GW2: Path of Fire Weekend Demo

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Crystal Desert, ahoy!

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Reddit is in love with the raptor mount’s animations – the sheer attention to detail is amazing.

Riding one of these feels very vehicle-like or ship-like, no quick side-strafing but more steering like a speedboat… that can leap long distances.

I created a warrior for the weekend demo.

This time around, Marauder stats were provided (similar to Berserker with less Power/Precision/Ferocity bang, but more Vitality), which I thought was a nice compromise for experienced players who can’t live without the damage potential they are used to, but had extra health pool for the new players.

I’m not sure what necromancers started out with, but both UltrViolet from Endgame Viable and Aywren reported some difficulty with the introductory instance that showed players arriving to the Crystal Desert and learning how to use mounts.

Part of it might be a problem with the preset traits and skills. The warrior started with a greatsword and rifle, which happens to suit my open world playstyle fine (direct damage, one melee and one range option) but I took one look at the traits and couldn’t quite make head or tail out of it.

I suspect they built it more defensively for new preview weekend players. “Kick” was on my skill bar, among other things. Ok, breakbar hint, I suppose, but I am totally not used to using the warrior physical skills. Especially after they changed it in the new patch and gave it an ammo mechanic in the hope of making it more popular/viable a choice, but new mechanic = something not even vets are familiar with using right now.

You can picture me poking at it quizzically with this sort of expression on my face.

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So I took some time at the start to flip things to the more standard PS berserker build I was used to, minus the banners for group support, plus Wild Blow utility and Head Butt elite skill for breakbar (I’ll take the hint).

Also, since experience versus Balthazar mobs in Siren’s Landing has taught me that Anet is very very fond of quick stacking burns as a theme on his faction (recipe for immediate “Ow!” and falling over downed), a condi cleanse might be super helpful. Shake It Off went on the utility skill bar.

Lastly, finishing off the open world utility trifecta besides a breakbar skill and a condi cleanse, a stun-break. Warriors have a number of options, I just like Balanced Stance because it gives swiftness for running around, stability if used pre-emptively, and breaks stun if used reactively.

With that, the story instance felt fine, though I did feel like I was hitting with… if not quite a wet noodle, at least a wooden sword. See, the downgrade was that the demo stats were all exotics – armor, weapons, trinkets – along with Marauder slightly diluting the max damage of Berserker stats possible.

On the bright side, I used no food, no utilities and completed it just fine on exotics, so it is doable – and I presume they tested with all exotic gear, if this is their preset demo gear.

The big issue, imo, is mostly that folks not used to GW2 combat are not used to two things:

  1. Moving while pressing skills, and knowing what the skills are so that they can be chained smoothly
  2. Reading the itty bitty tiny buff icons on the mob’s status bars and general mob combat animations and indicators that have become second nature to people who play GW2 more often

Running out of orange circles by being pre-emptively mobile and ready to sidestep is a trained reaction by now for most of us, while a new player probably doesn’t even -see- the orange circle against the beige sand of a desert setting, let alone react in time.

Reading animations is another thing. Mobs have been charging at us since Mordrem mobs in Dry Top and Silverwastes. You gain an instinctive “uh oh” hunch when a mob starts pausing and looking at you funny, gathering itself up… before you know it, you’ve thrown yourself with a sideways dodge out of the way of the oncoming charge.

This is a learned reaction. Painfully acquired over time from getting charged and knocked down and around every which way to kingdom come. Not to mention, getting shot to hell by the straight ground line of Mordrem snipers.

You go from not even knowing the mob is going to come at you, to recognizing that “ok, this mob type is probably coming at me,” to trying out different mobility solutions (running sideways will probably still get you caught, just hitting the dodge button leaves you still in the oncoming path), to realizing that the best solution is to dodge sideways, to -practising- the ability to dodge sideways (holding one key down while pressing another, are your keybinds in a comfortable place to do that?) until it becomes something you can do on demand, and even subconsciously.

(And if you are a little insane, like my particular raid group, you practice synchronized group dodging aka “dodge left” to control a particular mechanic for a certain raid boss in a predictable manner.)

Bottom line is, no one starts out ABLE to do anything automatically. It was practiced and developed over time. Frustration at the stages before “can more or less do it” is completely normal.

But anyway, after the story instance completes, you’re tossed out into the first open world map of the expansion.

Boy, were they really careful with its design.

The first thing you get is a fairly big settlement, not quite racial city-sized but definitely larger than a village or outpost.

You can run around it in relatively welcoming safety, like Lion’s Arch. It introduces the special mechanics of the map – races, bounties – and has some amenities like a bank and trading post.

What’s pretty special is that in a fashion somewhat remniscent of Warhammer Online, you can actually get “public quests” *ahem* “dynamic events” within the town confines.

You can run around and collect objects with your mount and contribute to event completion. A pack of rampaging choya (planty quaggan things, but -angrier-) can attempt to stampede into town. It gives the whole city a little more life – or at least, more action.

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The real verisimilitude comes from the outside.

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This -is- a big map, compared to the rest of the GW2 zones. (And mind you, one third to one quarter of it on the right side also appears to be locked off at the moment.)

Wide open is the watchword, and IT FEELS GOOD.

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Explorer souls, rejoice.

The awe of gorgeous surroundings, the curious sensation of wondering what’s over the horizon in whichever direction yonder and just -choosing to go- there (without being hindered by sheer drops, puzzle updraft/mushrooms and Mordremoth’s clingy tendrils), and then finding something interesting to see – all that is back in the map on weekend preview.

I find myself sometimes just wanting to run on foot through the place, rather than mount up.

If you miss that sense of MMO as a WORLD, rather than as a meta map with a game objective on a timer, then I think you can get some sense of that back in Path of Fire, if the rest of the zones are similar to this one.

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World map-wise, it looks pretty promising in potential. Given the coloration of the Elonian region, we might see bits of the Brand, the sulfur deserts of old with the junundu wurms, as well as grassy oases in the Crystal Desert proper.

Even in the first map on preview, it’s not -all- beige desert, there’s some other colors too, if you know where to look.

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What I do like, that I haven’t really seen commented on:

There are some really faithful references back to Guild Wars 1, with added new combat mechanics twists.

Man, hydra farming was a thing in GW1 – which I was never very good at, but tried my hand at anyway.

And I remember they were Elementalists of much fiery rainy pain.

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Hydra says “ahai.”

Now here’s something we haven’t seen before, mob skills that use a lot more verticality.

The meteors are a little mean when first encountering them (I got smashed by the first meteor before I could react, the first few times) but after a while, you realize they’re going to do that and keep moving so that you’re not there by the time it lands.

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Their heads pop off. And they wiggle around like beheaded triple trouble wurms. That’s a little nuts. But a very nice effect.

Overall, it’s not just the mount animations that are worthy of praise in Path of Fire, it’s pretty much all the mob animations. Sand sharks dive in and out of the sand in a convincingly fluid manner, unsoweiter.

The fanged iboga, another GW1 throwback, with an arcing poison/hallucination style attack as befits its mesmer class.

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New shapes are coming. A fire wall, in all its 3D glory.

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New buffs on the mob’s buff bars to read too. It will be interesting to see if boon stealing will be more valuable a mechanic in Path of Fire.

Bounties are an interesting map activity. Basically, they are like Queen’s Gauntlet mobs. You can pick up a bounty to go and trigger them in the open world. Once “summoned,” they exist for the space of 9-10 minutes, and anyone walking by can join in the fight, dynamic event style.

They have more complex mechanics than the standard open world mobs. Apparently, they can spawn with different buff “affixes” so they may vary from bounty to bounty, and necessitate slightly different tactics to defeat.

They seem to be a good intermediate training/tutorial mechanism on GW2 combat.

For one thing, it’s not a cage fight like the Queen’s Gauntlet.  One can break off combat any time and run away far enough to get out of combat and switch skills/change traits to adapt to the encounter.

For another, multiple people can join in, help each other, teach each other, or at least in a worse case unfriendly scenario, -observe- how another person is soloing while in a downed state.

I followed a commander tag calling for help and fought a really angry giant choya on a flat mini-island in the ocean. The thing was rolling around like a rolling devil on steroids, smashing anyone that got in its way (ie. everyone -on- the floating platform of an island) and summoning up ley line energy things that spun around and did damage – essentially limiting even more of the already limited arena.

After getting downed a few times, I rolled off into the ocean to float and actually read all the mechanics on the mob’s bar. The ocean was a perfect safe zone. (It was a little tough to figure out the correct side to even jump back up into the fight.)

There were 3-4 other people there, all getting smashed to high heaven. Barely anyone was touching the break bar.

Which…seemed like the best strategy, actually, because it wasn’t going to stay still otherwise. And it was lethal once moving erratically.

So I gamely jumped back onto the platform, tried to land Wild Blow, Head Butt, and even Rifle Butt. There was one other person that also helped cc a bit. Together, we managed to knock out the break bar and stun it. Now it was a punching bag for a crucial few moments. Rinse and repeat. Bounty done.

There was another bounty out in the desert. I can’t recall what it was, but I do remember it had the Sniper affix.

What this produced was a slow-moving shiny ball that would select a random player and creep towards the player. It moves -just- a little faster than one can sidestep though. Once it hits the player, a target gets painted on the player and a ley line energy snipe of doom emerges from the bounty and does 95% of one’s health bar, if not more, and typically downs the player.

Cue an amusing sequence of everyone getting downed in turn and Benny Hill running away from the death ball.

I wanted to “solve” this mechanic, so I backed out of the combat leaving the two other players to alternate being downed and switched skills.

The first thing I thought of was to “block” the sniper hit.

I wasn’t on my guardian though, and warriors can usually only block reliably on demand with a shield… which I didn’t have on the demo character and wasn’t interested in wrangling with the gear explosion and stat selection of the demo box.

The other thing warriors have that essentially are more sophisticated “blocks” is a) endure pain (immune to all direct damage, but conditions go through) and b) defiant stance (heal for the amount of damage that hits you, within the limited three seconds or so that it is active).

So I put both of those on and went to test them out on the shiny ball of doom.

Allow shiny ball to hit me, trigger defiant stance. Boom, sniper shot heals me to full. Giggle maniacally.

Shiny ball comes looking for me again, and trigger endure pain. Boom, sniper shot does no damage. Perfect.

So now I just need to manage cooldowns so that one is always ready to go by the time the shiny ball comes to me… tricky… hmm, what about classes that don’t have the specialized skills of warriors, can they do anything? Well, anyone can dodge with an invulnerability frame… HMM…

The next time the shiny ball comes in, I cross my fingers for luck and dodge the moment it hits me. BAM, evaded, just as the sniper shot comes in.

Therrrre you go, that’s IT. That’s the solution. It’s a mini-training tutorial for dodging!

Suddenly, I am the only person staying alive consistently while the other three people also fighting the boss just keep going down when the shiny ball decides they look interesting.

I leave them to observe me for a while: a mixture of not wanting to attract the shiny ball of doom and get sniped to death while locked in a revive animation, and wondering if the other three can learn by observation and arrive at the solution.

Mind you, these were not completely new players. The lowest had a 56 mastery point level, the middle was somewhere around 143, and the last was a full 193 mastery like moi.

They downed, revived themselves, downed again.

I stayed alive, and sat at range pewpewing the bounty as a rifle warrior.

After the second time they downed in sequence, feeling a little bad that I wasn’t bothering to rez them while I was enjoying my sequence of reactive dodging or soaking the sniper shot, I tried a teaching moment.

“Dodge when the shiny ball reaches you” was all I needed to say.

The next time they revived themselves, I watched as the shiny ball hit them. And BAM, they dodged and stayed alive. Just like that. The bounty died.

These were not complete newbies. They -knew- how to dodge. What they lacked was the ability to read the mechanics and experiment with solution finding. Their first impulse was to run away from the ball, and they kept trying to do that, even when the ball caught up with them and kept downing them.

I don’t know if this problem solving propensity can be trained or encouraged, but certainly, these new mobs are a way to at least let some people inclined to strategizing have some fun, and then the best solutions will get passed around verbatim or via Dulfy guide until everyone just knows “the strategy” for the encounter.

It’s a nice intermediate step from normal open world mobs anyway, but less punishing than that in Heart of Thorns (you don’t just die and have to waypoint run from far away, running out of combat is possible and mostly the punishment is getting downed).

My only fear is that this might break in larger numbers and groups of players. If they can be zerged down like guild bounties, then it’s possible that some players will just go ahead and do that and learn close to absolutely nothing (but maybe some osmosis will still happen in the company of others.)

Still, the weekend preview map feels surprisingly empty. Either the maps are deliberately being kept at a very low population number per instance (haven’t had skill lag in here), or folks have seen what they came to see and don’t want to progress further in a demo, or exploration as an activity doesn’t actually interest the present GW2 population as a whole.

I really hope it’s not the last. There doesn’t seem to be violent opposition on Reddit to this, so hopefully, people like it. I’m personally quite happy to have more of this stuff. (Cantha is a word that comes to mind, just sayin’.)

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Nightime in this zone is fantastic. What better to end on but screenshots of this?

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Why Are We Even Arguing About The Holy Trinity?

I really didn’t want to jump on this bandwagon again, but I mostly felt the need to defend the often maligned GW2 combat system, often perceived as “zerg all the things, press 1” or “everyone is dps, stack and cleave.” This argument is often used by holy trinity proponents as an example of non-holy trinity failure and mostly demonstrates their lack of understanding of said system.

Folks, the above is a result of keeping difficulty levels easy and simple, because casuals don’t like it to be more complex than that, and pissing off the casual playerbase is a good way to have loads of unhappy customers.

Hell, -I- personally like to have many parts of my game simple, relaxing, easy fun where I can turn off my brain after a hard day’s work and go farm stuff by myself, or get rewards for hitting a loot pinata with a bunch of other people. Champion trains, Edge of the Mists player vs door trains, Silverwaste chest farms are popular for that very reason!

The GW2 combat system has always been foundationally capable of a lot more, and if people haven’t figured that out by now, they’re voluntarily playing at easier difficulty levels, or they just haven’t bothered to learn.

This will be a multi-part post. The first is a more general rant against the holy trinity (and I can get very acerbic in places, so don’t say I didn’t warn you if you do happen to be pro-holy trinity) and I’ll get to more specific GW2 “how raids work sans holy trinity” posts over the next few days/weekend.

Now on to the fun rant:

Seriously, why are we even talking about this any longer, in this day and age?

The holy trinity is dead. It never really existed to begin with, beyond a brief blip of fame with the super-simplified World of Warcraft.

Everquest players will tell you that crowd control was a vaunted and valuable function and role where certain classes were desired and sought after.

An old MUD player like myself will point out that many different MUDs experimented with a variety of combat roles/systems beyond the pure tank/dps/heals trinity. 

Some used standing in the frontline position as a way to ‘tank’ or dictate who got hit preferentially. The MUD I played mainly used who entered the room first and engaged with fighting the mob as the set tank, with one class able to ‘rescue’ in order to swap tanking positions.

Heals might be self-heals, besides being cast by another player. The MUD I played used a sort of Diablo-esque precursor system. Heal spells were pre-brewed into potions by the cleric class. The cleric couldn’t cast heal spells as fast as you could quaff said potions. So the cleric stayed at home and crafted, and you brought a more damage-focused character to kill things, armed with some 200-500 heal potions, depending on how much you could carry.

ARPGs today still use a variation of that, you can always self-heal with potions, even if they make room for specialist classes to also heal you up, while playing in a group.

See, there have always been a couple of functions that exist in most typical combat systems.

Damage, of course, is one. You can’t “kill” things without doing damage. 

Variations include melee or ranged damage (aka coupling damage with positioning); or instant direct damage vs damage over time (DoTs, aka coupling damage over time. GW1 added the concept of degeneration, basically a really -fast- damage over time status effect or condition or debuff); or how many things you hit at one time (single target or area of effect, often with many fun shapes beyond circles now, courtesy of Wildstar and GW2.)

Survivability or damage mitigation is another. Basically how high your health pool is, how much armor you have, if you can dodge or evade or otherwise negate hits in some fashion, etc. 

City of Heroes broke this down nicely for us into two major types – resistance, where you took only a percentage of damage dealt each time, or defence, where you had a percentage chance to completely not get hit at all. The first led to more predictably sturdy characters whose health bar whittled down slowly, the latter to characters that felt invulnerable, until they failed a roll invisibly and then got an almighty punch to the face that slapped down a large portion of health, surprising everybody.

Controling of mob aggro is yet another function, ie. who the mob chooses to hit. Your typical MMO does this with a threat generation system which takes into account damage dealt, healing output, and then tends to ruin it all by giving certain classes skills that merely add huge globs of threat to this invisible counter (well, invisible until someone runs an add-on.)

It’s a convention that doesn’t necessarily have to be this way though. The Guild Wars series is the best example of spinning this concept on its head. 

The first game used a PvP-like priority system, the mobs liked to pick on casters and healers and light armor wearers and lowest health players. Makes more sense than picking on the heavily armored tank calling its mother names, no?

In PvE, there was the added concept of proximity aggro, as marked by the danger zone circle on one’s minimap. I’ll frankly confess that prior to playing City of Heroes and absorbing more of these aggro concepts subconsciously, I’d get into serious serious trouble playing Guild Wars 1, unable to conceive of backing away and pulling mobs, and thus causing my aggro circle to overlap multiple groups of patroling mobs, which led to chaos and carnage among my party. 

Post-CoH, when I went back to playing GW1, everything felt surprisingly easier, because I was methodically pulling and clearing single groups at a time without even realising I was doing so.

GW2’s aggro system has always existed, but has been frankly, invisible to many many players and not general knowledge until raids came about and made it a necessity. From the start, the wiki spelled it out. Toughness, proximity, damage dealt are the biggest factors, and each mob is capable of varying behaviors based on these factors, even at different phases of their hp. 

Many mobs respect highest toughness as the primary factor, unless they’ve been set to prioritize lowest toughness instead (very rarely occurs, eg. might be what’s happening during Lupicus phase 2 when he chooses a shadowstep target.)

When toughness is equal, aka everyone is in berserker gear or 0 toughness gear, with no other traits that give toughness, they default to proximity and damage dealt. We blend the two because it’s hard to tell what takes precedence, melee damage tends to do a considerable amount of damage, backing off to drop aggro lowers both proximity and damage dealt over time, so yeah…

…except when the mob is again set to consider something different as a target, such as Mai Trin’s favorite attack that often fucks up the most scaredy cat ranged attacker of the group (aka the furthest away from her.)

Then there’s player positioning and mob positioning. Typically, the first is the onus of every player to be where they’re supposed to, in or out of harm’s way, able to hurt or aid as appropriate. The second is often the purview of the tank and off-tanks, to move mobs where they need to be.

Again, it doesn’t have to be so. Most crowd control roles would do well to understand appropriate mob positioning, be it through pulls, knockbacks, roots/immobilizes, or just via body-blocking (in games that support that) or line of sight pulls or kiting. GW2 ups the ante by asking that most/all players learn this in harder group content.

Plenty of games these days have brought control back to the forefront as a fourth comer to shatter the trinity. City of Heroes, Wildstar, GW2 have all experimented with variations on this count.

CoH used controllers as a tank substitute, negating the alpha strike from a pack of mobs and holding them in place to be beat on. No more waiting for that one special self-important egomaniac “tank” before the group can proceed to play.

Wildstar used the Interupt Armor concept as a mitigating defence against CoH’s binary controls. (When on, they were all powerful. When off, they did absolutely nothing, much to frustration of the classes that relied on it and had to fight mobs made invulnerable to controls. Control magnitude and purple triangles on mobs turning up or down to indicate periods of vulnerability were a half-baked way to address this, but never to much satisfaction, it was too random most of the time, the very antithesis of control.)

So Wildstar brought in Interrupt Armor stacks. Each control strips off one status effect buff that protected the mob from CC. The next CC takes effect. Now there was group contribution and the possibility of group coordinating a CC spike. I don’t play Wildstar, so I have no idea which part of the trinity took on the CC role as well, but if we’re lucky, maybe -all- of them.

GW2 decided that even this was too binary and random. Given the fast pace of the game, it would be quite frustrating to strip off stacks and then have a short control take effect over a long one, just because that short one happened to land when all the invulnerability was off.

So they went for a controlled pre-set effect to take place, when a “break bar” was sufficiently depleted by coordinated CC. Different controls could also be given more weight using this system, rather than all controls being equivalent with a more binary on/off system.

Bhagpuss argues that this then becomes just another health bar to take down.

In a way, yes, there is a resemblance, but I don’t think that resemblance is unhealthy. It’ an easier concept for most people to grasp, the idea of a second health bar that can only be damaged by a different set of skills. There is added complexity in having to balance both – take more skills to do damage to real health, or take more skills to damage the other bar, in order to prevent a wipe or to help add more overall combined group damage when said mob is controlled successfully.

There is one major difference though, that has this second “health bar” echo something out of GW1. It can and often regenerates very quickly. As quickly as GW1 health bars do, under the effect of heals and regeneration. The coordinated spike of burst damage is again brought into play, a very PvPish concept, as opposed to the more PvE-like whittling down of a very large health reservoir.

Interrupts, as a concept, are really about the optimal timing of controls, often within a short interval, while the other party is in the middle of a skill cast.

Enough about control variations, what about support?

There’s reactive support, heals being the prime example. Something happens, the player does something else in response to mitigate this.

Healing, like damage, also sports all of its variations. Funny AoE shapes, instant or DoTs, affects others, affects self, the works. (Self-healing, though, should be pointed out as a critical decision point that affects how reliant on others an individual player has to be. More on that later.)

There’s proactive support, the player does something before the bad stuff happens. (Or at least while it’s happening, which would overlap in the proactive to reactive spectrum.) This is the realm of offensive (damage boosting) and defensive buffs (shielding/protection), of damage reflecting / retaliation, and so on.

Support can be always-on, or short-lived. The first are usually of the fire and forget buff variety, mostly pre-cast and made long as a convenience so that the poor buffers don’t get RSI. The second is more challenging, and either requires good skill rotation to maintain permanence if possible, or appropriate timing for best effect (such as the guardian aegis in GW2, which can completely block and negate one big hit for the group.)

The last trick is that of summoning or pets or minions. The player gets to create mobs from nothing, that can then take on some or all of the above functions, from damage, sturdiness, taking mob aggro, controls, support or heals.

Truth is, across the huge spectrum of games these days, from MOBAs and FPSes, ARPGs to yes, MMOs, you’ll see this variation of functions and combat concepts, which range from 4-7 in number, very rarely the pure holy trinity.

The uniqueness comes when the different games start assigning different classes roles and functions that pick and choose from these 4-6 general concepts.

One class could have the sturdiness of a typical tank, but lack means of aggro control, and be more focused on damage, a superhero style bruiser/brute archetype.

MOBAs, especially, have gone down one extreme, where each special character played has its own unique schtick to keep in mind, along with a vague general role function. This makes game mastery an exercise in specific game knowledge, after one memorizes/learns 48, 72, 112, 123, characters…

(I presume that Marvel Heroes follows a similar-ish route, though probably with less depth than most MOBAs.)

Pro-holy trinity-ians have long lost this battle.

No, really, we should leave this poor dead horse where it is, and take up arms around the real crux of the matter.

It’s not about tank/heals/dps, it’s about how group-reliant they want other players to be. 

Dare I say it, it’s about how dependent on others they want for everyone in their game to be, about how self-important they can feel having a special unique snowflake of a role that is irreplaceable (at least until another identical class shows up. /duh.)

Sorry, folks, I can’t keep the scorn out of my writing for such a mindset.

It’s an argument in similar vein to, “I want other people to play with me, so please force them to, by offering them no choice whatsoever,” regardless of how introverted or disinterested the other person is with regards to playing in a group, or how their schedules look like.

It also makes no sense whatsoever.

As mentioned, even in a game with utterly pure unique roles, that healer is still replaceable by another healer, that tank for another tank.

There is no harm in allowing two (or more) classes to cover the same roles, to overlap in role function. If we don’t have X class, ok, someone can bring Y class (that they do have) and that part of the fight can be covered. 

Added flexibility reduces stand around and wait to play time.

There can still be group interdependence and synergy in a holy-trinityless game. 

City of Heroes generally needed an alpha strike taker in their groups (tank, controller types, plus the villainous brutes, dominators, masterminds, or even buffer/debuffers with enough cojones to self-survive through it), plus enough buff/debuffs made everyone a god of war. Plenty of room for damage-dealers, mob-positioners, supporters, the works. 

The whole was generally larger than the sum of its parts (at least, until Incarnate powers and loot came along.)

There’s even room for special roles for that special snowflake feeling. They just take on more game-specific, build-specific names. GW1 had the imbagon, aka the imbalanced crazy buffer paragon that armored everyone into invincibility, among plenty of other ‘required’ components of a specialized group.

GW2 will always require might-stackers, most often covered by the PS warrior, but now with added flexibility by having a revenant in Herald elite spec also able to perform a similar function. The chronomancer is a must-have in many raid parties for quickness and alacrity generation (guardian quickness is not yet part of the meta but there seem to be some suggestions that the wind might be blowing a little in that direction…)

There’s plenty of encounter-specific roles as well, and a shit load of group interdependence in raids that I can only address in another post.

The only real defence for the holy trinity, that I -might- acquiesce to, is this: Simplicity.

The “it’s too hard for me to understand anything more complex” “casuals want to just drop in and have mindless fun, and feel comforted and familiar with a system they’ve already learned” argument. 

Maybe even the “I want to get carried as a no-responsibility dps because I’m not good at / have no time to learn anything more about this game” argument.

Because, as I said earlier, I have nothing against mindless fun. I like it a lot. I like being lazy and relaxing most of the time, taking the easiest route and the path of least resistance. 

I also don’t like turning away those that aren’t good at the game. If there’s a way for stronger players to support or carry weaker players to success, then all the merrier. That’s a true social game, helping others, being helped in return, because we’re all good at some things and not good at all at other things. (But let’s face it, neither mindless fun, an easy to grasp system or being able to cover for others -requires- the holy trinity.)

Catering to the lowest common denominator is the road to popularity and $$$, contrary to what most of the self-proclaimed “hardcore” will say. An easy to grasp, approachable game that doesn’t frustrate or turn away the bulk of its players at first contact will have a larger population to support it. It so happens that WoW has trained this said bulk of players to be familiar with only one combat system playstyle, so well, if you’re copycatting,  or cloning WoW, holy trinity is probably your best bet.

The instant a defender of the holy trinity brings up the complexity of tanking or healing or getting skill rotations just right as a dps though, I start to scoff. “Then why not broaden your horizons further and learn more of the other specialist functions and of other games that let you play a hybrid class that can be equally good at two things at once? Isn’t that more hardcore, special snowflake heroic, complex and laudable? Why content yourself with doing one thing well, when you can do two, three, four things well?”

Bottom line, it goes back to “I don’t like or want to learn or play any other roles or combinations thereof. I just like this one and am not flexible or adaptable.”

So let’s just say it how it is. Holy trinity defenders are sticks-in-the-mud that want to feel special and want to force other people to roll around in the mud with them.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. A preference is a preference.

It’s just not going to be a game that suits -me.-

And you won’t catch me playing a game designed in such a way for long.

GW2: Fresh Off the Presses – GW2 Movement and Combat Guide

Maybe not that kind of movement...

Man, I am tired.

Regular visitors may notice a slight new change in my sidebar. It’s a little awkward, but I can’t figure out a better place to put it at the moment.

This massive undertaking was started two months ago, when I decided that beginners to GW2 (or even to MMOs) might appreciate a guide that explained the concepts of “kiting” and  “corrner-pulling.”

One thing led to another, there was just no end of concepts that seemed important to touch on, and it ballooned into a massive multiple-section outline.

I got about halfway through it, and then pretty much collapsed and wound down out of energy for a month of procrastination.

Finally lighting a fire in my behind was the thought that the Fiery Greatsword nerf was going to happen before I finished and invalidate entire references to FGS in multiple paragraphs.

No way, it’s got to be posted before the September patch, and then I’ll revise those sections later in the oh… umpteenth draft once it’s no more.

So for better or for worse, still rough around the edges, here it is:

The Beginner & Intermediate Player’s Guide to Movement and Combat in Guild Wars 2

If you find it useful, please feel free to share the link above, or the shortlink below:

http://tinyurl.com/GW2combatguide

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

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.