Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Guild Wars: Back into the PvP

Last night I mentioned I was going to log and catch some matches on obs mode. I neglected, however, to mention that I was going to bypass the more meatier fare of the GvG battles – the ladder just got reset and it's the silly season before a big skill rebalancing so while there's interesting stuff it's not the cream of the crop – and instead concentrate on HA. That's, for those of you not in the know, Hero's Ascent. Formerly known as Tombs. It's sort of the middle ground in the PvP scene. More organized than the arenas. Less complicated and cutthroat than GvG. In theory, anyway.

Now, I've never been much of a Tombs rat. Much preferred the quicker turnaround of the Arena for casual play. And the subtle nuances and head-to-head competition of GvG when I was serious. I mostly played it during BWEs and when the game first launched while I was waiting for people to get organized and for real ladder competition to start up (I was also stupid enough to give up my spot willingly whenever any group was too full – plenty of chances to play in the future, I thought, when people got better and since I've tested and everything let somebody else have some of that fun. I didn't understand, though, that since I wasn't playing I wasn't getting any better myself. And when I did play the fact that I was dragging things down only frustrated me further.). So, it's not like I've never been there and not like I've never held the hall it's just not exactly my scene. Last time around, I pretty much ignored HA because although I thought it might be a nice way to tune up for GvG I talked myself out of it. Finding a group is hard. Finding a good group even harder. And the design of HA pushes builds and strategies to the extreme. And it's very easy for a superior team to get bombed or hated out. When all you have to do is hold that central dias for just long enough to cap it at the end of the battle, after all, things get a little wacky. So, I saw that it was a degenerate mass of people desperately farming fame to get into better groups more fame, I guess and not a whole lot of fun if you only have a few hours a night to play and avoided the whole thing.

This time around, though, I'm going to be focusing on it. At least to start. By now there have been some changes – HA is six person rather than eight person teams and that, obviously, creates some new design wrinkles and challenges that have me, for one, excited. There's also been some changes made to maps and the like that help to liven things up. The biggest change, though, is that fame ranks now increase your faction cap. So there's actually a point to battling away and hoping to increase your rank. I'm only rank 3 at the moment – just high enough to rank flash and get into a non-nooberific group. But that was mostly gained on the back of one momentous hall hold back when the game first came out. I've picked up a few points here and there and I'm not that far off from getting the next rank but, really, I haven't bothered to because there was nothing in it for me. Now there is and, so, now I feel like trying for it.

But before I stepped into things, I wanted to step up my game, so to speak, by getting as much information about the way things work as I can. I might not be the best player around but I can be very well prepared – if, of course, I put my mind to it. Obs mode is part of that. You can view any of the battles at the top of the perpetual HA tournament and that lets me see what sort of things the good teams are running. So, for the past few days I've been trying to watch some matches and get a feel for things, pick up some tips, that sort of thing. Once I had an idea, I'd start watching other matches further down the ladder, looking at skill combinations, guides, talking to people and so on. I figured by the end of the week I'd be ready to start getting into groups and getting some playtime.

And that's what I set off to do last night. Checked into HA for the first time, trying to see what kind of groups people were forming and how many people were playing. Also, I wanted to see if the improved party search function was making things any easier for people. I don't bother with it in PvE because I'm perfectly comfortable running with henchies. The short answers there are that there were a few districts American and a few districts International. Not as many as I remember but it's still right after the holidays and I don't think many people are playing regularly just yet. Hopefully it'll pick up because the more people playing, the more chances there are to get into groups. People were using party search to look for groups and to find that last part of a team – but more were just spamming the local channel like they always have. And the groups that were on party search were mostly looking for people with, to me, ridiculously high ranks and so, I wouldn't find much there. Still, it looked like if I wanted I'd be able to find some groups without much more work than it takes in the Team Arena or something.

I was just about to log off for the night when I got a whisper asking if I'd like to join a group getting ready to head back in. Well, my first instinct was to say, no, I'm not ready and I need to get some sleep. But realizing that this was an opportunity that might not come again, I said yes. Just, you know, made sure it was clear that I was incredibly rusty and out of practice. Burned off some faction so that I wouldn't cap out during the run. I grabbed my headset, fired up vent, and rolled up a PvP character. Using the new interface for PvP characters is interesting. I like that it gives me a lot more options and ways of customizing things and does so in game. But it's also easy to get crushed under the amount of choices available – especially if you don't know what you're doing. And with the added pressure of everyone standing around waiting for me I tried to fly through it as quickly as possible.

Anyhow, the team I played with was mostly from Cats the Musical [cats].(There were also two people with a tag [yay] but I don't recognize the guild). I stumbled into them by accident when they were syncing in the Snowball Arena. Just the three of them and me. While I'm sure the people we rolled over thought it was a bit unsporting it's nice to see that some of the old tricks for making sure you get the group you want still worked. And, anyway, we had a pretty good run that lasted for a while and during the course of it we got to talking. They seemed like a nice group and I told them if they ever needed a guest for anything to drop me a line. Cats seems like a small guild of mostly casual players. They've got a forum you can check out here, if you're so inclined.

There's nothing truly remarkable about them, as far as I can tell. Certainly not compared to guilds at the top of the ladder or anything. They're just yet another of the many small, middle-of-the-road guilds that hover around the top levels of competition. There's so many of them that they get lost in the long tail of competition in the game. Getting to the top is really hard and, frankly, not everyone can make it. But everyone can dream about it so these are the guilds that plug away at it. Sometimes they turn into something special, most of the time they don't. So they either toil away in anonymity or their better members get poached by a top-tier guild looking for new blood. There are dozens if not hundreds of these teams. Each with a solid group of players, each with their own website or forums, and their own ambitions. It's sad, really, to think about just how the system grinds through teams like that. But that's, of course, only if you're trying to compete at the highest levels. Which, to me anyway, if you're not then there's little point in playing the game. But if you're just interested in having a good time, the way the cats are, while still competing pretty hard then middle-of-the-road teams are the way to go. Getting to the top, much less staying there takes a lot of time and effort. And that's not something I'm willing to invest at the moment.

The Cats, though, I've seen in obs mode holding the Hall more than once and while that's not quite the feat it once was when they gave me the opportunity to play with them, I couldn't turn the chance down. The build they've been using a lot lately is one with three Paragons and three Warriors. It's pretty resilient thanks to the naturally high armor and the Paragon's chants. It's not something they came up with, mind, but it's one of those archetypal builds that gets run a lot. It's easy to see why people like it, though, because it doesn't rely on enchantments and it doesn't feature a Monk who'll be targeted instantly. And, at the same time, it's got a pretty potent offense. In six person teams it works really well. I rolled up a Warrior/Monk - just like old times (Although, back in the day we wanted that so the Warrior could carry the hardrez like Restore Life. The game's come a long way since then, obviously) – with the following setup:


Strength – 3+1
Axe Mastery – 12+4
Tactics – 12+1

  1. Critical Chop
  2. Desperate Blow
  3. Drunken Blow
  4. Disrupting Chop
  5. Resurrection Signet
  6. Steady Stance {E}
  7. Fear Me!
  8. Watch Yourself!

Equipment: +energy on all the armor (apparently, “knight” or damage reduction bonuses from armor are no longer universal. So I grabbed the +8 energy in total.). Superior Axes, Absorbtion and Vigor, minor Strength and Tactics runes. PvP Shield +health with damage reduction mod. One Vampiric Axe of Fortitude, one Zealous, and one elemental (I went with fiery because of the burning.). One Wand +15/-1, one focus +15/1 (for gaining adrenaline at range as well as a way of getting a lot of energy to cast in a hurry. I've got a fast attacking fire wand for that somewhere but I don't know where I put it and I didn't want to keep everyone waiting.). 3 slots were for the axe/shield combos, with the last for the wand/focus.

Anyhow, the big trick here is to use Steady Stance. Which, by the way, is a skill I had an eye on (I needed to unlock it and Critical Chop before playing but that wasn't much of an issue.) since I came back. It's a sexy one. It gives you energy and adrenaline when you should be knocked down. It recharges ridiculously fast and even though it costs a lot – 3 pips when a Warrior only naturally has 2 – you get some of that back and even if you didn't it would still be worth it. The idea is to pop that off, then use Desperate Blow. Even if it's blocked you still get the adrenaline which you use to pop off Fear Me!. Wait until Steady Stance recycles and use it with Drunken Blow. Repeat as necessary. Every five seconds even if you're completely ineffective offensively you're draining 4 energy from everyone in range (That's why I have Tactics at the 13 breakpoint, by the way). That's a very healthy drain, by the way, and each of the three Warriors on the squad is doing it. On a single target that's something like 7 pips of energy degeneration and in the tight packed confines of the Tombs, you're going to hit more than one person a lot and that degen gets insane. And if you're not completely ineffective you're delivering some pretty nasty hits. Desperate/Drunken Blow deliver some good damage along with a random condition that can be nasty. And Critical Chop does some nice damage, too, can potentially interrupt but the real nice part about it is that it has a low cast time so you can quickly follow a Desperate/Drunken Blow with it for a mini-spike – and the Steady Stance means you'll probably have the energy to do so. At the same time with all that adrenaline you'll have your Disrupting Chop and Watch Yourself charged almost all the time. It's nasty and it's effective. I wish it had an IAS or a speed buff but I can see why it doesn't.

For the rest of the build, I'm not too clear on it as I've only glimpsed it on obs or from playing alongside of it. But one of the other Warriors is also a Wammo and that one's the team's infuser for dealing with spikes. Also, I was pleased to see that a major part of the build was to have the Paragons casting Mending Refrain and keeping it up with Anthem of Flame and They're On Fire. That's basically what I was doing with my trial Paragon here. It's always nice to see that my ideas aren't completely crazy, you know?

We didn't do so well, really, and I personally don't think I played anywhere near the level I'm capable of playing at. It was late and it was the first time I played serious, team PvP in months so I think it's understandable but I made some really dumb plays that I shouldn't have. And, I'd like to think, wouldn't have if I'd been on top of my game. The big things like not knowing who to target and how the new maps are supposed to be played will correct themselves in time. What bothers me is the small stuff. Not popping off Steady Stance before using Desperate Blow, for instance, and knocking myself down is just something I shouldn't be doing. It only happened a few times but that's a few times too many. And there's things like having a fully charged Disrupting Chop and missing the interrupt on a Ghostly – letting them cap a dias. Just a really noob move. Still, there were other times when I think I made really good plays. Getting that crucial interrupt off in time on a Ghostly, for example. Or finishing off a kiting Monk. Even managed to maneuver one into trapping themselves in a corner where me and another Warrior managed to block them in and finish them off. Then again when they were rezzed. Good times.

Mostly, though, the team had a lot of problems. It seems spirits and wards are getting popular again and a good bloodspike can just rip through the build's defenses. And that's about all we ran into. We seemed to have particular trouble with the lower level dias and relic running maps. And in a few hours of playing I only earned about 10 fame. Talking to the guys it seems like it was one of their worst nights in a while. I'd like to think it wasn't completely my fault but towards the end I was getting really tired and just incapable of focusing. I should have called it a night long before I actually did but, again, it was a good opportunity to play with some good teammates and I wanted to make the most of it. Sure, I didn't play well but in order to get better there are going to be some nights when I'm going to stink. That's just the way it goes. But the only way to improve is to get out there and actually try and play better. The mistakes I've made are ones that can be corrected, ones that I'll build on, and it's not about how things went last night. It's about how they go tonight and the night after. No one seemed too upset with me and I think, for where I'm at, I didn't do a completely terrible job. That's about all I can expect at the moment, so I'm pretty happy. Not sure if I'll be able to find a group again tonight, but I will be looking for one. So, anyways, a big thanks to Cats and here's hoping the next run works out better them.

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