By now, it’s no secret that Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns is being developed with dedicated support gameplay in mind. With the recent reveal of the ranger’s druid elite specialization at TwitchCon , the debate over the possible necessity of heavy dedicated support players in Heart of Thorns is raging more strongly than ever. The druid focuses almost entirely on healing, with little bits of offense and control sprinkled in for good measure. However, many players, mainly in the PvE community, are questioning whether the druid and all the other support-focused elite specializations will be needed for the upcoming content.
I think necessity is actually beside the point. Guild Wars 2 has never been, and never will be, a game based around necessity. Sure, there are optimal ways to play the game, and there is a large community that follows the optimal meta religiously, but subscribing to said meta is not necessary to complete and enjoy game content. So first and foremost, it doesn’t particularly matter whether the heavy support and healing gameplay style is necessary, only that it achieves what it is meant to achieve gameplay-wise.
The druid does just that, too. The druid is meant to heal, and it achieves that in some way with almost every skill it has access to. All but one skill on the staff, which the druid can now use, has some form of healing on it, and the only skill on it that doesn’t heal is a condition cleanse. All but one of the glyphs, the druid’s new set of utility skills, provide some form of healing when augmented by the druid’s Celestial Avatar, or as I like to call it, Life Shroud. This ability will transform the druid into the closest thing Guild Wars 2 has to a dedicated healer, granting them a new skillbar with obscenely powerful healing and support abilities. It’s actually very reminiscent of the old guardian elite skill Tome of Courage, but better. All things considered, ArenaNet clearly wanted this specialization to heal, and that’s what it does; mission accomplished, in my opinion.
However, the abundance of healing is also why many players are scoffing at the idea of the druid. As the game currently stands, healing simply isn’t a fantastic form of support. Contrary to popular belief, support is absolutely necessary to play the game at an elite level PvE, and players who do dungeon speed clears and high level fractals do utilize support very well. However, hard mitigation tactics such as blocks, blinds, and protection aid players much better than healing currently does. This is due to a variety of reasons, but it is mainly because of how current encounters are designed, how healing power scales with outgoing healing, and various exploitable game mechanics like enemy LoS (line of sight). With all that in mind, I can understand why many players who enjoy meta gameplay are skeptical.
What much of these criticisms fail to take into consideration is how the meta is likely to change in Heart of Thorns. The beta events have already shown us that enemy AI is going to be smarter. Encounters are going to be more cleverly designed. There are going to be mechanics that we’ve never seen before. Now, I’m not here to preach the word of ArenaNet. Sure, some developers have stated that support and healing will absolutely be necessary in Heart of Thorns. However, if MMORPGs have taught me anything, it’s that there’s no testing environment like a live one. The players will always find ways around mechanics, no matter how cleverly they are put together. That being said, ArenaNet’s word certainly isn’t rubbish to be disregarded at will either. Things will undoubtedly be different in the Maguuma Jungle. If the beta events have shown us anything at all, it’s that the developers have pushed Guild Wars 2’s game mechanics to new limits with this expansion. Will you be required to bring a druid to complete content in Heart of Thorns? No, absolutely not; that would be silly. Will there be scenarios where having one in your group will help a great deal? More than likely.
Now, I’m sure throughout this entire dissertation sPvP and WvW players have been squirming in their seats, wondering if I was going to mention them; and they have good reason. Without even having to think about it, it’s clear that the druid is going to see a great deal of play in both sPvP and WvW. The druid’s bunker potential in sPvP is pretty strong, and it also has the potential to be able to bail a team out of a sticky situation at the drop of a hat. However, I think the druid will prove absolutely invaluable in WvW, particularly in zerg gameplay. At high levels, zerg gameplay is actually quite fascinating and complex, and can be massively fun, entertaining, and rewarding to engage in. This is because there are so many factors that go into a ZvZ (zerg versus zerg) battle. Positioning, timing, numbers, tactics, and commanding are all huge in determining the outcome of a skirmish, but area support and control also play a major role in the fighting. Zerg gameplay is one of the few areas in which dedicated healers can actually contribute significantly in a combat scenario, and I think the druid’s massive outgoing heals are going to find a home swinging zerg battles in WvW.
Finally, I think is it important not to lose sight of the fact that specializing in any elite specialization will not remove the ability to mix and match those abilities with ones that already exist in the game. Specializing as a druid does not mean you have to wield a staff and slot glyphs in all your utility slots. The key to enjoying these specializations is figuring out how they synergize with core abilities and finding that “best of both worlds” scenario that absolutely wrecks face. These elite specializations won’t work their way into the meta based purely on their own merit; they will integrate with and enhance that which has already proven steadfast, augmenting current playstyles and enabling them to adapt to the new content in Heart of Thorns.
The truth is, we can’t say for certain yet whether the druid will be viable come Heart of Thorns. The developers assure us it will be, but MMORPGs in general have a history of grand plans by the developers going awry or simply being outsmarted by the playerbase. However, Guild Wars 2 is not your run of the mill MMO, and I believe that the dedication and intelligence behind Heart of Thorns will provide the druid and the rest of the elite specializations with a variety of scenarios in which they will undoubtedly shine.