How to Horizontal Boogie: Improve Traits Not Stats

The Outrage

If you’re a Guild Wars 2 player then you may have heard about the new Ascended gear added to the game with the Lost Shores patch released this past weekend. The release of information on a new tier of gear being added to the game caused a major uproar in the community. People have quit the game or are threatening to quit the game over the addition of new gear with better stats.

I think the first important thing to do is to present what Ascended gear is, how it will grow into the game, and why people are angry.

Tiers of Grief

Ascended armor has been explained as not a new higher tier, but a tier to bridge a gap between exotics and legendary items. What is new with Ascended gear is a stat increase over exotics and the infusion upgrade slot. The Ascended items themselves are unique, meaning that you likely cannot equip two of the same Ascended item, and in addition to this, the secondary stats of the items cannot be modified in the same way current items can.

The only types of Ascended gear in the game currently attainable are back pieces and accessories. Previously, each of these slot types of armor had an upgrade slot that could be interchanged with gems of various types and statistical benefits. In the case of Ascended gear, the upgrade stats are built into the item and cannot be changed.

Instead, Ascended items have infusion slots that can be changed, and come in different types. There are offensive, defensive and omni infusion slots. How this operates is not entirely known, but we have seen that the infusion slots can add Agony Resistance as well as stats like power, vitality and precision.

Agony is a new Damage over Time effect that occurs in the Fractals of the Mists dungeon starting at the level 10 difficulty tier. The Ascended items and the Fractals dungeon go hand-in-hand, as earning the items requires playing the Fractals dungeon, and so far the Fractal dungeon is the only place in game that has the Agony condition.

ArenaNet has stated that they plan to add more ways to acquire Ascended gear, including through WvWvW, but currently Fractals of the Mists is the only way. They also plan to slowly introduce each new type of Ascended item into the game piece by piece. There will be Ascended helms, shoulders and weapons, but these will be introduced months down the line.

Why They Scream You Lie

ArenaNet has been unwisely quiet in response to the anger about Ascended armor. They have spoken once in response, but the explanation provided did not truly quell the fears of the populace. One claim in particular has been a bone of contention.

Ascended items have been explained as a way for ANet to bridge the gap between Exotics and Legendaries, but people have challenged that assertion by saying there never was a statistical gap between Exotics and Legendaries. In response, the gap alluded to can be explained via rarity and the general ease of acquiring an Exotic versus the long trudge of attaining a Legendary. This too has not held up as people have pointed out that not all rares or exotics are equally uncommon or attainable.

There is a large gap between a crafted exotic such as a Pearl Broadsword and that of something like Legend of the Foefire or Vision of the Mists. For example, the Pearl Broadsword might run you 3 gold on the Trading Post, while the Foefire or Vision of the Mists will cost you at least a 100 gold to buy. Below the level of these status symbol swords are craftable weapons of the Corrupted and Destroyer type that require rare, expensive materials. Higher up in costs from these weapons are the Legendary precursor weapons that can often go for over a 100 gold.

Even rarity between statistical tiers are not consistent. The tier 3 cultural armor is much less common and harder to acquire than crafted Exotic armor or karma armor or even the dungeon sets. Much of the populace doesn’t have the 100 gold it takes to get the full set. So, while statistically the armor is weaker than my gear it is far more of a status symbol or reason to brag due to its high cost and consequential rarity. This holds true for tier 3 cultural weapons. My Peacemaker Greatsword gets more oohs and ahhs than my dungeon exotic scepter even though the original item itself is of only rare quality in stats.

All of these are examples of tiers within tiers that act as gap bridgers in rarity that have nothing to do with statistical differences, so ArenaNet’s explanation struggles to really hold up to criticism. Many have claimed that they created the gap themselves by introducing Ascended items with a new ceiling of stats.

And Why They Keep Yelling You Lied

The heart of the issue though is the claim that this introduces a gear treadmill to a game that promised no gear treadmills. This argument then sort of swindles out of control into dismissal of the game as a new WoW’-clone.

Overall, There’s too much histrioics within the anger and I worry it damages the legitimate concerns of the game’s core audience. And that core? I would describe them as a mix between Guild Wars veterans and those who had tired of the way things have been done in MMORPGs for so long. Both sides want a statistical plateau to tiers and skill over stat based gameplay.

However, is this now a treadmill game? No, not at all, but it does open the door to the treadmill, and the situation really makes me wonder why ArenaNet would even let that door get kicked ajar. There are multiple issues the game has in its current form and many things people want addressed or improved, but new statistical highs doesn’t seem to be high on that list.

Areas of Concern

The sPVP side of the game is struggling to retain players and it is easily the least developed side of the game. It also suffers from there being only one type of map, so while they did introduce a new map in beta form, its still the same type of ruleset with the same issues as the rest of sPVP. As long as structured PvP remains Cap Point mode, the game will be a never ending meta of bunker vs roamer, and tanky versus spike. I feel I have gone over the issues with Cap Point quite a bit here, but it’s the larger PvP playerbase that is starting to feel the limits of the map type.

WvWvW players are looking for incentive to keep playing, but as well, they are the group suffering the most from the game’s culling issues. It is known that culling is a top priority for the team and likely wont be an easy fix, but WvWvW issues go beyond culling. Players are starting to question whether they should keep dumping gold into upgrading and taking keeps for their Guild only to have all their investment vanish overnight.

PVE on the other hand requires more bug fixing and more variety at endgame. Orr is a jump in difficulty but a step down in variety. Lost Shores introduces a new max level area, but again has little in the ways of variety of events or enemies. Loot drops have also been a problem with far too much RNG involved and rather poor loot tables, but that at least began to be addressed with the Lost Shores patch. New bags of goodies were added to dungeon chests, new items with a rare chance off bosses, and the Fractal dungeon themselves offer more chances at valuable loot. Yet, beyond this, the game needs to make exploring more rewarding, that again being an issue of incentives. There’s a lot of great areas of the Tyrian world not being populated because the zerging of mobs that increases chances at valuable loot and the high-end gathering nodes that are essential to money making are only available in max level areas.

Somewhere far below these concerns lies new gear to chase. To some, those used to the old MMO model, that concern for new shinies may be much higher, but its hard for me to envision let alone support gear treadmill addicts being drawn to Guild Wars 2. Once you realize that power creep puts you in the same place in vertical progression game as you are in a horizontal progression game, that gear treadmill loses all value.

Horizontal Boogie Time

So how did the original Guild Wars support continual PvE gametime? How did the PVP and PVE continue to be populated and active without new statistical tiers? There’s one major element as to why: skills and encounters.

The card game-like skillbars of Guild Wars allowed the game to continually progress via new build ideas and strategies for many years. As well, new encounters that involved new situations and limitations created the need for new build ideas that again refreshed the play experience.

For Guild Wars 2, the original idea was that traits would provide this customization and variety that skills provided the original game, but the traits themselves have needed a serious overhaul since beta.  Too many of the traits are outright boring and uninteresting stat increases of no difference from gear changes. My Phantasms do 15% more damage? That doesn’t change my play-style anymore than stacking more power into my gear. My Glamour skills blind, oh wait, now all blinds confuse? Now my Glamour skills provide extra functionality and versatility. My Engineer’s pistol range is further? Well I suppose that makes my character more functional. My bombs heal? I create a bomb on dodge? Now being a bombing Engineer is also a support Engineer.

These are the differences between traits that have limited the horizontal progression in the game. There are some traits that add functionality and thus add variety to playstyles, but there are too many traits that only add vertical increases or functionality that should probably be there to begin with.

Beyond this, the traits are often bugged for many classes. The Necromancer class has suffered the most from this problem, but even my beloved Mesmer is not free of these issues. Hilariously, ArenaNet stated in their patch notes that Phantasmal Fury “now works”, but in actuality it still doesn’t work with Phantasmal Mage which was one of the main parts of the trait that was not working previously.

Overall, the issue with traits are holding back the side of the game that should be adding interesting options for daily players. Due to this, the game has not opened up like it should be opening up at max-level.

What To Do Now

I really feel ArenaNet needs to come out and directly address the elephant in the room. They need to announce whether or not there will be more statistical increases in gear between now and when a new level cap is introduced. They need to answer the gear treadmill question with a firm yes or no and stick to it. There is too much PR-praddle and silence coming out of their offices.

Part of the reason this has not happened yet is because ArenaNet has been poor at communicating with the public. A Public Test Realm like server would do the game a great good in bug testing and in letting the public in on what’s going on and what will be going on. Seeing is believing, so let the public see whats in store, and take it hands on for themselves. I imagine the PR disaster that Ascended has been could have been avoided if the Public had a chance at Fractals and seeing the stats themselves. The great misinformation that exists about Guild Wars 2 can be blamed a lot on ArenaNet’s dismembered communication lines. Not everyone is going to read the forums, reddit, twitter and random in-game chats to figure out what exactly is going on.

After that, the traits need an overhaul that sweeps the vertical progression and functionality traits off the table and replaces them with new interesting options that reward smart combinations and builds.

Once these things are done, the game will smooth out and the audience will be a bit more sure of where they should be. T

Bring Res Sig: The Origins of Guild Wars 2 Concepts

The Old and The New

A Meeting with the Past

Old Ideas for a New Audience

A debate on what’s all that inventive within Guild Wars exists. The argument exists out there on the static, binary-bound teeth of the internet’s Badlands. This isn’t a new idea. Well, often, it’s not. What is overlooked in this debate is that it’s not even a new idea to the Guild Wars franchise.

The entry is going to go over some key concepts that will feel new to a lot of players trying out Guild Wars 2, but have origins rooted back in the original game.

Niche to a Degree

The original Guild Wars has a non-sub-based claim of 7 million sales. Is this made up of individual box sales or accounts? I have heard conflicted reports. I also don’t care in regards to my point. The real issue is that Guild Wars was a successful game and it helped fund sequel, but within the general discussion of MMOs, it’s far more niche than you would think a 7 million seller would be. The knowledge of what the original game was about is still somewhat limited in the press and enthusiast community.

One occasion of this that I’ve run into multiple times surrounds the call-target function. When talking to one friend about their experience playing the game, they were having issues with keeping a target and being able to follow their target in the chaotic mess of the early betas. This player was looking for some visual cue that outlined their target a bit more. After struggling to think about whether or not Guild Wars 2 did anything to make your target stick out, I remembered control + T.

So, I asked, did you call target? I then realized this concept is entirely new to most players. It’s a product of the first game’s PVP focus, and is a very valuable tool. One player calls a target, and everyone can follow by pressing T. This target can be switched on the fly and everyone can follow the “target caller” along. It also places a big red crosshair over the target in question.

I began my response to the problem by trying to offer a traditional answer and then realized the Guild Wars answer was already there.

Res Your Friends

The Res Sig was a signet skill in the first game that every class had access to. In the Prophecies PVE campaign, one of your earliest quests is to group with another player and go out into the world. For doing this task, you are given a resurrection signet that can be used to resurrect another player. There were restriction on how often you could use it, but it introduced the concepts of anyone being able to res from the very start.

This concept is improved upon and expanded with the sequel, where the process of resurrecting a friendly ally is a simple F key press. While this feature is attributed to the game’s move away from the holy trinity, it really is just a continuation of the first game’s approach to cooperative play. It’s nothing new. It’s just done in a more obvious way this time.

About That Trinity

The original Guild Wars had a healer class or two, plus a tanking class or two. In the early years, PVE content was tackled through the traditional means of the holy trinity. A warrior or two to run in and pull aggro, some dps doing their thing, and then a monk in the back dropping heals. It was simple and very easy.

Then ArenaNet decided to change up their PVE experience. They took what they learned from the PVP experience of the game and began to change the rules of their mob’s A.I. and behavior. You could no longer gather and aoe down groups of unfriendlies. Tanking started to become more about blocking off pinch points, hampering mob movement, and gathering up mobs in various ways. Healers and damage dealers had to learn to kite stray mobs while still performing their functions as the game featured no taunt mechanics.

The PVE game continued to grow in this way, up until the point that traditional trinity builds became less standard. Personally, I completed the War in Kryta line of missions and quests without a monk or traditional heal setup. I used the popular and almost necessary Discord-way build featuring Ritualists and Necromancers. The Ritualist is a support class with heals spells, but less direct heals than the more traditional monk. In this build, whether a Ritualist or Necromancer main, nearly every class had a major damage attack called Discord. So all my A.I. partners were to supply support and damage reduction through spirits or items, while also shooting out Discord spells on my target calls. For myself, I ran a Dervish tank build that also cleansed conditions off my entire party every time I dropped an enchantment. Effectively, everyone was performing multiple roles. I was doing damage through spreading conditions, body blocking mobs and absorbing hits through my enchanted armor and high health pool, while also supporting the entire team by being the major condition removal for my party. My Hero henchies provided damage spikes, party wide damage reduction and buffs, and a few targeted heals. The Necromancers provided control through their minions eating up mobs and creating walls between my team and the enemy mobs. When the minions died, they exploded in an AOE damage effect, and provided a group heal through a monk enchantment cast upon them by one of the Necromancer with a Monk secondary.

It was a complex and effective team build that was able to function in more situations due to its flexibility and grouped interdepence over singular class dependence.

If that sounds a bit like the Guild Wars 2 combat experience then that’s no surprise. The heritage of the anti-trinity began years ago in the original Guild Wars, but it was not a major talking point until the Guild Wars 2 hype train got going. There is evidence that ANet was already moving towards this goal in a game designed with the trinity. Now it’s all grown up and refined.

Story Time

Bioware, good or bad, garnered a lot of attention for adding an emphasis to story in their MMO, and making story in an issue of importance, and a hot feature to be found in MMOs. So, the fact that Guild Wars 2 features story quests that are based on character creation choices and which feature branching paths, the natural instinct will be to draw comparisons to SWTOR.

But this is a blog about Guild Wars influencing the sequel, so, surprise, and then more surprise, the original Guild Wars featured a story, an ending and even a credits roll once you beat the final boss. The original game’s strengths were seen as being an online RPG with an actual story, the PVP focus, and the lack of a sub fee. The return of a story focus with cinematics is not a big surprise, but the story quests also share some influence with the older PVE design. Much of the story in Guild Wars Propechies was done through what was called Missions. These were instanced adventures where you followed a path, fought enemies and bosses, and saw the story unravel. They were considered, in some sense, the dungeons of Guild Wars, but they share little with the Eye of the North dungeons, and a bit to do with Guild Wars 2 dungeons. The story quests of Guild Wars 2 are like these Missions, but broken up into small segments. How?

The missions in the first Guild Wars lead you through the game, and took you across the map, from point to point, and eventually up to the final area. The story quests of Guild Wars 2 accomplishes this same task. They will begin in the opening zone of your race and then proceed into higher level zones, asking you to go to certain spots on the map where an instance prompt will greet you. The story quests can also be done cooperatively or individually. This was done in the original game through henchman and heroes, but is done through difficulty scaling in the second game. A major difference between Missions and Story Quests is that GW2 does not allow you to repeat your story quests.

Some Repeated Notes

One of the comments that I’ve made about dungeon design in Guild Wars 2 is the element of traps and how they are a carryover form the first game. These traps didn’t really come into play in a heavy manner until Eye of the North, and that expansion was the first to feature what could be traditionally thought of as dungeons. Beforehand, most instances were either wandering through a zone, or completing the previously mentioned Missions. The other carryover that I’ve mentioned is the Structured PVP format, where the original game worked from the same concept of putting everyone at max level with access to max level gear. The second Guild Wars furthers this concept by giving players access to all item mods and skills, while the original made you earn these either through PVE or by spending the game’s PVP currency of Balthazar Faction.

Another carryover is the Waypoint travel system that functions much like travel in the original Guild Wars. Once you get to a to a Waypoint, you can travel back there at any time for a small fee. Visiting towns and outposts worked the same way in the original game.

A Waterfall

A Waterfall Vista

A Final Point

All this time, many companies have been trying to copy World of Warcraft to recreate Blizzard’s success for themselves. My contention is that company’s probably should have been trying to copy Guild Wars and expand on its ideas and models instead. The first Guild Wars was more ready for the current gaming environment than any WoW clone could be. Many things that excite people about Guild Wars 2 are extensions and advancements of ideas and features found in the original Guild Wars.

 

If Guild Wars 2 ends up successful, and more successful than other MMO attempts, there will be many companies kicking themselves over ignoring that little niche title with the seven million sales while going after the old beast of a diku-clone.

The Advantage of Choice

A Dredge Mole

Guild Wars 2 Debate

This isn’t ice cream.

This entry is brought on by the general debate over ArenaNet’s decision to change their trait system from a free and open choice to a tiered and more restrictive system. Mainly, this post is about the idea of “The Illusion of Choice”. The Illusion of Choice argument basically states that though a system may allow you to take another trait or skill point over another, the fact that certain traits or skills are obviously better makes any choice but them a poor choice. In the end, you will end up taking what’s best rather than taking the what is worst. Thus, there really is no choice, but only an illusion of choice.

This is an idea, I imagine, born from World of Warcraft players who were told of the idea to explain talent changes, and partly held up by Guild Wars players who never got deep into “Build” Wars. For as much as build making was fun and creative in Guild Wars, most of the playerbase never really took part in the experimentation, but rather just co-opted the popular builds to themselves, and in doing so, saw the system as nothing but a meta game that produced powerful builds that left them with no choice but to play them. The problem with this view of Guild Wars is that people who took this route robbed themselves of choice by never pushing the limits of what they could do. It wasn’t that there was no choice, but that they abstained from the process by which such “build wars” were produced.

Yes, that sounds a bit elitist. Yes, it casts some assumptions upon the public. But stick with me, for I have an important and valid point. Namely, that the illusion of choice only exists in a vertical progression game. In a game of horizontal progression, choice is everything.

A Quick Historical Example

Guild Wars featured a tournament PvP mode called Hall of Heroes, but it was also once called Tombs and eventually retitled Hero’s Ascent. In this PvP mode, teams of 8 (sometimes 6) players formed a party and entered the tournament. They began by fighting a group of NPCs for a morale boost, as sort of barrier of entry into the tournament and test of coordination. After this, they faced off versus one or two other teams, round after round, participating in deathmatches, flag running matches and king of the hill type game modes. All of these matches included a Ghostly Hero, which was often involved in the other mades and offered a morale boost for the team that killed another team’s Ghostly Hero. For a team to succeed and reach the Hall of Heroes, and then go on to win, it must include tools to deal with all of these game modes while still being able to defeat another team straight up.

Rather early on in Guild Wars lifespan, certain easy to play but hard to master team setups began to emerge. Air Spike was a tournament team build made up of at least five Air attuned Elementalists using the Chain Lightning skill in unison. This is where the “spike” term from Guild Wars comes in, for to spike means to have all dps players hit their one spike ability at the same time, thus firing away at a target in unison, causing a coordinated and instant attack to eat through any lifebar. This was normally accomplished via voice chat, with a target caller and spike caller using the game’s targeting system to select a single target for the whole team and then giving a countdown to the spike moment.

Spike created a healing meta to counter it and other such changes in the game, but that’s not the point here. The point is that the power of this build was not permanent. A group of players from the Penny Arcade forums stumbled upon the ability to continually stack Ranger spirits on top of each other, creating a wall of area wide buffs and effects that could be used to their advantage. This created a new situation for every other team to deal with in the tournament. It also hampered the Smite builds, which were based off an Elemantalist/Monk’s ability to stack enchants on itself and then spam quick enchants to trigger zealot’s fire on friendly Warriors. For each of these builds, the healing monks featured different skill setups. Smite Healers were in for longer matches than Air Spike healers, but both healers had to be ready for Air Spike damage, but Spirit Spam Rangers needed healers who didn’t use enchantments, removing the importance of Healing Seed from the game. Though spells like Healing Seed helped heal through focus fire and Smite pressure, Protective Spirit helped with spike builds by limiting the amount of health a friendly target could lose. These were always better choices than other healing skill choices, but when faced with Spirit Spamming rangers that constantly removed enchantments and slowed enchantments down, they were no longer the best choice. Thus, Word of Healing monks were important for Spike pressure because they were not an enchant based heal, as did Infuse Health monks (which became more popular later on).

So, right away, you see that due to GW1’s lessened use of vertical progression, the illusion of choice was more a matter of what you were facing rather than what skill rises above all. Healing Seed was very popular, as is Protective Spirit. The constant removal of enchants made these less powerful. The meta changes and so on and so on. This isn’t the limit of the historical example though.

IWAY was a build coined for a single skill called I Will Avenge You. Every Warrior in this team-build brought this skill and when they hit the skill, they did a textual shout of I WILL AVENGE YOU! Players facing off against this team quickly noted all these large bruising fellows shouting the same thing and coined the build IWAY.

But I Will Avenge You was never seen as a PvP skill. Up until the point it became popular, it was seen as a PVE only skill. What the skill did was give the Warrior a regen and attack speed boost for each dead ally.There was no choice of bringing the skill because it wasn’t good enough for PvP, because if your team was dead then what use was the buff? You had lost by then. The idea of the skill was far too situational, at least according to popular opinion and the Illusion of Choice viewpoint. IWAY belonged to runner builds or PVE tanks who wanted to survive their team dying around them.

IWAY was created by a guild messing around with a Team Arena build on a larger scale, bringing in a bunch of Warrior/Rangers with Axes into the tournament mode game. Initially, the entire team was made of Warrior/Rangers, and slowly a monk or two was added, but the healing power always remained focused on moderate party-wide heals rather than large focused heals. After a few goes, someone decided to toss IWAY into their skillbar on a whim, and the discovered that it was suddenly more useful with all these bodies laying around. The advantage was that pets counted as allies, so the Smite teams eating up the bodies of the War/Ranger pets and the fellow War/Rangers dying from a lessened amount of direct healing was quickly powering up the IWAY skill, turning a basic pressure build into an overwhelming pressure build that was able to eat through the then powerful smite balls.

But this didn’t make IWAY Warriors the best Warriors, because Smite builds still worked best with Hammer Warriors creating knockdowns for the smite pressure to be spammed through. The only thing that lessened Hammer Warriors was the advantage of the armor heavy IWAY builds against their overall team build. Yet, even the guild that popularized IWAY didn’t run those type of Warriors in its GvG games. For in GvG, what is important changes and the battle is lengthened, making survival better and battles split between points. These different situations made the IWAY warrior not as effective and the IWAY skill was no longer the best choice.

The point being that the idea of best and useless is subject to change in a horizontal system with a lot of choices. Someone can take the “useless” and find a way to force it into usefulness, changing everyone’s assumptions about what is best. This would not happen in a situation in which one trait or skill is the same as another, but just improved statistically. In games where one trait or skill has different effects or different conditional uses, then choice does matter and the choices made changes the game, and thus, choice is then important.

So That Was More Than a Quick History

Yes, I went on for a bit there, but I hope it gives some background for where Guild Wars players are coming from and the experience they speak from. Now it’s time to examine Guild Wars 2 traits and the actual problems there.

There are a few traits that are mere vertical progressions, like traits that improve your power when wielding a sword or rifle. In a battle of straight up damage, these traits will tend to be most important. There also traits that directly increase the damage of a skill such as Mind Wrack. If you’re going to play a shatter based Mesmer, then this damage increasing trait will always be desirable. The question is whether sPvP is entirely about damage and whether the problem is the ease of access to these traits or that such vertical progression traits exist.

I put forth that vertical progression traits become mandatory for anyone looking to use the skill or weapon they improve. An Eviscerate Warrior will always go 30 points into strength for the Axe Mastery trait. Tiering them doesn’t change this, it just forces players into going 30 points down a line and then picking the best traits along the way. This quickly becomes a cookie cutter build scenario. That is not to say that the previous trait system didn’t have popular builds with pretty common trait setups, but there is a big difference between the two. If every Warrior must go 30 points into Strength now, that leaves less points leftover to create variations on a common theme. You might have a lot of Eviscerate Warriors in either system, but you will have more variation on that Eviscerate Warrior in the previous system due to there being more “leftover” points. Leftover points being the trait points you have leftover after you get the primary 4 or 5 traits that make up a build. In the previous system, most builds topped out at 5 mandatory traits, some maybe six. In the last BWE, six mandatory traits seemed to be the standard due to new tier restrictions. This left 10 leftover trait points, with less options to spend those 10 points on. This pushes the game closer towards illusion of choice. If you have 30 points spent in two different lines because you have to get those two Grandmaster traits to make the build function, then you are faced with picking the best of a much smaller litter.

Previously, if I had 20 or 30 points leftover, I could experiment with either trying to squeeze any extra damage I could out of a build or provide more utility to my build or provide better survival for myself or even increase my mobility. At 10 points leftover, I am far less likely to have that many options. Since sPvP is based on Capture Point, all those other options have their strengths. Mobility matters, survival matters and damage always helps.

ANet wanted to compare their trait change to ice cream, saying you could have an ice cream parlor with 300 flavors of which only 2 are good or an ice cream parlor with 30 flavors but 6 are good. First, this is a false dichotomy, but secondly, its just a horrible analogy. Ice cream flavor is a matter of opinion. Some people love mango and some people do not. The debate here is about viability. There will always be popular builds that people swarm to adopt.

I’d rather compare it to a pizza parlor and the idea that people like pizza and that pizza is popular, meaning that a popular build is equal to pizza.  You will always have crust, sauce and cheese on your pizza for that is what makes it pizza. You can either have a pizza parlor with the 7 most popular toppings or you can have a pizza parlor with 35 toppings. In any scenario, the more toppings offered the greater variety of pizza you’ll see. If you’re a vegetarian, the 35 topping place will have more options. If you’re on a diet, then you’ll pick healthier toppings rather than the more popular pepperoni and sausage type of toppings. If you’re vegetarian but allergic to mushrooms and olives, you may be out of luck at the 7 topping parlor. Eventually, you’re pleasing less people at one parlor than the other because of your limited choice. Everyone is still having pizza, but people are having less types of pizza when you offer 7 toppings in total. You are assuming what everyone will want and what will always be best for everyone. You’re excluding people by having less topping options and you’re leaving yourself prone to burnout once everyone gets sick of pepperoni and sausage for the 100th time.

I’m not saying my analogy is much better, but it at least accounts for the fact that the game changes and nothing can be absolutely known for sure. But I feel I’ve gotten off-track, as the point here is horizontal versus vertical progression.

The Fledglings

There are certain traits in the game that have extremely limited use. These are the “on downed state”, “when reviving”, “upon rallying”, and “when taking fall damage” traits. Nobody is taking these traits due to how situational they are and how minimal their impact is on the outcome of the game. As I mentioned, you can force situations that make useless skills suddenly useful, but it’s hard to see where these traits will become increasingly valuable. For example, there is really only one point in the sPvP maps where you can take fall damage and not nearly kill yourself, and the areas where you can do this are not really high traffic spots that would make the fall effect trait worthwhile. In tower defenses in WvWvW, an “on fall damage” trait might prove more effective, but it also plops you right down into the heart of a zerg more often than not.

So when traits like these face the battle of being chosen over other traits, they will almost always lose. This is the illusion of choice, but it’s not because there’s too much choice, but because the traits themselves are poorly designed. Tiering them helps them in no way. Improving them or removing them actually does.

So what would you have instead?

If you’re going horizontal progression, which I think ANet hopes to be doing, and what I feel is best for PvP balance, then you need more traits that add functionality to an existing ability and less traits that simply increase damage of an ability and less traits that simply have too little advantage to them. For example, the Mesmer has access to traits that make Glamour skills cause blinding, and skills that make blinds cause confusion. These sort of traits evolve the functionality of Glamour skills to a new purpose and they would be desirable skills if the Confusion condition wasn’t so weak.

You have traits that make Warrior shouts heal allies, giving the Warrior more utility. These are the choices that are interesting while not being absolutely better. They improve shouts, but you may want to go in another direction with your utility skills and seek to add functionality to your weapon attacks. Both are legitimate choices. You could have shouts add a stack of might, which then makes them more viable for damage builds. It’s all a choice though whether you want to eek out more damage or provide more utility.

But ANet doesn’t seem to understand the power or functionality of their traits so far. The initial tier system for Mesmer made little sense. The Grandmaster tier for Illusions provided a 12th trait that heals the player on a shatter. This is not a trait that benefits Phantasm builds more, but a trait that adds functionality for any build that may use shatters. In fact, if you spend a ton of trait points improving your illusion damage, you are less likely to shatter and thus less likely to benefit from that trait. By isolating such a trait at Grandmaster status, it makes the trait less desirable due to the traits a player is forced to take in order to acquire it. What was once a good trait that many different builds could use is now an unused trait for it doesn’t work into enough viable builds. Immediatly, the attempt at vertical progression through tiers creates an illusion of choice where there was once actual choice. Maybe last BWE, you were picking between shatters healing you or shatters crippling your target or shatters causing more vulnerability. Now you’re not picking that first option at all. It’s no longer worth the investment. It’s not an actual choice.

Give us flavor

So, if you’re trying to argue that something only has the illusion of choice then make sure you understand where the illusion of choice comes from. There is an illusion of choice if you’re picking between having your house repainted or having your house lit on fire, but the color you paint your house is an actual choice. Preferred playstyles and roles within a team can benefit from horizontal progression. Game length benefits from horizontal progression. Vertical progression is the illusion of choice, but a GW2 system with properly designed traits will feature less direct power battles. Instead, you’ll ideally find options that provide further functionality to the base of a build.

A Pacifist’s Guide to Guild Wars 2 PVE

Married couple in the Ascalon Settlement

He replied: “Forget the fresh air. Let’s go back inside!” and thus they did. (Yes, they really did.)

A pastoral life on the Centaur battle lines

Being that Guild Wars 2 has combat mechanics and that those mechanics are important to the whole game, it’s not a surprise that you will spend a lot of your playtime just killing things. In my PVE post, I went over how mob behavior and purpose is different in GW2 from most online games, but this entry is not about mobs or combat. This is about helping out the world in all the other ways you can.

The following will be a list of things I’ve done in the game that don’t involve combat. The first list will be things that aren’t combat themselves, but often lead to combat. These sort of things normally start with interacting with objects or characters, and the interaction then leads to a fight. The second list is the pure pacifist’s way, things to do that involve no need for combat at all.

The important part is that all of these actions help fill up the meter for your heart or dynamic event.

Things to do that may lead to harm

  • Check crabbing crates
  • Pull up grubs
  • Talk to angry NPCs
  • Stomp out zombie corpses
  • Check burrowing holes
  • Check unexploded ordinances
  • Check bushes for Moas

Things to do that are combat-free

  • Feed farm animals
  • Forage for truffles
  • Water plants
  • Put out fires
  • Take down banners
  • Calm angry NPCs
  • Boost the morale of troops
  • Find and deliver gift packages
  • Pray at a memorial
  • Disarm traps
  • Clean tar spills
  • Answer riddles
  • Put eggs back into a nest
  • Resurrect fallen allies
  • Break locks and free prisoners and slaves
  • Capture salmon and feed it to bear cubs
  • Pick up discarded tools and put them away
  • Pick sour grapes
  • Tell kids to do their chores
  • Set traps
  • Find identification badges on fallen soldiers
  • Gather and deliver ore
  • Deliver gifts
  • Test out a new batch of ale
  • Wash away graffiti
  • Test out some spicy BBQ
  • Snowball fights
  • Practice training with instructors
  • Harvest

There is a lot of interacting with objects, but there is also NPC discussions and some more interesting options like riddles and snowball fights. I often found myself looking for more of these non-combat options while everyone else was killing anything they could find. Fighting grubs gets tiresome after awhile.

In the future, I will probably find more of these tasks and add to the list. For now, I’ll just say that I enjoy having these options. The Ascalon Settlement outside of Lion’s Arch was one of my favorite towns, as well was Beetletun in Queensdale. These places offered out of the ordinary tasks to do and the towns themselves had a vibe all their own. My favorite NPC interaction has to be the happily married young couple in the Ascalon Settlement that have a quick, amorous conversation that leads to them running back inside for a sexy romp.

Maybe I’ll find some Dredge handing out pamphlets somewhere.

Leveling as an apprentice

What if you don’t want to even step outside of the city? What if you go outside the city, but only to harvest and mine? You gain experience for gathering, as you do in most MMOs now, but you also gain experience from crafting. A good deal of experience in fact. It may be tiresome and expensive, but you can actually level from 1-80 merely by crafting, though it would involve learning and maxing out every craft skill.

The way leveling XP gain works in crafting is this: For leveling a discipline from 0-400, you will gain 10 levels along the way. By maxing out all 8 disciplines, you will gain 80 levels. That means you could dedicate a character to crafting, feed it all the mats you get on other characters and level it all the way to 80 without ever needing to kill a thing. As hardcore crafters, we think that is pretty cool.

– Linsey Murdock (ANet)

That’s that for now. The Moletariat shall rise again!  ..once I skitter through my notes.

Early PvP Tips

ArenaNet finally announced the next Beta Weekend Event for June 8th to the 10th. In preperation for that, I am offering some PvP tips for people who are just now joining in on the Beta experience or for those that spent the first weekend knee deep in PVE and are spending this June event in the e-peen glory of the Mists. First, I’ll give some general tips and then I’ll note some things to watch for when fighting against certain classes.

Of importance here is that all class tactic discussion is based on the game and classes as they appear in the first BWE. Certain changes could throw things out the window, but I imagine some things will remain true until release. Also, I won’t be talking about WvWvW as that sort of has its own, grander strategy and I feel I have an invalid amount of experience with that part of the game. At least not enough experience to dish out some worthy tips.

Any player can plop directly into a Conquest game from their Hero Panel. The Hero Panel is also the quickest way to get to the Mists. If this is your first time trying PvP, I highly suggest going to the Mists before using the Conquest hotjoin option.

In the Mists

The Mists is the lobby area for PvP, consisting of a short tutorial area and then the larger zone beyond. The tutorial area will give you tips on resurrecting others and using your finishing move on downed foes. These are basic, quick tutorials. You can skip them if you want and head straight to the Asura gate in the back which will take you to the actual Mists lobby area. The first thing about the Mists that you’ll notice is that you’re hopped up to level 80 and have access to all skills and traits. This means there is no grind in the sPvP beta. You can be what you want and how you want immediately.

In the lobby area, you will find two important Asura Gates, PvP vendors, a NPC offering a Game selection screen, and a grander tutorial area beyond. One of the Asura gates will take you to the central map of WvWvW. Once you port into your server’s base in the central map of WvWvW, other Asura Gates will be present for you to hop into the different zones of WvWvW.

The Vendors in the Mists Lobby offer various gear, weapons, runes, amulets and gems for your PvP experience. For the purpose of the Beta, these will only apply to Conquest’s Structured PvP mode. Looking into your options for gear is highly important and will grant you more immediate satisfaction with your sPvP experience. The game provides you with a basic build and some gear to go along with it, but these are very general builds that won’t be as enjoyable as playing the way you want with the sort of gear that accentuates your style.

On that note, the amulet is currently one of the biggest and most important pieces of gear in the sPvP game. If you are playing in a way that relies on bleeds and conditions to tally your damage then switching to the condition damage amulet will make a large difference in the effectiveness of your build. Beyond this, there are runes that offer set bonuses and weapon enhancements that offer bonuses on such things as weapon swaps or chances to proc air damage. Honestly, the immediate rush of stat choices and modifiers is a bit of a shock after you’ve been playing low level PVE with gear that has two or three stat attributes. I would suggest putting on gear and weapons that roughly reflect your build and then working from there.

Your “build” then is what you make out of your weapon and skill choices, along with your traits. You can instantly refund your traits at no cost, so play around with them and look at all your options. The trait lines often have a tell as to what weapons they more naturally work with. Some may offer more power with a sword equipped or more toughness with a mace equipped. These clues will help key you in on where you may want to spend trait points if you plan on using these weapons.

Beyond the immediate lobby area is a surprisingly helpful tutorial area. While many are likely used to dummies as target practice, in the Mists, the Asura Golems stand in as practice targets. They come in different armor classes and they also come in as dodge tutorials. One Golem will spin its arms around to help you practice dodging out of aoe attacks. On a rise beyond the dodging Golem, a selection of NPCs representing each profession in the game await you. These NPCs will fight you and exhibit certain skills and styles specific to them. For example, the thief NPC will use stealth and move aorund, while the Guardian NPC will hold the middle of his area and use bubbles. If you fight these NPCs and lose, they will stop to resurrect you. It’s a useful tutorial for new players with little risk involved.

Fighting the real thing

There are certain things I feel every player should know when fighting against certain professions in the game. This is a quick rundown of some tips.

The Engineer

The Engineer has no melee weapon option available to them, so the first thing you should realize is that an Engineer will likely begin fighting you at range. This doesn’t mean that you should disregard an Engineer coming towards you in melee range, as the toolkits of the Engineer can be devastating at close range. For example, the Flamethrower is an aoe and control nightmare. The main attack on this toolkit sprays fire in a frontal cone. The weapon can also be used to suck in and blow out foes. If you’ve played TF2 then the concept may be familiar: don’t stand in front of the Pyro. Mines can be quite powerful as well, as can bombs. An Enginner can often spam these explosives on the ground around you, so watching where you step versus an Engineer is very important.

These explosivse and flamethrowers are all utility skills and that means they are a tell to the type of build your foe is running. For example, if you come across an Engineer with multiple turrets set up around them, then you likely don’t have to worry about those explosives and flames because turrets are utility skills as well. So seeing a bunch of turrets can be a tell that this Engineer isn’t so well equipped for melee battles, while seeing a bunch of strange clouds on the ground can mean the Engineer is relying on an elixir gun that you’ll want to dodge past  the spray zone of or stay beyond.

The Mesmer

First things first with fighting a Mesmer: the illusions. Don’t worry about the clones, they do minimal damage. You only have to worry about them if you get stunned or they run at you. But how do you tell which is the real Mesmer? Look for the Mesmer that is moving the most; look for the Mesmer that actually looks worried you’ll hit it. Beyond that, you can currently check the health bar of each target for the Mesmer class icon. If your target has the class icon then it’s the real thing. If it doesn’t then it’s a clone.

So why should you worry if you get stunned? The Mesmer’s Mind Wrack shatter spell can hit for a ton of damage if traited properly. We’re speaking in the 10k range of combined damage. In order to get this amount reliably, many Mesmers carry stun skills to keep their target in place. Since you can see those clones suddenly rush at you, its rather easy to hit your dodge and let the clones explode for zero damage. In order to stop this, the Mesmer will stun on a Mind Wrack, creating a clear tell that the damage spike is coming. If you have a skill that lets you escape from stun, I advise using it against a Mez and following it with any damage avoidance available.

Outside of the Mind Wrack, Mesmer damage is rather mundane and their strength relies in prolonging fights and getting you to chase their nonsense. Their second best source of damage is the dueling phantasm, which you may want to line of sight. In general, focus the Mesmer and avoid their Mind Wracks and you can be alright.

The Thief

The thief class has immense burst right now. Key to surviving a thief is dodging their initial burst. Often this will come from a backstab and some 3 skill attacks. The 3 skills on a thief are skills that change based on the weapon combo the thief is wielding. For example, dual pistol’s unload can create a significant amount of damage, so simply kiting a thief won’t do. You have to be ready to avoid the big unleash, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to see when it’s coming.

What to do versus a thief then is to keep moving and dodging, but also put pressure on them. The thief isn’t extremely durable and can’t take a lot of damage. Once you unload on a thief, they will likely use a stealth skill to give themselves time. Use this space in combat to beef yourself up as well. Certain thieves live on a 30 to 40 seocnd timer of buff skills to kill, so keep this in mind if your foe tries to reset the encounter with stealth.

The thief, along with the Elementalist, is also the most annoying class to finish off in PvP. They will vanish and port away in downed state, so don’t let yourself get too low before a finishing move. They can reset your Finisher and manage to kill you.

The Guardian

The Guardian will take you awhile to kill. They’re just built that way. If a guardian is playing stationary and prolonging a fight, then it may be better to just skip out and take another objective. If you catch a guardian between points and get them to chase, then you can get them outside of their protective aoes.

One thing to keep in mind with Guardians is that they normally carry a lot of boons. Necromancers may have a better time versus them than other classes as stripping their boons away takes away some of their defenses.

Fighting defensively versus a Guardian may not happen often. If you are fighting a Guardian with a greathammer, I would watch out for their fifth skill which can trap you in a little magical prison while they swing away at you. Also, greatsword Guardians can trait to be healed on greatsword attacks. If you see that big sword and your foe’s health constantly ticking up, it’s time to kite or disable them.

The Rest

I’ll probably get into the other professions after the next BWE. I could give some general tips on them, but I feel they wouldn’t be as specific or detailed as the rest of these notes. (Not that these are outstanding strategies I’ve included.) I could give you these basic tips: Don’t stand near enclosed spaces versus an Ele, just kite the Warrior, good luck vs a Ranger, and Necromancer’s Death Shroud is bloody annoying.

Good luck.

How Guild Wars 2 Welcomes Roleplayers

Pirate Outfit

Come, put on your pirate outfit and talk a bit of Roleplay with me.

The City Calls To Me

The above photo is my character in his pirate costume standing outside the giant music machine in Divinity’s Reach. It was always my plan to tour the towns a bit more during the next beta, but I managed to get some of my exploring done during the stress test. What I found during my short trip was a city more alive than I seen in most any other game. For this reason, I decided I should do a blog about something that may seem out of the ordinary for me: A Roleplaying Post.

I know Lord of the Rings Online has a good, active RP community and there are reasons for that. I am not a RPer myself, so consider this an outsider’s viewpoint on the chances of Roleplaying within Guild Wars 2, but I am not a complete stranger to this creative element. I did play on a RP-PVP server in WOW for years and do have a few LOTRO characters. These experiences taught me some of the elements a RPer looks for in a game and what sort of things attract them to a game. I also learned that the RP community is friendly, and most importantly, one of the more mature segments of the MMO userbase.

Wanting To Live Here

Divinity's Reach

Divinity’s Reach rises high into the clouds.

Imagine the busy lives of the people in Majora’s Mask. Imagine the wandering folk of Skyrim and the conversations you hear in the bars. Think of Stormwind filled with emissaries parading through town. Combine that all into a city bigger than any you may have seen in an MMO before. That’s sort of what you have in Divinity’s Reach.

Divinity’s Reach looks like Minas Tirith from the outside, that high standing and glorious Tolkien city from the Lord of the Rings. Inside, the city is a lively place of political discussion, racial tension, commerce and communities. If you wander around, you’ll find the place is more than a bank deposit and auction house. Go left and you may find yourself near the shrine of Lyssa. Keep moving. Go north. You may find yourself in the audience of the Queen. Maybe backtrack. You may find a Sylvari asking locals where to get some good grub. Hang around. You may find the locals asking the Sylvari if she eats anything but sunshine. She’ll reply in kind that she’s looking for some meat and some good ale. The Norn might butt into the conversion, because he’s nearly sober and that makes him miserable. Yeah, I’m not kidding. There is a procession of wonder to entering the city. The first step is the audacity of scale, the second is the artistic beauty and the third is multitude of NPCs with voiced conversations.

Part of Roleplaying is taking in the world as something more than just a bunch of static programs purposing a game. Within the high walls of Divinity’s Reach, a people live and work, gathering water from wells and talking to each other. The faithful are worried about the queen for they are worried she’s still single, and after the faithful pray, they stop to debate the cynical over the existence of their Gods. The cynics love a queen without a king. They say Balthazar was never there. Around the corner, the classes fall from exquisite to wanting. The poor are begging behind pillars and claiming all donations are tax deductible. The children are pretending to be Charr and chasing each other around. The mothers walk out of their modest homes, draw a bucket of water, and return to their kitchen. A child’s teddy bear shirt hangs on a clothesline behind the mother’s house. The wind blows the drying laundry back and forth. As far as I know, observing these elements are not quests, and they are not achievements. All of these little things are touches of detail to make the city feel alive. Divinity’s Reach is a prayer of devotion towards the pursuit of immersion. I imagine a Roleplayer appreciates such a thing.

But don’t thin that such elements are reserved to one city. The people of Beetletun praise their local patron. They discuss the issues of the carnival. The children hide from their chores, blissfully unaware of the dark realities of war. Meanwhile, the Charr cubs of The Black Citadel go on a school field trip throughout the city. Their teacher tells them of the uprise of the Charr and their technological accomplishments. The children ask why they just don’t eat all the humans. Their teacher says “good point”, but then reminds them of the dragons and the merits of a truce. Charr warriors discuss a Charr lady across from them at a bar. A Charr lady offers to tattoo their faces with an axe. Charr love is hard business.

The world of Tyria is alive and wonderous, if you pardon my awe.

Lore!

One thing that being a sequel provides a game is the opportunity to build on what the first attempt establishes. For Guild Wars 1 players, the first big change is that the Charr are now friendly instead of the initial enemy. The starting whispers of this change begins with the Eye of the North campaign in the first game, but here the world has truly adopted a multiracial existence. The humans no longer reign supreme. In fact, the Charr and Asura provide all the advancements. This does not mean pure peace, for old grudges die hard and relations between the varied people are still tense and suspicious, and the neutral city of Lion’s Arch is even seen as a bit renegade to the human populace. Plus, the sunken ruins of the old Tyrian city of glory rest in the oceanic depths beyond the sandy beaches of the new, shipwrecked city of cross-racial commerce and Mediterranean flair. Lion’s Arch is a beautiful yet grim reminder of what once was.

For the Charr, the heroes that lead them to this point have statues erected in their glorious honor. The people discuss their own history with pride. The legions fight for supremacy amongst each other.

Market Street

Statues, flowers, and people fill the entrance.

All of these things add up to a sense of history and lore. Beyond the fact that the world exists, there is the evidence the world has existed. Ruins lay about in the sunken depths of swamps. The Asurans have built over ancient ruins and have begun to research their history. The Dredge have taken up keep in Sorrow’s Furnace. For a roleplayer, there is history to draw from and biases to play off of. Races have distinct personalities, but those traits are not set in absolute stone. One of the great bits of the Guild Wars 2 world are the children that seem to undercut all assumptions of a people. Even the great warriors of the Norn lineage start out with snowball fights.

Looking Good Old Chap.

Armor design in the game is pretty impressive from what’s been seen so far. If you want, you can tour the vendors of Divinity’s reach for a quick look at some available armor sets. The game has no class specific armor, but just three basic armor levels of which any class of that armor level can use. There is also the ability to transmute stats onto a piece of armor and vice versa, allowing you the benefit of upgrades without losing the spiffy look you’ve established for yourself. Beyond this, a costume panel

is open for players to outfit themselves with, but if I had a criticism of RP elements in the game, it would be that the costume panel only works outside of combat. Once you enter combat by any means, your character switches to their basic armor set in appearance. Still, for town wandering and RP meetings, you can dress as  a pirate if you so want.One important element of Commerce Shop costumes to note is that there are weapons for these sets and these weapons have their own set of skills. My pirate outfit had five total skills tied to a wooden sword. These skills includes a Yarr emote, summoning a parrot, doing a splash dive, and building a canon. Yes, a canon, but also, a canon that can be fired by anyone. That’s how you party, matey.

The Lyssa Shrine

A pirate stands above the shrine of Lyssa.

Things to do; People to beat.

One thing lacking from the first beta weekend event were the small events that will be available within the city walls. These sort of events include bar fights, shooting galleries and carnivals. You could travel on over to Beetletun and see the carnival folk waiting around and killing time, but the festivities have yet to begin within the game. Hopefully, a future beta will open these events up so that people can partake in some non-combat fun, which I feel is always beneficial to a RP community. It not only breaks up any monotony found in constant combat, but helps build a world that is a functioning, living place.  You will find little events out in the world to enjoy as well. The Norn children will have snowball fights and if you think you can walk in, toss a snowball and forget them, be prepared to take a icy fastball to the back of the head. Those little runts will knock you down. The Charr area also features a cow launcher. I cannot comment on this event much, for I haven’t tried it, but there is a Cattlepault. I imagine the Asura have their bits of fun. I hear there will be Golem battles to be had in Rata Sum.  Beyond the little events, the city offers the player the ability to just go lurking and leaping around. I found myself rooftop hopping, trying to find a new area or a secret alcove. There’s a giant garden/observatory in the middle of Divinity’s Reach that is absolutely beautiful. The world kind of makes you want to go play a game of hide and seek in it. You skitter between houses, looking at the surrounding paintings, rugs and people. You think to yourself that here might be a good hiding spot. What this means is that you can invent your own fun due to the detail of the world, so little or large RP events have a place to play out.

What doesn’t quite welcome RPers

It’s important to note what the game lacks for RPers, the main missing element being a RP labeled server or a server with strict RP rules. This means there is no server with enforced naming conventions that weed out the

Lion's Arch

Lion’s Arch is a haven for all sorts of creatures.

Chuck Norris factor. There will be a Roleplay community in the game, as there are already fansites set up for Roleplaying in Guild Wars 2, but that only means that a server may become the main home of RPers. We’re probably still months away from release, so time will tell if the community decides upon somewhere to gather or not.

Guild Wars is also a fairly fresh intellectual property. The game world and Lore are based upon the first game and its expansions, plus a couple of books. ArenaNet does have a team that works and story and lore, but you can’t instantly create something on the level of Star Wars or the Tolkien world.

What this means is that there will be a certain leap taking with venturing into RP within Guild Wars 2. I would suggest keeping in touch with the forums to see where RP action will be had. I imagine the Roleplay community will build up within the game. While there is less establishes and less well-known lore, the world is so full and alive, I think it overcomes its youth.

Will the Moletariat RP?

No, most likely not. I get along with RPers and will play along if grouped with them, but for some reason I never care about the issues of lore or whatnot. This doesn’t mean that I won’t be out in the city, doing non-combat things and planning my hide and seek game. I may even snoop in on an RP event if I come across one. I am a curious fellow.

Lion's Arch High Dive

It’s a long way down from the Lion’s Arch high dive, but you’ve got your diving goggles on.

The Subtleties: Group Combat

A Dredge Mole

Guild Wars 2 Combat

Let’s Get Together

This will be a discussion about how group combat works and what merit it may hold for high level content. My first post on combat was about combat in general, but explained through a single perspective. I didn’t touch on the removal of the holy trinity, the lack of a global cooldown and the removal of the need to target players. I know these elements confuse people and should be discussed.

Also, any discussion of group combat in regards to Guild Wars 2 must first explain that all the elements discussed here do not require you and another player to be in a group together. As explained in the first combat discussion, spells and skills behave in a open-friendly manner. Any friendly target can interact with a skill you use that has an interactive feature with no grouping required. Mainly, this interaction has to do with Cross Profession Combo fields, but bouncing skills follow the same rules.

So, we’re all grouped and all together.

No Holy Trinity? Soft Trinity? New Trinity? Free For All!? Mass chaos!?!?

The holy trinity consists of the tank, the healer and the dps. Sometimes you get a sacred 3.5 with the addition of a support and control class. In WOW, this support class would mean supplying CC or Crowd Control to an encounter in order to limit the incoming damage. For a game like Rift, support normally means supplying damage, buffing and healing all at once, with the damage and healing being less than you would get from a specialized damage dealer or healer.

ArenaNet describes the roles in their combat as control, support and damage, and that combat involves each player flowing in and out of those roles within an encounter. So to go forward in explaining this, I will try to nail down what a tank, healer or dps is, and then explain what control, support and damage means in Guild Wars 2. If you’re thinking that DPS and damage are pretty much the same thing then you’re right, but much like everything else in Guild Wars 2, the experience between the old and the new is all the difference.

The Way Things Used To Be

The first thing I would tell a longtime MMO tank player about Guild Wars 2 is that there is no such thing as a meat shield to be found within the combat. Historically, tanking in MMOs or even something like Diablo 3 is based on passive stats that supply a constant benefit to your ability to absorb or mitigate incoming damage. Tanks normally have high armor value, shields to block with and stats and traits that offer universal damage reductions. All of these boosts to defense allows a tank to stand in front of a big old dragon an take its claw swipes to the face.

There is a certain  pride in being able to go toe-to-toe with giant beasts or a mass of enemies. When I leveled my Paladin in WOW, I found Protection to be the most fun leveling spec. I could gather a bunch of mobs, prop holy shield and reflection talents, and watch those hapless Murlocs punch themselves to death. In Rift, the Riftstalker rogue spec was fun for me to play due to its teleporting tank mode. I could hop around a rift encounter, applying aggro on each teleport, creating rift disturbances that grabbed mobs off other players, picking up elites and mobs as I bamfed around, all while never getting close to dying. A riftstalker is often capable of soloing many Rifts. The more I upped my block, dodge or defense stats, the more unstoppable I felt. The tank is defined by its ability to take many hits, hard hits and attract aggro quickly and continously.

A healer has more than heal skills, but is a character that puts all of its stats and talents towards boosting those heals and being able to maintain resources for constant healing. The healer and the tank are symbiotic in that RPG bosses are designed to hit so hard that a tank can’t simply stand their ground against them without help. The help often comes from the healer, who replenishes the health of the tank for each major hit they take. Healers often have damage mitigation spells they can put on others, such as shields or bubbles. So not only does the healer replenish health, the healer also helps the mitigation efforts of the tank.

In many games, the healing is done through the party interface. In the same way that a player must target an enemy to attack it, the healer must target a player to heal them. Certain heal spells are ground targeted, but the great majority require a player to be targeted. Group interface bars make this process easier by listing names and healthbars of your group close together, allowing the player to click on who needs help via a list rather than trying to find their body on the playfield. TERA is different in regards, requiring active target healing that means that the importance of the ability to see the player you are healing matters. Otherwise, healing becomes what has been coined “wack-a-mole” of watching bars go up and down, and clicking on the bars going down to cast your heal spell.

I will make DPS short and sweet. DPS focuses entirely on killing. The prime DPS is a matter of optimization of skills, something sometimes called your “ideal rotation”. This is a matter of firing off your attack skills in the order that maximizes your damage output. At times, DPS provides crowd control as well.

That Dragon Doesn’t Seem to Matter to Me

What needs to be understood is that design approach dictates encounter approach. The reason the holy trinity work is due to how mob AI and encounter design work. The bosses and mobs of dungeons are designed to be attracted to a single player through aggro, so that DPS can work unhindered and healers can work unhindered. An encounter may add randomly spawning and straying attacks that will cause the non-tanks to move, but not be in constant movement. Holy Trinity design often becomes a sort of dance routine, and once you learn the dance routine, all difficulty lies in a stat measurement. In fact, when your stats get high enough, you outgear content and even the dance routine doesn’t matter much anymore.

For the tank, the boss matters a lot. You are the one moving that big fella around and taking its hits, and popping a cooldown on its big, nasty attacks. That boss doesn’t seem too smart though, because the truth is that you’re hardly hurting the beast. The DPS are doing all the damage. If the boss was smart, they’d take out the healers and DPS, for there’s its whole problem. Its the DPS that’s hurting the boss without ever having to fight the boss, and trouble of the boss lies in the healers keeping all its dragonly fire-farts from ending this epic shenanigan.

For the DPS, the boss is merely a big target. As mean as that dragon looks, you’re not really fighting the dragon. Instead, you’re fighting latency, global cooldowns and long cooldowns, and watching the stock market of the DPS charts, vying for that top spot.

Meanwhile, the boss barely even exists for the healer. Their battle is one of charts and bars, making for a pattern recognition puzzle to solve within the interface. The dragon matters not to them. Everyone just stay out of the muck and remember the dance steps, and the healer will never see that ugly beast’s face.

An Oakheart Boss roams around

This red and angry tree boss will require teamwork.

So what’s this new freestyle flow?

Every player in Guild Wars 2 may need to learn a little bit of all the elements that used to be sectioned off in the holy trinity, for support, control and damage are leaned away variants of the old trinity.

Control might involve getting in the face of a foe, but it’s not tanking. In general, mobs in Guild Wars 2 aggro towards the nearest target hitting them, though ANet says they have mobs with different aggro rules and patters as well. I can only speak for the early level mobs, which probably have the least complex behaviors to be found. So, for control, perhaps you attract the attention of the mob by getting in its face, but then you cripple the mob and having it slowly kite towards you. Control also means seeing a mob attacking a friendly and placing down a Guardian’s magical wall between them. You may have your friend call out on vent that they’re out of stamina and can no longer dodge, so you apply a stun to the mob and get between your friend and the foe. In this way, control is about limiting a target’s movement, directing its movement and imparing its abilities.

Support is about supporting and helping another player in defense or in offense. You may have a ranger with you while fighting a veteran oakheart. You’re an elementalist and throw down an icy aoe spell. The ranger shoots through the aoe and gains an added effect to their arrows. These arrows now chill the foe, slowing down the rate at which they can fire off skills. Then you throw down a Healing Rain as the Oakheart turns towards you. You stand in the rain and support yourself with its heal, but the ranger’s arrows hit the Oakheart through the rain and heal you as well, providing support twice through the combined effect. But then this isn’t enough, and the Oakheart wacks you hard when you thought you were safe. You go into downed state, but the ranger uses its search and rescue skill to have his pet heal you up from downed state.

Damage is damage. It’s the arrows firing and the ice chill aoes hitting.

But look again at my hypothetical situations. The Ranger shooting icy arrows at the Oakheart is also offering control by applying the chill condition to the target. The Guardian laying down the magical wall is also presenting a combo field that supports attacks from behind it. A Mesmer Chaos Storm can be control, support and damage all at once. In fact, the devil is in the details of the Guild Wars 2 skills. You shouldn’t just be  looking at the damage applied, but the secondary and third parts of the skill. The player in Guild Wars 2 flows in and out of roles due to how varied each skill is in its benefits.

A Sampler Tray of Love and Poison

Of course, since all of these interactions are meant to work in dynamic events, they do not rely on group interfaces. This makes all help in the form of control or support less direct. The Guild Wars 2 teamwork system works like someone presenting a sample tray to the friendly public and if they that are the public need something from the tray, they can freely take from the tray. The public can also add to the tray if they so wish. A quick example: You can lay down a Necromancer mark that weakens foes who travel across it, but your ally gains no benefit from that if they don’t lead the monster chasing them across that mark in the ground.Perhaps they are smart enough to take advantage of the necromancer’s mark, but then lay a crippling trap right before it as well. Now the area is twice as poisonous to foes and twice as useful to the public.

I mentioned earlier how design approach dictates encounter approach. In regards to Guild Wars 2, the combat must work on the large scale of dynamic events. Due to this, the combat roles cannot become isolated into small partnerships with private communication lines. One of the early issues that beta testers have had with the game is the huge pyrotechnics on display during combat. The reason there is so much color and explosion blasting onto your screen is due to the combat needing to be able to explain itself without Deadly Boss Mods and everyone on the same voice chat. This is why combat is visual, and why group play relies on being individual and cooperative at the same time. At first, everything is murder and cacophony until you are able to sparse through the jumble and read the important elements. It’s like skimming an encyclopedia for the important dates. Perhaps you just skimmed through this long blog post and found yourself attracted to the bolded descriptions of the holy trinity roles. Consider group combat in Guild Wars 2 to be a bit of RPG combat skimming and high level play to be a matter of raising your reading level.

And finally, Speed.

You can quickly recognize a diku-clone,slash wow-clone by the visual of hotbars and the the visual reset of the global cooldown. The GCD limits a player from firing off a ton of skills together. Guild Wars 2 doesn’t really have a GCD due to its combat needing to be fast enough to read and react. In fact, a Mesmer’s Mantras can be fired off in the midst of the animation of another skill activating. If the Elementalist casting the healing rain realizes the Oakheart is coming towards them too fast, they can cancel out of the cast with a dodge or go right into an invulnerability skill. Again, the large scale, cooperative combat design dictates the move away from the hard trinity, which dictates that defense must be proactive or reactive, which dictates that the slowing down of combat from GCDs cannot be had within the game.

And there’s likely more

All of what I’ve said is based on encounters in PVP and PVE of a beta of a game that has 80 levels, many zones and dungeons, and of which I’ve seen all of one zone and 18 levels and maybe 8 hours of PvP.

The Moletariat P A T I E N T L Y waits for that next BWE.