Wednesday, 15 April 2015

A Strong Showing For Stronghold : GW2

Last night was my first chance to try some of GW2's hot new content. Or should that be new HoT content? Either way, for 24 hours only, the upcoming sPvP map featuring the new game mode known as "Stronghold" is available for testing, using the "we beta on live" system that so impressed Ravious a short while ago.

I say "available". If you play unranked arenas, as most people doing dailies probably do, you'll be testing The Battle of Champion's Dusk, whether you like it or not. For a day and a night the new map replaces all others in that bracket.

You'll take this one and like it.
Not everyone reads patch notes or visits the news section of the official website so this seemed to come as a surprise to many. There were some lively discussions going on in map chat as I waited in the PvP lobby for my number to come up.

All but one of the PvP maps GW2 has had since launch rely on holding territory for points (the exception being a free-for-all brawl) so there was some confusion over what to do on a map that had no marked points where you stand in a ring to score. I'd taken the trouble to read the long and detailed overview so I had a fair idea of what was expected but it was still very confusing first time round.

Stronghold For Dummies
Confusing but also a lot of fun. I've never played a MOBA but according to what people who had were saying this is roughly how they work. To me it felt very much like a WvW mini-game, with keeps and Lords and siege engines and NPCs to hire.

For most of the lifetime of the game I've studiously ignored GW2's instanced PvP. It was the felicitous synchronicity of a couple of Jeromai's posts and the first 75% off sale that changed all that. Suddenly I had a new character on a new account, who had to do all three of his three (count 'em - three!)  dailies every day (one PvE, one WvW, one PvP) to get the "I've done three dailies" reward.

So I started doing instanced PvP and found I enjoyed it well enough, something that really shouldn't have come as a surprise given the countless hours I've spent doing the much same thing in WoW, Rift, Warhammer and EQ2. And, to pick up a theme, the recently-added extrinsic rewards for doing PvP are now so good they amount to open bribery.

There are two things you certainly can't say about GW2's PvP maps: as already outlined, you can't honestly say they offer much variety in gameplay and neither do they match up to the visual elan we're spoiled with throughout the rest of the game. The new map addresses both of those shortcomings.

A Pirate Captain, I !

Visually it's the only PvP map that looks as though any thought has gone into it at all beyond the necessary design that relates to functionality. Behind you at the spawn point is open sea with several impressive sailing ships moored at a dock. The fighting takes place in a small town that looks and feels like something you might find on an explorable map.

There's even some story going on somewhere. We appear to be working for someone to some end although I have no idea who or what that might be. A portentous voice-over does a little more than yell the usual banalities and statements of the obvious, suggesting some kind of life for our characters before and after the events in train.

Okay, Charlie!

All of that may be fluff when it comes to instanced PvP but it does set a tone and creates an atmosphere that makes this map feel more grounded than any of the others. Of course, for all I know there may actually be some narrative or storyline to sPvP as a whole that I've completely missed. In the end I guess it doesn't matter all that much because we're here for the fights and in the matches I played those were pretty good.

Seems clear enough...
I won't rehash the mechanics here but there's a lot more going on in than in any of the existing maps. You get a good deal of agency as a player above and beyond the usual "shall I go Home, Mid or Far?". There are plenty of options and they all feel like WvW to me: run supply, guard vital NPCs as they move across the map, fight NPC guards, break gates, kill the Lord.

Most of these activities also occur in the older PvPs but only in a nominal way. There it never seems to make much difference whether you do them or not because in the end everything comes down to one of two things: standing in a circle or stopping the other team from standing in one.

In Stronghold the ancillary activities actually matter. For one thing, the gates of the keep are impervious to player damage so if you don't spawn your bomb-carrying Skritt door-breakers then you won't even see the other team's Lord let alone kill him. And you won't have any Skritt unless you buy them with supply so better get running that.

I hope we get shore leave - it looks nice here.

NPC guards are also quite hard for players to kill so you'll need those NPC archers, which means more supply. If your team has two turret engineers (the go-to choice for lazy scrubs like my main PvP character) you can sit the pair of them on the two supply dumps and laugh at the other team because without supply you are stuffed. Or so they said in map chat. Only they didn't say "stuffed".

We didn't do that. We all ran around, swapping lanes and roles in the chaotic manner you'd expect from five people who'd never met before, who disdained the very idea of communication and anyway didn't remember or understand most of the rules. It was great!

Holding out for a Hero

I played two rounds, both of which were much longer than usual PvP matches. In the first my team was ahead on points right up to the end and I was confidently expecting a win on the timer when suddenly our Lord was dead, Game Over, you lose. Next time round it did go to the wire and we won by 285 points to 270 with both teams in the other's Keep, still hammering on the Lord as the timer ran out.

Colin in full spate.

When HoT arrives and this map enters regular play I foresee it being very popular. Certainly the feedback in open conversation in the PvP Lobby was very positive, which must have been sweet music to the three ANet devs, including Colin Johanson, who were hanging out there. I enjoyed it a lot, although like all instanced PvP I can only do two or three rounds in a row before I lose concentration.

Once people have more than a single day to get to grips with the map and the mechanics no doubt behavior will become more mandated, tactics codified and much of the chaos will leech out. You can easily foresee roles being assigned and blame being attached to those who don't stick to them and follow the prescribed path. Even then, I think it should be a fun diversion.

I just hope the Desert Battlegrounds turn out as well.

6 comments:

  1. My first attempt at it put me in a 4 vs 5.

    That...might not have been the best way to make a good first impression.

    Think I'll wait before making my mind up about it. It's not a bad recreation of a MOBA, from a very casual play through of it. I'm not a big MOBA fan though, so the nuances are somewhat lost on me.

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    1. They can't be more lost on you than they are on me since I've never even played a MOBA. It actually had the effect of making me mildly interested in trying one - something that has really never even occurred to me before. Maybe I'll try Heroes of the Storm - that's supposed to be the shallow end of the pool, I think...

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  2. Yeah, I really like the thought and design that went in to creating a map with a story. Kudos to ANet for that.

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    1. There doesn't seem to be either a beginning or an ending to the story as far as I could tell. It's like coming in right in the middle of a movie, staying for one of the big set-pieces and the leaving again.

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  3. "The fighting takes place in a small town that looks and feels like something you might find on an explorable map."

    Now that you mention it how cool would it have been if all the pvp maps had physical entrances from different points in the world map, where each might physically/thematically exist? Kind of like dungeon entrances. I still believe the biggest failure on Anets part was not incorporating WvW into the main world map somehow.

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    1. they did originally in GW1 I'm pretty sure until it got changed. But for GW2, PvP essentially exists in the Mists, so there wouldn't really be physical entrances.

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