The Good, The Bad And The Ugly Of Guild Wars 2's PvP
I do not envy any company wishing to enter into the Player versus Player scene. There’s a reason why this competitive corner of massively multiplayer games is known as a cesspool because all too often those whos take part in this aspect of the game fulfill the stereotype. From a personal perspective, I’ve always loved PvP. It offers gameplay that can’t possibly recreated in a PvE environment and while there is some douchebaggery, I honestly think it’s worth putting up with for the enjoyment on offer. As for Guild Wars 2, I’ve always enjoyed its PvP but I also think it’s fair to say that it never reached the lofty heights that were promised during its pre launch hype. Does that mean Guild Wars 2’s PvP is bad? Absolutely not. How does it fair however, in comparison to its competition? I’ve started to find out.
For anyone who isn’t aware, until recently I’d taken at least a 6 month break from Guild Wars 2. I’d covered the game since June 2011, was fortunate to be part of the closed Beta and had played and covered the game almost exclusively until a few months ago. I needed the break and having played much of the competition in the mean time, I still believe there’s very little out there to challenge Guild Wars 2.
During my time away from Guild Wars 2 I spent a lot of time covering WildStar. While the game isn’t perfect, it prides itself on its telegraph based combat system. I have to admit I’m a huge fan of it and there’s something uniquely brilliant about never having to tab-target anyone. While there are some skills which require targeting (primarily single use heals) for the most part your ability to hurt your opponent is entirely reliant on your aim. Some telegraphs are certainly generous in their size and shape (making it difficult to actually miss with them) while others require high levels of accuracy. I honestly thought I’d struggle to move back to Guild Wars 2 because although it has cleaving and ground targeting, there are an abundance of skills that auto-track the opponent once you have them selected. Fortunately, it didn’t take me long to get used to Guild Wars 2’s combat again and I realised there’s actually a lot about it which I missed.
It’s the little things I took for granted which when not there, really take you by surprise. The fact your character reacts to receiving a certain condition so that you don’t have to constantly look at your debuffs is something I didn’t realise I missed so much. Seeing your character limp when crippled or hearing him say “I feel cold” is such a brilliant addition. I often spent more time in WildStar looking at my debuff bar than I did at combat to ascertain what was actually happening to me. On the subject of debuffs, the conditions and boons are beautifully clear in Guild Wars 2. It’s so refreshing to instantly know what’s affecting you whether positive or negative as it provides clear understanding on how you should react.
The biggest thing for me, though, is the level playing field. To know that no opposing player is statistically better than you because every player has access to every single item you do, is still a masterstroke. I’m baffled as to why more games don’t do this and I still think it’s the crowning jewel of Guild Wars 2’s PvP. While there might be some balance issues (I’ll discuss those shortly) it has a brilliant framework. In contrast, I never felt games such as WildStar were ever inherently fair because gear creep always played a major part. When you know that your opponent has 10 or 15% additional damage output than you, there’ll never be a period where you think a fight is fair. Instead, there’ll always be the niggle in the back of your mind as to whether they were better than you (if you were beaten) or if it was the gear they were wearing that was doing all the work.
There’s 3 other things which I think Guild Wars 2 does brilliantly. Its Point Capture mode (and its only mode) is either loved or loathed. The reason why I still love it after all this time is because it avoids many of the pitfalls that plague World versus World’s combat. In WvW “balling” is absolutely mandatory for large scale fights and in Structured PvP, I’m convinced that if capture points didn’t exist, this approach to combat would also become prevalent: it’s neither fun to watch nor is it particularly fun to play.
The second thing I still love is the Limited Action Set and while it certainly isn’t unique to Guild Wars 2 and the Meta for each class is narrow, its shown over the years as ArenaNet make tweaks and changes to skills and traits, to have a lot of flexibility. Unlike in WildStar (I’m sorry to keep pointing the finger at this game) but it often felt like there was too little thought into using your skills: if they were off cooldown, you should use them. Where Guild Wars 2 is concerned, although it’s a far cry from the intricacies of Guild Wars 1, there’s still a depth here to skill use. When should I use my heal? When should I cleanse these conditions? When is the right time to spike or use my elite? When should I use this interrupt? These choices, while obvious, matter a great deal if you’re to ever be anything more than a mediocre player.
Lastly, it has to be the addition of the new reward tracks. I managed to level a Necromancer all the way to 80 in very little time and along the way, obtained plenty of gold and items. Better yet, it provided me with some flexibility in terms of what gear I wanted for my Necromancer or for one of my various alts. Most importantly of all, the new reward track provides continued incentive to play PvP without needing to venture into PvE. I can get money, items and cosmetic armor just from doing something I really enjoy.
If there’s anything bad about Guild Wars 2’s PvP it’s some dubious balance between the skill ceiling on classes and the overall balance of certain builds. I have 6 level 80 characters (Mesmer, Necromancer, Elementalist, Thief, Engineer and Ranger). It’s fair to say that the skill ceiling on my Ranger using Longbow and Greatsword and my Engineer using Turrets and Rifle is at rock bottom. It requires almost no thought and besides some minor positioning, it’s relatively easy to burst anyone down in a matter of seconds. In contrast, to play a Terrormancer or Mesmer requires a significant amount of practice to be effective. While the personal sense of achievement from success with these challenging classes or builds is high, the “cheese” builds are so effective that I often wonder why I even play my Necromancer. When I can burn someone down from full health to dead in the click of only a couple of skills on my Ranger, I scratch my head wondering why I need to press at least 20 buttons to achieve something remotely similar on my Necromancer. While it wouldn’t be fair to expect all classes to have the same damage outlay or skill ceiling (thankfully they don’t) it’s often frustrating to see this type of gameplay go relatively unnoticed. Fortunately most of the community rightly knows that these cheese builds are ridiculous but that doesn’t prevent almost every match being made up of them.
In terms of balance, I actually think despite the cheese builds Guild Wars 2 is in a good place. It isn’t perfect (no game will ever be truly balanced) but I rarely feel cheated even when I do face a Longbow Ranger or Turret Engineer because more often than not, I can beat them. Does it mean those builds are deserving of a place in Guild Wars 2? I’m not so sure.
Besides the usual balance or build quibbles, the only other bad thing about Guild Wars 2 is that in the space of two years, it has seen so few changes. While the predictable tweaks here and there have occurred and traits have seen various versions, there’s still a lot to do and progress seems so slow.
Since Guild Wars 2’s launch we’ve seen the release of Temple of the Silent Storm, Raid on the Capricorn (removed, Skyhammer and Spirit Watch. We’ve also seen spectator mode, custom Arenas and rank rewards. It really is very little for the number of staff at ArenaNet and considering Guild Wars 2’s popularity. I would have thought at the very least we’d have seen a further map after Skyhammer, armor skins unique to sPvP and better yet, an additional game mode akin to Heroes’ Ascent. It leaves me scratching my head wondering just how little staff ArenaNet have allocated to Structured PvP.
Guild Wars 2’s PvP isn’t perfect and two of the biggest things I hate about it are such obvious flaws I’m absolutely baffled that ArenaNet haven’t fixed them. The first is rank farming and the second is players who go AFK or leave Arena matches. Where the former is concerned, it needs to be stopped and players doing it need to have their ranks removed. The entire purpose of sPvP ranks is to provide a clear visible way of a players skill and experience. All a rank currently shows now is that potentially that person has earned it by legitimate means (playing a ton of matches) or by killing themselves on Skyhammer. Either way and as it currently stands, people seeking “Rank 70+! for tPvP!” need to stop (because it’s pointless) and ArenaNet need to remove ranks entirely. Better yet, nuke the servers that openly advertise it.
My second big issue is a problem that primarily affects solo queue Arena. Only today did 4 players in 4 matches go AFK before it even started. The following 2 matches saw two players leave within the first minute (for no reason). Going 4 versus 5 is a huge disadvantage and while I’ve won a couple of 4 versus 5 before, it’s a monumental task for a team with no voice communications and sometimes odd compositions. The fact that you lose rating for this is infuriating and it unfairly punishes those who want to actually play and climb the ladder. More than anything though, there’s no infrastructure here to punish repeat offenders and prevent them from queuing for a period of time. While there's no cure for players of terrible skill, at least if teams have a guaranteed 5 players you stand a fighting chance.