If you’ve played massively multiplayer games for any length of time and dabbled in player versus player combat, you’ll likely have your favourite maps or modes across a variety of games. In my case, Arathi Basin (World of Warcraft), Nordenwatch (Warhammer Online), Sabotage (WildStar), Outpost Wars (Neocron) and Guild versus Guild (Guild Wars) are high on the list as my most loved.
When it comes to Guild Wars 2's PvP, I think it’s fair to say that the Capture Point mechanic has served the game well but not necessarily at its best. As a result of this game mode and despite some wonderfully designed maps (Khylo, Niflhel and Temple of the Silent Storm) it’s plagued by a few problems.
The first is that a Capture Point game mode inherently encourages players to pursue builds that are “tanky” with the need to survive on a point - to wrestle control of it - critical to succeeding: bunker builds and the Celestial Meta has become so prevalent that few other builds are used. The second problem is the fact that the need to be mobile, in order to quickly rotate Capture Points, is key to any teams success. Being slow and having little access to swiftness, leaps or teleports is going to serve you and your team badly. This further leads to classes such as the Warrior, Engineer and Elementalist, who have readily available access to such tools, doing incredibly well. Lastly, I would argue that the Capture Point game mode, while fun to watch and play, it never feels truly feels tactically deep. I’m not suggesting there aren’t tactics available in this game mode or that build synergy isn’t important, but fundamentally it has few layers.
As I found out at Rezzed last week when playing alongside Isaiah Cartwright and John Corpening, this is where Guild Wars 2: Heart Of Thorns’ latest structured PvP game mode comes in. For anyone unaware, Stronghold is a blending of existing World versus World and PvP mechanics (supply, trebuchets and using NPC’s) combined with some MOBA principals (lanes and protecting your lord). Unlike the Control Points of the existing game mode, Stronghold’s objective is to break through the opposing teams gate and defeat their Lord. Whomever does this first is declared the winner. On paper, it’s pretty straight forward but as I found out, it’s far from easy to overthrow the opposition.
Supply is the lifeblood of Stronghold and controlling it is paramount to your teams success. Based in the centre of the map, Supply is used to command two attacking forces:
- Doorbreakers which are used to destroy the enemy gates and do not attack other units
- Archers which attack both units and gates
Without Supply, you’ll be unable to summon either of these forces and as a result, you won’t be able to break through the enemies gate. ArenaNet have been really clever in the design and use of Supply because they’ve made it a real tug of war mechanic. Players can’t harm the oppositions gate, meaning the fight for supply is frantic and incredibly important. The fact players who are carrying Supply can drop it, for the opposing team to collect, is also a clever addition because even if you haven’t directly gained control of the Supply area, you’re able to still gather it should you intercept carriers. Where the attacking forces are concerned, protecting them is also incredibly important because their walk to the opposing gate is long and without support, they’ll die quickly. Fortunately you can use swiftness near them to speed up their movement or better yet, you can cloak them so that they disappear entirely from view.
Where the map size and layout is concerned, I actually thought it felt like the original Wizard’s Isle. It’s use of crumbling terrain and greenery, combined with non-linear walkways to navigate the map, make it feel large but also incredibly tactical. Better yet, because of the map size players are forced to separate in order to protect attackers, gather supply and press the opposition. Unlike in existing maps where Thieves or Elementalists could traverse a map in seconds, it really can’t happen here.
One of my early concerns relating to the need to kill the opposing Lord and controlling Supply was the power of Turret Engineers and how they’re incredibly powerful at locking down a single area. A team with two Turret Engineers, locking down their Lord room or the Supply area filled me with dread. Fortunately ArenaNet have thought of this and have implemented Heroes. These allies once summoned will make their way to the furthest point that the team has progressed to. If that happens to be the Lord room, they’ll use an ultimate attack that deals enormous damage, knocking down all those around it. Best of all, if you’re fighting within the Heroes radius, you’ll receive a defensive and damage bonus, allowing you and your team to uproot teams that are turtling hard.
If your team do manage to break into the Lord room, you’ll find he’s surrounded by some tough guards. Soloing him is highly unlikely but it’s possible, as I found out, to thin out his entourage to make future attacks much easier. When we did eventually down the enemy Lord, we actually ended up wiping and the enemy team resurrected him. He was on half half and his guards were down, but his team were also able to splash heal him. It seems that making an assault and failing miserably will put you at a significant disadvantage - it allowed our opposition to regroup, kill our Attackers and make a push with Doorbreakers.
Yoyoing in this fashion, I suspect, is going to be a key part of Stronghold until one team has all their cards stacked, at which point defeating the Lord is going to be an all out damage rush. Matches are especially exciting if both teams doors are down as it means you’re even more stretched to kill the opposition, protect your lord and capture supply.
What excites me the most about Stronghold after my brief hands on impressions is the fact that before I played it, it was likely I’d stop playing Guild Wars 2’s PvP when Gigantic was released and instead only playing its new PvE content. I’ve sunk thousands of hours into its structured PvP and even climbed as high as 77th on the Leaderboard, but there’s always been something missing. Stronghold feels like a game mode I could sink my time into because there’s so many variables thanks to the mechanics of play.
- If I want to aid my team in just escorting Attackers and designing my build around that, I can do it.
- If I want a stealth heavy build for hiding Supply carriers, I can do it.
- If I want a build that’s splash heal heavy with lots of shields to protect the Lord, I can do it.
Better yet, my gut instinct tells me the Meta is going to be completely different to that which currently exists. Classes such as Shoutbow Warriors or Celestial Elementalists will still be great here, but I suspect Staff Elementalists, Longbow Rangers and Power Necromancers will play a huge part due to a variety of things that they bring, whether it’s a range advantage due to the map size or sheer burst damage to nuke the Lord down.
Overall, then, I’m hugely happy with Stronghold. Other games have been pulling me away from Guild Wars 2’s PvP in recent weeks but what ArenaNet have delivered here is a competitive game mode that has enough variables to not only create match diversity but draw me back. Does it match up to the fun of the original Guild versus Guild? It’s too early to tell: five versus five works great and I suspect 10 versus 10 would certainly be viable on the map size. It’d certainly see players abandoning Obsidian Sanctum in favour of Stronghold. I can’t wait to dive back in and see exactly how far the Guild Wars 2 PvP community this new mode.
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