Cross-Class combinations are something new to the MMO genre. While nothing new in itself, the idea in the MMO industry is pretty ground breaking. As of now, the idea of Cross-Class combinations consists of what you want your party or arena team to consist of as a means of covering the most ground with buffs and abilities. I know that when doing 2v2s in arena back in WoW, the most thought about it was what class were you going to bring and why. I usually switched off between a Warlock and a Warrior teammates while I rolled my Druid. Without any arena system (kinda sad about this because I liked arena despite it being a balancing nightmare), we have to settle with a simple 5v5 point capture map.
So what are Cross-Class combinations? The idea is that each class offers a unique set of abilities, that when combined with other abilities, provides a unique ability. Initial press about this from Arena.Net stated that an Elementalist could cast a flame wall on the ground and when a ranger would shoot its bow through the fire would turn his arrows into fire arrows. Most recently, Arena.Net revealed that an Elementalist could freeze the ground and a Warrior could do a ground stomp that would cause the frozen ground to turn into a magical frost barrier. In theory, anything that you can do to the environment should be able to be acted upon by another player, but only another player. As Arena.Net is trying to put the fun back in MMO and actually changing their current trait system to encourage players to play together, this is a system that requires at least 2 people. A Warrior could smash the earth and throw boulders on the ground and an Elementalist could take those boulders and propel them into the air to cause a meteor shower. An Engineer could drop an oil slick on the ground and a ranger could ignite it with his torch. All of these are currently theoretical, but not out of the scope of possibility by the development team in Arena.Net who says that everyday, they come up with new combinations for classes to allow for deeper interactions. This for sure, a system like this will allow combat to become more in depth than any other combat system.
I used to think RIFT had a diverse combat system due to their soul interchangeable talent tree system. While this is true, each soul offers its own unique abilities that can be combined in unique ways. My Cleric runs a PvP spec that makes use of 3 different trees to spread an 11% damage reduction to my entire team. Other than doing that buff and healing other players, that is my only interaction outside of myself and the way my chosen souls work together. This system means that and Engineer and an Elementalist would have an entirely different experience than a Ranger and a Thief or an Engineer with a Warrior or Guardian. All in all, this is a system I am highly anticipating. But I have my own fears and suspicions about this type of system and what it could do to profession balance.
One of the major issues with the arena system in wow is that it is completely impossible to balance. Having 3 brackets (back in BC when I actually did them) of 2v2, 3v3 and 5v5 made some classes overpowered in one bracket but completely useless in another. Shadow Priests dominated in 2v2 with a Warlock, but put that same Shadow Priest in a 5v5 bracket and you have dead space. In fact, Warriors were the only class that was consistent in all brackets of arenas due to having Mortal Strike. If one particular combination is the supreme combination, than entire teams will de dedicated to either using or countering that combination.
In RIFT, having all those classes have also proved to be a nightmare. After each major patch, one class in the game becomes overpowered and considered the Flavor of the Month. This is primarily because you have 8 different talent trees available to each of the 4 classes (9 if you count the pvp soul). When you change 1 tree by a little bit or a lot, you end up creating new interactions with the other 7 souls available. Most recently, Mages got a huge buff because to the Pyromancer tree got a massive overhaul. What this did was create powerful synergies with the Warlock soul to create a DoT beast with the occasional normally 5 second long cast instant. Their massive changes created a combination that literally has the highest sustained DPS and burst DPS in the game. The same things happened in 1.5 with the Rogue. While a system like this is absolutely brilliant and allows players to play the class they want, in the end, it is impossible to balance and there will always be classes that are more powerful than others.
As it stands with Guild Wars 2 only having 1 bracket and 1 battle ground, balancing wont be a nightmare as it was in WoW for the arena system, but where this has issues is how powerful the combinations are and how unique they are. I actually predict that if these Cross-Class combinations are very powerful, than entire teams will be devoted around singular combinations. Specific classes will either be come worthless because they do not provide anything to that combination or do not interact with other classes and have powerful combinations. The Engineer is by far going to be the most diverse character available, but if the combinations it provides are kind of worthless, the Engineer Class will become obsolete in competitive PvP. But something like this also depends on how much cross over is available. As it stands, the two combinations that have been revealed are available to the Engineer (assuming that Jump Shot has the same impact conditions as the Warriors ground stomp ability). With these two abilities, the Engineer can work with both an Elementalist and a Ranger to provide flaming arrows and the frost barrier.
So lets assume that the Engineer’s flame wall and jump shot do not interact the same as with the two elementalist abilities. What other things can the engineer really provide that would effect the environment is different ways? Really nothing. All of the currently revealed abilities of the Engineer specialize in Guerilla Warfare by placing land mines, med kits and turrets around the map. Having a lot of snares, pulls and push backs on top of many other escape mechanics means the Engineer still provides high amounts of support for any team. And I also doubt that their projectiles cannot be used in conjunction with the Elementalist Flame Wall (Incendiary Ammo). Realistically speaking, being a support will provide much more to the team assuming that the Flame Wall combination is actually work the effort in setting it up.
Combo decks in Magic: The Gathering worked as a means of trying to get your victory combo up and running first. In the Legacy and Vintage formats, if you cannot win on in the first two rounds, its game over. A system like this can provide the same type of experience. Say team 1 uses a Warrior and 4 Elementalists and the goal is the Warrior smashes the ground to create boulders that the Elementalist uses to create meteors to rain death upon the opponent (no competitive team would rely upon 1 person to do all the setting up with, but its hypothetical). Say team 2 uses a Guardian to create a protection Barrier, an Elementalist to cast water magic to heal everyone in the party, and 3 Necromancers to create an army of suicide bombers to throw at the enemy. Team 1 has the simpler combo, but team 2 might have the necessary counter measures to stall combo to make their combo work better. Maybe only 2 Necromancers and a Thief to stun the Warrior to prevent him from engaging his combination. The goal at this point would not be who had the stronger combo but who could set it up first. Chances are in a system like this, the combos will not be this simple but rather use a series of combinations to do their dirty work. Like creating a fire wall and an army of minions to run through it to create a super army of flaming minions who blow up and carry mines with them while the Engineer stays in the background throwing syringes at allies.
If combinations turn out that way, it will become increasingly more important for classes like the Thief and the Engineer, who may not provide any environmental changes to be acted upon, who have large amounts of crowd control mechanics to be pivotal in stalling the opponent from making their combo work. Because if you can stall the opponent for even a second, you could win the match. Who knows, maybe rather that focusing on a specific combo, the entire team is devoted to stalling the opponent to prevent them from getting their combo off. Like in Magic: The Gathering, tournament play consists of the top decks with the top combinations that provide with the best results. I can see the same thing happening in Guild Wars 2. But given Arena.Net’s design philosophy of taking their time, I would be heavily surprised if this was something they never thought about. And if they hadn’t I really hope they consider this post because this could make or break their PvP system and any chances at being an ESport.
If the system turns out to be very minor things, than the entire team composition turns to what it was in WoW arenas to see how much ground they can cover with the least amount of players. How many buffs and debuffs they have, how much damage output available, and then what class combinations work to help provide a small boost like a flame wall turning all the arrows into burn inflicting projectiles that maybe apply a small debuff damage over time.
In casual play, this may not be a huge deal, but in competitive play, this may or may not become a nightmare unless the combinations provide neat, unique buffs that are not game breaking but very nice. I am a fan of diversity in games, but too much diversity is begging to be broken. Just as in RIFT, the system in great, but each new patch with major or minor changes is devastating to the entire balance of the game creating huge shifts in power, but maybe that is their design philosophy. Allowing players to interact with their environment in this way is amazing, but if left unchecked could do the same thing that RIFT is currently suffering from. I have the utmost confidence that Arena.Net will not let this go unchecked or come out of the gate unbalanced. But like the new Guild System, this is either a new and exciting frontier of scary on how it will effect game balance. In the end, we can only wait and see what happens. Who knows, maybe the combination system will be a complete waste. Gotta give them props for at least trying to implement it.
In other news! Still have not received any submissions for the art contest. Probably because I am not offering any prizes. But alas, if you have a talent for art, why not show it off to the Engineer Community who follow this blog?
Send your submissions to Earthenliemusic@gmail.com and put Engineer Art Contest with your name in the subject box. I plan on there being a new layout come new years to spice this place up a bit. So stay tuned all you fellow fans!