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.


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.

An Elegy For WAR

Chaos swallows all things in the end...

In the beginning
there was the blogosphere
much furor and fanfare
And “bears, bears, bears”

a public war waged
on goldsellers and bots
Banhammer wielded
with nary a thought

My Marauder was cool
his multipurpose arm
a triple-changing tool


But asymmetry and class balance
mixed much like oil and water
Bright Wizards and Warrior Priests
Need more be said?
Lambs to a slaughter

Thematically, Destruction
an alliance of disparate parts

fit much like an orc in a pleasure house

Petty, pretty Legolases

Why would they fly their banner with brutes?

For Chaos, the glory of naked men

The Tome of Knowledge
Inspired, but ill-explored
PvPers do not read
Thick encyclopedias


Public quests, much publicized
held hostage to the holy trinity
seen only by local leveling eyes

Castle sieges promised splendour

But the machinery proved merely scenery

How were we to defend from that?
If only I had a superior arrow cart...

So two zergs ate each others’ leavings
but never met

Yes, once, there were zergs

but Oceania is ever whimsical
and the crowds washed away
in mere months
lag and engine troubles
ended an endgame
‘ere it bloomed

The players left the open world
for closeted playgrounds
fun in short spurts
Scenarios full of sound and fury
signifying very little in the end


Six levels shy of max
I asked myself
if there was reason to repeat
more of the same
to simply increment a number
for the sake of slaying someone
with an even higher number

The rest is history


T’was only sound on paper
It did not do well, crushed
between an age of barbarians and winged daevas
attracting attention away


The problem with subscriptions
For most, there can be only one


Spec Ops: The Line – Random Thoughts

Just finished Spec Ops: The Line.


I’ll try to avoid spoiler-ing anything here, because the game is indeed worth playing through for the atmosphere, the moral dilemmas set up in individual scenes, and some thoughtful thematic questions raised about war and what can possibly happen to soldiers and civilians in a situation where there are no clear-cut “good” choices.

Some of my screenshots are from later parts of the game, but I have tried to put them out of any kind of context whatsoever.

Just be warned that its overall theme is pretty much… War is hell.

Laying on the symbolism a bit thickly, are we?
Laying on the symbolism a bit thickly, are we?

And war, war never changes… (To quote another neat game.)

How to describe it then?

Narrative-wise, there’s a touch of Planescape: Torment with, unfortunately, a lot more plot holes and significantly more linear railroading. There’s some Heavy Rain flavor in one or two scenes, (no QTEs, don’t panic,) but I wish there was more.

It's not Heavy Rain. I swear. There's a certain eerie similarity of beard and likeness, perhaps.
It’s not Heavy Rain. I swear. There’s a certain eerie similarity of beard and likeness, perhaps.

One of my nitpicks is that in certain scenes, you are forced by the game into taking certain actions, or else the game simply doesn’t progress. I’m not so fond of that kind of narrative, it’s a bit of a lazy cop out. As gamers, we tend to do whatever the game requests us in order to see the end. Playing with moral and ethical questions regarding something the game railroaded us into doing… well, it’s a bit of a cheap trick in order to reap emotional impact – sorta like how horror game tropes are always play with lighting, play with pacing, play with scary sounds and flash something HORRIBLE onto the screen for a split second. Yeah, it gets a reaction out of us, but it’s been done.

It was interesting to observe my reactions as I played through the game. Knowing it was a game about morality, at first, I tried to be very careful about my actions. I never fired first. I waited for people to shoot at me before firing back in self-defence.

One of the nicer vignettes near the beginning with moral implications. They're not actively opposing you. Do you kill them in cold blood? Order your squad to do it for you, so your hands aren't personally dirty? Or do you give them a chance to fight back by alerting them then shoot them while they're holding a firearm pointed at you?
One of the nicer minor vignettes near the beginning with some moral implications. They’re not actively opposing you. Do you kill them in cold blood? Order your squad to do it for you, so your hands aren’t personally dirty? Or do you give them a chance to fight back by alerting them then shoot them while they’re holding a firearm pointed at you? Don’t think sneaking past peacefully is an option in this game though.

I even managed to avoid killing a civilian, who in one of those cheap-ish designer tricks does a sudden jack-in-the-box act in front of you, and you’re carrying a loaded gun in the midst of a firefight. (It was a near thing the first time though, I fired bullets into the floor near their feet from a combined sheer reaction of EEP and WAIT, NOT-TARGET, which was kind of fascinating to have happen.)

I like what they've done with this option game-wise. Sometimes when you shoot enemies, they don't die immediately, but are still alive and may shoot back. Or simply lie there groaning.You can choose to kill them. And opposite to Bioshock, you get an in-game reward of ammo for the guns you're currently carrying - as well as a violent execution animation sequence. There was also a neat touch where the executions got very brutal after certain plot points, as contrasted with the start of the game.
I like what they’ve done with this option game-wise. Sometimes when you shoot enemies, they don’t die immediately, but are still alive and may shoot back. Or simply lie there groaning.
You can choose to kill them. And opposite to Bioshock, where the goody-goody path is the obvious optimal choice in the long term, here, you get an in-game reward of ammo for the guns you’re currently carrying – as well as a violent execution animation sequence.
There was also a neat touch where the executions appeared to get more brutal after certain plot points, as contrasted with the start of the game, reflecting the state of mind the main character is in.

Unfortunately, after a couple railroading tricks where the main character acts in a way beyond my control, I started to sense that there was a narrative ride we were being sent on, like it or nay, and it began turning into a problem-solving exercise of getting to the next plot checkpoint, since I didn’t have any real options until I got to certain scripted scenes where I could choose stealth/shoot or one of two or three possible paths through a moral dilemma.

I would have much rather been faced with situations where there are no good choices, and you simply have to take one based on the available information you have, and deal with the consequences of your possibly failed intentions. (There were a few places in Spec Ops where they did appear to be trying for this, which was nice.)

The other nitpick is the story unravels a little at the end to become extremely ambiguous and open to multiple possible interpretations. Minor spoiler warning: It’s basically the ol’ unreliable narrator gimmick. Anything and everything might have been a dream after all. Oh, don’t get me wrong. The multiple endings end rather artistically. It’s not at all as bad as Indigo Prophecy where you end up going “da fuck?” after a certain point, but there’s a teensy degree of it where you’re still left trying to glue several story threads together attempting to have it make unified coherent sense. (I haven’t quite accomplished it, to be honest.)

That said, it’s a shooter that attempts to tell a very -different- kind of story about war.

If only for that, playing through the experience is worth it.

But I bought the game though. So I may as well play it to the bitter end, rather than choose not to play, eh?Still, in a sea full of shooters who don't even bother to reflect on deeper themes of war, a slightly incoherent, forced perspective commentary is better than none.
But I bought the game though. So I may as well play it to the bitter end, rather than choose not to play, eh?
Still, in a sea full of shooters who don’t even bother to reflect on deeper themes of war, a slightly incoherent, forced perspective commentary is better than none at all.