Diversity in PvP Game Modes Promotes Competitiveness

Stronghold

Diversity in PvP Game Modes Promotes Competitiveness

Guild Wars 2 has a history of lacking a variety of viable game modes when it comes to PvP.  Deathmatch and stronghold are two officially released game types, but their popularity is shaky in comparison to the conquest game mode.  In this article I will detail the strengths and weaknesses of competitive PvP interactions relative to the game type it exists in, and how these characteristics can be improved in new and old game types to renew a fondness for the combat system which many argue to be the selling point of Guild Wars 2.

First let’s look at conquest to see why it is the most popular game mode, but also why it can be stagnant.  The primary objective of conquest is to capture three nodes which creates interesting rotations and positioning choices.  As opposed to deathmatch or World of Warcraft arenas where team compositions are very closely knit, Guild Wars 2 conquest players can choose to isolate themselves in or avoid poor matchups that MMO class balance is prone to.  Originally Guild Wars 2 developers tested the deathmatch game mode and found that it promoted passive gameplay, disengaging and waiting for cooldowns to gain as much advantage as possible.  Capture points forced players to engage or forfeit the objective, leaving retreat as tactical rather than a try-again-until-you-win method. There are constantly 1v1s, 2v2s and 3v3s around the map which add elements of the WoW arenas to a strategic objective-based game mode.

The problem with conquest lies in the balancing of the primary and secondary objectives which completely dictates the strength of some classes and builds.  As players will primarily be fighting over capture nodes, the size of these nodes determines which builds will be strong.  Look at how neatly all of the scrapper’s AoE skills like thunderclap and acid bomb cover a capture point.  Dragonhunter traps can be reliably triggered when placed on a node.  Enemies are given the choice between taking the pressure or giving up the objective.

Secondary objectives like bosses and buffs give incentives to leave the capture points at the risk of losing presence on the nodes.  The more objectives there are, the more opportunities mobile skirmishers like revenants, thieves and mesmers have to pick off enemies in the roads.  However, in practice most players save the bosses on Forest of Niflhel for when there is idle time in a match instead of fighting over the buffs they give.  In DoTA style games, the jungle monsters are a resource under constant contention.  They lure players into risky positioning, but also provide so much value that failing to take advantage of them would be a detriment to one’s item progression and siege potential.  In Guild Wars 2 conquest, the secondary objectives definitely change the pace of the game.  Saving cooldowns to steal bosses, maneuvering around trebuchet fire and controlling buff areas, are some of the interactions beyond simple matchups that create diversity.  However, the secondary objectives can’t be too strong or the viability diversity shifts in the opposite direction.  Buffs on Temple of the Silent Storm can completely flip the outcome of games, but they can also lure people into over committing.  The lord on Legacy of the Foefire is too easy to rush with all five members and a mesmer portal,  and the trebuchet on Battle of Kyhlo became too weak when Heart of Thorns elite specializations began to power creep.

These issues were exacerbated when Spirit Watch and Skyhammer were originally released because specific skills dominated the map’s mechanics.  Leaps and superspeed mitigate the burden of running the orb in Spirit Watch.  Knockbacks, fears and pulls used to be a nuisance on Skyhammer.  Also the vertical spacing of the pathways makes Spirit Watch much more favorable to classes with blinks, especially dash daredevils could take advantage of the map’s mechanics if left unchecked.

With the new beta maps for Spirit Watch and Skyhammer the secondary mechanics are weakened.  The orb carrier no longer can use their skills and instead can use two new skills which are a ranged attack and a melee stun.  The self sustain of the carrier is much less now and requires support from teammates to carry the orb without risking handing the enemy the orb.  Because the orb can force points to be neutralized it creates situations where capture points are less valuable.  Players are forced to leave the nodes because they will lose them anyway if they relinquish control of the orb.  As opposed to before when Spirit Watch looked more like deathmatch because the orb was so valuable and hard to punish, now the orb has more risk and therefore more counterplay.  This is about as good as the capture the flag game mode can be with the Guild Wars 2 combat system.  When it is a secondary objective that can be played around, such as running ahead to neutralize nodes or allowing the enemy to pick up the orb to take advantage of the burdened orb carrier, the orb seems balanced.

Skyhammer was changed similarly to make the secondary objective less powerful and more of a choice to go to it for node neutralization.  The removal of the disappearing pads majorly changed how the primary objective works on Skyhammer.  While it did remove an aspect of the game for purely crowd control builds, overall this change is for the better as it makes many more builds viable on this map.  For now these beta maps seem more balanced.

From here it can be said that further diversity can be achieved just by creating new conquest maps with new balanced secondary objectives.  Imagine a Super Adventure Box PvP map with kiting spots like jumping puzzles.  The secondary objective could be  to pick up baubles around the map, kill other players to take theirs, and channel them at a shrine that is out in the roads.  When either team channels a certain amount of baubles at the shrine, two bosses will spawn and fight at each of the side nodes.  This secondary objective would affect the whole match as far as game play but would usually only occur later in the match, allowing for comebacks.  As mentioned before, DotA style games have plenty of secondary mechanics, and it’s not harmful to the competitive aspect when these are PvE or AI mechanics.  The complexity of these interactions comes from reacting to the consequence of another player’s actions.  Only when AI represents the actual player’s actions is when it becomes uninteractive.

ArenaNet designed stronghold to diversify the PvP game types with the idea of purely support builds to protect the valuable NPCs, mobile builds to run supply, and sieging builds to pressure an objective from afar.  Unfortunately there are balance issues with the scoring system which promotes passive play.  Although stronghold was designed to be a strategic progression of defending and sieging a lord; in an attempt to allow stalled games to finish with a scoring timer ArenaNet made turtling strategies possible. The close location of spawn points to lord rooms make defending so convenient that there is little other choices to do when your lord is under attack.  The reward for pushing into the enemy base to kill NPCs that do not respawn does not outweigh the risk of giving away permanent score for player kills.

The recent changes to stronghold where mist champions gain health and damage exponentially the more you summon them makes it easier to end the game against a really strong defense.  While this makes the game mode less passive, it lowers the potential for a comeback.  Players will still be given the incentive to defend their lord off of respawn, but they will eventually be overrun by the snowballing mist champions. And because mist champions give points, turtling strategies can still avoid sieging the enemy base and just farming mist champions and player kills until the timer runs out.

As we can see, the same issue of passive gameplay seen in deathmatch exists in stronghold when the primary objective is not balanced with the secondary objectives.  In the case of conquest the primary objectives are a little too valuable while in stronghold the primary objective is not valuable enough. Despite a controversial response from the community, stronghold has potential to be a diverse and competitive game mode.  Relocating spawn points to more aggressive positions and introducing more methods to open doors or more methods to protect door breakers would reduce the risk of offensive pushes and allow for more counterplay.  Otherwise stronghold introduced the potential for a variety of build options to accompany the many different roles associated with the offensive/defensive lanes, mist essence capturing, and terrain fighting.

So by balancing the objectives of a game mode or map, it can alleviate some of the stale balancing of classes.  This can be seen in the differences between popular PvE, WvW and PvP builds.  Even though it is possible to run the same build in all three game types, the objectives and activities of each dictate very differently which builds are appropriate.  By introducing new environments and activities to explore it can make apparent some of the intricacies and diversity already existing in the game.

Previous Guild Wars 2 Power Rankings 4/14/2016
Next Guild Wars 2 Power Rankings 4/20/2016

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