GW2: On Thieves and the Edge of the Mists

Today's EOTM lesson is on supply!

I don’t know if anyone’s noticed yet, but I have a tendency to go quiet when I’m avidly playing WvW.

One simply runs out of new topics to talk about, or runs into the fear of revealing too much about one’s own server’s habits and patterns – that can be then capitalized on by another server.

And there’s a limited amount of general things to say about mass battles and player versus player that hasn’t already been covered -everywhere-, including in real life.

Do a blow by blow battle report?

Today, we captured X’s garrison. The other day in some other timezone, they captured ours. Swap in bay/hills/towers, etc. for garrison. Today, we wiped their zerg. Two hours later, they wiped us. The next clash, we wiped them back.

It’s a yawnfest to write, let alone read.

It’s only -not- a yawnfest when you’re actually there in the thick of things, reacting to the immediacy of it and figuring out the best place to place yourself and your damage.

Which is what keeps players coming back, I suppose.

Talking about larger scale strategy and map politics brings us dangerously close to revealing server thinking, so it’s hard to know what to cover, and to be frank, each commander and player can have a different read on the situation (some more accurate than others) and you can never control all the players on a map anyway, so it’s always “sounds great in theory, may go all Murphy’s Law in practice.”

The basics, of course, is not to push on two servers at once to make ’em both mad and coming after you.

Common mistake, fer instance, often performed by less strategic commanders in the Borderlands is to try to push the home server, fail miserably, and then pick the easier sidelong option instead, moving east or west. This makes the other invading server mad, and before you know it, there’s a rollicking fight down in the south ruins while the home server looks on, cackles and gets their yaks in.

The ideal is to have both invading servers push up into the home server and 2 vs 1 them into submission, or failing which, at least hold on to the third that is yours.

Unless, of course, the intention is to -not- play as expected and have the fight in the other server’s territory because that server is more of a longer term threat, or because some havoc group has made life so difficult that the commander gets fed up and leads the zerg into a punishment strike in the hope that the other team’s commander gets the message. (Sometimes they do, and sometimes, they’re as thick as a brick or just looking for a fight.)

On and on, play and counter-play, etc.

Whatever, I’m not a commander, so I’m not privy to everything that goes on behind-the-scenes: scouting information, intra-map communication, etc. But if you’re in the right tier, there’s a lot of it. And it elevates WvW to something a little more heady than a PvD karma train.

Speaking of PvD karma trains, the self-set goal of completing ALL of the shiny temporary achievements effectively shoved me into the Edge of the Mists, since there are two EOTM specific achievements that can only be gotten there.

My innate distaste of its design still stands.

Edge of the Mists is very asymmetric, I feel. One side builds up an unstoppable zerg, and everyone else logs out and into another EOTM overflow, hoping to find a friendly zerg on their side. Or one side has lots of roamers, a coordinated guild group or gank squads, and the same thing happens. Or two zergs form self-interested karma trains, doing its best to avoid each other while the last side tends to be nonexistent.

I enjoy WvW for its strategic PPT aspects and coordinated zerg fighting, and both are best found on the “real” WvW maps, rather than a map in which there’s even LESS incentive to defend anything.

Edge of the Mists shoves me into mixing with players that are generally of lower tiers, and generally speaking, lower tiers have a MUCH looser grasp on WvW tactics because they are not accustomed to strongly defended objectives where a coordinated map blob could waypoint in and run you over if you take several tens of seconds too long.

This means fights become uninteresting zerg vs zerg fights of the long range variety, and the few souls who -try- to coordinate a push end up demonstrating the futility of their strategy by running alone into the enemy zerg because no one else has enough confidence and trust in each other to do the same.

Until you run into a coordinated guild group vacationing in the Edge of the Mists, and then they get to play wrecking ball with the pugs, laughing all the way to the bank.

However, I have learned to tolerate it.

I’ve perhaps even come to terms with it, adapting around it and recognizing that it may have a part to play, after all.

It was during one of those everpresent offensive karma trains, trundling around doing its best to avoid the enemy zerg and capturing objective after objective (thank you, moar reactors and special objectives plz!) that this revelation came to me.

Edge of the Mists is EZ Introductory Mode.

That is its function.

Hey, WvWers, look, you’re PvEing! These mobs even have a little mechanic to learn from time to time. (eg. Troll regenerates with defiant stance – can be dazed and preventing from firing the skill with good timing, or if you’re alone, controlling your dps. Zergs can never do so, of course, so I amuse myself trying to daze appropriately. Or separate the earth elementals if you’re invading Overgrowth’s keep to damage them effectively, etc.)

Hey, PvErs, look, you’re WvWing! You run into enemy red name players from time to time, and they will probably kill you! But death is okay! You can die a few times and go back to karma training and earning phat lootz, and it’s still a happy experience! The zerg will keep you safe! (Most of the time.) But see, PvP isn’t so bad, it’s not personal, other people die too.

You might even learn a few things that are relevant to WvW, such as catapults not doing as much damage to doors, commanders having a /supplyinfo command that you don’t have, and not to drop extra siege if the commander didn’t ask for it!

Rarely, you might even bump into the odd commander or person who loves to drop siege and make a nice defence of the place, and you might even learn about the effectiveness of arrow carts and such that way. (We will not cover trebs or mortars. That is usually beyond basic EOTM strategy. But catapults may occasionally make a showing against a wall, or some smartass might be doing something to a bridge.)

Some guy learns about the non-effectiveness of catapults, while I marvel at how barely anyone looks away from the gate.
Some guy learns about the non-effectiveness of catapults, while I marvel at how barely anyone looks away from the gate. (One has gotten rear ended by a blob way too many times to learn that lesson. Alert thieves are great survivors.)

For the experts, Edge of the Mists is a vacation spot. A place to unwind after the pressures of “serious business” WvW.

I have, unfortunately, not really gotten many opportunities to glom onto a coordinated guild group doing silly stuff in EOTM, thanks to a lack of mic and WvW network connections to get a party invite into the right overflows, but I listen in from time to time, and damn, do they sound like they are having fun. Loot showering them from all sides. Sudden laughing panic as their map unfamiliarity sometimes gets them into highly awkward positions facing the prospect of sudden drops and sharp stops. Even more loot. The occasional admission that this “PvE thing” might have something going for it from time to time.

For the novices who encounter the experts, the fun is perhaps more one-sided, but again there is an important purpose. Nothing opens up one’s eyes than losing, and losing badly.

One is suddenly made aware of more possibilities. That someone is out there accomplishing stuff at a level that you are currently not at.

Not everybody will immediately do a 180 because of this. But for the rare soul with the will and desire to do so, it may engender a drive to improve oneself and seek out those avenues by which they can do so.

For the average Joes, of which I consider myself one, Edge of the Mists has a dual purpose. It is a slightly more sophisticated champion farm and a training ground.

Want to turn your brain off? Don’t feel like improving today? Want to mingle with the unwashed lower tier masses and get some of that karma train action that is nigh impossible to get in Tier 1 (and maybe Tier 2?) Follow the blue dorito, choo choo along autoattacking with 1 from range, watch the xp/karma/badges/wxp fly in.

You see, I have learned that I can follow -any- quality of commander on a thief without feeling sour or angry at his or her lack of tactical sense.

I used to play a guardian. First in, and committed till death or victory. You try running away on a non-roaming zerg spec guardian. It doesn’t work. You keep the group strong, you are dependent on the group staying strong and not letting you down.

You are also dependent on the commander not being a derp and doing stupid stuff like running head-on into too much enemy fire without whittling down the enemy first or catching them off-guard or placing siege or otherwise giving you a chance of victory (because your job is stick with him like glue and step where he steps. If your driver is good, he takes you to the correct places. If he’s bad, well…)

Every time the group wipes, I get more and more bitter.

The neverending learning process of playing a thief has been a big wake up call.

When you play a (relative) squishy in WvW, you have dual responsibilities of staying (relatively) close to the commander to aim damage his way AND not dying.

(As a thief, one can also take this up another level by search and destroying important-to-the-zerg enemy squishies. I’m still working on this part, wrapping my head around staying at range, surviving via positioning, and contributing blasts and damage has been challenging enough.)

As a thief, the major difference that I feel is that all my deaths are MY fault.

-I- screwed up and made a mistake. I stepped where I shouldn’t have. I got caught by an immobilize and failed to react to it appropriately in time. I stood in the path of an angry melee train and failed to see it coming or react fast enough. I stuck around way too long and got greedy when I should have booked it instead.

Thieves are excellent at booking it.

If half the zerg has disintegrated, the commander has gone down and there’s three or four enemy players for every player still left standing, it’s time to GTFO.

The enemy zerg goes after the most obvious most easy targets fleeing for the horizon, whereas the thief that just shadow refuged is not the first thing on the angry mob’s mind. Then it’s time to stroll off in a nonobvious direction, preferably not in front of all those melee cleaves. (Which is sometimes easier said than done if they’re facing your exit, or turned your way for whatever reason, but at least you had the best chance of escape being unseen and all that.)

Every time I die (and I do die now and then because I am still a horrible thief-in-training), it’s been an opportunity to check back on the combat log, see precisely what the hell got me, and analyze what I shouldn’t have done and what I -might- have done to accomplish my goal next time.

I freely confess that I am a terribad thief. Killing people is not the first thing on my mind. Usually GTFOing is. My survival instinct is just ridiculous or something. Tank nature too stronk. It took a few deaths to realize that I was squishy now, and then I’ve overcompensated ever since.

I’m still learning the appropriate combo chains that good thieves seem to pull off effortlessly and score an instant down with them. Part of it is probably latency, but part of it, I suspect, is simple muscle memory and twitch that I’ve not internalized yet. I can play my guardian main blindfolded (2 to blind, F1 blind/might/vuln, autoattack or 3 to hit & reflect, 4 if I need a blind again or autoattack, keep 5 and F3 as standby emergency blocks, etc.)

I can’t yet do the same with a thief.

To me, acceptance and recognition of the fact that one is bad is the first step towards improvement. One is bad when one cannot pull off what other players have demonstrably been able to do. It’s useless to put blinders on and think, “Oh, I’m still okay. Nothing’s wrong.”

Step one: Get a good build.

When you’re inexperienced with the class, this usually means following what the more experienced have done first, and adapting to suit your purposes later.

Finding good thief builds have been rather perplexing sometimes, since everyone and their mother seems to have an opinion that theirs is the best or most functional. It took a while of comparing similarities and putting aside interesting stuff to try later (tried condi thief, couldn’t quite get one’s head around it. Sword builds seemed interesting, but since killing people 1 on 1 or 1 vs X wasn’t my first priority, I put that aside to learn later too.)

I settled for the dirt standard dagger/pistol thief variant with a mix of PVT and zerker to do a trial run on, plus shortbow for zerging because I -like- running with and around zergs, dammit.

Step two: Learn how to use it.

This at first constituted of just taking it out for spins and trying to get familiar with all the skills, but I was quite aware that I wasn’t really getting the hang of the initiative points system the thief uses.

It finally hit me that I needed more outside help when I overheard someone also mention on voice that they couldn’t get the hang of their thief and triple leaping over blinding powder for stealth.

This bowled me over. Three times?! Are you serious? I thought I was already doing it right by performing the combo once to go into stealth and then position for backstab.

I didn’t even know if I had the latency to do it three times.

I had to log in and find out.

(Turns out I can, if I get lucky/fast enough. Albeit, this was done -without- the complication of having red names around throwing me into a tizzy. But I resolved from now on to make dual leaps through blinding powder whenever possible to lock it into muscle memory.)

Next on the agenda is to find time to watch thief videos on Youtube. Yishis is apparently recommended as a good one. (I skimmed one of his videos for three minutes and the speed of his thief and analysis was already blowing my mind.)

Step three: PRACTICE till your fingers bleed.

It’s made the WvW league more interesting for me again, I can tell you.

I’m a noob and learning all over again. (This bodes well when I decide to bring an elementalist or mesmer into play some day. Changing classes appears to keep the game very fresh.)

I think I’m getting the hang of staying alive. Mostly.

I’ve started to branch away from just shortbow’ing all the things and switch to melee mode to jump on things other than yaks. (Though I suspect the elementalists I’ve picked just find me a nuisance rather than a threat. Still, it’s probably -slightly- distracting.)

Still working on picking the right opportunities and the right targets – having issues with keeping track of where they go sometimes (and still know where both melee trains are) and deciding if I would be better served blasting fields or hounding a target of opportunity.

And in case you thought I’d forgotten: here’s where Edge of the Mists comes in handy from time to time.

It’s easier to run into less experienced players and less experienced zergs to practice being horrible on, rather than always getting destroyed or forced to run away from some -very- practiced T1 roamers in comms with each other and ready to wolfpack all over you.

I have a hunch that the same probably applies to commanding too.

Edge of the Mists can serve as an introductory mode for newbie commanders. The karma train pretty much drives itself, except they’ll appreciate siege drops and a dorito that picks the next target for them.

If things go wrong, no one’s going to get all huffy about PPT or how some other commander could have done it better.

Yeah, you probably won’t be able to practice coordinated zerg fighting with an EOTM militia, but that’s the only downside.

(You could, however, bring your new-to-coordinated-zerg-fighting GUILD into EOTM and probably get some great morale boosts and practice on easy targets that way.)

Still, I think I’m going to be relieved when I finally get all those damn reactors done.

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GW2: My Charr Guardian and Me

Part of my problem getting my thoughts in order about this game is that there’s SO much to do, and each thing to do could very well warrant its own post, so where the heck should I begin?

I guess, to get folks situated, let’s start with what I’m playing. I only did two beta weekends before I had my heart set on what I was going to play first and didn’t want to play any more when it wasn’t going to be “for real” and I’d have to do it all over again when beta characters got wiped.

Despite terrible alt-holism in most MMOs, I knew I’d be able to keep it at bay in GW2 for the very first main at least, because this absolutely sang to me and wouldn’t let its hooks go.

Name and Server Musings and WvWvW Stories

I’m playing Finder Blazebane on the Isle of Janthir server. Feel free to friend me if you like. Goldspam whispers will be summarily reported, and ArenaNet is pretty good with their banstick. 🙂

I tried to make it as Charr lore appropriate as possible, with a reference to my propensity for exploration and finding secrets and otherwise getting into stuff, and a side reference to being a Flame Legion foe. Imagine my amusement when in the very first area during beta weekend, I find a dynamic event to do with the Bane warband. I found it rather fun to run back and forth with them, pretending to be a fourth NPC a while. I guess I’m easily entertained.

In position as rearguard, Sir!

Why the *gasp* reddit server? Well, I joined them on Darkhaven during beta because I like a crowded server, and when they decided to move to Isle of Janthir, I looked carefully at the guilds list to see if I wanted to follow them or stay on Darkhaven.

Also on the consideration list was Sea of Sorrows as the unofficial Oceanic server, and Tarnished Coast for being the unofficial RP server (where most mature, tolerant, PvE-focused folks like to go.)

Being based in Singapore, server choice is fairly hard because at GMT+8, no timezone is ideal. Oceanic servers you’d think would be the best shot, but honestly, most run on Australian timing at GMT+10 or GMT+11 and when they set events at 7pm, one is still at work at 5pm –  it’s impossible to rush home in time and still have a life, as well as a proper dinner.

To be also brutally honest, the Asian gaming community ain’t all what it’s cut out to be. Conventionally, in traditional Asian thought, games are pastimes for children, so one ends up with a majority of teenage boys in their 10s-20s playing (yes, many still schooling), along with a ever-so-slightly more mature group of men and maybe a few women, that maybe aren’t girlfriends dragged in by their boyfriends, but don’t count on it. And the slang, well, I can talk and understand Singlish, but coming from a more Americanized gaming background in my college years of MUDing, it’s as painful as leetspeak is to the eyes.

A bit is fine, it’s still my culture after all, but I don’t want every last conversation I have in game to go like this: “haha lol wah u very xiong hor” (Goodness, you’re very fierce/scary) or “don’t sabo lah, u chao chee bye, this dungeon damn hard already, cannot make it one.” (Don’t screw it up for everyone, you -vulgarity-, this dungeon is already hard enough, we’re likely to fail as it is.)

Obviously, not everyone in Singapore types that way (it’s always the annoying kiddies, ain’t it?) And there are still jerks and assholes in North America (including obnoxiously racist trolls who would tell you to go back to China, u gold farmer – pst, little hint, Singapore’s not in China, and you’ll be surprised how international an MMO is.) Nor can I try to match a 12 hours transposed timezone all the time. Moderation is key. I need a mix.

I decided against Darkhaven as I suspect the crowd would follow the reddit server. Sea of Sorrows also went into the trash can because I’ve followed the Oceanic community since Age of Conan and Warhammer Online and Aion, the same guilds and same faces in PvP are getting a little tiring. Tarnished Coast was much harder to give up, but I feared for the state of WvWvW there because I’m hooked and I need a -fierce- server with ferocious fighting, not one that might just roll over and expose its belly. I may be wrong, maybe it’s a generalization that roleplayers are generally not interested in hardcore PvP pursuits, but… well, time will tell.

To my surprise and contributing to my eventual decision, Isle of Janthir sports a good mix of both North American and Oceanic guilds, including some of the more respectable aussie guilds I’ve met during prior games. It’ll be nice to have them on my side, for once, rather than beating my face in as an organized group versus a PUG. Add on the reddit crowd, and the Isle of Janthir should be able to field a good sized zerg or two and have organized guilds tearing it up at most hours of the day – a more balanced state of affairs in theory than say a primarily Oceanic or NA or Euro server.

In theory, anyway. In practice, we might get wiped out at all times by a foe that can field a bigger zerg at certain times of the day larger than we can, but we’ll see. We got beat on by the Crystal Desert for a couple days since headstart, and Sanctum of Rall was also quite a nuisance, then on the fourth day or so, Isle of Janthir rallied and took the lead.

I had a truly thrilling moment that day because it was my first day in WvWvW and I decided to spend 30 silver, one third of my total fortune, to upgrade our garrison’s cannons. Some time later, Crystal Desert swept in, shattered the outer gate, and as a couple of us trying valiantly to hold off the zerg (our own zerg was elsewhere) fled to the inner gate, I dashed to one of the cannons (if I was going to lose those 30 silver, by god, I was going to put them to use at least once) and presumably a few other players dashed to the oil and the other cannon, and possibly 4-5 of us WIPED out the 30 strong zerg between our AoE cannon fire, that I doubt they were expecting (the gate shattered, they’re fleeing, let’s chase!) Those cannons were hitting for 6000hp a shot, beautifully gruesome.

Even better because it was so unexpected, I was sure we were doomed. But perhaps they ran out of supply to build a ram (not too many people seemed to have grasped the entire concept yet) and they stood in the courtyard in the open long enough for us to catch them in the crossfire, entirely surprising both sides, I guess.

Best 30 pieces of silver spent, ever.

Holding that garrison allowed our offensive zerg to crack open Etheron castle and snatch back the Orb of Power, and began the long sweep of Janthir recovery back across their own Borderlands and get a foothold into Eternal Battlegrounds. Later, Stonemist Castle was taken in a truly stupendous three-corner fight, which saw it changing hands from blue to green while us reds were still locked IN the castle, and wiped out, and rallied back with a second zerg attacking while the first zerg was still on the way back from being wiped out and overwhelming green, which hadn’t had time to get any defences up. Stonemist was proudly red when I logged off.

But goodness knows how things have gone today. I haven’t logged in yet. Things could and do change again in an instant.

Race

Charr. Gotta be. Maybe I’m a closet furry, I’ve always liked playing monster-looking races. I love the big gorilla hulk physique, and even better if it’s got fur, hunches forward and digitigrade legs. Then there’s the history and the lore. Since the days of Guild Wars, when everyone has to be a boring human, I’ve always wanted to play the more interesting monster enemies, Charr, Tengu, etc. To see how they’ve progressed from nearly naked fire-magic barbarism to an almost Saruman-level industrial tech in GW2’s Renaissance day is irresistible. They’re war-like, they’re soldiers, but they also have a “band of brothers” style honor and loyalty that makes them function entirely differently from humans, yet plausibly as an entirely different culture.

Origin and Background

I’ve seen all three Legions’ intro cinematic and they’re all fascinating. It’s been an agony to choose one to follow first, but I’m going with what I did on a whim in the beta weekend. A Blood Legion Guardian first, and an Iron Legion Warrior later, simply to avoid the common cliche of Blood Legion = Warrior. I’ll worry about Ash Legion later.

This makes the Guardian more Ferocious as he’s all about being up in the thick of things, fighting and bleeding, and the warrior can be either charming or dignified as I decide later, as a valuable cog in the great machine of war.

On the same whim, I gave him the background of having a sorcerous sire to explain his Guardian aspect of using magic and flames, and an interesting ‘weakness’ to the character, he’s always had to outgrow the stigma of having a traitorous sire that defected to the Flame Legion as a sorceror.

Appearance

Charracter avatar (pun intended)

I wanted him to stand out a little and look slightly different than most Charr so I went for an interesting white-gray fur color. Pure snow white was a bit too bright and weird for me, perhaps suitable for an albino style necromancer, but a very pale grey-white gave the look I wanted.

I love the heavy armor look in every MMO, lots of metal plates and I don’t mind extra large pauldrons or spikes either, so it was ideal that the class I chose got to wear heavy armor.

Working hard to get to 30/50 in the Hall of Monuments has really paid off, because it opens out some glorious vanity costume options to overlay on top of the merely “okay and presentable” lowbie armor styles. Most of the lowbie armor is a lot of chain and scale mail options, that frankly, only look good in browns and greys and metallic colors, with perhaps a touch of accent color here and there. In my opinion anyway. It’s decent, but it makes you a little drab and blends in with everybody else also wearing the same stuff.

Guild Wars heritage armor? Awesome. The GW1 warrior always got the  best-looking armor, in my way of thinking. It gives a more respectable plate and chainmail armor style in GW2, and I’ve successfully dyed it a dark ebony steel color, as well as the current bronzed look, which I think comes from a random midnight olive drop. I went for a red accent color to represent the Blood Legion, and autumn did fine until I got an almost intangibly slightly brighter red called um, sunset or sunrise, I think, which I used mostly because it wasn’t the default red.

Then there’s my slight fascination with fire and pyromania in MMOs. Since my City of Heroes days, when I chanced upon my dream fire/fire dominator class that got to shoot fire, melee it up with fire, and generally throw fire everywhere, I’ve gravitated to any excuse for fire every since. It just looks SO good.

So imagine my delirious joy to see that the 30/50 HoM point gives these BEAUTIFUL fire god vambraces that give one wristguards that are ON fire.

Sword and focus combination

Words also fail to describe how much I’ve wanted Prince Rurik’s flaming dragon sword since the days of Guild Wars 1, but never played a suitable class that could wield it for long. Ranger and paragon were my mains, and though I dabbled with a warrior in Factions and did give him a flaming dragon sword for a while, it was steadily more obvious that a triple chop axe build with cyclone axe and the works was a lot more effective in bunched up PvE gameplay, so, goodbye, sword on fire. *sobs*

My Guardian now is making up for that lack and it makes me SO HAPPY. (It also conveniently doubles up as a torch in dark caves. I am highly amused that I bring light wherever I go. Someday I should try the dark room in the WvWvW ultimate jumping puzzle dungeon and see if that sword makes a difference. It does also make it quite obvious and readable whenever I switch to ranged scepter – which also looks fantastic with the Wayward Wand skin and glows with a soft blue light as opposed to bright yellow light.)

Scepter and shield

I’m pleased to report that I’ve met a player of an Asura in game who ran past me with my flaming sword, did a double take and went “RYTLOCK, IZZAT YOU?”

And another player in WvWvW who asked what my real level was because my gear looked so impressive. I didn’t have the heart to tell him they were all HoM costume pieces, for fear of disappointing him. (On the bright side, I saw a level 50 player, much much higher than I, who looked like one of those Black Citadel guards in face-covering rhino helmet and all, so there’s still cool stuff ahead, don’t fret.)

Thank you for the compliments, they appeal to my vanity. I try to look cool, what’s an MMO for if not to doll up one’s character?

So nice of ArenaNet to make it possible to look cool from the very beginning as a lowbie. It’s a good reward, isn’t it? Stat-wise, nothing is different. I choose to stop every 5-10 levels to head to the HoM, claim the rewards that just transmute the appearance of the skin to whatever equipment I’ve got. It’s an interruption to leveling, so arguably, those who don’t care how they look don’t need to bother.  I do it for vanity’s sake.

I bet the exclusive dungeon reward skins should also have pretty good appeal if enough players think like me. If everyone runs around with a flaming sword, maybe you’d prefer to show off your, oh I dunno, Orrian dragon purple sparkling lightning sword or something? (Disclaimer: I have no knowledge of reward skins, I just pulled that out of my imagination.)

Class

Guardian, if you haven’t gathered by now. Why? “Because Guardians are OP.”

Nah, not really, though a lot of people seem to think that way, mostly because, I suspect, they tried to go 1 vs 1 PvP with a straight up uber damage build against builds that are by nature of the class damage+support, often in the form of buffs or some slight healing or condition removal. With their innate virtues, they also have a tide more regeneration as long as they don’t fire it off to heal others, and who would do that when you’re 1 vs 1?

Simple attrition warfare will tell you that a class with higher hp and more ways to self heal than thou has a distinct advantage in a straight up duel, assuming no one makes a mistake or is caught unawares, which aren’t the cases all the time in either WvWvW or structured PvP formats with an objective to fight over, rather than elimination of the opposing side. (There’s also having an extra ally turn up on your side that happens all the time in WvWvW.)

Anyway, Guardians are the dream class I’ve always wanted.

There are two general types of people in MMOs, those that prefer melee and those that prefer ranged (along with a hefty helping in the middle of the spectrum of hybrid  folks who like both and like to switch in and out between them.)

I’m distinctly on the melee-preferring side of things, though I enjoy the flexibility of a ranged option when I need to keep my distance or do pulling, etc. The Guardian gives me that opportunity as I can flip back and forth between scepter and sword, dodging in and out of melee range as I deem suitable.

I’ve also always liked tanking, but mostly for the support and control aspects of the role, rather than the awful responsibility of having to know a dungeon by heart and lead a group by their noses through every single damn pull and then sitting around and calling the mob names to keep the mob stuck to either tearing off your face as you stand there still as a stone either nigh impervious to harm (City of Heroes) or desperately trying not to die while praying your healers are on the ball (every other holy trinity MMO)  or biting your backside as you kite it around.

No, what I really enjoy about tanking is the ability to position mobs where you want them, to control their aggro (if only by biting your face off, rather than standing around dazed), to position my sturdy armor-encased self between harm and a softer squishier friend who would much rather I take the hit than him, thanks. It’s helping people, in a sense, it’s support by being situationally aware and controlling the situation.

And while I’ve never liked whack-a-mole healing in holy trinities, I rather enjoyed playing a dark defender in City of Heroes because it wasn’t all about topping off the green health bar (or red, in CoH’s case.) Yes, I had a heal, a strong self-based AoE heal that relied on me being able to position myself near a person in need and hit a mob with it in order to heal anyone near me. It was only one tool in the toolbox of all things support.

Other defenders had really strong buffs to make the team sneakily stronger, I had really strong debuffs to make the enemies sneakily weaker. Amusingly, it took a while for the playerbase to figure this out, it was never really obvious what the non-healing defender was doing on the team, but my goodness, when the defender went AFK or left, the team wiped or got into deep deep trouble doing the same thing they were doing previously. A bit of forums propaganda also helped to change the initial mindset around, along with no doubt, plenty of hard won experience faceplanting when the defender disappeared. Eventually, veteran players learned how to identify buffs and debuff anchors and appreciate them for what they were doing.

A dark defender was also a lot about control as well as support. It had a fear that you could throw on an entire spawn to negate alpha strikes (the in concert ranged retaliation from a whole group of mobs when first aggro’ed), you could LOS position an entire spawn of mobs through pulling with your debuff anchor and hiding around a corner so that they bunched up beautifully debuffed and harmless by the time they came to get you.

One of the things that was always missing in City of Heroes was a class that mixed melee damage and buffs-support. I couldn’t get my scrapper ninja desire going to sword someone in the face at the same time as I was performing support and control functions to protect the team.

I believe Guardians in GW2 are that perfect mix.

No, they aren’t as strong as City of Heroes support/control classes, where often, one control or support class played well – a tank, a defender, a dominator, a controller, a corruptor, a mastermind, whatever – can control the entire spawn of mobs for a team, allowing most of the others to slack off and not doing anything but hit damage buttons if they wanted. (More people playing well and support/controlling means faster, safer killing, of course.)

I think, in Guild Wars 2, the support/control of each class is tuned to only give 1/5 or 1/4 or at most, 1/3 of all the support/control actually needed by a team. I suspect at least 3 players have to be playing with support/control in mind in order to make things doable, and better still if everyone is on the same page. More on this later, I’ve only gone through the first dungeon four times now in PUGs, once successful in beta, one successful on Live (with umpteen wipes) and two failures on the Lovers, and the only thing that’s really obvious is everybody is not used to playing in a Guild Wars 2 way as yet and are still learning what they can do.

But Guardians, well, they sing to me. I went Greatsword guardian in beta, only switching to it when it was safe to leap in and do massive damage to the mob in melee, and then switching back to Scepter and Shield to plink away at range and control/buff. One thing became very obvious though, Greatsword guardians, while perhaps giving a scare and some unexpected burst damage in PvP to players who thought they had my number from seeing my teensy damage on a scepter, are rather squishy in PvE, they seem to pull a lot of aggro and hate the moment they leap into a thick clump of mobs and let fly, often ending the frenzy with a sliver of hp left – if you’re lucky. Perhaps it was also my gear build at the time, I went all out Power for lack of any more understanding.

On Live, I’ve taken a slightly different tack, helped along by the fact that I can’t live without my flaming dragon sword. The Fellblade just doesn’t look as cool. To my surprise, a sword doing fire damage is nearly as effectively offensive as a greatsword, though in more cone attack fashion rather than having a mutilate AoE clump option. I could have gone sword and board, but a shield’s two skills strike me as a primarily defensive option – including one dome pushback I still don’t entirely understand yet, especially how to ‘detonate’ it for healing.

A torch is the Guardian offensive offhand option. While it’s ludicrously fun for AoE damage, you haven’t lived until you’ve spat blue and orange flames like a flamethrower, it doesn’t help with survivability much besides the “kill them all before they get you” strategy.

So I went with the focus as my offhand, which seems a balanced mix of both defensiveness and offensiveness. Both skills can be used for either function. One shoots a straight ray that bounces, giving allies a heal over time (including myself) and damaging mobs. I haven’t mastered the art of healing any party member with it yet, alas, but I have a very good use for it. By being in a mob’s face and swording it, and firing it off, it bounces against the mob, doing damage, and right back into myself, healing me. A decent trickle heal that I’ve noticed allows me to stay in melee “tanking” the mob that bit longer – though honestly, with the way aggro flies from person to person, you can be in the mob’s face and he’ll still turn to shoot another player down, so I have no idea how to manage that except to fire a utility team regeneration buff if it isn’t still recharging, and hope the other players are themselves competent in some fashion and can mitigate their own damage.

The other skill is a shield that can take 3 hits from a mob, and if it doesn’t break, it explodes like an AoE damage bomb. It’s good for absorbing some hits, doing damage, and also combos with the other utility skill I like, Purging Flames (AoE damage field, plus condition removal to allies) to give a stack of three might buffs, which in turns adds to doing more damage on the mob with normal sword autoattacks.

I’ve also altered the stats on my gear a little since beta, mixing a healthy helping of Vitality into the mix along with Power. (I figure, if the WvWvW armor has Power and Vitality stats, there has to be a reason…) This has two positive uses, it increases my overall hp reservoir, giving myself a very decent buffer, and it also increases my healing power – which, since I didn’t want to be a gimpy healing Guardian standing at the back like a pathetic WoW paladin, I initially thought was rather useless and counter-productive, but I’ve since been convinced has the primary effect of helping ME survive by making my heals stronger, including stuff I can aim on myself, and the side bonus of helping others by providing an ever-so-slightly stronger trickle heal a secondary benefit.

I also threw in a bit of Toughness for the hell of it on my gear, to make myself more survivable but I’m really not sure if it’s the right thing to do. Toughness seems to match better with mace and two-handed hammer skills, which are more support defensive oriented, but I have no practice using them and my one attempt to do something with a hammer against the Lovers was really quite hard being unfamiliar with the skills.

I’ve been going Precision and conditional damage on my traits as it matches the offensive sword aspect more, and the Toughness traits are more useless to me. So the result is a neither here or there mix. Still primarily Power, with nearly equal high Vitality, a side helping of Toughness with Precision catching up, but both obviously secondary stats. It’s obvious if I specialized either I’d go more defensive or offensive respectively, but I really can’t decide as yet. Who knows, maybe being a flexible generalist is better for my solo playstyle.

I’m not sure I’ll ever find a good enough group to do the hardmode explorable dungeons anyway, but if I do chance across them, then we can spec as needed then. It’s Guild Wars, after all, where builds can be flexibly swapped to match the situation as needed, mixed with a side helping of WoW, where everything is easily reset by swapping gear and paying a small fee to the trainers.

Mind you, while offensive sword and focus is my preferred fighting style, I keep a scepter and shield on quick weapon switch. This lets me run in and whack mobs until my hp reservoir looks dangerously low (it’s better if I could read the combat animations a little better, some of them have dodgeable front attacks but I’m only 50/50 on successfully avoiding those as opposed to the clearer red aoe rings) then dodge right out, switching to a scepter and whacking an immobilize on it and plinking away, throwing defensive buffs on whoever else is near the mob now that I’m gone, regenerating and healing up until hp is back to full and I can go in and thwap the mob with my sword on FIRE once again.

I doubt the build is perfect. Or even if there is such a thing as a perfect build. All the other Guardian weapons and skills all look good too, to be honest. But I like it, and for now, it’s what I’m using because no one has figured out how to team synergize anything in PUGs yet. I doubt many of us even know what the other classes are capable of.

Eventually, I’m sure stuff will be figured out. All in good time though. It’s a new game, a new set of challenges, a place where no one -knows- anything for certain yet, the metagame is yet to be worked out, the world is big and broad and deep and ripe for exploration. There are so many things one could do. Life is good.