Building Characters for Duo Play

I often see people in chat and on the forums, asking what two character classes will compliment each other well for two players. Many people play with just one friend or a significant other, and they want to ensure that they play characters that are complimentary, making the game content more manageable. These requests do receive responses, but not all are helpful, especially in a game like GW2 where character class means a lot less than in other games. Given I regularly play exclusively with Incarnica, I feel qualified to share a few insights. While I will focus on GW2 in this discussion, I hope to provide information that will work across any game system.

It’s not really about class

In days of old, your role in the game was clearly defined by your choice of character class (sometimes called profession). In order to allow more diverse styles of play and to satisfy the number crunchers among us, character builds were introduced into gaming. So when I see someone on the forums asking what class they should play, what they really mean is “How do we build complimentary characters?”

Unlike most games, GW2 allows any class in the game to be built for any role. Some classes perform some roles better than others, but they can all do a little bit of everything. This means that for GW2, class doesn’t really play much part in things at all, it’s much more about character build. In games with more specialised character classes, build is still the determining factor over class, although some classes might be more restricted in building towards certain roles than others.

The only way to understand how to best build complimentary characters is to understand how certain roles in the game are filled with only two characters. It is also about understanding which roles are more important within the particular game you are playing.

Understanding roles

Since as long as I can remember, MMOs have been built around certain character roles. The primary roles in most games are Tank, DpS and Healer. Most people understand these roles pretty well these days so I won’t elaborate on them. If you don’t understand what they are, a quick search will tell you all you need. In addition to these primary roles there are the secondary roles of Buffer (improves party performance), Debuffer (degrades enemy performance), and Crowd Control (ability to neutralise one or more other foes for a short time, aka CC).

Most games demand and supply the three primary roles, often referred to collectively as the Holy Trinity. The secondary roles are often shared among the three primary. In GW2 the Holy Trinity was abolished, with every character able to perform all roles to a degree. Trying to recreate the Holy Trinity in GW2 tends to make sub-par characters unable to fill their intended goal very well. This has resulted in a Meta that believes the only viable role is DpS. While I can agree with the Meta to a degree, I do not think the DpS Meta is an absolute.

If you are playing in a two person team you will be forced to play hybrid characters, able to perform more than one role. Therefore, you will want something from each of the Holy Trinity. GW2 does this exceptionally well by putting more focus on the secondary roles and giving all character classes the ability to perform those roles to a degree.

Regardless of game, you need to assume that at some time you will be facing single powerful enemies, and at other times you will be overwhelmed by many opponents at once. Therefore your duo will have to have the ability to survive and perform in both situations. If you are both playing lightly armoured characters hoping to kill everything at range, you will be disappointed.

When building your character, keep these class roles in mind. If one character is strong in one role, then the second should build to cover the other roles. The one role you can never have enough of is DpS, because fast kills means fast play. However unlike in larger teams, you cannot play DpS exclusively, otherwise you will not survive being mobbed. Aim for balance, not specialising in any one role unless your companion is willing to satisfy the other.

Equal load

Both people should be able to enjoy the game equally. We are no longer living in the archaic days where the girlfriend only plays healer for the boyfriend. Everyone should be equally engaged in enjoying the game. If you don’t do this, then one person will tire of their role, suddenly the duo becomes a solo and that often means game over.

Work load should also be shared. Even if someone is new to the game, they should aspire to being able to take on an equal load once their skills improve. Yes, MMOs can be difficult at first, so if one partner has more experience, it’s their responsibility to be respectful and understanding of the learning curve. People will respond to a challenge, how they respond most often reflects on the quality of their teacher. Trying to dumb down play is disrespectful to your partner, it’s telling them they are too stupid to learn.

Using pre-made builds

It’s always good to look at how other people have created their builds to gain inspiration on potential combinations and uses. When making a build for a duo, I generally find that other builds tend to fall short. People create builds for a specific purpose, such as PvP or group play. As a duo, a solo build fails to help your team mate, while a group build tends to require more than one person to work effectively. I have found builds that guarantee 100% uptime on 25 stacks of Might, yet when I do the numbers it’s just not possible. Then I realise the build requires a party in order to sustain the promised Boons. So always evaluate how someone elses might work, not just from a technical standpoint, but from the stand point of how you actually play the game. I know that an Elementalist can blast their own field effects for bonuses and I use the techniques often, but I know I’m not going to use them all the damn time so I don’t build to that level of specificity.

Cherry pick elements from other builds, but always adjust for your desired game experience. Most duo builds will work fine in a full party, benefiting everyone equally, but there are limitations. Debuff style builds can benefit an entire zerg, but stacking effects have a cap which a zerg will quickly reach. Your goal with a duo build is to make the results sustainable and useful to just one other person. Target key elements of a game system that are not dependent on high levels of stacking effects; elements like Crowd Control, so your duo is less likely to be overwhelmed; passive healing effects like Regeneration (also called HoT or Heal over Time) allows your duo to sustain in larger combats without one member having to drop to Healer mode. Elements like these can be pulled from pre-made builds then woven into your personal duo build. As with all things, seek inspiration, steal ideas, but build for yourself.


I’m still tinkering a build for my Elementalist in GW2. I have already created a build for Incarnica’s Charr Elementalist, who is a devastating fire mage. In combat, I struggle to even get a hit on something before Incarnica has reduced it to ash. I needed a character that outputs damage fast, while still being able to cover other roles. I really wanted to use a Staff as my weapon of choice, it just goes nicely with my Sylvari and I love the big AoE attacks. As Incarnica also likes the staff, it means we are both primarily long ranged AoE damage dealers. It’s proving difficult to incorporate our personal preferences while maintaining balance and covering the roles.

My current build direction has me traited to constantly stack debuffs like Vulnerability, Weakness, and copious Blinds. I also have many Stuns and Pushes for crowd control. By using lightning based attacks I can tag many mobs swiftly, qualifying me to share in the loot, while leaving Incarnica to do the real heavy lifting on DpS. I can survive just fine solo, so can Incarnica, but individually we lack what the other provides.

As a duo, we become greater than the sum of our parts in both damage and survivability. As staff wielding AoE damage dealers, we thrive on mass battles. Incarnica performs like a fire throwing sprinkler to pull in mobs, while my debuffs and CC allow us to ignore attacks, holding the centre until the bad guys die. If required, I can switch elemental attunement and provide enough healing to hold out.

I will post these two builds as a duo some time soon, once I finish tinkering my personal build. I also need to tinker Incarnica’s build since the last patch, but judging from her damage output I doubt she needs much. This duo proves that in GW2 at least, you can play two characters who do not seem like a complimentary match. Each person is able play the general type of character they want to, providing they can build their characters to cover the required roles. In my example, Incarnica is DpS, while I cover all the secondary roles. The primary roles of Healer and Tank are covered individually by dynamically switching the roles among each other during the fight. GW2 pushes the roles of Healer and Tank into secondary significance.

Final Word

Having someone to regularly play with opens up some great opportunities to make a really dynamic duo. No one should feel obliged to play side kick to the other, you should both strive to work together as equals, even if there is a disparity in skill levels at first. Each person should be willing and able to offer their partner something, providing a multiplying effect. Unlike many 4-6 person traditional teams, you should be able to achieve a level of synchronicity that makes your duo at least equal to a larger team of random people.

As always, the primary focus should be on fun for all. If one person is being forced to play something unsatisfying just because it compliments the other character, then that other character needs to be changed. If you are a roleplayer like Incarnica and I, sitting down and discussing character concepts is a fun way to engage each other. Before GW2 was even released we had character pairs planned out, with names and some back story. Like any gaming, you are provided with a framework, it’s up to you to decide how you will build upon that framework.