Mana Envy – A Brief and Thoroughly Opinionated History
Around the time of the Great MMOG Hullabaloo of 2004, an inconspicuous paradigm shift crept into the genre like a sadistic tooth fairy with a ninja fetish. This wicked little beast began breaking down the barriers that separated the physically mighty from the magical, inciting the developer gods to invoke the dreaded power that came to be known across the virtual landscape as Mana Envy.
Yes, you heard that right; Mana Envy.
While turn of the century massively multiplayer games offered a great diversity when it came to playable classes, it wasn’t until much later that the concept of class-specific skill activation resources – and eventually mechanics - came into play. I’ve lovingly dubbed this paradigm shift Mana Envy, because the entire change came about as a means of introducing a resource beyond time to melee and physical ranged classes.
From this humble beginning, an entire legion of class abilities and mechanics was birthed, given a lukewarm bottle of less than stellar implementation, and unleashed into the MMO wilds to fend for themselves. Some died slow and painful deaths at the hands of wandering hair monsters, while others transformed into massive PEZ dispensers, dishing out doom in pellet-sized doses.
Back in the day, there was a very simple reason why magic-using classes had to deal with an additional skill activation resource. In most cases, casters offered more group utility, and did far more damage than your typical melee class. To help balance things out, casters had to account for mana usage, and sometimes even other consumable reagents to activate spells. All melee had to do was swing their sword or smack things in the face with their mace most of the time.
But there were unforeseen side effects to this initial approach. Namely, playing pure melee classes was very, very boring. It was readily apparent that magic-users were simply more fun to play, and offered more challenging combat than your typical melee or physical ranged classes. Tanks used to be few and far between in older MMOGs not because of complexity, but rather due to the lack thereof.
Over the years we’ve seen countless attempts to address the issue of Mana Envy, Warhammer Online perhaps being the pinnacle example when it first launched back in 2008. Every class in the game had some special mechanic that either introduced a new skill activation resource, or ability type specific to that class.
Mana Envy in Guild Wars: Prophecies
Not to be confused with the Prophecies of Nostradamus, though it is a little known fact that in one of his lost quatrains, the great seer foretold of the end of mana usage as we once knew it. True story.
Meanwhile, back in Tyria…
The original Guild Wars didn’t suffer from Mana Envy in the traditional sense. Instead, all professions used Energy which for all intents and purposes was like giving mana to all professions, not just the magic users. The naming convention may have changed, but it was still a shiny blue resource bar used to fuel skill activation, serving as a secondary skill balancing mechanic outside of the shared resource of time (cooldowns).
The only case of pure Mana Envy initially found in GW1 was the Adrenaline mechanic specific to warriors. Again, this could be viewed as much as a means of making combat more interesting as it was a skill balancing concern. Warriors notably had far less energy than magic-users, thus could directly fuel most of their stronger weapon attacks through the active use of what boiled down to various openers.
This concept was later refined into the true combo attacks of the assassin, introduced in Factions. Call it what you will, but I see this iteration on a concept as one of the origin points of the widespread outbreak of Mana Envy over the next 200+ years of Tyrian history.
The Mana Envy Pandemic of Guild Wars 2
In Guild Wars 2, all eight playable professions feature a unique combat mechanic, also referred to as “profession abilities” by the community on the official wiki. Unlike your typical case of Mana Envy, these mechanics aren’t necessarily tethered to skill activation, at least not in the majority of cases. Instead, they help distinguish play styles between professions in interesting ways outside of what is possible with the shared combination of weapon sets and healing, utility, and elite skills.
The overall importance of these mechanics also varies between professions. The thief’s Initiative, for example, is obviously tethered to core combat, while the necromancer’s Death Shroud adds both survivability and an additional layer of complexity to combat.
However, unlike the thief’s initiative, a necromancer can choose to completely ignore Death Shroud if they wanted to. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be sillier than putty to do so, but they could all the same. So instead, thieves get to steal objects and use them as temporary weapons, thus get a mechanic to choose to ignore of their very own!
It’s worth noting that a good implementation of Mana Envy systems accounts for both of these examples. Thus, each profession or class should have both to a certain degree:
- A mechanic that is wholly tied to core skill activation and combat
- A secondary component or aspect that the player has the option to use like any other tool in their arsenal, but isn’t 100% necessary to function in combat
I would also argue that, along with both of the above, there is a third component that is perhaps even more important, and accounts for the viability of either of the first two points:
- If you removed the Mana Envy component from a profession completely, does it still retain a unique playstyle and identity?
If the answer to that question is yes, then does that profession mechanic even need to exist? I’ll let you ponder that for a moment…
GW2 Mana Envy Beatnik Breakdown
Each of the profession mechanics in Guild Wars 2 is easily worthy of entire volumes of detailed analysis, usage scenarios, or even beatnik poetry. Could you imagine how a 1950s William S. Burroughs would have described the necro’s death shroud?
“Like a vampire bat he gives off a necrotic effluvium, a dank green mist that anesthizes his victims and renders them helpless in his enveloping presence. And once he has scored enough life force he holes up for several days like a gorged boa constrictor. Finally, he is caught in the act of digesting the Rollerbeetle Racing Commissioner and destroyed by an engineer’s flame thrower – the court of inquiry ruling that such means were justified in that the necromancer had lost his Tyrian citizenship and was, in consequence, a creature without species and a menace to necromancy on all levels.”
Adapted from Naked Lunch, but eerily fitting with only minimal changes
Now that I’ve had a little fun with the topic, let’s revisit the million-gem question of the day. In other words, if a player can choose to ignore the usage of a profession mechanic and that profession still retains a unique identity in the process, is it ultimately necessary? Or should it continue to be refined and iterated on until it has a distinctive enough purpose and place in combat to be justified?
The answer to those questions is not an easy one, and does justify a more analytical breakdown at the profession level to do it any kind of justice. Likewise, your own opinions on the matter are likely going to differ from my own, but that’s why we made sure that GW2Hub doesn’t suffer from the dreaded Comment Envy.
So take a gander at the table above, and let me know what you think about the verdict for the current Mana Envy components of Guild Wars 2. As you scan over the list, keep it in the back of your mind as you dive into the GW2 Stress Test this week, or the next beta weekend event you get the chance to participate in. Does the Mana Envy component of your chosen profession feel as though you couldn’t function in combat without it? And if you can, what would you change about it so that it does?
I could talk about these things all day, so if there is any interest in a more detailed analysis (or beatnik poetry for that matter) for each profession’s unique mechanic, be sure to toss that in the comments as well. Or the more industrious among you can always beat me to the punch and voice your opinions in our handy profession discussion forum.