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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Guild Wars 2 Open Beta Impressions

A Dredge Mole

Guild Wars Beta Impressions

Well..

Well I am admittedly hooked on ArenaNet’s yet to be released MMO-crack. At least I am familiar enough with this dealer to have some confidence they will not drive me into the poor house. Oh wait, I am in the poor house. Still, that cash shop doesn’t allure me. Except for the pirate costume. Did anyone check that out? I’m building canons and firing canons; a pirate’s life for me.

The beta itself actually opened up an hour early. I woke up to check to see if there were any new updates to download before the beta went live and suddenly found myself at the server selection screen. As I had planned to do, I created a Human Mesmer and cycled through the appearance options until I had created the bearded man that I am. I would have liked a couple more beard options, maybe one a little less Oregonian hiker looking, for later my beard choice and my class choice would turn me into a bit of a scary clown.

I went with a commoner background and the regret of not recovering my sister’s body for my character background choices, along with Lyssa as my patron god. My girlfriend went with the street rat option and the missing parents, and our third adventurer friend went with being a noble. This allowed me to see what variation exists from your choices in the story quests later on. After finalizing my choices and choosing my name, the game breaks into a painted storyboard cinematic. Images swoop across the screen, providing dramatic movement to what are essentially art stills. Your character voices the introductory narrative of their story and finally appears at the end against a dramatic backdrop. This intro is a well done and gets you pumped to play, which is why it is disappointing that the later story segments lose the dramatic movements for a static art still behind two characters making simple gestures as they chatter. Having played SWTOR, I am familiar with Bioware’s approach to story presentation and I actually did not feel it fit the MMO genre. People do not want to wade through multiple dialogue segments to accept a kill-ten-rats quest. The storytelling in that case became intrusive to the flow of the game, but Guild Wars 2’s story segments don’t fully convey the emotions of the situation due to the lack of dramatics in the talking head moments. While not a huge concern for me, the story segments are marked as works in progress and I would suggest that ANet tries to use some more dramatic angles and art piece movements in their personal story exchanges. For example, if my story conversation begins after I just ended a bar fight in my friend’s bar, it would be interesting to see my character sitting in front of an art piece depicting the injured bartender or a disarray of broken bottles, then swooping up to show the character with whom I am about to exchange words.

A swordsman and his beard

But let’s get to the real good stuff: the events system.

Ironchef Zebes talks out the Centaur Battle

Story segments play out against an artistic backdrop.

After the instanced introduction fight, you arrive to the Human starter area named Queensdale. Here, the game opens up and a scout marks out people in the area who need help. Most, like myself, go straight to the cow and corn farm. Here I began feeding cows and watering plants, letting the rest fight the worms sprouting up in the cow pen. Suddenly, a giant queen worm appears and I drop my bucket of water for my sword and focus. By this time I had learned two sword skills and working on the worms had brought out the third skill that creates a clone. The sword and the staff were two Mesmer weapon options that didn’t interest me before the beta, but became my favorites after the beta. I feel each served their purpose well, with the sword allowing good melee damage and control. The staff provided great group support and defense, which worked very well in the giant zerg that was the opening moments of beta.

Speaking of that zerg, the one at the farm finished off the queen worm pretty easily. It was at this point that most of us had filled our renown bar for the farmer and were ready to move on. I chose to take the path down the road to a Moa ranch. Other players split off towards the river or up the hill. At the Moa ranch, one of the farmers himself ran up to me and asked for help with some bandits. I began checking bushes for his Moa birds, but most were hiding bandits. Twice, I was doubled by hidden bandits and on the second encounter, the two bandits eventually took me down. It was at this point that a helpful ranger player showed up and helped me finish off the bandits from downed state. When I got back up, I saw a couple of players heading into a cave and followed them in.

Inside the cave, I discover the bandit hideout and a pen where those bad dudes and ladies have been rustling up some moa birds. With the few accompanying me, I take down some bandits and begin destroying their supplies. I attempt to jump into the moa bird pen, but get jumped by five bandits. They make short work of me and I have to respawn back at the first farm. By the time I get back to cavern, there’s a larger group and they’ve set the moa birds free. I get credit for this due to being the sacrificial lamb. Guild Wars 2 is a game that is punishing in that it will knock you to the floor, but rewarding in that it gives you credit for trying your hand at a challenge.

Meanwhile, I’ve found myself in the middle of another small zerg heading through the bandit cavern. We exit through the initial area and find ourselves in another section of the cave filled with bats. After the bats, we find a path up the rocks that leads to a spiraling bridge. As we ascend the bridge, bandits attack us and fire some explosives. Eventually we make it to the top where a bandit lieutenant awaits us. Again, I die at first until I find my sweet spot behind the boss. I may be a Mesmer, which is a magical trickster, but with just a sword in hand, I play more like a street magician thief.

After some time and teamwork, we take the big man down and one of his bodyguards cowers in fear, offering up some goods for sale in exchange for putting the beat-down on his commander. We all get some nice loot off the boss and I exchange a bow to someone for a staff. As you may be able to tell, the Guild Wars 2 experience is friendly and cooperative. I never found myself getting in the way of others or found other players as an obstacle towards my goal.

At this point, I’ve grouped up with this crew and joined their guild. We make our way back out of the bandit cave and towards a nearby orchard. The orchard owner is asking folks to get rid of the spiders and bats pestering her apple trees. We begin on this task, but our mighty size spawns a second event and spiders begin swarming in around us. I have switched to staff and begun learning my staff skills which prove helpful when positioned in the middle of the technicolor furnace of Guild Wars 2 combat. Yet, in the middle of this fight, that Moa rancher comes running for me again because those bandits we whooped got pissed and are attacking his home in waves. Our group splits for a few, with myself and some others taking out the bandit waves.

Attacking spiders in the apple orchard

Time for a caster to act like a caster.

Arachnapwnia and other mind wracking puns

With my return to the apple orchard, the event scales up again and soon a giant spider queen spawns. Did I just mention the technicolor furnace? Well now that color show is on full blast. I’ve also learned all five of my staff skills by now and unleash a giant chaos storm on top of our good friend Fat Charlotte the angry apple munching spider.

The spider goes down and I’ve just completed three events in a short span of time. I’ve jumped from level 2 once I got to Queensdale to level 5. Again, the group begins to splinter towards different destinations and I go exploring. I find a river dam under attack by harpies. I try plugging holes and fighting off the earth elementals and harpies, but harpies don’t roam around without friends. They are also a couple levels higher than I am, so I wander back down to the river to take care of some crab cages for a fisherman. I decide that this whole crabbing thing isn’t the life for a Mesmer and wander off towards a downed player on my map. Once I arrive to the downed player and help him back up, I realize I’m at the first farm again and bandits have begun attacking and setting the hay on fire. Yes, we’ve really pissed these guys off. All we do is keep killing them, so I guess they have a right to be angry. Everyone has a right to be angry or at least that’s why my crazy ex-roommate told me. Of course, if you keep attacking farms then I’m going to keep having to beat your behind. It’s nothing but a vicious cycle.

Erstwhile at Old McDonalds!

Players are grabbing buckets of water to douse the flames and I’m fighting the bandit waves, feeling confident with my new found levels and weapons. Unfortunately, fire still burns you and I get dropped hard by five bandits and their ring of fire. Burn, burn, burn and event scaled higher.

We still defending the farm, so I had yet to see an event fail. I wander back down to the river and realize a giant drake has appeared to defend its eggs. I am not sure if this drake was overscaled or if the mob fighting him just wasn’t as good, but the drake boss took longer to take down than any other boss. I then proceeded back towards the dam and used the drake zerg group to finish off those harpies. After this, I returned to the farm to spend some of the karma I’ve earned for doing all these helpful slaughterings. I notice that the sprinklers in the background have begun shooting out poison. When I was last here, the sprinklers were water a farm and a few worms were strolling about. Now the farm was being poisoned. This was my first time encountering the consequences of a failed event and didn’t feel like dealing with the consequences. It was about time to head back to the city and start the next segment of my personal story. I only mention this to mention that the little township outside the city had a well and it was a poisoned well. A couple villagers tried drinking the water and got sick, and the NPC by them advises me to talk to someone about fixing the situation. So even though I was trying to avoid the issue, the ramifications of the failed event had spread across the bridge and to the foot of the city.

And the city? Daunting.

Yet, city talk is another entry to be had. I would call this my first run with the game for it was around this point I took a little break. Was it fun? Yes. Was it different? Yes. Did it all make sense at first? No, but yes. People began rezzing each other right off the bat. Groups of zergs formed naturally and the map truly became player versus environment. You couldn’t just ignore the quests in the area because the “quests” came at you. The combat worked and was an active element. Everyone moved and learned to dodge or die. Putting up a Chaos Storm, people leaped into it and gave themselves a Chaos shield by the combo interaction. My Winds of Chaos bounced off of enemies and on to other players whether they were in my group or not, buffing them with random boons. The general interaction with the world lead you places and the world itself was vast.

And in the end? The Molerariat shall prevail.