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Hands On: Spirit Watch

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February 26, 2013 - 6:00am -- Xerin
Guild Wars 2 Spirit Watch

Spirit Watch is the latest addition to the Guild Wars 2 structured PvP roster. If it’s one thing that is evident from the moment you start, is its verticality which is much greater than that of Temple of the Silent Storm. Second only to this is the fact that Spirit Watch is absolutely stunning to look at.

While it might be traditionally norn in architecture and design, the green grass of the foothills that line the slopes up to the capture points give it a fresh spring feeling, as if the snow has been washed away with the arrival of a new season.

Guild Wars 2 Spirit Watch

This spring feeling is quickly replaced however by a map that will likely transpire as one of the bloodiest and aggressive of all those available. You might think that the implementation of a new mechanic to accompany the capture point system would bloat what is already a streamlined process, but it actually compliments it exceptionally well. The comparisons between running an orb to a capture point and capture the flag are unavoidable and yet ArenaNet have managed to blend the two rather seamlessly.

For those that love the traditional simplicity of capture the flag, you’ll feel right at home here as it’s a role you can focus entirely on. The tactical flexibility comes about by the fact that the orb can be claimed at any of the three capture points (Raven, Wolf and Bear) and if the capture point already belongs to you, you’ll receive a score boost, but if it doesn’t, it neutralizes the point instantly.

Guild Wars 2 Spirit Watch

This poses several tactics for your team:

  1. Should we focus on the orb?
  2. Should we have a dedicated orb runner?
  3. Who will accompany them?
  4. How can we defend them?
  5. Shall we use the orb to force bunkers off control points?

There is no right and wrong here and it’s more than possible to win by still holding capture points.  The orb is, like other structured PvP map mechanics, another factor to consider. Neglet the orb entirely though and you’re likely to see the opposing team spike in points, but focus too much on it and they’ll likely run rings around you.

What is clear is the fact that bunker builds and mesmer portals will yet again be the focus here. As the orb reduces your speed by 40%, the ability to survive for long periods of time is key (it also nullifies swiftness boons and signets). This causes the map to often feel congested as players rush the orb carrier, hitting them with as many cripples, snares and knockdowns as possible. It can be incredibly frustrating to see a guardian tank four players using all they have, only to still see them still reach the capture point. How I wish for deep wound.

Guild Wars 2 Spirit Watch

Inevitably this is a wider balance issue and one ArenaNet really need to put right, as like other structured PvP maps, the use of bunker professions and portals is strangling creativity and build flexibility.

Excluding bunkers and the constant use of portal to navigate quickly (we now know portals can't be used by the orb carrier), Spirit Watch shows signs of a creative team truly getting to grips with their own development method and design ideas. In many ways, Spirit Watch makes Khylo and Niflhel look very static and simplistic because of its new mechanic, although I can understand such sentiments might be heresy to some people.

With the removal of paid tournaments and with Spirit Watch going straight into the tournament roster (as I was informed by ArenaNet) it’s going to be very interesting to see which professions do and don’t lend themselves to the map. Bunker guardians, portal mesmers and trapper rangers are already incredible here, though I wish I had the time to test whether a thief is capable of using Infiltrators Arrow while carrying the orb. It might finally give them a huge boost in tournament teams.

If I were to rank Spirit Watch against all the other maps, it unquestionably surpasses both Foefire and Niflhel, and sits comfortably on the top spot alongside Temple of the Silent Storm (which remains my personal favourite) with Khylo somewhere in the middle.