Holding Strong: Stronghold Potential & Pitfalls

Taking a quick break from necromancer, here is @Poliatore with a look back at the Stronghold Public Beta, and what it can, and shouldn’t, do.


Before April 14th, we only knew theory, blog posts, or some videos made by a few known faces. And we didn’t get to try it ourselves until the Public Beta dropped.

Therefore, after trying it myself for 25 matches (more or less), I’m going to outline the potential that Stronghold has and the possible pitfalls I’ve seen. But first…

What makes Stronghold different from Conquest?

Stronghold is pretty unique, based both on Guild Wars 1 Guild vs Guild and MOBA games like League of Legends. Basically, there are players, NPCs, and meaningful objectives to fight for.

Objectives is what differentiates Stronghold from Conquest, because the latter has just one primary objective you need to control if you want to win, capture points, leaving other objectives as secondary.

The Potential of Stronghold

Strategy & Objectives

Stronghold has a lesser focus on raw mechanical skill (like Team Death Match and Conquest mode favor) and a stronger focus on strategy, including playing the objectives over the map.

But, what is this good for? With Stronghold leaning towards an objective based game mode, it implies that players need to focus more on their map movements (maybe more importance on rotations than in Conquest), map awareness and decision making.

There are plenty of situations when you have to stop and think, “Which objective should I go for?” Channel a Hero, getting supply for a push, go for their Lord, defence of your own base… The amount of possible situations seems endless and this is what makes Stronghold special.

Class & Objective Balance

This game mode gives the Developers an easier time when balancing the game mode because they can either tweak class builds or tweak objective rewards. This, I believe, is one of the reasons the Timer and Score were added.

Unlike MOBA games, Stronghold doesn’t rely exclusively on destroying an end objective to win a game. Every match is gated by a 15 minute maximum time. If no team kills their respective enemy Lord, objectives like Gates, Guards, Player kills and Hero Channels bring points to the team and decide the victor.

If a specific strategy is outright better than anything else, they can change how points are awarded in order to promote more varied and different strategies.

This ends up opening three different perspectives to balance from:

  • Tweaking strong class builds
  • Tweaking how points are awarded or
  • Tweaking how strong some NPCs are, either buffing or nerfing them.

Having different levers that can be tweaked makes the job of balancing much better, faster and easier than, for example, Conquest, where you can only balance strong class builds.

Easier and More Enjoyable to Spectate

One of the big problems Conquest has at the moment is its visual complexity. Viewers unfamiliar with the game and its almost non-existent pacing don’t know what to look at.

Stronghold has a better defined pacing, with known important moments such as Hero channels, the initial push of the match, et cetera.

Moreover, it does not have as many players fighting all at once, so it’s better for those viewers who are not familiar with the game and lack the knowledge to understand what is going on at every moment.

On top of that, the viewers only need to know the objectives available on the map to know what is going on and follow what the casters are saying. The excitement shifts from who wins the teamfight to who wins the objective.

The ultimate objective isn’t necessarily to win all the teamfights (which is often difficult to declare victors, as people disengage when they know they are losing), but to know who got the objective they fought for, a much clearer end of the action.

The fact that action tends to end when the objective is accomplished is the main thing that preserves a differentiated pacing over the game. People are encouraged to stop fighting in order to prepare for the next strategic objective.

We can assume as well that casters will have a better time commentating Stronghold, especially to viewers new to the game, for some simple reasons:

  • There aren’t constant fights. In Conquest, teamfights never end, onlytransition to another point.
  • Objectives are impactful, adding importance to some skills or tactics, like interrupting a player who is channeling.
  • They can focus more on explaining the reasoning of the movements around the map.

Stronghold’s Potential Pitfalls

However, Stronghold isn’t quite the perfect game mode. There are some aspects they should change in order to make the game mode as enjoyable for everyone as possible.

These problems aren’t game breaking, but they should be addressed if we want this unique game mode to be the most enjoyable to play, both for casual and veteran players and, hopefully, reaching the current competitive status Conquest has.

Push Strategy” Trend

There was a popular strategy which consisted of pure offense. The whole team would push the enemy outer gate with their Doorbreakers (leaving maybe one player to defend) and try to go as far as they could into the enemy base, just spending resources into offense.

It could be argued that people didn’t dedicate enough players to defence, to properly oppose an aggressive initial push strategy by the enemy. But the sheer effectiveness of doing it forces only one counter-strategy: complete defense.

One easy solution would be making the outer gate Guard NPCs either tougher or invulnerable to players, making only Archers able to damage them (which would, partially, solve the Archer problem I’ll talk about next).

All of this said, I think this is an issue caused by how little time we had to adapt and rather easy to fix. A good player defence should be enough to stop the enemy team from touching your outer gate at the start.

Doorbreaker Dominance

One big issue I saw was the dominance Doorbreakers had over Archers. There was almost no reason to spawn Archers instead of Doorbreakers until both gates were down.

This, I firmly believe, is caused by the fact that Doorbreakers can do something a player can’t do: destroy the enemy base’s gates. However, Archers “only” kill Guards NPC really fast, without being a real threat to the player.

Archers don’t pose a threat to the player, nor do anything exclusive in the match. They are weak in comparison to Doorbreakers for these reasons. Archers aren’t even tankier than Doorbreakers are. Both are squishy.

There are two quick ways to fix this issue:

  1. Give Archers the capability of doing something a player can’t, so they have that exclusivity. For example, making the two NPC Guards of the outer gate vulnerable exclusively to Archers would give the player a reason to take Archers instead of 5 Doorbreakers when a match starts.

  2. Make them a threat to the player, not necessarily with damage, but with utility or control. For example, making an archer’s attacks chill the player for X seconds. It can maybe even do a short daze, immobilize, inflict weakness, et cetera. Just so they become a threat that must be confronted by the enemy player.

The Weak Nature of NPCs

From one perspective, NPCs cannot be really strong (read: strong as NPCs with a huge health pool, very powerful attacks, et cetera, as PvE bosses do) in order to preserve the Player vs Player experience. If NPCs are very strong, PvP turns into PvE.

However, from another perspective, NPCs can’t be weak and ignorable (like Guards were, for example).

One NPC I found in a good place was the Hero. They serve the purpose of killing the enemy Lord with their huge attack, while providing a huge damage reduction buff.

However, gate guards felt too weak and vulnerable, easily killed by players. One way of making them “stronger” would be related to the Archers change. Make outer gate Guards invulnerable to players and they will become a threat that requires strategy to neutralize.

This change won’t be optimal, because it will limit initial strategies so you have to spawn a couple of archers to deal with the guards and let the Doorbreakers do their job.

Last, but not less glaringly flawed, are Lords. They are not exactly weak, but there should be changes to make the battle vs the enemy Lord (and the enemy team if they defend) more interactive.

Right now, Lords lack a break bar, making them vulnerable to blinds, stuns and such. They also lack a healing skill. The latter feature of Lords is understandable because it encourages player healing and support builds.

However, they should add a break bar and follow-up attack to the Lord. For example, an interrupt that stops a Hero’s big attack, which can only be stopped by CC-ing the Lord.

Another interesting thing would be to add more interaction between the Lord and the four elite NPCs in the room. Give those some impactful skills.

For example, give the Cleric NPC a big healing skill (of course, with a fairly long cast time to interrupt it without a huge waste of resources) when the Lord reaches X% health. This way, those NPCs are more important and they stop being ignored when killing the Lord.

Comeback Issues

There’s a distinct lack of comeback mechanics. If you get pushed into your base because of a bad defence, you have no options but to dedicate all resources into defence.

This basically caused the match to either finish quick or for it to stall until the time limit. If the game stalled, it was still a win for the pushing team because, generally, you were defending the base and the pushing team can freely channel Heroes and get the 20 points from them.

You could wipe the entire enemy team inside your base, but by the time you get to do anything they have already respawned, stopped any wave you have sent at them and even taking down a Hero if you have not advanced alongside him.

This may not be a huge issue in coordinated teams with voice communication, but I feel this is a big issue when playing Solo or without proper communication.

This could be addressed by adding simple things like penalties when an enemy is killed within the base. For example, a longer respawn timer, granting double points when they die or dropping one supply, even if they don’t have one.

If the pushing team messes up on the offense, they should be penalized. Rather than only needing to play raw attrition until the timer expires, they have to be effective in their pushes.

Stalled Matches

As said before, stalling matches is an issue as well. If no team is willing to risk going on offense, the match is decided by points at the end of the timer. Fights only occur when a Mist Essence spawns.

If the losing team can stall the match, they get a chance of winning purely from Hero Channels. However, sometimes the match just ends when the game has the most action.

Losing by 5 points, while pushing the enemy team, or in the middle of a teamfight you are winning and time runs out, is extremely frustrating.

Playing around with timer length, or maybe even removing it entirely, should be considered.

Conclusion

Stronghold is a unique game mode for sPvP with great potential as an objective-based mode, with Player vs Player features as well as objectives to fight for.

There will be fewer inherent problems than Conquest has. Stronghold will have a better spectator experience, a wider build variety, be easier to balance, and have deeper and more varied strategy.

However, it faces some clear pitfalls that need to be looked at, such as the lack of comebacks, the timer, or, most importantly, the NPCs “weak” nature.

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