Stronghold, Building a Better sPvP

I am happy to announce a Tough Love Critic first: a guest post. Poliator, the Most Awesome Worst Thief EU by his own admission, is delving into both the upcoming Stronghold, and how it stacks up against the existing Conquest game mode.


With the expansion, we have a new game mode coming for structured PvP called Stronghold. Developers are truly excited to show this game mode to us and let us play it. Many of their stated goals add up to a desire to overcome the barriers that blocked Conquest from being a good Competitive game mode (that is, Stronghold might have better Competitive potential than Conquest).

Will Stronghold replace Conquest as the competitive game mode?

Before this question can be answered, let’s look at what problems hold Conquest back competitively. Without addressing or solving them, Stronghold won’t replace Conquest. These split into player-based problems, and spectator-based problems.

Problems for the Players

Mechanically Demanding

Conquest is mechanically demanding. First, you have to defend score-generating points, so you have to be able to soak up (sustain) large amounts of damage while staying on point.

Therefore, usable builds are restricted and the well-known Celestial meta is reigning now on the overall scene: good amount of sustain on point for 1 vs 1, great support party-wide in the form of CC (engineers excel at this) or healing (elementalists and warriors), as well as might stacks to ramp up both their damage and the team’s damage.

Rotations

A second problem is “map rotations”. They are not explained anywhere and there are no clear guides about it. Currently, it is something a player learns through playing lot of matches, learning from his errors.

Map rotations, to put it simply, are the movements a team performs over the map to be the most efficient and hold or pressure the most points on the map without dying.

Map Awareness and Team Comp Knowledge

Here we can also add map awareness and knowledge of team comps to the mix, because they are essential for each individual player to be the most efficient.

  • Do I rotate to mid or I stay at close?”

  • There are 5 at mid? Should I go?”

  • Do they need my help at that point?”

These are some of the questions each player has to ask himself.

No Tutorial

Another problem lies within the newbie section of the sPvP community: the lack of a good Tutorial. It is true that the Tutorial teaches the new player the basics, like stomping, but there’s so much more beyond that, for example map rotations mentioned before.

To illustrate this lack, we don’t need to go that far. One thing that most new players do in Forest of Niflhel is kill their respective bosses (Chieftain or Svanir) at the very start of the game, at risk of it being stolen by an enemy player and, moreover, hurting your team because they are one player less at mid, giving the enemy team an advantage.

At the least, the tutorial should cover each map and explain some tips to them (for example at Niflhel: those forest creatures give your team 25 points and a small buff to everyone. But be aware that points are awarded to the player who deals the fatal blow on the creature.)

Spectator Problems

Skill Spam is Hard to Read

The last problem Conquest has to face is how it looks for the viewer and spectator mode. For the viewer, a game like Guild Wars 2 is not easily understandable. Let’s compare it with the famous MOBA game League of Legends:

Basically in League of Legends, you have different champions that only have 4 spells that even people that never played the game can understand. But in Guild Wars 2, every profession has a minimum of 15 “spells” to a maximum of 34 “spells” (I’m looking at you, elementalists and engineers!).

Therefore, Guild Wars 2 is a more complicated game to understand what’s going on than League of Legends is.

(I’m not talking about the differences in builds in League of Legends vs Guild Wars 2, though Guild Wars 2 builds are more complex as well).

The Game Looks the Same at All Times

The problems for viewers aren’t just limited to spells. Game pace is also an issue. In Conquest, there are no game stages: you work out with your team an initial split for the three points and then try to hold/cap points until the score gets to 500 or the timer reaches 0.

In League of Legends, you can distinguish between early game (each player goes to his lane, farms for some minutes, maybe there are some kills, et cetera) and mid/late game (team fights start over the control of objectives that are meaningful for the entire team) . You get a feeling of: “Oh, they have been working until now to be strong enough to secure these objectives”, for example.

This is utterly important for a game trying to go Competitive. There will be viewers that never played that will still enjoy watching it because there are distinguished changes in the game to keep them engaged; and there will be viewers that actually play the game and know how everything works that will enjoy the strategy/rotations more, as they understand the basics.

Right now, Conquest has no stages. You have no huge objective to go for, nothing that will change significantly the pace of the game (Temple of the Silent Storm* is an exception with Stillness and Tranquillity buffs, but it is not used in the Tournament map rotation – only in the Best of 5).

*My favourite map by far of the sPvP Conquest maps.

Depth is Hidden to Viewers

The game can look boring, because the true beauty and depth that lies within the Conquest game mode (in my honest opinion) are rotations, how teams go to each point, the decisions they make, and truly understanding the builds and movements. This is not possible to know for a viewer that has never played the game (and it’s not even that visible for viewers that have played sPvP).

Hard to “Fix”

Finally, the spectator mode* is a tricky problem in Guild Wars 2 as opposed to League of Legends. There’s not much to compare against due to how different they are, but it’s obvious that to make an efficient spectator mode for Guild Wars 2 is much more difficult than for League of Legends. Any good spectator mode needs the following:

  • You need to be aware of the fight, that is, the less information blocking the view when spectating the better.
  • It is difficult to see when an important skill is used (e.g., a pin down from Warrior Longbow). These things are not currently highlighted in any form.
    • They could maybe add “high CD” skills like warrior’s banner elite or the mesmer’s portal utility as things to highlight.
    • They could also add a sound, at least, for elites: e.g. “Don’t move!” for banner, as it would help the viewer to recognize when a big CD is going to be drop off**.
  • It would be highly effective to add an animation to a player that has been dazed or otherwise CCed (in order for viewer to know it, make it visible that they have been dazed).

*Link to a useful forum post about some possible Spectator mode changes that would make it more enjoying watching it. It has some time but it’s still perfect for this situation!

**This begs the question “Which skills are the most important and impactful?” There can’t be a lot of them, in order to not have a sound-fest.

To be honest, I cannot think of much to suggest to improve Spectator mode. I will say that the last addition to it was a brilliant idea: points of view put on significant/common points where fights usually happen or just to have an overview of the scene. Spectator mode is limited because of the fast and mobile combat system Guild Wars 2 has.

How will Stronghold address these problems?

We have seen already several gameplay videos about Stronghold (click here for one!), as well as the developers’ blog post, and it looks like most of Conquest’s problems are being addressed.

First of all, this game mode is not as mechanically demanding as Conquest, as you can just spend the match defending your base from enemy minions’ attacks, or focus team fights with your trebuchet, being sneaky to summon Heroes/gather supplies when nobody is there, et cetera.

There isn’t the pressure to be able to kill the other players or you lose. There also isn’t the requirement to know how to rotate perfectly.

There is more strategic variety for all kinds of players and this is a good thing for several reasons:

  • It adds a variety of roles you can adapt your build to. That is, there is no “build-lock” caused by having to hold or contest points efficiently, as happens on Conquest*. More roles equals more choices within builds equals every class having more potential roles to play efficiently.

  • You are not constantly fighting players; you do not have to beat every enemy you find. Rather, moving strategically is how to be most efficient.

  • Clear objectives on the map. This resolves a double problem: map rotations and viewers. Map rotations will get a lot easier as you have clear objectives to go for that are impactful for the match – Heroes being the best example. You still have the depth to choose not to go for the Hero and gather supplies to summon minions and counter push or summon those minions and stay in base defending it from the enemy players and their Hero.

  • Viewers will get more engaged as they now see a pacing in the game as it progresses. For example, each match will probably start with both teams heading to the middle of the map, where supplies are, and fighting for them to summon minions that will help you push the enemy base. But you can also head to the trebuchet and help your team with those big shots or you could opt to kill the first gate’s NPC defenders.

  • It will attract a wider group of players. As this game mode is not solely focused on fighting players and you can be useful doing other things in the match, this could attract mainly PvE players that were scared about the Conquest game mode for any of the above reasons and PvP players that didn’t enjoy Conquest as much. The more people like the mode, the more healthy the mode will be, leading to a better Match Making and, eventually, to a bigger Competitive scene (obviously, this will require months of work when the game mode launches).

Conclusion

Conquest has some flaws in its design that makes it very difficult to be a true Competitive game mode. Its intense focus on mechanical skill (basically skill rotations), map rotations (something that you only learn through playing a lot of games), and how difficult the mode is to watch all work against it.

The upcoming game mode Stronghold might be able to overcome all these problems Conquest has, being a better competitive game for the Player as well as for the Spectator. Only time and testing will tell us if this will become true and I am excited to play it!

(If you’d like to contact Poliator, his in game is Poliator.7021)

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