Partially inspired by the venerable Melmoth’s recommendation, and partly because I’ve been grouping with them more frequently at end-game, I’ve recently rolled a Warden to see what all the fuss is about.
For those unfamiliar with the Warden, they are one of two new classes introduced with the Mines of Moria expansion at the end of last year. They are a tank of sorts, but with an interesting twist. Instead of having to fill up several quickbars with a multitude of distinct abilities – as is the norm in LotRO and most other MMOs in the DikuMUD/EQ/WoW template – the great majority of Warden skills are triggered by stringing together just 3 distinct attacks (Spear = damage, Shield = defence, Fist = threat) into combinations, called Gambits, and then hitting a 4th skill to trigger the desired effect.
4 skills, and you have the basis of a class as interesting and complex, and arguably more so, than many of the classes in LotRO or WoW. Throw in a skill to clear the current Gambit, and a few different stances and special attacks, and you have a control scheme that starts to look more at home on a 360 or PS3 control pad than on a traditional keyboard and mouse arrangement.
With Turbine already well into development on a console based MMO, the Warden stands out as a highly conspicuous design decision. It’s almost as if someone high-up at Turbine instructed the class developers to make a class that would work on a control pad without sacrificing complexity. If there is any truth in this, it raises the question of whether Turbine consider the Warden to be a viable template for console MMO combat, or just an interesting diversion on the road to a better system.
Could we imagine a console-based MMORPG made up entirely of Gambit based combat? Several classes each with their own array of specific Gambits, perhaps? Instead of a core selection of damage, defence & threat for tanks, a support class could have damage, healing & buffing. A DPS class could have damage, debuffing, threat reduction. Perhaps players could even construct their own classes by choosing a custom selection of core Gambit types, similarly to choice of power sets in Champions Online.
Going one step further, and taking a leaf out of the Rune Keeper’s book (LotRO’s other relatively recent class addition), we might imagine a classless system where players ‘attune’ in strength towards certain roles at the expense of others, simply by their choice of Gambits. This attunement might persist over time, meaning that players that often tank will see their tanking Gambits increase in effectiveness, and they may even be able to unlock new tanking related Gambits, but conversely, their healing Gambits will remain weak and limited. At some point a healer may decide that they’ve had enough of being blamed for wipes, find an appropriate NPC, and pay to have their attunement reset.
I haven’t played Champions Online, but from what I’ve gleaned, combat also works with a limited number of buttons. However, in contrast to the Warden, the focus is on the fast and reactive use of a limited skill set, rather than a more slow and strategic selection of a much wider range of unique abilities. Perhaps a console MMO could include classes of both of these types. Uncomplicated brawlers with reactive combat vs. strategic casters with Gambit-based combat.
While I don’t imagine for a second that the future of PC MMO gaming is under threat from console-based MMOs, I would certainly be more inclined to try a console MMO if it promised combat complexity on the level of LotRO, and it’s hard to see this happening without use of something like the Warden’s Gambit system. I for one will certainly be very interested to learn about the combat-system specifics of Turbine’s new MMO when it is eventually announced.