Monday, August 14, 2017

From A Distance : GW2

After yesterday's mammoth post and chunky comment section I'm going to attempt to keep this short. We'll see how that goes...

Jeromai has an excellent piece up about GW2's failings when it comes to introducing new or returning players to its particular mechanics. As I was reading it I had a small epiphany about just why I don't seem to experience the same difficulties others do when traveling through Heart of Thorns maps.

I posted a lengthy reply and came here feeling all clever and wise, only to read some of the comments that appeared overnight, after which I realized that my so-called epiphany was in fact a case of me not having been able to see some very obvious wood among a number of extremely large trees.

Here's the thing: I don't melee in GW2. Never have. Not on any character, not on any class.

It's not that I have anything against melee, aesthetically, conceptually, practically or any other adverb. I melee non-stop in EQ2, where I usually play a Berserker. I tanked for years on a Shadowknight in EverQuest and on both a Disciple and a Dread Knight in Vanguard.

Before I ever played GW2, though, I read a lot about it and all the talk of active combat and dodging worried me. I did a bit of research, asked a few questions and when the first beta weekend arrived I rolled a ranger.

Without me he's nothing!

That worked incredibly well. It removed all my apprehensions about GW2 at a stroke. I realized I would be able to play GW2 just like I played EQ or WoW or LotRO, if that's what I wanted, because GW2 had a class with a pet that tanks.

I wrote about it at the time, concluding with this advice: 
I would encourage anyone who found the whole action combat hype too daunting to make a Charr ranger next beta [and] let your pet tank pretty much anything you're likely to want to solo.
That advice still stands (the details I've cut out of the quote, about hunting drakes to craft your own armor and equipping Troll Unguent and Signet of the Wild...well, MMOs change over time). There's a reason why "Bearbow" rangers are looked down on and even laughed at - it's because playing one is choosing to play GW2 on Easy Mode.

I haven't played  a Bearbow ranger for almost five years. I rarely play a ranger at all these days, although Druid is my go-to class for story instances. The thing that carried over from that initial experience, the thing that has stayed with me ever since is this: if the mob can't get to you it can't hurt you.

In GW2 I play ranged. On every class. One of the big advantages of the way the game is set up is that every class can play ranged. Whether every class can also play melee I'm not sure. I haven't tried. They probably can, with the right build.

Jeromai astutely points out that prior to the arrival of Heart of Thorns, the GW2 dungeon meta was Berserker build, stack in a corner, melee cleave. I didn't do dungeons then (I was ahead of my time - now no-one does) so that particular meta passed me by. GW2 is a game very much prone to having "metas" and most of them pass me by so nothing unusual there.

Come here! Yellow stuff bad!

Consequently, when HoT intentionally and by design shattered that meta into a thousand pieces I barely noticed. I arrived in Verdant Brink ready to play the way I always play - stand well back, drop a lot of AEs at maximum range, be ready to get out of Denver at a millisecond's notice.

As I examine this playstyle choice I begin to see just why I find some of Jeromai's detailed accounts of what Mordrem and other mobs actually do to be so surprising. Vile Thrashers, apparently, leave acid trails. Leeching Thrashers heal up to full if you melee them. Who knew? Not me, that's for sure!

And why would I, since I never get close enough to any of them to find out? If I'm traveling I avoid everything I can avoid and use all my tricks to dodge anything I can't. I'm not going to stop and fight any of them. Why would I do that?

If I'm doing events then either I do them with others, in which case someone else can jolly well eat all those CCs, or I pick only the events I can complete comfortably at range. I don't really recall many - possibly any - events that I had to solo.

And yet, soloing is arguably what Heart of Thorns was made for. Certainly I argued that. I wrote about it at some length at the time, in a post wittily entitled "Soloing in Heart of Thorns". In it I suggested that

To me, "soloing" in MMORPGs means having complete freedom to do whatever I choose, while having that choice meaningfully progress my character. It means walking out of the city gate into adventure, alone, and returning, who knows how much later, still alone but stronger, wiser, battle-scarred and proud.
That's not everyone's definition but it's mine and I found HoT matched it perfectly. I summed it up thus:

So, yes, this is solo heaven. For me, anyway. It can be for you. Pick the right class and build. Take your time preparing. Explore until you feel you know how the land lies. Learn your escape routes. Practice your tactics... It's a classic interpretation of the MMORPG solo experience and classics never go out of style.
 And that's exactly how I still feel about it. Only with this caveat: pick ranged.

If you love to melee, if you're never happy unless you 're getting all up in the mob's grill, maybe HoT isn't the best fit. MMOs generally don't come in one size fits all, though. You do need to adapt.

Stick to what you know.

That's where builds and all that jazz come in. Again, Jeromai has some pertinent observations and good advice. You really should have some kind of stun break loaded and these days a condition cleanse too.

Tyler comments 

 "I don't think I've ever even had a stun break equipped on any of my characters. There's nothing in the game that says you should, and in most MMOs such things are considered to only be relevant in PvP, so it never even occurred to me it might be necessary".

He's right. I never used to have one either. I do now but it has nothing to do with Heart of Thorns.

I hate changing builds and I hate changing spells/abilities. I like to set my characters in stone when they hit max level and by preference they would never change after that point until the game closes down. I might not like changing builds but sometimes I have to.

The last time was when the big Condi change happened. World vs World became almost literally unplayable without a condi cleanse and a stun breaker loaded so I put some in. If I didn't play WvW I wouldn't have bothered but it turns out that choice has also stood me in good stead for Heart of Thorns.

Never mess with those who carry round a fire hose.

In this, GW2 is like every other MMO: it changes, sometimes radically, over time. It also changes across different game modes, at different levels, on different classes and on different maps. What worked in Wayfarer Foothills might not work in Frostgorge and what worked there could falter in Verdant Brink. Tactics that work for a Guardian might not have the same happy outcome on a Necromancer.

So far, though, in five years, in the open world, at every level, on every class and every map, what's worked best for me is range. Range and perpetual motion. Put those together and you'll stay alive longer. Probably.

Somewhere down the line some smart ANet dev may decide ranged classes are having it far too much their own way. We may get an expansion that favors the good old axe to the face approach. If so, I'll have to deal with it. Until then I'll be the one at the back, throwing fireballs.


  1. "Somewhere down the line some smart ANet dev may decide ranged classes are having it far too much their own way. We may get an expansion that favors the good old axe to the face approach."

    We kind of already do, in that for the most part, melee-focused builds do a lot more damage than ranged ones. The whole idea of the berserker meta is that yes, staying at range means you stay alive longer, but so does the enemy. Get up in their face and smash them down hand-to-hand and you'll be on your way that much quicker. Fights that would at range last a couple of minutes can be over in 20 seconds in melee. Obviously if you're not in any hurry that's neither here nor there, but people running dungeons back in the day were absolutely in the most absurd hurry :)

    This idea is taken to the extreme with something like thief – the shortbow is your only ranged weapon, and its damage is terrible, whereas with a staff equipped in Daredevil spec you can Bound on to most mobs and kill them in two hits.

    1. Oops, forgot another thing I was going to say!

      "If you love to melee, if you’re never happy unless you ‘re getting all up in the mob’s grill, maybe HoT isn’t the best fit. MMOs generally don’t come in one size fits all, though. You do need to adapt."

      I think HoT is, while not melee *friendly* per se, is not really that hostile to it either. Yes, there's some mobs that are easier at range (the Leechers and the spinny poison trail ones), but once you adapt to the various slams and knockbacks and so forth, killing mobs in melee can be very rewarding.

      Of course, while some relish the challenge, others are put off by it – same way some love the complexity of Tangled Depths and others can't stand it.

    2. I've been able to get by as a melee Necro myself, but that's with heavy reliance on the shroud. It's certainly a big step up in challenge for melee players vs. the leveling experience in this game. I think that's what catches folks by surprise.

      I'm curious about experimenting with ranged classes in GW2 now, since I've always been a melee player. I'd love to see if there's a marked difference for a casual player in HoT. Want to try a Druid maybe, but I have no clue where to start. :)

    3. My wife defaults to axe/warhorn for her power necro and seems to get by just fine for most open-world things – I think they buffed the damage a while back so it's actually ok now.

      As for druid/ranger, the general consensus seems to be condi all the way.

    4. The Druid I took through HoT was the one I have set up as a healer. He has the DPS of a wet noodle. Actually he wishes he had a wet noodle to do some DPS with... If you aren't in a hurry, that build is all but invulnerable. Playing him, I can tab out and look stuff up in the middle of a fight and come back to find him still full health. If he ever has to kill anything, though, you better bring a book. Mrs Bhagpuss, however, has a more balanced build on her Druid and she's both extremely robust and capable of doing decent damage.

      The HoT pets are ferocious, by the way, and fun to get.

  2. I think you're probably on to something with this.

    I am a melee player through and through (the fact that I play ranged jobs in FFXIV is an anomaly). While I do have a level 80 Elementalist, the class never clicked with me. My ranger, who is a much more likely candidate, is only in her 60s.

    I started GW2 as a Warrior main and played it for about two solid years. I never did the glass meta. I preferred to have some survivability, and usually went shout Warrior. Back then, a Warrior only carried ranged weapons to swap out in the case you needed to fight something ranged, but bow and rifle weren't really meant to be a main weapon. (May be different now, I haven't explored Warrior since I returned.)

    When I rolled my Necro, I did try some condition ranged, but it was pretty meh to me. Nowhere near as satisfying as Reaper with greatsword melee. In fact, I came back to GW2 specifically because I thought melee Necro would now be a viable option... since... you know... the specialization's weapon is melee. It CAN be with heavy use of shroud, and nothing is more satisfying than when I jump in a group of enemies, pull out the scythe, and just start unleashing major AOE.

    Still yet, I didn't have issues with my Warrior until the Mordrem became part of the Living Story instances. I remember playing those instances duo, and my partner (Elementalist), who does play ranged, was just as frustrated and annoyed as I was with Mordrem. Yeah, they do all those nasty CC that Jeromai described. And sometimes even if you have an idea of their tactics, you can get caught off guard if you get ganged up on... and then it's quickly game over.

    Now, this isn't me trying to be rude in any way to you or your discovery. But the fact of the matter is, if a game that advertises itself (or once did) as a casual experience completely exempts a huge section of playstyle (melee)... that is a fundamental problem in the game's design. IMHO.

    I accept that melee will be more difficult than ranged, and that one needs to be flexible -- that tactics in one area or one class don't translate to another. I'm long used to Guild Wars 1, in which changing up you entire build (and the build of all your Heroes) to fit situations was a thing. But to come to the conclusion that in order to casually enjoy a gaming experience that was supposed to be built for a casual player, you should never play melee... there's a problem there.

    And it's not the players' fault.

    To quote you from above: "To me, "soloing" in MMORPGs means having complete freedom to do whatever I choose, while having that choice meaningfully progress my character." I agree with this wholeheartedly.

    Based on this definition, on top of your conclusion "If you love to melee, if you're never happy unless you're getting all up in the mob's grill, maybe HoT isn't the best fit." -- GW2's design makes it so that there is no true freedom to choose to play as you want and meaningfully progress your character with choice... and not bang your head against the wall in frustration. Sure, you can choose melee, but it probably won't be fun (where's the sense in that?).

    There's a conflict here, and it may be a major reason GW2 does have a group of frustrated players (or ex-players). Why offer a bunch of classes, builds, armor and a supposable flexible playstyle if that's all an illusion?

    I'm not sure what can be done to fix this (or if it'll be addressed in PoF), but it's certainly a glaring reality for me and many players who try to survive in GW2 as melee. Again, this wasn't meant as an argument or a snark against you, but in wholehearted attempt to leave further feedback on a different point of view.

    Maybe I should try ranger, and I might find it fun. But really, you don't know what you're missing if you're not beating on things with a greatsword. ;)

    1. I just hope some of this, especially what Jeromai and Andy are adding, is helpful. I'm guessing that melee is just fine IF you know how to spec, what build to use and have a clear understanding of how to play it. I can't really give much useful input on that :P

      I did take several supposedly "melee" classes through HoT - Warrior, Thief, Guardian - but I played all of them as ranged. The screenshot at the top of this post is my Warrior (one of them anyway) and you'll notice he's standing well back using a bow. I did briefly try to play my Thief as a Daredevil but I soon gave that up. I've tried Reaver several times but while the survivability is fine I don't seem to much damage. I'm about the worst person to comment on melee viability in GW2!

      One thing I would say, though, is that WvW is rife with CCs and condis and Commanders there almost all run as Melee Guardians, Warriors or Necros because of the survivability. Clearly you don't *have* to be ranged to survive and prosper - I just think it takes less skill - or possibly it's just that I have more of the kind of skill it does take than I do the kind you need for melee...

      Anyway, hope you find a class/build that works for you - I'm sure you will - and I look forward to reading the details. Meanwhile I am going to take a melee class into HoT and play it AS a melee class and see how that goes. I'm still very interested in finding out just how all this works. I'll probably get it figured out just in time for PoF, which will work entirely differently!

    2. Haha... this is great. I'm going to try a ranged class and let you know how it feels to me. Only a fair trade off! :)

      I do know that there are some ranged options on "melee" classes, but they just never felt great to me. Mostly, I only pulled out ranged on Warrior when I needed to fight a boss from a distance. But the damage was always meh.

      Again, this is what I remember from 3 years back, so a lot may have changed now. I hear that ranged Guardian is a good option.


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