GW2: Do Players Have the Patience for Long Term Strategy?

I wonder if this is what many players think strategy is...

This week, I had another one of those small revelations. Natural Selection 2 is launching on October 31, in case you didn’t know, and it suddenly hit me that there are some significant similarities between it and GW2′s WvW format. (But there are also some big differences.)

What is Natural Selection 2? Well, it’s an FPS mixed with an RTS basically. It’s the long awaited sequel to a now-very-old Half Life mod which I used to play very heavily. It’s human Marines with guns and armor versus bitey, clawy, flappy, spitty, goring aliens known as the Kharaa.

I’m not going to talk about NS2 any further, though I’ve bought it long ago to support it. I’ve had too much fun with the free NS1 to regret it.

You see, I do have to admit that I am disappointed that I can’t seem to run it very well. Like 1-3 FPS on a self-created map, then crash. I can’t even join a server without stalling and hanging. Part of it may be that the beta has not yet been graphics optimized, or maybe it’s just poor coding, or most likely, it is the first reason colliding with my ailing ancient computer – I’ve mentioned I crash out of GW2 WvW habitually if I’m not on the rock bottom graphics settings, right? Other people get like 80 FPS in WvW while FRAPSing, the lucky bastards. Still got to wait until my budget stabilizes some, alas.

Instead I’ll talk about Natural Selection 1. The first game had a Marine commander calling the shots, placing structures for his fellow players to build, supporting them with medpacks and ammo dumps and basically giving them a set strategy to focus on and move toward taking out all alien hives on the map. Sound a bit familiar? That sort of coincides with WvW commanders in the sense of pointing out the long term strategy and giving direction. And yes, if the commander was bad, it made for a fairly short game, though folks would give some leeway to commanders still trying to learn the ropes.

Aliens had no commander in NS1, but they will have one in NS2, so it’ll be interesting to see how that develops. The alien hivemind in the first game was pretty much a sum total of the general intelligence of all the players in the field. Hopefully, some people would contribute their resources to building necessary structures and new hives (by turning into a builder alien, called the gorge) and at the same time, you needed some people who were very good at killing Marines to keep them occupied, reap resource, and eventually change into a hit-and-run assassin alien known as the Fade. Generally, if the aliens lasted long enough to have two good Fades, that meant the backline was doing well enough to have 2 or 3 hives and the aliens would be on their way to victory.

If insufficient players worked together well, or ran around like chickens with their heads cut off, the aliens would be massacred in short order. Sound like certain PUG zergs in WvW, perhaps?

NS1 had some interesting evolutions through its lifetime. In the patch version that I first joined in, it held at a fantastic balance point that could see 2h+ long games. This was a massive human versus aliens war that would rage on and on, with humans ending up bottlenecked at their last base, guarded by so many turrets the aliens couldn’t get in to seal the deal. Humans could have fun playing “Last Stand” for a long time, mowing down lots of aliens, holding out, while desperately guarding and waiting for their one last lone resource collector to earn enough to buy one or two jetpacks, for the most skilled of the team to sneak out of the vents and try and blow up the alien hives as quickly as they could with upgraded shotguns (aka a ninja.) It was tremendously exciting to watch your guys on the map and win as the underdog like this.

However, I’m not sure how fun it was from the alien perspective. On one hand, they are undoubtedly winning the strategic game. If they stayed on guard to end the ninjas, and kept pushing and pushing relentlessly, eventually, through sheer attrition, they might take down enough turrets and bleed the other side dry of resource long enough to break through and end the game by mauling the base and the commander’s chair (aka the victory objective.)

WvW arguments for giving underdogs a chance and hope for victory sound a lot like the above scenario, actually. I’m not sure if this would be a good or bad thing. Certainly it would get more people in fighting if they had more hope, there would be longer protracted raging battles (which some people really like, and I’m one of them, to a point) but if the battle rages on for too long, people also hit a certain satiation point and get bored. Then the next round of complaints would be, “Oh, it’s a perpetual draw. We can never really win. Why bother?”

Eventually, NS1 decided to move away from the huge tableau of unending perfectly stalemated battles. (I do kind of miss them, to be honest.) Instead, they took a larger page from RTSes and made resource point control more important and the higher tier upgrades slightly more game-changing. What this meant was that if one side played better than the other, and capped more resources, they would steadily accrue a larger and larger tech advantage. Past a certain point in the mid-game, eg. one or two Fades for the aliens or zero Fades for the aliens, it was possible to predict with nigh 98% accuracy which side was going to win.  The losing team could only hope to hold out as long as possible, if they were honorable, or they would quit or jump sides.

Does that also sound familiar from a WvW perspective?

Yes, it’s morale draining and heart breaking to be on the losing team, but quite a number of strategy games seem to have this period where the winning side is obvious, but they still have a “finish the cleanup” phase and the loser just has to sit there and take the lumps and wince as everything of theirs is demolished.

Perhaps the biggest difference between games is how long this cleanup phase lasts, and the next match begins.

In the later incarnation of Natural Selection, cleanup was methodical, but it was also fairly quick and over shortly. The marines would move in, upgraded shotguns blowing up barely evolved skulks (with no resource left) in one hit, and smash the hive to smithereens. The aliens would rampage in with all their number, maybe a celebratory massive Onos or two, and wipe everything and everyone out of existence. Match over. GG. Back to lobby. New map.

A reset happens quickly, and the losers forget their low morale by looking forward to the next game where they might have a chance. (However, if a team or guild was obviously stacking into one side, causing a skill imbalance, people would jump ship and leave the server very quickly.)

WvW at the moment lacks this quick game, match, reset. I think the keyword here is “persistence.” They’re going for what makes them an MMO, rather than a lobby game. (They’ve got structured PvP for the lobby lovers.)

I have a feeling that a lot of the people protesting on the forums haven’t quite grasped just how long term ArenaNet may be aiming for here. They may not be looking for their Alterac Valley fix, but there seems to be this hope for 3 or 4 day matches.

On one hand, it’ll certainly make stuff more exciting in the short term. It’ll give those who primarily WvW and don’t PvE or do structured PvP a reason to keep logging on, instead of being bored for a couple days if there’s a blow out victory. But how many people have the earning power to spend so much gold on siege and upgrades that last so short a time? Even I’m not sure how long the hardcore can keep up that kind of pace before getting bored and burning out. Certainly, the employed cannot. The weekend battle is perfect for them.

To me, and I’m speaking directly from first hand experience here, as the Isle of Janthir is experiencing one of those blow out victories for the moment (who knows, maybe the other servers might organize a push later in the week,) yes, it is kind of  boring to have a quiet battleground after so long an exciting battle, but maybe we kinda need these quiet breaks, the slow moments, the changes in pace.

If the borderlands jumping puzzles weren’t broken, we could be reaping a little more rewards of that hard won fight. There’s still the jumping puzzle in the Eternal Battlegrounds, and the Champion mobs that are like mini-raid bosses on an open world map.

And if the server and guilds were smart and organized enough, perhaps this would be a good time to teach fellow servermates where to place siege, or indeed, how to fire siege, or practice trebuchet shots and get ranges for such-and-such a place.

Certainly for myself, I’m exploring the Red Overlook Keep of the Eternal Battlegrounds from the inside for one of the first times ever, and marveling at how defensive its structure looks – like a real castle, tbh. I don’t envy someone trying to break in here.

Problem is, a lot of people don’t seem to have that kind of long term patience. You see ‘em roaming around, looking for a fight, looking for excitement, the next victory, the next kill, deathmatchdeatchmatch, and the next thing you know, there are 20-30 people hovering around some poor demoralized bugger’s spawn, hoping to find a red name target.

My last story about Natural Selection 1 is a sad one. A while after the patch incarnation I talked about, they introduced a new mode for NS called “Combat” mode. This essentially took out much of the strategy and commander-ing from the equation, and made it a team deatchmatch. The better you killed the opposing team, the more resource you would get, the more upgrades and so on you could make for yourself.

The idea perhaps was to ostensibly help people become familiar with the more upgraded lifeforms and tech that they might not see in Strategy mode games except for short bursts of time, so that their play could improve. Instead, it turned out that many players, given the choice, would much rather go for the short term deathmatch kills all night and aim to become the pros of ganking and leaderboard champion, rather than work as a team, fight for resource, and follow a coordinated strategy to eventual victory. Combat mode took over the majority of NS servers, leaving Strategic mode fans mostly high and dry.

That was the death knell of NS for me, and I moved on shortly after – while combat mode was fun in short term spurts, it just didn’t give me the satisfaction of a real team victory. I enjoyed the buildup, the cooperation, and how people gelled together and supported each other. (I also missed the protracted wars.)

(Also, one always had the sneaky suspicion that some players on the top scoreboards were abusing hacks, and without team-based objectives and the attrition aspect of resources/upgraded tech, there was no way to best these guys – whereas in Strategy mode, no matter how well you aim, if you’re just one person, ramboing it alone, you’ll get mowed down eventually by the combination of all those factors that push one team towards victory.)

I don’t know what the fate of GW2′s WvW is going to be.

At the moment, I am just adapting to how it is.

If I get too depressed at being endlessly slaughtered, and can’t find it in me to do guerilla warfare, I’ll bow to the force of morale and stay out for the week. I’m human, after all. I’ll confess to taking a break last week to do some PvEing on an alt – had a mild infection that set me on antibiotics, no willpower to try and face two very alert teams without a stealth class, and it was refreshing to just quit worrying about the score or all things WvW for a while. This will allow the victors their map, their rewards, their quiet time to use or misuse as they will, and if others on my side want to practice their guerilla tactics or stay out also, all power to them.

If I feel like jumping into WvW, then I will. Possibly that’s what caused the massive onslaught of Janthir on the weekend, lots of people all spoiling for a new match after a loss, plus the regulars that play consistently.

When it’s too quiet when we’re winning, then I’ll do my jumping puzzles, PvE champion mobs, fool around with siege on innocent bunnies, and then zone out to PvE again, leaving the map in the hands of the fairer-weather players who come out to gank only when their server is dominating (but are fairly disorganized and can be run around) and the consistent players who will be in WvW rain or shine.

I think I’m basically lucky in that I don’t mind most of the activities in Guild Wars 2. (The only thing I’m scared of and won’t venture into alone is paid PvP tournaments, because I’m sure I cannot match that level of build/team cooperation by my lonesome, who knows how the metagame has evolved by now?

As such, this gives me a wide range of choices for stuff to do at any one time. And I know I’ll be playing this game on a long term basis (just like in GW1, I might take a couple months’ break at a time, but I can always pop in again when I feel like it, hooray, no sub) so I can afford a good amount of patience.

I only wonder if other players feel the same way. Or if they’ll be off chasing after the next shiny.

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