Prevails

A strange thing happened upon the way to Guild Wars 2’s one year anniversary: it became very successful. According to some research,Guild Wars 2 is the fastest selling MMO based in the Western part of the world. Taking a gander at NCSoft’s quarterly reports, and making an idiot’s guess at the numbers, it seems the game is making ANet about 9-10 million a month.

Also, ArenaNet has moved towards a 2-week update schedule for their patches and Living World system.

But perhaps you thought all MMOs failed. Perhaps you heard that the game was dead. Perhaps you are wondering how this happened. So, let’s take a look at why Guild Wars 2 prevailed where other MMOs failed.

Oh boy, a numbered list of reasons!

    1. Those other MMOs did not fail. This is important to understand. Those other MMOs switched business models, and that’s important to this list, but let’s not continue the chant of “fail”. Many of the subscription MMOs that went towards Free-to-play or Buy-to-play models did so because they could make more money from those models. And guess what? They did. Check out Zenofdesign blog for a look into SWTOR’s tranisition. It’s a good read.
    2. ArenaNet budgeted correctly. Those that have played Guild Wars 2 know the game doesn’t have grand, impressive cinematics. ArenaNet has changed their story presentation in a way to better accommodate the speed of development, but they never spent as much on cinematics as their competitors did.And despite the hype at launch, there wasn’t a lot of advertising for the game. It carried out its message through social media and word-of-mouth, both exceptionally cheap forms of PR. There was a launch commercial made, but it was awful and quickly and quietly done away with. These sort of decisions reduced the game’s development cost.
    3. ArenaNet and NCSoft created a fair Cash Shop.  The MMO community sometimes finds itself stuck in the world of fools and idiots. “F2P is P2W.” You can still people say this phrase even though many former sub MMOs have gone F2P with little change in the user’s experience. However, it was important for Guild Wars 2 to clearly stand in opposition of this viewpoint. To get around this issue, the GemShop was created. Most of the items in the cash shop are cosmetic items that sell o power advantage. Other items are boosters, and account services. Account services have long been a pay-for feature in MMOs, so that’s nothing new. Boosters are also random drops as rewards from chests, dailies, and can be attained easily through food buffs.The game does have a jackpot mechanic in its Black Lion Chests, but there’s never any source of power advantage within the chests. Not losing money on these items is a matter of self-control.Most importantly, the gold to gem conversion allows any gem shop item to be bought with gold, and many have taken advantage of this.
    4. They released a quality game and supported it. Recently, Wildstar and TESO have announced that they will be releasing as sub-based MMOs. Carbine Studio’s Gaffney, I believe, said of releasing an MMO that the pricing model isn’t as important as the quality of the game. Well, not exactly Gaffney. Unfortunately, there’s been some decent to good MMOs released that have struggled to maintain because they were over-budgeted and had to live via subs while there was already a fat, behemoth of an MMO swallowing everyone’s subscription commitment and time, leaving little for the competition to scoop up.The truth is that quality is a pre-requisite for MMO success, but not the determining factor of an MMO’s success. It is something that has to exist at launch, but beyond that an MMO must find a way to get player’s time, and to keep player’s engaged. It’s those last two parts that involve the business model, but also involves updates and support. ArenaNet has found a way to make money with their game without fighting for subs and then support the game with a plethora of updates that feature a variety of types of content. So far, it’s working very well for them.

In Closing, yada yada, and banana turnbuckle.

Guild Wars 2 is different. It was different enough to succeed with its original play while others struggled with their own plan. It could be claimed that Guild Wars 2 and World of Warcraft are exceptions to the rule about MMOs. However, I feel there is almost awlays reasons why a thing is so. Does WoW decline in players because it’s too casual? No, it was most successful at its most casual. It’s declining because its an old game facing more competition. It’s declining because F2P and B2P models have shown to offer more competitive environments in the East and those models are just now starting to take hold in the west.

So how do future MMOs not crash and burn? My firs tip: dot listen to the MMO community too much. I’ll get into that in a future blog post though.

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

Sorrow’s Embrace: A Quick Look

The Dredge Alert

The Dredge Alert!

Welcome to Mole Talk!

Yes, I am honoring the emblem of my blog with some more Dredge discussion. This first piece is on the story mode of Sorrow’s Embrace. I have more to say on the explorable mode and the stories within, as well as more of the visuals associated with the Dredge in game. (My Mesmer is sporting a transmuted Dredge Blaster currently.)

So, let’s get to it by discussing one of the longest dungeons in game.

Leave My Dredge Alone!

The plot of the Sorrow’s Embrace dungeon can be roughly summed up as the Inquest are involved, and the Dredge are being used as their workforce.

Yes, the Moletariat prevailed right into another subjugation. Like you did with Molenin before, you will be facing armies of Dredge as they toil away underground for someone else’s grand scheme. Due to the Inquest presence, you will also be facing Golems and Asuran technology, and as well, the strange Dredge technology, and, finally, a monstrous hybrid between the two.

Remember the Past

One of the more captivating set pieces of Sorrow’s Embrace is Molenin’s Tomb. Yup, that’s a lore reference. Molenin’s tomb is the sight of a Dredge Public Assembly. The tomb itself is a colliseum of sorts, and large groups of Dredge stand in formation at the bottom of the tomb as a military leader shouts out a speech from a high ledge. In story mode, you don’t fight the military leader, but he seems like a prime tool for explorable mode plotlines.

See No Evil, Hear My Sonic Death Ray

The Dredge mobs of Sorrow’s Embrace are range heavy and feature the use of sonic rifles that shoot ground rumbling, directional projectiles. There are touches of the Dredge’s mechanical tech here and there, but many can also be found outside the dungeon in Dredgehaunt Cliffs.

Subtarrean drill-cars often sigbal the arrival of a new pack of Dredge. These vehicles drill up and out of the ground, and the Dredge forces pop out the back. The dredge themselves also have the ability to tunnel underground (much like Wurm mobs) to travel from one point to the next.

Another interesting note about the Dredge mobs is that since they are mole people, they are naturally blind and effectively immune to the blind condition. This provides a nice change of strategy for typical dungeon setups that may rely heavily on blinds to mitigate damage in other dungeons.

Bosses of an Epic Nature

The Sorrow’s Embrace dungeon features some of the most tiresome boss fights, but also some of the coolest fights, and coolest bosses. The Story Mode contains one of each. The next to last boss is actually interesting  in design, with three different phases, but suffers from too high health pools on its various meta-bosses. The encouter became too tediously long a fight at the time of my running the dungeon. It’s beatable, but really extends the encounter time of an otherwise smooth flowing dungeon. I hear they have done some work to tone down the health bars of the bosses you fight in this encounter in the past few weeks and that should help turn the fight from work to play.

The last boss is a treat. I won’t spoil what it is, but it’s likely that many people have seen this boss before entering the dungeon. It’s featured in one of the game’s early trailers, and the fight itself confused me at first, but then quickly made sense. I suggest to not stand on the bridge looking at the boss unless you like death rays to your face.

Next Up

Explorable Mode and Dredge Art design!

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 Burning Mantree Festival

Mushroom Engineer

The Engineer is like a cross between Team Fortress 2 and a Mad Alchemist

As promised

This previous and final Beta Weekend Event for Guild Wars 2, I decided to ditch the Mesmer for the Engineer. I had wanted to do a better Engineer write-up than the previous quick-hit on the profession that I did before. So, I rolled a Sylvari Engineer with a mushroom top, and grouped up with my friends.

I had a few simple goals with this playthrough: get a better feel for the profession, spend more PVP time with the Engy, and see how the Engineer worked in large scale combat. The third part is important, because large scale combat is a heartier part of Guild Wars 2 than it is in other MMOs.

I Am The Midnight Bomber

I suspected from my previous experience with the Engineer that the profession really opens up once you acquire some kits to use. This proved to be very true from my experience, as the Engineer’s weapon choices are limited to just three choices.

By level 4 or 5, I had gained every weapon the Engineer could use and gotten their skillbars filled out. Last BWE, I really enjoyed the pistol and shield combo, but unfortunately, the Magnetic Inversion aspect of the shield was broken in BWE and the shield far less effective and fun. This ended up pushing me towards the Rifle weapon, but this was not a sad turn of events. The Engineer’s rifle plays more like a shotgun than a Winchester. You fire of hip-shots from a distance, shoot nets, but most of all, you use the mighty kickback and force of a shotgun-feel to launch yourself in the air, spray buckshot in an enemies face, and then fly backwards off the kickback of the gun.

The first kit I obtained was the grenade kit, and as mentioned, this opened up my playstyle. While the pistol and rifle gave me basic offense and some wacky fun, the grenade kit became the AOE choice, allowing me to lob grenades that froze, dazed and shredded my opponents. Of course, with all Engineer utility skills, the grenade kit gave me a new Function key skill that allowed me to lob a large mass of grenades.

The interesting bit about the grenade kit is that all five weapon skills are aoe targeted. There has been some debate upon this, and I can understand making at least the spammable 1 skill target-based, but being able to spam an AOE does have some advantages of its own. For one, if you throw grenades at a player, and you suspect the player may dodge backwards, you can aim your grenade behind them and hit them at the end of the dodge. A target-based grenade lob would always miss on a dodge, but a ground targeted grenade can anticipate a movement and negate a dodge.

The second kit I obtained was the Flamethrower and this is where the real fun began. I didn’t expect to like the Flamethrower as much as I did, but the ability to swing a stream of flame back and forth over a group felt great in a MMO. I rarely used targeted attacks with the flamethrower. The kit also includes a projectile flame burst that can be detonated with a second click. This was quite hard to pull off at close range, but with some range the ability made for a lot of damage. It hits a target when passing through and then does aoe damage on detonation. Overall, the Engineer featured a good amount of skillshot abilities.

The final kit I attained was the Bomb Kit and this kit, along with the Flamethrower, became my go-to tools. The Bomb Kit is held back by all of the bombs being a dropped skill, meaning there are no range abilities with bombs. Each time the player uses a bomb, the explosive is laid at the players feet. The F-skill for this kit is The Big One, which is a large, hard hitting bomb. Combining The Big One with the flamethrowers F-skill, and a few more of the bombs in the kit, creates a little pbaoe nuke. Every Dynamic Event and enemy zerg rush at my friends and I resulted in an oppurtunity to blow things up.

Outside of the kits, there were turrets that I used a bit of, and elixers and strange tools like a battering ram. Overall, everything had a sense of wacky, explosive fun to playing the game.

Flamethrower Action

Sometimes a plant just wants to watch the plant life burn down

Blowing Up Other People

For PVP, I had picked out a healing based Engineer build. Namely, I was using the bombs heal allies trait, along with a lot of vitality, toughness, healing and touch of condition damage. The skillbar was highly similiar to my PVE skillset, and this was done to be familiar with the tools I was using. The build itself was moderately successful. In group situations, the constant bomb laying provided many combo fields and some aoe damage, and the small heals helped my allies, as did the med kits I would drop. Outside of group combat, I was able to last for a long time, but struggled to take down enemies on my own. The build was mostly a cap holding and group support build.

I did want to try a power based build, featuring the rifle and flamethrower, but never got to trying it out. If you want to see some good use of a power-based Engineer, then I suggest watching Quark’s sPvP engineer Twitch video here:

Quark’s Engineer sPVP

The Toolmole Tailor

The only drawback to my Engineer time was that the medium armor I got access to was far less enjoyable than the style my Mesmer had. I got a lot of cool looking weapons, but for some reason, the Sylvari starting area had less exciting medium armor aesthetics. For a good while, I was being teased for looking like a fishmonger.

Having seen some of the dungeon sets, I imagine the dredge-based Sorrow’s Embrace armor would look scary and scary fantastic on an Engineer.

A Convincing Experience

My time with the Engineer made me reconsider my primary class choice for the start of the game. I had been set on Mesmer, but the profession still has a lot of issues with its mechanics, and has honestly gotten progressively worse with each BWE. Meanwhile, the Engineer seems improved overall, and I greatly enjoyed playing it even though the shield skill was broken.

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.

An Appendix to Group Combat

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.

I didn’t want to distract from an overview to get into some nitty gritty comparisons of the above concept. This little addendum to the topic will show how group play is always a part of the GW2 design. First’ let’s compare some familiar MMO concepts within the game. For the purpose of this comparison, all WOW abilities will be in blue and all Guild Wars 2 equivalents will be in red.

Sunder Armor vs Vulnerability

Sunder Armor

Strikes at the defenses of your target, reducing their armor by 4%.  Sunder Armor causes a large amount of threat, increased by attack power.  Can be applied up to 3 times.  Lasts 30 sec.

Vulnerability

Vulnerability is a condition which lowers the target’s armor by 10. Stacks in intensity.

Now let’s also add in a Sunder Armor mimic skill for Druids:

Faerie Fire Feral

Decreases the armor of the target by 4% for 5 min.  While affected, the target cannot stealth or turn invisible.  Stacks up to 3 times.  Deals2950 damage and additional threat when used in Bear Form.

All three of these skills seem quite alike. I could throw in a skill from Rift or SWTOR that work as game-similes. The important difference here is that Vulnerability is a condition within GW2, so that it is not class specific. As well, while Sunder Armor and Vulnerability sound alike, skills like Sunder Armor only benefit physical attacks while vulnerability benefits all attacks. Rules for Sunder Armor also state a limited stack amount, and when you have similar skills like Feral Faerie Fire, one debuff overwrites the other. In Guild Wars 2, if Vulnerability is already on a target, your vulnerability application adds more stacks on top of the existing vulnerability. This way the basic concept of “lower armor” works far more naturally within group combat, because the lowering of armor improves damage for everyone and other skills applying the same effect do not fight with your skill applying the initial effect. Everything is handshaking and accepting.

This built-in friendliness towards group play exists throughout the design of the game.

Protection:

Protection is a boon which reduces damage taken by 33%. Stacks in duration.

Divine Protection

Reduces all damage taken by 20% for 10 sec.

Pain Suppression

Instantly reduces a friendly target’s threat by 5%, and reduces all damage they take by 40% for 8 sec.

Divine Guardian

All party or raid members within 30 yards, excluding the Paladin, take 20% reduced damage for 6 sec.

There’s more comparative skills to be had here, but I went with the skills that most immediately came to mind. Again, the Protection boon is something that is a part of the skills of many classes and not a skill in and of its self, while the comparative skills are class specific tools. Again, the boon is not overwritten by other Protections but stacks with them in duration. Divine Protectin, Pain Suppression and Divine Guardian all work in different ways. Divine Protection is self targeted and as such only applies to the Paladin. Pain Suppression can be cast on any friendly target, though likely group defined, and has twice the damage reduction of Divine Protection. In a battle of skills, Pain Suppression wins out over Divine Protection due to its hardier strength and its greater utility. Divine Guardian is highly impressive for its raid-wide effect, but is still a 20%damage reduction and has the shortest length of the three skills. Each of these skills are isolated from each other due to their nature. By being a boon, Protection accomplishes all of the respective roles of the three WOW skills by how its used in the various class skills that apply it.

For example, the Ranger skill Stone Spirit can work like a Divine Guardian:

Stone Spirit: Summon a stone spirit that gives nearby allies a 20% chance to gain protection.

Ranger traits can improve the chance and frequency of the application, making it very powerful. Still, the boon itself is tied to a spirit which can be killed, and all boons are dispellable through various skills which remove boons. Skills like Pain Suppression and Divine Guardian are not able to be dispelled. Their cooldown and strength require they remain.

What this gets to is that the concepts of “lower their armor” and “reduce our damage intake” are concepts likely present in any Guild Wars 2 grouping, while these concepts require specific classes and specializations for them to occur in the typical MMO.

teamwork 
— n
1. the cooperative work done by a team
2. the ability to work efficiently as a team

Teamwork doesn’t mandate specialization. A field goal attempt in American Football requires the specialization of the kicker, hiker and placeholder, but that doesn’t mean everything must be a field goal attempt. Kicking in goals in Australian Football is vastly different from the NFL, but the game still requires much teamwork to accomplish a similar goal. In Guild Wars 2, you will find yourself altering your playstyle to help others on the fly. You may offer them help, but others must be a part of the team by taking you up on that help.

The E-Sports Charade: Part Two

The A.B. Problem

One of the main complaints from the PvP community about the choice of Conquest as sPvP in Guild Wars 2 is the Capture Point rule set. This doesn’t mean that capture point games aren’t common or unpopular, but that they rarely become the accepted test of skill in PvP type games.

So what is a Capture Point game? It’s your basic node and resource control map. In World of Warcraft, Arathi Basin is the second battleground you gain access to and is a Capture Point ruleset and map. There are five nodes to capture and when you capture a node, your score begins to go up. In Guild Wars, the Capture Point ruleset was called Alliance Battles. The maps in Guild Wars were larger and since the game stuck you into four player squads, the battles quickly became a game of running from node to node, moving around in circles. Tol Barad in Cataclysm is a Capture Point battle of a larger scale. This map had people running from point to point as well. Of course, this running around is sort of the issue with the whole Capture Point system.

Capture Node

Standing around and scoring points.

All By My Lonesome

In the two Conquest maps shown so far, the rate at which you neutralize a node is much greater than the rate at which you can capture a node. What this means is that if you run around to a node held by the enemy team, its fairly easy to neutralize that node and make it so that it doesn’t contribute points to either side. Staying around and capturing the node takes two to three times as much time. This may be done to stop the running around issue, but so far, it doesn’t really accomplish that. People will take what’s easiest. Often you will find yourself as the only person at a node. There is no fighting. You’re just sort of standing there until a bar changes. As you may imagine, this sort of activity doesn’t really excite the PvP community. While hanging around to capture it may lead to enemies coming to stop you, there is no assurance of this. Further, neutralizing a point can often be effective enough on its own. If you have a lead of 50-100 points, neutralizing is all you need to do. You can sit on an equal amount of nodes captured and win.

And once you neutralize or capture, then there is no benefit to hanging around. There is likely a contested area or node that needs you more at the time. It is possible that you could design your team to have sets of two players who feature a highly supportive and defensive player with someone of decent damage output to take a node and sit on it. The problem then becomes that the battle is a war of attrition. Prolonged battles and over-balance are two of the major reasons the Guild Wars PvP scene died off after being so healthy for years. If your ruleset and map dictates prolonging fights to preserve nodes then it shrinks the type of builds and strategies to use.

ANet has tried to get around this with features like the trebuchet and bosses. These are meant as equalizers against heavily guarded nodes. A trebuchet shot can take out an entire group if it hits right. Downing the mini-bosses will net your team 50 points and a buff. Yet the issue with all of these things is the small size of the encounters. A boss killer and trebuchet player is often out on their own, not interacting with the team. This isn’t a new element to Guild Wars, as GvG had flag runners and split squads, but those small size roles were always balanced by larger scale battles elsewhere. One of the major issues with the current Capture Point system is that there will likely be no larger battles seen.

Where Depth Disappears

In larger head-to-head battles you have more room for builds to specialize into different roles and for players to coordinate their playstyle with the playstyle of their teammates. What this means is that you could have a six on six head-to-head battle with different team makeups on each side, as opposed to a standardized Cap Point team. For example, one side is carrying three melee characters, but there is a ranged character supporting those melee characters by snaring their target and buffing their allies speed. Perhaps one teamhas a Guardian and  a Warrior paired together with hammers. The Guardian snares a target within a restrictive circle, and the Guardian and Warrior both unleash hard hits to the trapped target. The other side could have an Elementalist and a Mesmer set up combo fields for Ranged characters to shoot through. The strategy of the melee team forces the other team to use more control fields and snares, encouraging the ranged attackers not to get stuck together and caught in the same trap.

While Guild Wars 2 encourages people to be a master of all things, the ability to focus in an area to the greater benefit of the whole is an element of strategy that fades away in a spread-out Capture Point map.

This doesn’t mean that I encourage straight deathmatch systems for sPvP in Guild Wars 2. Dueling for the purpose of training and testing will likely find its way into the game, but Arena deathmatches have their limits, too. You can still create setups where you have room for both small skirmishers and larger skirmishers. Control Point maps, where you must fight to control all nodes at once to win, create this sort of situation. It is the procession style of these maps that cause the larger scale battles. If you still had the equalizing elements of trebuchets and mini-bosses, then split squads have a place as well. GvG maps and rules had larger battles with options of flag running and split squads as viable tactics.

In Capture Point, if you try to stick together as a single swarm, then you’ll likely lose. You can’t force large battles in Conquest. If most of your team is at one spot then you give up the other two nodes. Running, delaying and interfering matter most. What the PvP community wants are those team vs team situations where the battle is all out, and it’s a matter of supporting and controlling both sides. Players want to be sized up against the whole of the other side. They don’t want to succeed at their node running, just to realize they’re losing because of something that is happening on the other side of the map for which they have no input on or access to. Players also want the extra strategy of team builds. They want the strategy of what you sacrifice from the team to run off and do small skirmish tasks in order to help your chances to win. The carousel of Capture Point maps has never excited the PvP community. It’s a “fun go”, but that’s about it.

You Can’t Be Big Without The Respect

Blizzard put a lot of effort into legitimizing their Arena tournaments as a legit e-sport. The problem was that PvPers knew the game had major balance issues and the balance issues only became worse as the scale of combat shrunk down. I took Guild Wars PvP seriously enough. I understood that the card-deck system meant that nearly everything had a possible counter. I worried less about balance. Succeeding at Guild Wars PvP meant something so it mattered to succeed. Succeeding at Arena never mattered to me for it was becoming obvious that success depended greatly on gear and which classes had the power advantage. If you weren’t the right class then it wasn’t the right game for you. That or you would have to reroll and level the “winning” class.

What ArenaNet risks by going fully in with just Conquest is alienating the playerbase that would make the sPvP attractive. You can’t be bigtime without the respect of the community because you won’t draw the community to care and be competitive about your game. You will get, and forgive the elitism here, the second and third tier players to fill in the gap of talent. In other sports, there are minor leagues and spinoff leagues. There has been basketball leagues that use trampolines and favor dunking because it has a high entertainment value. These minor leagues don’t ever rise above the level of sideshow because nobody truly respects them. They don’t draw the top talent and thus don’t draw the big attendance. I feel this is the same for E-sports. ArenaNet can’t go out there and try to push E-sports while being PowerDunk Ball.

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.