case of “ol’ chap, izzat your innards I’m walking on? So terribly sorry !”. After all, I see those mountains moved every day (thay even get Rovers on Mars; the Village of the Prisoner just wasn’t enough).
    I’m not being real clear on what I mean, am I ? :/

  4. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    Is it funny that I know exactly which quest you were running through? (Rest for the Restless)

    Here’s the thing: DDO isn’t a solo game. At all. It’s a bit like buying the D&D books, plopping them open in front of you, and then trying to be both DM and player. Now, some of us might have the ability to do that just fine, usually because of sharp blows to the head as children which caused the voices, but for most people it’s an exercise in frustration. A hireling is a minimal requirement, usually a healer, hopefully not played by one of the other personalities in your head. Although I guess dual boxing is a valid lifestyle choice.

    I play DDO in two modes: regular groups of 3-5 other people, or PUGs. Given that DDO seems to appeal to D&D players, which skew a bit older than your usual caffeine-addled 12 year old homophobic-slur spewing WoW player, I’ve had pretty good luck with PUGs in the game. I have one character I started solo but eventually just PUG with that I got to 20, and a half dozen others in the 16-18 range. I regularly run a PUG raid (the Shroud) on two of my characters.

    The big problem with hirelings in DDO is that they are dumb as a box of hammers. Actually, I apologize: that’s rude to all the hammers out there. The healers in particular seem to like to stand in traps then whine about nobody healing them. We joke that the clerics see our group and contemplate suicide rather than going with us yet again. That’s what it seems like, at least.

    Anyway, open the LFG panel sometime and check it out. Or, get in a regular group. It’s a lot more fun that way, at least to me. And me, too.

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