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Playing Healer in a Healer-Less Game

You all heard ArenaNet saying that they nuked the trinity. No more tanking, no more dedicated healer… I guess they needed to keep the nuker so they could nuke the trinity. Well, what of those who like me loved to play healer? So I made as best as I could a dedicated healer, and gave that a try.

The Build

I picked Engineer as my Charr profession. And yes, I made my Charr black-and-white striped if you must know. I choose the Engineer because that gave her access to many healing skills.

The first such skill I got was the Elixir Gun, which swaps your weapon bar for a gun that oozes liquids, many of which have support or healing abilities. It also adds a tool belt skill that grants regeneration to yourself and nearby allies. This is probably your best-bet for a support-oriented build, although there are some other options available.

The five Elixir Gun weapon skills have the following effects:
(1) inflict weak or vulnerable,
(2) cripple foes and apply swiftness to you and allies,
(3) poison foes and remove conditions from allies,
(4) leap back leaving behind acid that damages foes that touch it, and
(5) shoot orb that heals allies on impact and creates a healing area.
(toolbelt) heal yourself and nearby allies.

Thus equipping the elixir gun alone gives you 2 heals and 1 remove conditions, as well as swiftness, all of which can be used on allies. It also gives you a variety of ways to hurt or otherwise weaken foes.

Self-heal skills and many (if not all) elixir skills also come with tool belt skills that you can use on allies. It would be easy to make a build to include mainly or only support-oriented skills for skill slots 6-10, although it’s clear that some of those skills would be buffs rather than heals and condition-removal. I opted for the healing turret as my self-heal skill (a misnomer, as the healing turret is a party-heal-over-time skill, other self-heals are better for self-healing). Note that I did not have a full support bar due to skill point limitations, it is possible that I could have been stronger at support if I had a full support bar.

Underwater, the Elixir Gun behaves very similarly except that ground-targeting is replaced by a shot that goes forward and blows up on impact, affecting a spherical area.

Effectiveness in Persistent Areas

In did some 1vs1 against foes of my level. I tried two gameplay styles: (1) without weapon swapping, and (2) with weapon swapping.

Without weapon swapping, it was clear that I was trading off damage for healing. The few damage skills I had access to were not nearly as efficient as my rifle or my pistol set at dispatching foes. However, I had access to many self-heals and ally heals that I could use on myself, which meant that I was a lot more durable. There’s no way I could tank a foe indefinitely as I was still taking damage faster than I could heal using all my heals including my self-heal (healing turret), which in my opinion is pretty awesome. But I was able to stay frontline a lot longer too, so clearly the heals were doing their work. It is clear that the healing skills would be enough to buy your allies time, or allow them to stay in offensive mode for longer durations before having to retreat, but I do not believe that you could keep them alive indefinitely.

With weapon swapping, the hybrid nature of Guild Wars 2 really shines. The weapon swap is pretty quick and refreshes rapidly, allowing you to swap weapon, cast off a few long-recharge healing skills, and swap again. In this case, the heal skills had long recharges, which meant that I could fairly easily throw some well-timed healing while staying in a more offensive gameplay while those skills recharged. That is, if I played well, I could be both a healer and a nuker. This reminded me of the druid gameplay that I loved, being able to switch between healer and cat or bear form for damage.

Effectiveness in Dungeons

First off, for a game without dedicated healer, our team of 5 included 3 healers of sorts. This made my contribution that much harder to evaluate. Needless to say though, the era of “LF healer” is gone.

We had a guardian who was tanking mostly but guardians naturally bring all sorts of support skills. We had me as a healing engineer. And we had a water elementalist, which is the element of healing. And finally we had a mesmer and a thief, two professions that are better known for shutdown. With so much shutdown and healing, I found my healing services were not that required, so I switched more to damage (grenades ftw).

Nevertheless, we did die a number of times, perhaps because we sacrificed too much damage for all that healing. I did get to use my heals to good effect a number of times. In my opinion, the healer role buys you time, but does not win you the fight. I assume the optimal gameplay will include a dose of healing, probably 2 out of 5 players bringing some party heals and buffs would be quite helpful.

The chaos of dungeon runs needs some getting used to though, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with everything going on at once. Mind you, I did the dungeon only once, I am quite sure that with more experience, I’ll develop a lot of skills to manage all this.

Gameplay

The system is designed in such a way that it is fairly easy to swap roles on the fly. You can easily mouse-over allies to see who’s damaged, throw a few healing elixirs their way, and continue spamming your damage attacks all-the-while strafing to avoid getting damaged too much yourself. It takes attention, involvement, and good positional skills, but it’s clearly feasible. And I was doing all that within one day of playing, so it’s easy to learn for those who actually bother to try it.

Swapping roles was a bit more difficult with the engineer as the elixir gun was set to 7, which was hard to hit during combat. It would be nice if for each skill you could choose what goes into the skill bar and what goes into the toolbelt. I expect role swapping to be somewhat easier with elementalists. Weapon swapping (on the other professions I tried) was a breeze.

Most support skills require either ground-targeting, or positional awareness. One elixir gun skill for example shoots a cone of poison that removes conditions from allies, which of course requires you to be shooting it with allies in front or it does not support. The mist venting skill heals allies that are near you, so you need to be near them to heal them. Movement is easy in Guild Wars 2, so getting in the right position is not an issue… but you still need to be in the right position to be effective.

Mastering all this is a different story, but my experience playing hybrids is that mastering the style is usually more a question of being able to keep track of more information. It certainly was the case in Guild Wars 2… I felt the controls fairly easy to learn, and the difficulty was far more about keeping track of people and doing damage and positioning myself and knowing when to use my skills. It’s not difficult to do any of those things, but it’s difficult to do all those things simultaneously. It feels great when you pull it off though.

Note that games usually discourage hybrid gameplay, while Guild Wars 2 encourages it.

Verdict

With everything ArenaNet has been saying about there being no dedicated healer and no trinity, I think they have been misleading a little bit. It’s now clear to me that playing healer is not only possible, but it’s fun and can be a great addition to any team. However, healing does not make you immortal, it only buys you time. It also allows others of your team to play less defensively and more offensively. Moreover, there are no dedicated pure healers, in the sense that those who play healers also contribute with damage and support.

When I was playing offensively as Mesmer or Engineer (with rifle or pistols) or anything else really, I found that I sometimes had to retreat because my life was going low and my self-heal was on recharge already. At those times, I would have gladly taken a few heals from my friendly healer, which would have reduced my downtime and allowed me to rejoin the fight faster. It’s clear that a group can also opt with not having healers, but each team member would have to spend more time dodging and going in and out of battle to give themselves a bit of time to recover. This is especially the case as they can switch to ranged attacks while recovering. Both options are viable in my opinion, time will tell which is more optimal.


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  • I’m happy to see that going with a healing build has a noticeable impact. I was concerned that healing would be trivialized so much that nothing you did would be noticeable.

  • Sorry to disappoint you, but playing a healer in an early level, isn’t the same as being able to play a healer. You can get through most of the early game without dodging much too, but you will need to dodge.

    The only way you could effectively play a dedicated healer in Guild Wars 2 is to gimp the rest of your team out of a full functioning member.

    It was stated directly by Eric Flanum that you wouldn’t be able to complete even a story mode dungeon with the standard holy trinity, let alone an explorable one.

    The highest you could get to was level 30 and that was for the dungeon. Can you basically bring/stack heals? Sure. Is it effective in any way shape or form? No.

    I’d have to believe the devs who have played higher level content in this case, rather than someone who hasn’t even gotten halfway to level cap.

  • Steve, I think you skimmed the article rather than actually read it.

    I did say many times that playing hybrid was a much better idea, or that healers also need to bring support and damage.

    I even said “there are no dedicated pure healers” in the verdict area.

    • Thanks for replying. I didn’t skim it at all. But the combination of the title of the article and the general idea of the article, without having a conclusion paragraph stating it wasn’t worth is is the kind of thing that gives readers the wrong idea.

      I had a damn good idea that you know exactly what you’re saying. I have an even better idea that roughly half the people reading this article will take the wrong thing away from it. Take it from someone who has made a living writing for the last decade or so.

      My particular issue is this part of your conclusion:

      “With everything ArenaNet has been saying about there being no dedicated healer and no trinity, I think they have been misleading a little bit. It’s now clear to me that playing healer is not only possible, but it’s fun and can be a great addition to any team.”

      I find this more misleading than Anet was in saying there’s no trinity. There really isn’t a viable trinity. This is an academic exercise and your conclusion should have backed that up.

  • I understand writing for the masses, I guess I could have formulated that better to make sure there’s no misunderstanding.

    Healing is still important, but the role has changed quite a bit. First, it’s hybrid… so you still need to do damage. Second, it’s meant to help others spend more time in offensive, rather than keep them alive. You can’t keep someone alive by just healing if he refuses to dodge. But to say the role is removed is also misleading, in that bringing healing skills and using them is actually quite useful to the team. It certainly felt like a few well-timed well-placed heals could turn the tide of the battle.

    One more thing… I am not going to write the “tank” article because (1) I didn’t test it, and (2) I don’t think the genre would be nearly as viable anyway. You’re supposed to dodge damage, not absorb it. And while there are protecting skills, the gameplay is not built around tanking at all.

  • Anet said the trinity is missing and that you can’t play a “dedicated” healer. You’re pretty much agreeing this this, and then saying it’s misleading.

    What Anet did say was that healing is subsumed in support now. You can play a support character, which will include healing as part of the solution, however, as with Guild Wars 1, damage mitigation will be more effective than healing.

    I’m sure the lack of tank mechanics, particularly things like taunt is why the holy trinity is dead. As a person who likes healing, you probably equate the death of the trinity with the death of the healing class, but it’s really the tank’s death that killed the trinity. You can be tank-ish but you an’t tank.

    I wrote an article about this myself, just for my guild website. Unfortunately that guild imploded and I never reposted it to my new guild website. Maybe I should.

    In the mean time, I don’t really disagree with the premise that you can heal while doing other things, but in Anets terms, what you’re really doing is a more all round support role, not a dedicated healing role. Anet said you can’t play a dedicated healer and that’s certainly true.

  • Was your article based on personal gameplay or an analysis of Guild Wars 2 mechanics? I’d love to read it either way.

    I agree that tanking is likely dead, I didn’t try it though.

    I agree that support (protection, blinds, etc) will likely be more effective than straight heals, but that only makes sense since non-heal support skills are likely more difficult to use well. But that doesn’t mean that healing doesn’t also contribute significantly to the mix.

    I was rather hoping with my article to clarify what ANet meant when they said that there were no more dedicated healers… or rather, to clarify what place there was in Guild Wars 2 for players wanting to play healer. There is no dedicated healer in Guild Wars 2, in the sense that nobody would be tasked with only healing. The healer role includes damage and/or support, likely both.

    So yeah, seems we agree on what’s what, we just disagree on how to call it. Hopefully reading the article carefully (and perhaps yours too) and the comments, readers will have a pretty good idea of what to expect.

    Thanks for the replies.

  • I’ll send you my article if you want to see it…just let me know where to send it. Or maybe I’ll just put it up on the new guild page, and enable others to see it.

  • I do want to see it. You can send it to my personal message box, hopefully it’ll fit. Or a link to it if you have.

    If you want to publish it on the site, you could send it to Rushter or Lensor and see if they think it would be a good idea to post it as invited blog. Alternatively, you can just post it in the forums, I think it would be great to be able to discuss alternative views of what it means to play healer or support in GW2.

  • It’s too long for your box…I tried sending it..it’s a pretty longish rant on the holy trinity in general..maybe I should send it in see if it’s something you guys want to post on the site.

  • Thank you for this article. You answered exactly the questions I’d been wondering about, such as how it would feel to play an engineer, if an engineer could viably be a healer, how feasible swapping in and out of healing toolbar would be in combat, etc.

    Cheers!

  • Khyr’s article is actually pretty good… recommended.