The Subtlety:Combat in Guild Wars 2

A Dredge Mole

Guild Wars 2 Combat

Tab Target or Don’t. Who cares.

Part of my research for these blog entries is based on playtime with the game and based on collective feedback from browsing multiple forums. (About seven forums in total.) I mentioned in a previous post the confusion upon quest structure in the game, but there is a second issue which reappears with regards to the game and people’s play experience with it. People are sometimes loving the combat, sometimes finding it to be “not different”.

I think it’s fair to say that ArenaNet wanted a more active, actiony feel to combat in Guild Wars 2. I feel they have done that, but there are similarities to the established hotbar combat system. One, there is a hotbar, and two, you can tab target and then simply press hotbar keys. Of course, I think it’s fair to say most PC games are overly reliant on UI and menus to present their gameplay, but that doesn’t dismiss the presence of the hotbar and it’s impact on how people will approach the game. The issue is bringing to light the various little differences that makes Guild Wars 2 not feel at all like previous MMOs.

Swing away sucker.

When you target an enemy in Guild Wars 2, the game doesn’t make much effort to let you know if that target is within range. The numbers below your hotbars will change from red to yellow if the target is in range, but they won’t prevent you from using your skill on an out of range target. This makes knowing the reach of your melee skills very important. By reach, I am including the hitbox swing of your melee actions in the definition of reach. Many sword skills can hit multiple targets if they are within the swing arc of the animation of your attack. Normally in MMOs, a game will say if a skill can hit multiple targets and if it doesn’t say so then it’s assumed it is a single target attack. Guild Wars 2 doesn’t bother with that and takes the logical step of saying, “Well, if you’re swinging a sword from right to left then shouldn’t you naturally hit anything along the way?” From watching PVP videos, I’ve seen Warrior players miss their target by spamming their main attack on a target that is kiting around them. Never assume that just because you can fire off a skill that the skill will hit.

The second part of this free-swinging system is that though the skill will go off if your target is out of range, it will still hit any target in its range. So while you can tab target, you can also just run up to something within range but not targeted, hit your sword attack and hit the unselected target. This is part of the action game objective of ANet’s system. Further along this line, projectiles work with the same collision detection system, so that if you fire an arrow at a target and there is a moa bird between you and the target, there is a chance you may hit the Moa Bird. Certain weapons can be traited to pierce targets, adding directional functionality, making it so that your bullets or arrows will not be stopped by the first target they hit and instead pierce through any target along its line of sight.

Movement and Free Form Partying

When I first heard ANet speak of movement being more important, I disregarded the importance as anything slightly more than what previously existed in their first game. In a PVP sense, movement was important in the sense of kiting and positioning in the battlefield. In PVE, movement meant body blocking off mobs and kiting loose mobs as a caster. The previously mentioned differences in hitboxes and targeting make movement much more important. There is an aspect of the homing missile in regards to projectiles fired at a target, but this doesn’t mean that every projectile will hit its target when there are other targets and obstructions along the way. Furthermore, I know that at least in regards to Mesmer Shatters, you can outrun the range of a spell cast. You can also strafe to avoid arrows, though that feature was present in the first Guild Wars as well.

Movement also plays into the game’s free form partying system. If you and another player are friendly then any spell either of you cast the other can interact with regardless of being in a group or not. If an Elementalist casts Healing Rain, you can run into the rain and gain the healing effect. If you shoot arrows through the rain, then your arrows will gain the water bonus of adding a heal to friendlies attacking your target. It doesn’t matter if the Elemantalist is in your party or even knows you’re there. The spell itself is the language you must understand. If you know something is a combo field and you have a combo finisher, then you can use it to your advantage. Even spells that are not a part of the combo system react to other targets. A Mesmer’s Winds of Chaos will bounce its boon effect to any friendly target along its path.

Shadow Behemoth

Somewhere in this mess is a chaos storm applying boons to friendlies without me even targeting them.

Combo Wha..?

The Guild Wars 2 combo system is made up of the interplay between skills that either establish a combo field or a combo finisher. Some combo fields are AOEs like Healing Rain or Chaos Storm, while other Combo Fields are magical lines drawn in the ground. There are four types of Combo Finishers that when applied to the Combo Field create a secondary effect. Each finisher applies a type of effect that would make sense for the four types of actions.

The most common combo finisher is a projectile and projectiles shot through a combo field take on the property of the field. An arrow flying through friendly fire becomes a burning arrow. An arrow flying through an ice shard becomes a chilling arrow. Another common finishing attack is the Leap, and leaps generally add similar corresponding elements to the attack, but are more specific to the body of the character leaping into the field. A light field will add blindness to a leap attack, but a smoke field will cloak the attacker using leap. Blast finishers are your Hulk SMASH sort of moves that work a lot like Leap finishers, but generally have a wider radius to their effect. So while a Leap move into a Smoke Field will cloak yourself, a Blast finisher into that same smoke field will cloak all nearby friendly targets. The fourth and final finishing type is the whirl, and it functions sort of how you would expect a whirling fan might function in a magical field. Whirl finishers generally spin and spit the associated element around. A whirling axe finisher in a fire field will cause fire to spin out in all directions from the character spinning those axes around.

Finally, there’s the combo field element types which I will include in the proceeding list.

Combo Types

  • Field
  • Finisher – Blast, Leap, Projectile, Whirl

Combo Elements

  • Light, Dark, Ethereal, Fire, Water, Poison, Smoke, Ice, and Lightning.

What this means is that if you’re running through fire that doesn’t hurt you then it’s fire that can help you. Leap within the fire and gain fire armor to deal with attacking foes. Need a heal? Use a water field. The magic of the battlefield can be manipulated in Guild Wars 2, so use it when you can.

Read this wiki for further depth on the system (as it is known now): http://wiki.guildwars2.com/wiki/Cross-profession_combo

Reactive and Proactive Defense

There are two ways to be defensive and protective in Guild Wars 2, the reactive way where you see an attack coming and dodge out of the way or then kite away, and the more forceful, proactive approach.

You can see an archer firing on you and put up a magic wall, use a reflect skill or shield skill, and absorb or reflect the projectile back. You can simply just hit dodge and dodge the arrows. These behaviors are all based on a foe attacking and you the player doing something to deal with it. Strafing away from arrows is another part of reactive defensive play. These sort of skills are important because enemies in Guild Wars 2 can hit very hard. Bosses will take a giant foot stomp on your face if you get close to them and don’t see it coming.

Proactive defense is probably the part of the game that gets overlooked at first. It does take some time for players to adjust to having a dodge roll ability, but once you get used to having it then its a matter of reading your foe and using your dodge wisely. (Dodge uses up the endurance bar.)  Still, there are abilities and tactics you can use to disable an attack before it even starts. The blind condition will cause an enemy to miss their next attack. If your endurance bar is low and you see a hammer swing coming your way, a quick blind may save you from receiving the damage. Boons like Aegis will allow you to block and mitigate the next attack, so running in with aegis on allows you to stay in close for at least one incoming attack. Beyond this, inflicting a daze or stun on your target will disable them for a time while you apply damage or heal. You can then cripple your foe and use an escape or knockback skill to create distance.

An example:

As a Mesmer, I approach a pair of melee foes with a skillbar of two weapon sets. The first weapon set is my staff, the second weapon set is a sword and torch. My utilities are Ether Feast as a heal, blink, mirrored feedback and mirror images. I pull my target with winds of chaos on my staff. As the target starts to come towards me, I switch weapons and use my third skill to summon a melee clone of myself. As my clone nears the mob, I immediately use the secondary swap skill on my clone swordsman and switch positions with him and stun nearby enemies. I then proceed to hit the mob with my combo 1 attack, applying vulnerability to both foes. When the mob breaks free, I hit blurred frenzy and gain distortion, hitting the enemies while they miss swings flung through my distorted body. Bam, the first enemy dies, but one remains. My remaining foe stuns me and gets a big hit on me. I dodge back and away, accidently attracting the attention of a nearby archer. My health has taken a sizable hit. Am I in trouble? No, I heal and use my diversion shatter on my initial melee  target, disabling it from attacking me for a couple of seconds. Switching weapons again, I move towards the archer. On my way there, I cast Chaos Storm over the Archer while moving and begin firing off Winds of Chaos. When I get close to the chaos storm, I hit my second staff skill for feigned escape for its leap finisher effect, creating a chaos shield around myself that applies conditions to foes and boons to myself when I am attacked. Soon, with the Chaos Storm and the Chaos shield, I am spreading conditions to both targets as I circle kite around both of them while I spam out that Winds of Chaos. Next, I apply mirrored feedback on the Archer (causing his projectiles to reflect back to him) and switch to sword/torch. I cast my third skill again which creates another leap for a second Chaos Shield within the Mirrored Feedback field. I blink behind the melee enemy and beyond the Mirrored Feedback field, causing them to turn around to face me again. By now both enemies are low on health. I summon mirror images and use The Prestige torch skill to vanish from and blind my foes. I get between both of my targets and hit Mind Wrack shatter, creating double damage through the Mind Wrack and the explosion fire effect of The Prestige. Both targets die and I’m near full health.

What is missing in that description is any reliance on stats to provide constantly active but ultimately passive defenses. There are no dodge or block percentages. You either use a block skill or you don’t block. Some harder fights will ask you to change your weapons and utilities to adapt to what the fight brings to the encounter.

Kessex Keep

A quiet battlefield is easy to read.

Visual Literacy and Its Issues

What I have just begun to describe about Guild Wars 2 combat requires a learning of the visual information the game provides. You have to learn those combo fields and finishers, and what those fields look like on the battlefield. Furthermore, it requires understanding a lot of boons and conditions. These are the visual literature of the game, but as of now, the game isn’t always that easy to read. I noticed improvement in my battlefield awareness from my BWE experience to my stress test experience, but many issues still remain. Most of the Damage over Time conditions are shown through little icons on the UI. ArenaNet has set up this whole system to take players away from watching the interface, but their boon and condition system still largely requires interface monitoring. Unfortunately, their current system is in ways worse than the older system in Guild Wars 1, which explains bleeds and poisons through color changes in your health bar. Currently, the feedback from the game is not strong enough for many players. If ANet wants the game to be visual then more conditions need to be as easily read as the limping of your character with the cripple condition on them. Combo effects likely need a larger, more informative textual notation. Most of all, combat skills rely on the animation of the attack to tell the attack is coming and to mark the spot within the animation where the attack hits. These animations need to be more telling, at least for mobs, and if not more telling then more unified. It is asking a lot of your customer to remember the different attack tells of the hundreds of enemies they will likely find in the game. Audible clues would go a long way and add the crunch of hits that the game lacks at times, and that players often mistake for a lack of “heaviness” to combat. The animation system and softer hit sounds have left players thinking the combat is floaty when it’s truly anything but floaty.

So Bam!

Don’t get hit. Realize everything your skills do. Don’t play it like WoW. Don’t spam and lose.

Mole out.

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One response to “The Subtlety:Combat in Guild Wars 2

  1. It definitely sounds like I’m having an easier time of it than the majority of folks. Heck, it was a complete News Flash to me that many folks thought “melee” combat was more difficult than “range” combat in GW2… but, I honestly wasn’t playing my characters any differently regardless of what weapon they had equipped. Stay moving, CC the opponent (cripple, chill, immobilize, stun, daze… startle them with foul language… whatever ya got man!) so you can out manuever them, and always, always, always prioritize safety over dps…

    It’s clear from you description of an encounter in the OP that you have fully embraced the necessity of mobility in combat AND understand that the secondary effects of skills are often far more strategically important that the damage associated with them.

    There’s a good reason so many of the “close range” weapons have movement enhancing skills on them – it’s not just a happy coincidence that a thief with a sword equipped has a skill (#2) that will take them to their enemy to hit them AND allow them dance back out of range by hitting that hotkey again within a limited time frame.

    Folks who are claiming that it’s just a “button mash” style game are quite frankly so myopic imo that they should not be allowed to operate heavy machinery in RL. Sure, you “can” simply mash buttons for every skill you’ve got whenever they are not on cool down… actually, this probably goes along way in explaining why some folks think that melee is more difficult… if you’re simply mashing buttons then you don’t have those abilities available to you when you actually strategically need them in the fight.

    By simply staying mobile, and making full use of the enhanced movement capabilities of the professions, I’ve basicaly been playing the entire game in “melee” mode. It’s very exhilarating, fast paced, and perhaps most importantly, effective. Even the “big, bad, bosses” get attacked with close range as far as I’m concerned, but I don’t run up to them, stand in front of them, and button mash all skills mindlessly. Keep ‘em turning, slow their ability to get “faced up” correctly to hit you, bounce in and out of their melee range so that you hit them, but don’t allow them to hit back, and there’s no reason you can’t use whichever weapons you want.

    Having said that, I should also point out that I’m not adverse to backing out and swapping to a different weapon temporarily if they do land a hit on me and I need to heal up before re-engaging. Most of the folks having trouble seem to be either stuck in “old paradigm,” playing lazy, and/or playing stubborn. If what I’m doing at the moment isn’t working, I’m not adverse to trying something else, and I usually don’t try to “blunt force” my way through things. The encounters in GW2 have hidden complexity to them, and if you’re not paying attention, something like “Dat Shaman” will pop up and smack you down. The Fire Shaman in the charr starting area actually isn’t that difficult, but if you’re not looking at what he’s buffing himself with, then you can, quite painfully, kill yourself for him. (He puts on a “retaliation” style buff that reflects damage at certain points in the fight… Dat Shamans don’t kill people… people kill people.) Some professions (necro with focus item skill #5 for example) have the ability to remove boons from opponents. I found the Dat Shaman fight significantly easier on that character.

    As pointed out in the OP here, it would probably be VERY helpful for the UI display of boons and conditions to be made much easier to see.

    I’m not exactly sure what this says about the game to be honest… On the one hand, it’s fantastic that the combat mechanics allow for rewarding of skillful play… On the other hand, if it’s a 1 v 1 fight, and I have room to manuever, I can basically take on any mob in PvE and win – it’s just a matter of how much time the fight is going to take. There are exceptions to this of course, the veteran OakHeart was something I fought when it was 3 levels higher than my character and after 20 minutes it was essentially a draw since we were both able to heal more efficiently than the other could do damage (I had him well below half health several times in that fight though, and if just one other player had shown up for the event I’m positive I could have taken him out… one of the drawbacks of playing ahead of the “zerg.”)

    I have noticed that the “combat scenarios” become increasingly more complex as you advance in levels, and by the time you reach level 20 you are consistently involved in fights that are decidedly NOT 1 v 1, and/or where there is very little room to manuever. Adapt or die.

    My first law of GW2 combat is; Enhance your mobility, while taking away theirs.

    My second law of GW2 combat is; If you’re not moving, you’re dying.

    My third law of GW2 combat is; If there’s no room to move… bring friends.

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