In the first part of our interview with Louden and Falconer of Condemned, we discussed the guild’s decision to make the switch from SWTOR to GW2, some of their goals as a guild in the game, and their thoughts on the current guild system.
During our discussions we also dug deeply into the mechanics of structured PvP, including an interesting look at the pros and cons of melee vs. ranged builds based on the first beta weekend event. The following discussion is one that fans of Guild Wars 2’s structured PvP won’t want to miss!
Sardu: What are your thoughts overall on the Conquest game type?
Falconer: As a mode, conquest has always been one of the most interesting types of PvP simply because there is an objective that requires strategy, communication, and cooperation. When you’re looking at a 3 point match, it definitely requires adapting not just to the proficiencies of individual players, but to how they work as a team. That’s just smart design.
It’s also smart design when matches themselves get more intense, rather than less intense as a game goes on. With a three point capture map, as the point total gets closer and closer to 500, the tempo of the game increases.
What ArenaNet has done is interesting in that they have taken the strengths of the three point capture conquest mode, and added some additional innovations to it which we think are going to be really successful, particularly in the e-sports format.
The first of those is that you are awarded points for killing people. At 5 points, that’s a fairly substantial advantage when you kill someone, especially given that it’s balanced with the fact that time to kill in GW2 is significantly higher than time to kill in most MMOs. Without that in place, things aren’t quite as balanced, because you can stack a heavily defensive team that is able to push crowd control, capture points, and then just hold those points.
The one thing we’re not totally sure about is the incorporation of secondary objectives. It’s going to be interesting to see what the other maps have in place as well, but the objectives add some additional strategy which – particularly for a 5v5 match – there is more to do in the maps than you have players available for.
Louden: The only other concern we have would be the map design itself. So far the maps that have been released in the open beta require you to cap them in close quarters, so that’s basically how the combat works. There’s no traditional mechanic where you have to actually be pressing something that could be interrupted to flip the points; it just happens if you stand on it.
That’s always going to better work out for melee or a defensive melee comp when you have the map areas condensed.
Sardu: When I talked to Jon Peters last month at PAX East, he spent a long time discussing how the downed state is going to factor heavily into structured PvP, at least more than many people might expect. Do you feel that will be the case?
Falconer: The downed state itself is brilliant. We definitely feel it adds just another level of tactics, both for the player that’s been downed and his teammates, as well as the offensive team.
There’s just a whole lot of situational awareness that comes into play. Do you revive your teammate immediately, or do you try to finish off the attacker? And for the attacker, do you try to spike the teammate that’s been downed, or do you focus on dealing with their teammates’ attacks, or even trying to get a second kill in before doing the spike? There is just a whole lot of in-the-moment execution-based decision making that we think is brilliant.
Sardu: I’m sure you’ve noted that each profession has traits that specifically factor in revival in some form or another. What are your thoughts on their current implementation, or even the downed abilities themselves?
Falconer: As far as the downed abilities, the way they have those implemented we could see some potential balance problems. Again, we’ll have to see how the meta develops here. But for example, the thief’s smoke bomb downed ability is currently so much better than most of the downed abilities. Similarly the ranger’s pet heal can be exceptional if they get the pet pathing errors fixed. They’re probably going to need to do another balance pass around the downed abilities themselves.
With the traits, we really want another couple of beta experiences to really nail down our theory-crafting. There are a whole bunch of interesting traits which are very situational in use. The downed ability traits are one example, or the ones that create X ability on fall damage, or the ones that use Y ability at 25% health are some others. They’re very interesting, but also entirely situational.
So it’s going to be interesting to see, as 5v5 strategy develops, the extent to which those situational abilities are useful vs. the traited abilities that would make sense in the vast majority of situations. I think our take now is that it’s still too early to tell, but at the same time we think that given how situational some of the abilities are, they are probably underpowered in comparison to the slotted traits that would make an impact in a wide variety of situations.
Louden: Although it’s not quite up to par yet, we also feel that the downed system doesn’t feel like an afterthought, and ArenaNet really put some thought into it. And we like anything that makes the game more competitive and complex, and requires more thought.
Sardu: What do you think will be the biggest factors in regards to solid 5v5 team composition, at least initially?
Falconer: If ArenaNet does their jobs right it’s going to become a lot less about professions, and more about the specifics of role and build. For example, you can see a lot of similarities right now in terms of greatsword warriors, greatsword rangers, and greatsword guardians. I don’t think things are perfectly balanced; I think we all know about warriors being slightly overpowered at the moment, and potentially greatsword rangers as well. But it’s interesting that all three of those professions are filling a very particular and very similar niche.
So my sense is that it’s going to be quite a bit less about professions than it was in GW1, and much more about the specifics of role, and how those roles synergize.
Sardu: It’s definitely been interesting following some of the discussions about certain builds – specifically warriors and rangers - following the BWE.
Falconer: They made a smart choice that melee was going to do a lot more damage - both sustained as well as burst - than ranged. You’re obviously losing time on target, and you’re also losing some of the defensive utility that ranged professions have historically provided in MMOs. Quite frankly that’s the reason that, in the vast majority of MMOs, for PvP ranged takes precedent over melee.
There’s a reason that, even in Guild Wars right now, you go into a Random Arena and – monk’s aside – the comps that are dominating are mesmers, Melandru’s Shot or Burning Arrow rangers, and elementalists.
What’s interesting is that the maps that they have set up in GW2 are much more melee friendly. You’re dealing with tight quarters and cap spaces that favor melee professions that can stand within them. So all of the sudden the utility of melee and the damage output becomes greater than that of ranged, because of the association with point capping. The maps are also very closed off, small, have lots of alleyways, etc.
My sense is that unless they make some changes, 5v5 is going to be predominantly a melee-based game. I think that’s the reason you’re seeing so much QQ from elementalists in Guild Wars 2 regarding their survivability right now. Elementalist survivability isn’t all that bad if they can manipulate range in the wide open spaces with the various movement utilities they have. But in those small quarters with their very low defense and low health they just get destroyed because the map is not favoring them.
Sardu: I tend to agree when it comes to point defense favoring melee right now. I haven’t seen the maps used to their full advantage when it comes to flipping points in the beta so far, however. In most cases, that actually clearly favors ranged in terms of the ability to use structures and elevations to their full advantage. In some cases, full melee builds simply can’t touch ranged attackers due to a physical obstruction of some sort.
That said, fighting off point is only going to get you so far. For example, in the BWE I spent a lot of time testing the viability of various necro builds. So while my personal preference is to play very aggressively in melee range, I also spent a lot of time running corruptions and minion master builds.
While the minion master may be great for crowd control currently, all it really took was a semi-skilled greatsword ranger to swoop down on me and rip me apart as soon as I attempted to use that build to defend points. So in that sense playing the necro as a ranged profession put me at a very severe disadvantage when it came down to point capping and defense.
Falconer: I spent quite a bit of time testing between both greasword ranger and longbow ranger. Right now the longbow ranger in 5v5s doesn’t hold a candle to greatsword ranger, or even a sword / warhorn or axe / warhorn ranger simply because of the close quarters. Which isn’t to say they’re bad; it’s just that in the 5v5 maps you just aren’t bringing the damage output or the ability to control points as ranged professions.
The one ranged profession that we do see working pretty well right now – surprisingly – is a shortbow / dual pistol thief. They just have so many control options through the blinds, the poisons, and especially the dazes and stuns. There is a whole lot that they can do to prevent people from escaping. And since so much of the 5v5 maps is about getting out when you get into trouble, the ranged options on the thief are just really exceptional.
So if we were ArenaNet, I think we would say you either need to level out the damage, shift the way point capture works on the maps to be more beneficial to ranged, tone down the burst of melee a bit, or add a lot more control options to the various ranged builds.
Sardu: Heading into the BWE it seemed like the thief was very underrated. A lot of people didn’t think it seemed powerful enough compared to a lot of the other professions. But it’s interesting seeing how a lot more people seem to be getting very excited about the thief following the event.
Having played the ranger quite a bit, what are your thoughts on pets currently? In my experience, at least for PvP, melee pets are mostly a speed bump and spend more time dead than contributing anything to a given fight.
Falconer: I have to say I’m pretty surprised by this. Guild Wars has by far some of the best pet / companion AI that I’ve ever seen. If you take a look at seven-hero builds or whatever, the hero’s pathing and AI is near-flawless.
So it’s surprising to me that same functionality – especially given that it’s built on the same engine – hasn’t translated over to minions and pets in Guild Wars 2. I’m confident that they’ll fix it but that was definitely shocking to me to see that this was one of the major problem areas.
Sardu: One of ArenaNet’s goals with structured PvP in Guild Wars 2 is to see it become a viable e-sport; not just your typical MMO endgame diversion in other words. Based on your experiences with it so far, do you feel GW2 has what it takes to rise to that level of competition?
Falconer: I think we’re pretty optimistic about that. In Guild Wars there were a lot of smart design choices, and I think ArenaNet has learned a lot from development of their first game like all of the skill balancing that went into it.
First is the notion that professions are built around a theme, rather than a particular role or playstyle like we’ve seen in previous MMOs. One of the interesting things here is that despite the fact that there are limits on what you’re able to do at any given time based on how you have your weapon sets, your utility skills, and even your elite and traits set up, there is so much customization within each profession.
So you can play a ranged thief, or a melee ranger, or even a more melee-centric elementalist. Every profession should be able to have at least a couple of viable flavor-of-the-month types of builds.
Obviously the reason that MMOs in arena settings have not been particularly successful in previous games – I’m thinking specifically the WoW arena and why it failed to meet the MLG standard over time – has had to do with a couple of different things. It’s mostly balancing, but also the way that they have set up the e-sports tournament itself.
So in WoW, for example, the arena was death match. Things get a lot different when it’s a point capture scenario. With point capture a whole variety of different roles and specializations come into play, such as a support Guardian for example. Whereas with World of Warcraft, what Blizzard was required to do to insure that it would work in an e-sport fashion, is to insure that all the classes were balanced in terms of output, utility, etc. Even then there were comps which, for each season, rose to the top.
We saw clear issues during the weekend that we think will need to be rebalanced and restructured before Guild Wars 2 can truly enter that balanced phase of MLG competition. There is a lot of dialog going on right now on the forums about the balance between ranged vs. melee. Some of the professions’ utility definitely appears to be higher than the others, but we’re confident that they’ll be able to work that out, especially given all of the experience they had balancing the skills in GW1.
Once again we wanted to thank Louden and Falconer of Condemned for taking the time to talk with us about the guild, and share their thoughts on the current state of structured PvP in Guild Wars 2!