Jan 6, 2012

So, you used to play a Monk?

Much has been made about the fact that Guild Wars 2 is doing away with the "Holy Trinity" of Tank / Heal / DPS and replacing it with a new set of Damage / Control / Support roles which any profession can do (although some do better than others at any particular aspect).  One of the key changes has been the abolition of a dedicated healer profession.  This has upset many players of Guild Wars who used to play a Monk and enjoyed that aspect of the game.  So for today's column, we're going to break down what it is that a Monk does and then examine the eight professions in Guild Wars 2 to see which one is best at each of the various jobs.

(At this point I'd like to send a big "Thank you" to all of those who have worked on the Guild Wars 2 wiki whose information played a critical role in the writing of this article.)

Although everyone thinks "Healer" when they talk about Guild Wars monks, that was only one aspect of what they did.  If we're looking at a replacement, we also have to consider all of the following jobs that Monks performed: Healing, Hex Removal, Condition Removal, Protection, Enchantment/Buffs, Smiting, and Resurrection.

Let's start with the easiest one: Resurrection
In Guild Wars, your options for restoring dead allies to the fray consisted of a signet, three Ritualist Skills, two Paragon skills or an assortment of Monk skills.  In Guild Wars 2, everyone can restore a downed comrade.  That's right, when it comes to restoring a fallen comrade, it doesn't matter what profession you choose in Guild Wars 2 because they all have the same abilities.  For this category, it's an eight-way tie.

Smiting, although not commonly used in group play unless the elite skill Ray of Judgement was involved, was still a role that some monks enjoyed.  Most, if not all professions in Guild Wars 2 can dish out the damage as well as a smite monk could, so again, we'll call this an eight-way tie.

Hex Removal was a key Monk role in Guild Wars, but Guild Wars 2 has no hexes so why consider it?  Well, Guild Wars 2 doesn't have hexes, but it does have a new mechanic that plays the same role in the form of Mesmer phantasms.  These phantasms deal damage when a user activates a skill or performs some other trigger action.  Like hexes, these phantasms can be "removed" early because they have health and can be killed.  So hex removal in Guild Wars 2 is really about how quickly you can kill phantasms.  Since all professions can deal damage, this is pretty much a wash; however, professions that can deal high damage quickly (so called "spikes") will probably be more effective at removing phantasms.  Given that, I'd have to give the "win" in this category (however small) to Warriors with their burst skills, Thieves with skills like "Unload" and Elementalists.  Professions like the Necromancer that will rely more on conditions won't fare as well as the direct damage dealers (although they will still be able to kill phantasms).  Overall though, this category really doesn't point at any particular replacement for the Monk's style of play.

Condition Removal is going to be even more important in Guild Wars 2 than it was in the original. There are two reasons for this: the removal of hexes (making more things into conditions) and the fact that conditions can now stack for even greater effect.  Given the information available, most professions have at least one skill that will remove conditions from the player.  (There isn't a skill for condition-removal of any kind known for Thieves and due to it's recent unveiling there isn't much known about Mesmer skills at all.)  Depending on weapon sets and utility skills chosen, when it comes to removing conditions from allies, the Guardian is the hands-down winner with six possible skills and the Virtue of Resolve profession mechanic.  The Necromancer comes in second with four skills for removing conditions from allies.  Engineers have two known ally condition removal skills and everyone else has one or none.  So for the important support task of condition removal, the Guardian takes first place and Necromancer shows for second.

In Guild Wars 2, it will mainly be up to the individual player to look after their own Healing via the sixth skill on their skillbar.  There are no ally-targeted skills in the game, so any healing of others is done indirectly through Area-of-Effect skills or by creating items in the world which they can interact with.  Area Effect skills can either heal directly, or they can grant a regeneration boon.  There aren't many skills that directly heal allies -- of the known skills, Elementalists have access to four (five with the right trait) while Engineers and Guardian each have one.  There are more options for regeneration boons where Guardians have five plus the profession mechanic Virtue of Resolve.  Engineers have access to three; however, they are random effects and so not guaranteed.  Elementalists, Necromancers, Warriors and Rangers each have one.  When it comes to healing others, it would appear that the options are very limited with a Water-attuned Elementalist winning for indirect heals and the Guardian winning for the ability to add regeneration boons.

Although many monks enjoyed the role of healer, a well played Protection monk could stop the damage from being taken in the first place, thus alleviating the need for healing.  Since enchantments have been dropped from Guild Wars 2 in place of the more limited selection of Boons, the opportunities to protect others are rather limited.  Guardians have the special Virtue of Courage which grants the Aegis boon on allies.  This will block the next incoming attack.  The other applicable boon here is the aptly named "protection" boon which increases your armor.  The Guardian is once again the clear winner with five skills that can be used to grant Protection to allies.  Engineers are the only other profession in the running (based on known skills) with one; however, it is a random effect so there is no guarantee that protection is what will be granted.  For direct protection, the Guardian is the hands-down winner with nobody else really even in the competition.

However, protection in Guild Wars 2 isn't always going to be about boosting armor or blocking an attack.  Attacks in Guild Wars 2 are much more FPS than they are "classic" MMO.  Just because a foe shoots an arrow at you, doesn't mean it's going to hit you.  All players will have the ability to dodge attacks and thereby protect themselves from damage by avoiding it in the first place.  Additionally, you will have the ability to step between a foe and an ally and take the hits for them!  Yes, that's right -- as a Warrior (or any other profession actually), being a "tank" will mean seeing an enemy archer firing arrows at a friend and then jumping in between them to take the shots for your friend.  Much more dramatic than popping a "threat generation" skill to make the foe auto-attack you.  Keeping with the theme that protection is stopping foes from inflicting damage, the Fear condition that Warriors and Necromancers (and I wouldn't be surprised if Mesmers get added to this list) will interrupt a foe and cause it to turn and run.  Not what you would think of as "protection" in the usual sense, but if something is running away, nobody is taking any damage from it so it counts in my book.  Similarly, we know that the Mesmer has a mass stealth (invisibility) skill called Veil.  While "protection" might not be your first thought when you're loading up your skillbar, you can't hit what you can't see (unless you use an AoE carpet-bomb, of course!).  Finally, the Guardian, not to be upstaged, has a series of ward skills that will block an enemy's movement or create a protective ring for allies to hide behind.  Used well, these are another way of protecting your allies.

Finally, monks had an assortment of enchantments that they could use to place Buffs on allies in Guild Wars.  Many of these were protective in nature or provided healing, but some like Judge's Insight would enable extra damage, or there was Aura of Stability which would prevent knock-downs. In Guild Wars 2, these kinds of effects are now boons.  Once again, the Guardian has a boon that can be applied to allies -- her Justice will cause allies' next attack to inflict the Burning condition.  For skills that can affect allies, there is only one known Warrior skill (For Great Justice) and one Ranger skill (Call of the Wild) that can apply Fury.  These skills also apply Might.  In addition to the Call of the Wild, Rangers with a dog pet have a Howl skill and they also have a spirit which provides a chance of granting Might.  Guardians have one skill available to them in an Elite Form which grants Might to allies.  There are a few more options for granting the Swiftness boon to allies.  Warriors have two skills, Guardians potentially have four, and Rangers, Elementalists and even Necromancers have one.  The final boon that can be applied to allies is Vigor which increases current and maximum health which is certainly within the purview of Guild Wars monks.  Here, Warriors have one skill if wielding a Warhorn while Guardians potentially have two.

So, what conclusions can we draw?  The profession which offers the most potential for aiding allies in a manner similar to a Guild Wars Monk is clearly the Guardian.  Depending on what aspect of Monk play was your favorite, Warriors, Elementalists and Necromancers would also be worth considering.  The Engineer and Ranger would place third.

However, it is worth noting that Guild Wars 2 is a vastly different game.  With every character responsible for healing themselves and with no ally-targeted skills, only area of effect targets, supporting one's allies is still possible, but will take many different forms.  Proper positioning is going to be key -- whether it's moving quickly to a foe to help an ally under attack, dodging an attack or placing yourself in harms way to protect another, movement and being aware of your surroundings will be crucial.  Using skills in a supportive manner will also be an ability that players who want to be in a support role will need to develop.  This covers such things as the obvious like placing Guardian's wards effectively, to the not-so-obvious like using the Fear condition to break aggro on a mob that is attacking a weakened ally, thus allowing them a chance to get away or use their heal.  Knock-down and Launch effects can also be used in a similar way.  (As a personal aside, I can't wait for the first time I see a foe get launched off of a cliff or other high place!)  Due to the lack of details, this article also hasn't touched on the impact of cross-profession combos where two skills interact to produce a tertiary effect.  There will be a lot of trial-and-error when the game ships and some of these results may allow for Monk-like effects.  For instance, what will happen if a Warrior uses Stomp on a Ranger's Healing Spring?  It might be nothing, or it could be an AoE Heal for all nearby allies.

For those of you who enjoyed playing a Monk, I have no doubt that you will enjoy playing a Guardian in Guild Wars 2.  If you just like the idea of supporting your teammates, then I would encourage you to experiment with all of the professions because they each have their own special ways of helping a group -- some are just more obvious than others.

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