Guild Wars 2 has made the claim that they are doing away with this convention, and instead are designing a game that focuses purely on action and initiative rather than the static skill cycling "Spank and Tank" that is so common in a lot of the current MMO's.
Arenanet has declared a new method of dividing up the roles in this article, and in it they describe that your actions can fill one of a number of roles in the combat: Damage, Support, & Control. Now, at first glance this doesn't really doesn't seem too different than other MMOs, Damage = DPS, Support = Heals, Control = Tank. So lets have a look at what this means, and how it differs from other games.
"Damage" itself will be balanced all around, but your class and weapon choice will determine how you apply the damage and how that will impact the combat itself. Here are some examples of what I mean:
- Area of Effect Damage: Wards an area by applying a flow of damage in a specific area. Enemies may choose to stay in the area or be applied the damage, or can simply move around it and ignore the damage. If caught in the area, the enemy can simply move out of the area and take reduced damage.
- Damage over Time: Damage over time is usually a secondary effect of direct damage (Bleeding and Burning to name a few). The damage itself, if left unchecked, can cause severe damage over a period of time. Best way to handle this damage is simply to use Control and Support: crippling, blinding, or outrunning the attacker (Refered in the original Guild Wars as "Kiting"), and providing boons that help to ignore, remove, or bypass the negative effect.
- Ranged: This type of attack is applied at a distance. This allows the attacker to apply damage to an enemy before they come within range of another melee opponent, or even to shoot past area of effect zones. Best way to avoid the damage is simply to avoid the attack before it reaches you. Guild Wars 2 will be implementing a tumble in the game, making dodging ranged attacks even better. In this same instance though, control in the form of blind or using line of site obstacles works the best for evading these attacks.
In other MMO's, damage is simply a point and click, there is no real evasion and you have to rely on defensive abilities, rather than position to really make the difference. In this type of game, its where you fight, how you fight. The nice thing about Guild Wars 2 though, is that a player can "mix" these damage types in order to create mixed damage types. A Ranged attacker can shoot through an Area damage zone in order to amplify the damage and extend the zone to a single target on the other side (or a spread attack in the case of Spread Shot).
"Support" isn't always specific to Healing. The way Guild Wars sees support is a combination of position and utility skills that can provide a player with the ability to use their own self heals. Support can be as simple as removing a stack of conditions on a single character, or providing an area of effect zone where allies get increased damage resistance and a small health regeneration in the form of boons.
These boons, more times than not, can be moved, applied multiple times over a span of time, or placed into a specific area in order to counter other offensive zones. In other situations, you can give an ally a speed boon that allows them to move outside of the range of a melee or ranged attack or to get outside of a deadly zone. And since movement is the name of the game, these support skills will allow you to ignore attacks all together, acting as a preventive measure as apposed to a reactive measure.
"Control" is what allows a player to force an opponent to pay attention to you, or ignore you entirely. There will not be any "Aggro" in Guild Wars 2 (nor was there any in the original Guild Wars, also referred to as an aggression counter, which represents how much you piss an enemy off in order to keep its attention on the tank), instead, if you want an enemy to pay attention to you, you have to use snares and various conditions in order to prevent your opponent from reaching its target.
The best examples of this are Stun, Crippled, and Knockdown. Take the Warrior, with the shield set as your choice offhand, you can charge an opponent and stun them temporarily forcing them to stand vulnerable for a short time. That same warrior can use a large hammer and use various skills to force an opponent on their rear end, preventing movement all together and allowing the warrior to unleash his wrath on the unlucky victim. And then lets say you have a sword, you can then use crippling slash and slow down your opponent, allowing you to attack them more frequently as they try to escape.
Combine this with the multitude of other conditions, such as blind for negating melee and ranged attacks, and Area of Effect zones in the form of zones, wells, spirits, traps, and marks, and you have with you a large collection of options when moving around the battle field.
This forces a player to think more along the lines of whats more actively going on as apposed to simply clicking the same button over and over and applying the damage, aggression, or healing you want it to be, you have to actively move think and coordinate with your allies while placing yourself in the most beneficial situation where your combination of skills coordinate with other attacks for the best results!
In the end, in Guild Wars 2, a player will have the ability to specialize in any number of means of applying damage, and can specialize in either support or control, or have a combination there of. It will be up to the player to use these skills to the best of their ability, and doing so while moving about the battlefield in order to mitigate the damage being received. In my mind, this is one of the strongest motivations to work as a team, and if anything, really plays well to the Action RPG that Guild Wars 2 is working to achieve.
As Guild Wars 2 moves towards their Demo at PAX, I grow more and more excited about how the game will evolve and will promote the type of play style I've been looking for since the original Guild Wars came out. Awesome work Arenanet!