GW2: Echoes of Historical Warfare in WvW

The whole structure of WvW doesn’t exactly lend itself to tests of PvP prowess.  And why should it? There’s an entirely separate part of the game given over just to that after all.

Bhagpuss

I’ll have to disagree to the lack of PvP prowess. There is a lot more going on there than most think in a coordinated group, more so than sPvP, I believe.

Imagine organising 20-30 instead of five through complex manoeuvres; each turn is called, every feint, when and where to bomb.

J3w3l / Eri

Everyone’s been talking about WvW lately. The leagues and season achievements seem to have revitalized some interest in the game format and plenty of discussion as to the pros and cons.

(Where in my usual understating sense, “some interest” = massive game-wide lag and fairly substantial queues during primetime on certain servers.)

I’m less interested in rehashing the same old ground that others have covered, but Bhagpuss’ latest post raises an interesting side issue: WvW isn’t quite the same as sPvP.

To Bhagpuss, he feels there’s more PvE involved.

To Eri, she goes so far as to claim that WvW is -more- sophisticated than sPvP.

To me, I’d rather not raise the ire of the PvPers. I’ll just claim that it’s -different-.

Small-scale PvP is where each individual player can be a Greek hero – Hercules, Achilles, Odysseus, all seeking glory in war.

They can be a Spartan or a samurai or a ninja, a stand-alone warrior who can hold his own against slightly more superior numbers (2 or 3) and defeat them. They can work with their team for a time to accomplish a task, then break apart to do their thing as an army of one.

You can get a little of this kind of thing in WvW if you play with a more roaming playstyle and spec, being a scout or a commando across potentially hostile lands, The situations you’ll face in WvW will involve a lot more unpredictability in the numbers you face, while sPvP offers a more numerically balanced playfield.

But what you can’t get elsewhere, except in WvW, is large-scale warfare recreated on a miniature scale to fit into a playable game type.

If there’s one favorite thing that hooks me and makes me stay for hours in there, it’s when I spy a good (aka tactically adept) commander in VOIP and glom onto his zerg.

And I don’t mean zerg in the fashion that many lower tier servers run (or not-so-good commanders on my server too) – a loose collection of individuals running around together in a big warband that just happen to be going in the same direction and firing at the first thing that moves while karma training, relying only on numeric superiority and safety in numbers.

I mean a zerg-busting zerg. A coordinated group, be it guilded or militia or a mix, organized, with high morale and WvW builds, listening and following a commander on voice.

In zergs like those, you get to see echoes of warfare across the centuries from ancient to medieval to Napoleonic times.

The zerg is infantry, archers and cavalry, acting as each in different situations.

The one thing that never fails to get my pulse going and adrenaline rocketing is the charge. I play a frontline guardian, and in the surge of the wedge through an enemy zerg, I hear the thundering hooves of heavy cavalry. The goal is similar: break the enemy infantry with a resounding charge through their ranks.

Now and then, there are the rare situations, just as in history, when the opposing side’s morale is stronger and their militia better trained in the art of war. The loose collection of individuals move apart just enough to avoid the charge, then unload onto the dumbfounded and not-very-well-built zerg full of casual PvE builds  (note to self: following bad commanders is unwise) who stand there and take casualties, just as infantry have weathered a cavalry charge into their ranks and then proceeded to viciously slash stirrups and saddle and unseat horsemen before they can escape the mass.

But more often, when trained heavy cavalry charge at less trained individuals, they break. You can tell the opposing group is made up of leaderless PUGs when they fall back and scatter to the four winds, or they get run over.

Far more interesting and much rarer in history but more commonplace in WvW are the tactics that arise for cavalry-on-cavalry fighting.

In real life, where collision detection exists, such incidents are costly affairs in the lives of both men and horses and thus always striven to be avoided whenever possible.

In WvW, zerg collision is what some guilds live for.

The maneuvering is spectacular.

Pre-fight, the commander is not just running around in circles because he is a meanie-poo head and wants to see his followers chase after him constantly.

For one, he’s keeping his men (and women) tightly packed together and on their toes. They cannot be picked off individually (those dang thieves), and have to remain alert.

For another, it’s intimidation. A formation moving in unison as a single mass is a scary sight to someone who knows that his side isn’t as organized. A scared individual has a higher chance of being shaken and breaking after one or two charges.

Medieval European knights attacked in several different ways, implementing shock tactics if possible, but always in formations of several knights, not individually. For defense and mêlée a formation of horsemen was as tight as possible next to each other in a line. This prevented their enemy from charging, and also from surrounding them individually. With their heavy and armoured chargers knights trampled through the enemy infantry. The most devastating charging method was to ride in a looser formation fast into attack. This attack was often protected by simultaneous or shortly preceding ranged attacks of archers or crossbowmen.

— From Wikipedia on “Cavalry Tactics”

Then there’s searching for the right time to charge. Both zergs maneuver and try to get the drop on each other, utilizing terrain to best effect. If you can catch the enemy with their backs to a cliff, or draw them into a chokepoint, you have the advantage. If you can get them to fire off their first volleys onto somewhere you’re not, they have to reload while you can unleash upon them.

And of course, you never try to run in front of an enemy. You charge them in the flank, or from behind or from on top. Head-on collisions are not desirable, but could happen, same as in real life.

Those archers or crossbowmen? Ranged dps’ers. “Bomb them here!” “Marks!”

Sometimes the charge doesn’t even happen, in favor of the zerg becoming a squadron of archers firing a hail of arrows across the gap, daring the enemy to charge across a killing field.

They often don’t.

Usually the horse skirmishers advanced in front of their parent squadron or regiment, fired and moved about a bit to reduce their target ability. They were able to prevent the enemy’s troops from hiding behind trees and broken ground, looked for ambushes, or simply observed the enemy’s movements or intent. It was also quite good way to test enemy resolve at a specific point and gather information about his position as well.

They fired upon the enemy trying to take a better position or forced the enemy to move slower or even halt and form squares. Occasionally an odd charge would take place to drive the enemy horse skirmishers away. Sometimes these skirmish combats escalated and involved more troops.

Cavalry Tactics in the Napoleanic Wars.

Recognize the description of havoc groups? Our skirmishers in WvW? They scout, they screen, they have more mobility than the main zerg.

Sometimes an enterprising commander will use a disorganized PUG mass to screen their zerg and absorb fire.

Sometimes two or three commanders leading their own organized zergs act together in sync, acting as skirmisher or charger and pincer the opposing side.

Ambushes are set up. Zergs hide and try to surprise the other. Traps are set, sometimes with siege. (We could write a whole other post about castle/siege warfare, but that’s for another time.)

Once collision occurs, there can be even more maneuvering.

If the enemy doesn’t go down on first hit and be cleared, then it becomes a contest of commanders, and unit morale, cohesion and training. Zergs strive to keep together while breaking the other apart into smaller groups and lone individuals to be set upon and thus whittle the other zerg away via attrition.

How well your commander reads the other team’s movements and moves in turn is important.

How well his followers can -follow- him is also just as crucial. How tightly they keep together, how sturdy their builds are, how good their morale and training is that they keep their heads and don’t break and run at the first whiff of trouble, all contribute to the eventual result,

Each clash is a whole new battle.

It can get crazy addictive.

With more layers of sophistication to be understood the more you play.

WvW zerg “PvP” is a lot more about teamwork than individual prowess (though it still does have an effect.)

It’s more about how each player’s skill at playing their character well affects the whole to form something greater than the sum of its parts.

Builds are made to synergize, to provide group support and group control and group damage.

If anything, I find that after tasting the levels that WvW can rise to, anything less sophisticated is not so fun nor enjoyable and that I’d rather roam by my lonesome or occupy myself with PvE than play in a less organized zerg, doomed to run headlong into disaster and repeat the mistakes that history has already taught us to avoid.

GW2: Morale and The Psychology of Losing

Dead. Again. Now what? (Ironically, I logged on just to get a defeated screenshot and ended up staying over an hour having good fun. More in a later post.

This Sunday, the strongest stand out memories are the two hour breaks of -not- playing Guild Wars 2, in order to get away from the hidden dangers of WvW to a newbie dipping one’s toes into a competitive format. :)

You see, I started getting an inkling something was wrong when I developed a headache. An honest to goodness -real- headache from playing a computer game.

The last 12 hours or so have been pretty bad. No doubt, some of this is due to sleep deprivation as I’ve been up at weird hours looking in on this week’s match, catching both NA and Oceanics in action. (I do crazy shit like this from time to time.)

I had an incredible morale high this morning (NA night time) as combined arms and lots of siege broke open a keep, along with an incredible continuous reinforcement rush (died three times easily) to hold one successfully even as a horde was knocking on the keep lord.

Then plunged to an abyssal low during the afternoon and night (NA wee morning hours and Sunday morning) as it grew obvious that the bulk of whoever was on during this time was not organized, failed to grasp strategy or spend siege to take or defend places, and worse of all, did not pay attention to the team/map chat.

A trebuchet knocked down a tower’s wall. Around 30-40 were outside zerging the place. 10-15 defenders. Guesses on how many people looked up from AoEing what was in front of them, read the chat, went left and into the tower. You are correct if you surmised less than the number of fingers on one hand. After dying horribly inside, I looked about at the 4-5 corpses inside and sighed.

A keep was lost when no one communicated clearly until it was nigh unto too late to do anything, and the frantic panicked screaming of “THEIR INSIDE KEEP” “INNER GATE” failed to move the said zerg that were still obsessed with failing to take above tower.

Yet another keep was lost as a significant bulk of people failed to read the chat and come to the rescue of those fighting off invaders at the keep lord, preferring instead to continue zerg duking it out on the bridge on the courtyard between outer and inner keep walls, failing to realize that they would be wiped out the moment the keep changed hands, with the walls locking in place around them and the happy victors emerging to scour the grounds.

Stuff like that does terrible things to one’s morale.

I’m only human, alas.

And yes, it gets frustrating and aggravating when things happen beyond your control, and despite your best efforts, the situation still seems helplessly uncontrollable and doomed to fail.

After quickly withdrawing to variously take a nap, go for a swim, have some tea, plan the next blog post (and reading up on the functions of morale in combat, the psychology of losing and how sportsmen and competitive gamers handle defeat well, badly or otherwise) and hovering between attempting to calm down and gritting one’s teeth from the pain of the headache, it was rather obvious that the tension and stress and pent up frustration were getting to me.

I especially have a personal problem with this since if you recall, I straddle two divides:

1) The primarily PvE player dipping toes into PvP and/or competitive formats

PvE players are used to having easy fun. That is, we want to win 85-100% of the time, as long as we play passably well.

Logically, this does not and cannot happen in PvP. There is always a winner and a loser to a match.

In a balanced game, that means even the best will be winning 50% of the time at most, as they eventually get matched against people just as good.

The slightest misbalance due to the other guy’s skill and strategy, your personal lack of it or emotional composure or circumstances otherwise beyond your control, and guess what, you’ll be losing a majority of the time, rather than just 50%.

Hell, in WvW format, there are always two losers to one winner, if you want to look at it in that light. So as some guy in a forums mentioned, 2/3 of the people are “losing” at any point in time.

2) Having a tendency to be obsessively hardcore and fixate upon success / winning / a goal

Normal (casual playing) people don’t frequent game forums twice a day or more, don’t write blogs dissecting games, and spend their time alternatively brooding on the moment-to-moment point scoring in a week-long match and reading up obsessively on potential strategies and ways to improve one’s play.

Nor do they sit around looking and reading up all manner of articles on a particular topic of interest wondering how other people deal with the problem they are having.

It’s just a small subset of the population that is blessed/plagued with such a personality, and I happen to be one of those individuals.

Been there, done that, don’t like how it made me.

I don’t want to be constantly tense and angry, I don’t want to blow up on people or insult or abuse them, I don’t want all my self-worth to be predicated on being number 1 and being so scared and ego-driven to maintain it.

Worse, taken to an extreme, we get folks who even go past the controversial edge of Sirlin’s Play to Win philosophy and start cheating, hacking and exploiting for the sake of a) a number on a scoreboard or b) to make other people angry (their new ‘win’ condition.)

That’s a definitive line for me. Much to my misfortune, I have too much bloody integrity to ever consider doing shit like that.

Besides, I already get in enough trouble emotionally and physically (I’m getting too old for sleep deprivation and alarm-clock gaming, dammit) before I go past that line.

When looked at objectively in this fashion, it becomes clear that if we want to continue playing around with PvP and competitive formats, we need to get used to “losing” and get out of the mindset of playing to win being all important.

This is not a new concept. It’s as old as competition and sports.

Just idly flipping through stuff people have written, I’ve found such disparate things as a discussion thread about losing Starcraft 2 matches and how different players deal with the blow to one’s morale, an advice article on a wiki about Starcraft 2 anxiety playing ladder games that run the risk of doing horrible things to one’s ranking with a loss (or so I gather, I don’t own SC2 yet,) a Warhammer article about the impact of losing on player morale and how it impacts one’s judgement and decision-making while tabletop gaming, and even a general sports article on emotional mastery and how various athletes may react in a competition.

I’m especially amused by the last one, because it gives one of those cheesy classifications that group people into different styles. He differentiates between the seether, the rager, the brooder and the Zen Master.

Watch any sports competition and there’s a pretty hefty grain of truth in the simplistic classification. Everyone can tell the explosive ragers, who wear their frustration on their sleeves, have little self-control and will no doubt be voted ‘most likely to break their wrists punching a wall.’ The seethers also steadily become obvious if the match doesn’t go their way, and you can see them gradually lose it and their play deteriorating.

I identify most strongly with a brooder, alas. My impulse is to think bad thoughts, look upon a situation helplessly and then become avoidant and sneak off without a word or quit silently, because it’s just as pointless to scream and yell at idiots or the just plain ignorant.

The Zen Master, naturally, is the ideal goal to strive toward. Being unaffected by emotions, being focused and playing consistently, win or lose.

I’m thinking I need to make something like that my new goal, rather than obsess about winning or the scoreboard. I believe competition has some very important life lessons to teach – about teamwork, about handling loss, about self-improvement, maturity and so on.

And Guild Wars 2 is a nice format to do it in, because of the whole server togetherness thing. By design, it doesn’t make you feel alone (as one would be if playing a 1 vs 1 competition match) or in a completely hostile world with anyone ready to backstab you at any time (see other open world PvP formats.)

It straddles the line of organized groups being decisively more effective, which is a little personally disappointing to me as I’m reluctant to invest that sort of commitment, but I’ll respect that others really enjoy that playstyle, and it’s beautiful to watch in action.

And I really like that the design encourages organized guilds to pay attention to the lonely souls like me – any warm body can be a help at times.

And while we sometimes cannot expect much of a pug zerg and want to chew nails in frustration trying to herd cats and teach people who don’t even seem to read chat or understand English, let alone talk back and communicate, successfully respecting and teaching/training the average pug to become an effective militia seems to have been one of the factors why Henge of Denravi is in the top position it is.

It’s just going to take time, a lot of patience and kindness and teaching towards both the self and others.

From a calmer, objective perspective though, I find it both alternatively great and fascinating that WvWvW is capable of replicating such ‘combat’ situations in miniature.

I’ve always found that MMOs are a great way to learn about real life in microcosm. In 4-5 years of playing an MMO, you can learn a lot of life lessons that would normally take folks 40 years to work through in real time.

Any student of war and history knows the importance of morale to overall success in an engagement. In this monograph by a Major Cox from the School of Advanced Military Studies, he states:

Morale and unit cohesion are a reality of warfare. They are as much a factor of war as wounds and death. The commander that fails to recognize the importance of these factors is the commander who will fail in combat.

These two components of war are segments of the undeniably human influence in warfare. This human influence is the element of warfare that is unpredictable and as Michael Howard states, contributes to the ‘fog of war.’

Anyone who has been within various kinds of WvW zergs can no doubt recognize the truth within those words. Some groups are full of confidence and plow right on through any opposition. (See any successful orb running zerg for a good example, folks tend to throw themselves at the enemy in order to protect the orb runner, and conversely, people hellbent on destroying the orb runner may also fling themselves into certain death without worrying about the cost.)  Some are hesitant and full of individuals bent on self-preservation, rather than the achievement of a goal, and quickly break apart in all directions, fleeing with shattered morale in the face of more confident seeming opposition.

The real question, of course, is how to make the latter group more like the former.

A lot seems to hinge on good leadership. Sun Tzu’s Art of War is always a fun read, as he talks about the importance of always having a strategic plan of attack and all warfare being based on a deception. It’s painfully obvious that Isle of Janthir is still lacking such a focus at times as the point score gets run away with, now and then, but well, since I’m not prepared to sacrifice my time or life to be commander-ing anything, I will shut up armchair general-ing and just wait patiently for such leaders to emerge.

(We have some, we’re not completely bereft, but apparently the more definitely hardcore servers are arranging crazy shit like scheduling commanders at all hours of a day. That may be a bit too crazy for IoJ to ever contemplate, in which case, we will have to settle with being where we are and come to accept that we choose to balance our WvW game time with other things of import.)

But morale is also contingent on good communication and the teamwork/trust bond between individuals until they feel like part of something greater than themselves.

In this, I think every individual has a part they can play if they so choose. We can practice reporting sightings of enemy servers by how many there are (roughly), which server and what location. We can learn the locations that are being referenced. We can learn the maps, all the nooks and crannies. We can work on improving our play, our gear/stats/skills/traits.

And we can teach. Or just talk out loud and mention obvious things like “remember to take supply” even though we sound like a broken record, because it may not be obvious at all to someone just joining WvW for the first time. Given the number of casual players playing GW2 and just hitting the mid and high levels that may make them feel brave enough to step into WvW, they may still be figuring things out.

It’s not easy, certainly. I don’t really like to say anything aloud if there’s no plan. Take supply for what, if we’re not going to siege anywhere? And there’s the fear of rejection aka wild n00b l33tspeak attack frenzy, but maybe others feel less inhibited.

I do tells and whispers fine though. Perhaps I can work on that.

I sent a tell once to a random person who was looking for the entrance to the jumping puzzle, he had trouble finding it and I took him there. He was grateful and it made me feel warm and fuzzy. Then I sent a tell offering to sight for another person who seemed to having trouble aiming a treb and it was like speaking into a black hole. A simple “no” would have sufficed, but maybe the person didn’t even know how to reply. *sighs*

I also sent a tell to a guy operating a ballista who was blowing up trebs that I couldn’t seem to target for the life of me, and asked how the heck he was doing it. He was nice enough to tell me to click the bottom of the treb to target it, and while it still seemed ridiculously far and impossible to target (were my graphics settings the problem?), I’ll be working on improving that part of my game the next time. So this stuff goes both ways.

We have to eventually create an atmosphere where it’s okay to talk to each other and ask stupid questions and teach each other. It’s really hard when we’re working uphill against the solo in an MMO – WoW Barrens chat abuse impulse, but if we don’t work on it, then it will be no one’s fault but ours that we’re standing alone. Time will tell, I guess.

If there’s a good lesson to be learnt from WvW and PvP, it’s how to be patient, persistent and pick oneself up when one falls down. Keep trying. Keep fighting the good fight.

(And no, that does not mean look straight ahead and target nearest enemy. You get flanked that way. Please pick up some situational awareness. Please…)

I’m referring to a social fight, an organization fight, a strategic fight, a community fight.

GW2: Underwater Done Right

Overheard on map chat: "Seeing all this tuna makes me hungry."

I could spend the better part of my days in GW2 submerged under the sea. It’s like a dream come true for me.

A little historical background to help you understand where I’m coming from. That MUD I used to play, the equivalent of first MMO ever?

It had a fairly unique fantasy race for player characters, the sea-elves.

Call it chance, fate, destiny, whatever, the character I ended up using to make a big name for myself on the MUD was a female sea-elven cleric. She ended up leading the Guild of Clerics for a time, and was heavily involved with roleplaying with a bunch of other sea-elves in a certain golden age.

Along with several other players, we co-created a lot of sea-elven lore and history and even language, based a little off D&D, but putting our unique spin on things (since in D&D, sea-elves tended to be primitive naked warriors, and our MUD allowed for sea-elven clerics and mages, so presumably, our race was a lot more sophisticated than that.)

I also co-built a racial hometown with a fellow sea-elven player, which in those days, involved a lot of text to describe each “room.”

Suffice to say, I spent a lot of time thinking about being underwater, looking at undersea and ocean pictures of both the real and fantastical variety, and trying to put that into words.

It’s a little ironic that now I’m making the cat spend so much time underwater. But he’s a weird cat that uses magic and likes rats, so I guess it’s par for the course for him.

One of the things that always struck me was how different each undersea landscape could look, and how sea-elves would doubtless use varied things as landmarks and have their own subtle set of descriptors to describe in detail things that we generalize together and call it coral, or seaweed.

More than a decade later, Guild Wars 2 has brought that aesthetic into a fully realized 3D world. You have no idea how deliriously happy I am.

(I’ve spent so long reading every scrap of underwater fantasy resource I could get my hands on, most of them D&D based. It’s a world that deserves so much exploration. And in the real world, it’s like our last unexplored frontier, so there’s so much fantastic potential to be imagined up there. It’s like the Moon and Mars before people really got there to see it was just a lot of rocks.)

Again, words fail me. I could say awesome, spectacular, fantastic and keep repeating it, but it’s probably easier to just show you what I mean.

Ok, I cheated, this is a end of beta weekend pic. Everyone turned into Branded, and if you went underwater, you became a Branded fish. Focus on the shallow water, dirt and sand, if you can.

I’m sure we’ve all seen the lake and river bottoms by now. They’re fairly normal, what we expect from going underwater, that sort of thing (if underwater had that many barracudas and drakes and sharks, that is.)

I’m a big fan of the seagrass. The oh so pretty seagrass.

The sea bottoms are deeper and sandy and full of crabs and that kind of stuff. So far, so good, it’s a bit like what Rift did, if I recall correctly. Possibly WoW too.

Then you plunge into the arctic ocean of Frostgorge Sound and your breath is taken away by how DEEP it gets.

No doubt, it doesn’t hold a candle to the real thing, but it’s the comparative effect. Divinity’s Reach is not as big as a real city, but for an MMO, it’s certainly huge on that relative scale. And the ocean floor is quite a ways away. You have to actually swim downwards a bit and feel the light quality changing and you hit the dimmer rocky bottom to see undersea wurms making their home there. Ick.

I love the depth. It makes it feel so real, that there’s a underwater world on par with the land one, full of mountains and gorges that you can swim through.

The most cavernous dark depths seem to be reserved for the krait-infested waters, full of decaying ship wrecks.

The verticality is very thrilling.

Light at the top and dark below, and closed in on both sides. Awesome underwater canyon effect.

And guess what, because everyone and their mother hates going underwater, and never attacks yellow mobs that don’t aggro on them, this is what you can reap from an arctic jellyfish (with an xp booster I threw on for the hell out of it, it came out of one of those chests the personal story key unlocked.)

Me, I love underwater combat. I like the three dimensions fighting, it makes it feel different from the usual landlocked combat we’ve always had in MMOs. I’m already used to flight and fighting aerial stuff in City of Heroes, so underwater is pretty much a slower version of that in a liquid-feeling medium. Perhaps some don’t like that slowness, but I’m ok with it, I’ve spent too long a time imagining how sea-elves fought, and it adds a bit of strategy to the positioning.

(There’s an underwater boss at the end of the Font of Rhand mini-dungeon, and pretty much the moment he throws a fireball at you, you have to be swimming out of the way, so that you don’t regret it 3 seconds later when the water boils around you. It’s a little too late then to think “ouch” and -start- swimming away.)

Then there’s the people who think underwater combat is slow in the sense that it takes a long time to down mobs and the bosses. Yeah, because everyone is using a RANGED option.

Guild Wars 2 is truly revolutionary in the sense that they made melee combat higher damage over ranged combat (in general.) Typical MMOs allow the cloth wearing spellcasters to sit comfortably at the far end of the room raining down death, while the plate armored warriors just spend their time plinking away doing nothing significant in terms of damage, but all in terms of keeping the mob facing away from the clothies.

It makes a lot more sense that melee combat involves higher risk – you’re going near a mob that can whack you back – and thus, higher reward in terms of damage dealt. Bursty close combat. Meanwhile those sitting at comparatively more safety far away can do sustained moderate dps. Control and support abilities are everybody’s responsibility.

Underwater combat works in the same way. As a Guardian, I have an option of a spear and a trident.

The trident is a long ranged weapon that fires a chain of light that bounces off mobs and allies, damaging mobs and healing allies. It doesn’t do terribly fantastic damage, it does some, but it’s primarily a long ranged support weapon. I use it when I want to remain at range, when I see allies meleeing near an underwater mob (so that it’ll bounce off the mob and heal them some) and ironically, I use it up close for myself when I want to out-tank a mob and dps it down uber slowly. (The light bounces off the mob and into me, healing me, so I sit there facetanking it for a while. Ordinary mob, mind you, not bosses, those are un-tankable. It’s my secondary killing option when using a spear does too much damage to me.)

The spear is the close range option. It’s pretty much the equivalent of melee, except they were kind enough to give some range on the thing so it’s not too aggravating fighting in three dimensions and trying to position just right. I’m a Guild Wars 1 paragon player, so I’m very used to spear chucking at mid range. It’s what to use to deal loads of damage fast. I use it for most normal underwater mobs, and the odd boss or two if I see the opportunity to get up close without getting whacked too hard. It actually has a retreat option (spear wall) that I don’t use often enough, so there’s still a long way to go on mastering this weapon.

I haven’t looked at the other classes (or Professions, if you’re a stickler for nomenclature) much, but it strikes me that most of them have a spear as the close range high damage option. The only two exceptions are the engineer and the elementalist, and as far as I understand it, an engie with grenades and bombs underwater is a beast, and elementalists have high damage ranged spells as an option all the time anyway.

If everyone chooses to use their long range support or control weapons to nickle and dime an underwater boss beastie down, then yeah, it’ll go slower than usual. But on the other hand, it’ll also go a lot safer and more supported/controlled and it’ll still go down in the end. Being used to tanks and outlasting a mob by carving away at it really slowly, I can’t see anything wrong with that strategy either. Want it to go faster cos you’re impatient? Then take some risks and get up close.

And some days, the mob comes close to you. (My beta weekend lowbie engineer with a harpoon gun who would much rather it didn’t.)

Back in my MUD days, we made ourselves Five Kingdoms of the sea-elves – Coral, Pearl, Gold, Obsidian and Ice. From what I remember, the Coral Kingdom was the ruling political entity with a Queen on the throne and the cosmopolitan one, Pearl was a secondary shadow of Coral, a farming region and noted for its pearl products, and Gold was a kingdom of merchants and wealth-obsessed folk.

Obsidian and Ice were the most unique. The Obsidian Kingdom was a city of spellcasters, who raised up towers by causing undersea lava vents to erupt and cool in the ocean to form spires of black volcanic glass. The Ice Kingdom was the most seemingly primitive of the lot, known for warriors and hunters up in the arctic regions, but maintained a culture of ice shapers and city crafters who carved their homes and beautiful architecture right out of glacial ice.

I always used to imagine at least one city carved right out of an iceberg, both below and above sea-level, and sea-elves being able to enter from both directions.

Kodan sanctuaries come pretty close. Not entirely, of course. There’s a lot more man-made architecture (that looks flavored by an eastern Factions vibe) and sails on these kodan city vessels, and there’s obviously less of an elven aesthetic. But the general idea is pretty thrilling enough.

And here’s a super-mini-version of what I imagine the Obsidian Kingdom must look like. Lava and black rock.

Then there are the kelp forests. The beautiful towering kelp forests.

And the bioluminescent lights.

Finally, one of my favorite poems is Edgar Allan Poe’s The City in the Sea.

All I can say is, wait until you get to Orr. I won’t spoil it for you here.