Friday, January 5, 2007

Guild Wars: Reconnecting to GvG

Okay, so last night I had my average list of STD (That's “shit to do” and nothing to do with what I got from your mom, thank you very much. Oh snap![1]) but instead chose to spend the night happily bashing in the virtual brains of other video gamers. You see, I had logged into Guild Wars and just finished up my daily quota of questing and advancement that I've come to call PvE. I'm making some notes, checking a few things out, and preparing to head out for the night to get some things done before I went to bed. Then, all of a sudden, I hear that special little ping. Guild Wars people know what I mean. It's the one that lets you know you've just gotten a whisper or a private communication from another player. It's a sound I've come to both love and dread – I still remember when I was internet famous and would get routinely bombarded by questions and comments from other players whenever I was in-game. I'm good at multi-tasking like any child of the video age but you try carrying on five or ten unrelated conversations at once and see how well you can farm griffons (Not that you should mistake my complaining for distaste. I loved every minute of it, I've just learned to be careful and vent so that people don't take advantage of me and my natural inclination to help others out. So, I bitch, I whine, I complain, after I make sure it gets done and rant about it when I have the free time.).

Anyhow, this whisper was a nice one because it was an old friend asking me if I wanted to guest for some GvG. For people who've never played Guild Wars before, well, parsing that sentence is akin to a fish looking at a bicycle, I imagine. But, basically, to the PvP crowd guild versus guild combat is the highest level of competition in Guild Wars. Everything else pales in comparison to the complexity, and every other format lacks the fierceness of competition. Now, that might sound like it should be something to steer clear of as I'm just getting back into the game and if you'll remember from my adventures in HA, horrifically nooberiffic at the moment. But if you have to ask why, when given the opportunity, I jumped at the chance to test myself at the highest level then you really don't get the whole PvP mindset. I'd like to think I'm not exactly the typical PvPer because, well, everyone likes to think they're unique and special, but truth be told if I'm any kind of Guild Wars player it's the kind who's really serious about PvP. To be that way, though, you have to have a healthy competitive spirit but you also need to be friendly and outgoing enough to have teammates to play with.

Guild Wars is, Hero Battles notwithstanding, a team sport. Like basketball or football or any other team sport, really, you can be the best individual player in the world but that's only going to take you so far. To reach the top you need teammates to make better. And who'll, in turn, make you better. In a format like GvG which is a heads-up battle of two eight person teams on a map with differing objectives, that means you need seven other people to play with. And not just once or twice but if you're really serious about things you want to play with and practice with them as much as you can because as you get to know each other you'll get that much better. So put aside any idea of personal skill because to get into the upper echelon of play you need solid, consistent, reliable teammates.

Which means, of course, that an unreliable flake like me is never going to be a mainstay on any really good team. Even if I had, you know, anything like the level of talent required. Still, hope springs eternal and since the whisper came from an old friend of mine I could hardly say no. So, last night I wound up running with the Furies. They're yet another small guild that hasn't made much noise over the years but they have a solid core of some good players and, well, I was even a member (Sort of. It's one of those things that makes me a scrub but I'm not exactly fond of the whole guild system.) the last time I was playing the game – in and around Factions coming out. They've got a nice website that has a lot of example builds posted – before the template system, it was a crucial function but these days when you can share builds by copying and pasting it's more of an interesting feature. I left the guild like I tend to leave things – without telling anyone else about it. And since I've come back there's been more than a little pressure on me to rejoin. I'm not comfortable doing so at the moment, I want to just guest around and see how the game's going (Which this whole “you have to be in a guild for 30 days before you can play” thing makes a suboptimal strategy but, well, it's the one I'm using for the moment) and if I want to stick around before making any commitments. But I had nothing but good times with the Furies last go around – we won more than we lost and made a few good pushes towards cracking the top 100 and, I think, if we could have played more regularly we would have been there for sure. So when their guildmaster, Deviant, whispered me up and asked if I wanted to play a few rounds with them he didn't have to ask twice.

As these things usually do, it took a while of getting ready for things before we actually started playing. People have to log in, builds have to be settled, last-minute replacements scrambled for, and everything else that makes getting a group together in Guild Wars such a pain. The build they were running is no secret and they even have a version posted if you want to check it out. They call it Furious Utensils and they've been running a version of it as long as I can remember – they run other things, sure, but they tend to come back to the old stand-by. It's basically about as prototypically “balanced” as you can get especially in this latest iteration. Two Warriors, two Mesmers, an E/Mo, a flagging Monk, and a two Monk backline (Which is listed separately from the rest of the build but look around and I'm sure you'll find it. In fact, I'll save you the trouble.). Now, this particular version is a bit more standard as, from what I understand, the Furies have decided that they've been shooting themselves in the foot by running complicated, defense oriented builds and wanted to get back to basics with a build that could compete head to head in a straight up fight. They like to do a lot of splitting and ganking – often they'll pull off amazing comebacks doing so, by the way, despite any number of disadvantages – but to do so they generally have one team of characters who's whole point is just to stay alive and keep the other team occupied. The build we went with last night (Which isn't exactly what they have posted now but, well, they change it all the time. Check back tomorrow and it might well be different again.) could still split, of course (almost every team needs to be able to split these days), but compared to how the tactics were last time I played with them we stayed much more together, especially in the beginning.

Originally, I was going to play either one of the Mesmers – probably the Blood Ritual one as the other one was a more complicated Signet of Humility, Mantra of Inscriptions thing that Deviant's been running, one way or another, for ages – or the E/Mo – which was pretty much the role I generally took up when playing with the Furies last time. I don't know why, exactly, but I tend to get shoved into the support roles when I'd rather be up front as a Warrior or something else a lot more visceral. But since I try to be a good teammate I don't mind filling out a team in a less glamorous position – I've played pretty much every kind of character, it's just a matter of how recently at this point and I pride myself on being able to run anything at least halfway decently so I'll defer to others and, I guess, the support roles tend to be the second option for most people. Somewhere along the line they got it into their heads that they wanted me to Monk. Now, I had to explain to them that unless they wanted a night of nothing but misery and pain the game was far too fast at the moment for me to be catching spikes – which seemed to be the point of the build they wanted me to run, some sort of Blessed Light, Dismiss Condition thing that I was absolutely unfamiliar with – the last time I exercised my Monk fu boonprots were the order of the day. And the Assassin skills would be tricky to use, I thought. I got lucky, I think, when my mic fritzed out on me. My headset's seen better days for a while and it's been acting up for the past month or so but it picked last night to die with one last ear-piercing squeal of static. It's a bit hard to Monk without a mic so I was off the hook (Have to pick up another one this weekend, I think, because I couldn't live without my voicechats). And eventually, I wound up on the E/Mo – which was nice because I only had to unlock the one Nightfall skill before I could play. Here's what I ran with:

Drama Meanie (E/Mo)

Energy Storage – 10+1
Earth Magic – 12+2
Healing Prayers – 8
Protection Prayers – 2
Dead Points - 2

  1. Grasping Earth
  2. Ward Against Foes
  3. Ebon Hawk
  4. Stoning
  5. Resurrection Chant
  6. Glyph of Sacrifice
  7. Draw Conditions
  8. Ether Prodigy {E}

Armor: full +health set, Superior Vigor, Minor Energy Storage, Earth Magic, and two Vitae (or whatever the nifty +en ones are called) runes.

Equipment set#1: Hale Earth Staff of Fortitude (+60 health)
Equipment set#2: Jeweled Earth Staff of Enchanting (+5 en, 20% longer enchantments)
Equipment set#3: Earth Wand 20% casting, Earth Focus +15/-1
Equipment set#4: Earth Wand +15/-1, Earth Focus +15/-1

That, by the way, is exactly the order they went in my skill bar – it'll matter if I ever get around to explaining my particularly screwed up and slapped together little interface scheme. But, anyway, it's a pretty standard 12/10/8 attribute layout with the junk points thrown into Protection for the marginal benefit they give on Draw Condi. The big switch for me was that I was advised to steer clear of superior runes because it was better to have more health these days thanks to all the armor-ignoring stuff. Same with the weapon, I was told the best thing to do would be to carry around a lot of extra health. Now, I filled out all my weapon slots because I like to step up my energy pool in case I run into any energy crunches – Ether Prodigy is nice but it can be stripped so momentarily being able to go up a notch and trade some regeneration for short term gain can be nice. On another character I'd probably have an empty set or even a negative energy set that I could switch to in order to hide my energy from e-denial or to dip below zero to clear off something like Malaise but when you're running around with a natural +33 energy that seemed kinda pointless. So, instead, I grabbed a staff with a bit more energy in case I needed just that bit more to cast up an Ether Prodigy – the longer enchantment mod meant I'd get something like 3 more seconds of regen, too, if it lasted. So I tried to switch to that before casting E-prod whenever I could.

As for the skills, there are a few things to note here. The main purpose of this character is the ward and Grasping Earth. You hang around in the backlines, near the Monks and where the other team will have to extend to get to you and you lay down the ward for everyone in the back to kite people through. When people poke through the ward you lay the hex-based snare of Grasping Earth on them (Which, I'll admit, was a little tricky for me to do.). The main defense for the backline in this build, beyond its ability to heal itself, is to run around and avoid being hit as often. Snaring the opposing melee characters is a big part of that. The next priority is to keep the team clear of conditions by using Draw Condi – especially the Warriors who'll be struggling with covered Blinds and Cripples and the like but also to strip a key Deep Wound when someone's being spiked, hopefully. It doesn't help much when you become a target but you should be safely in the back, anyway. After that the build has some offense with Ebon Hawk and Stoning which, together, take about three seconds to cast and chip in a good 160 damage on a spike. If you can tag the same target with them they can be used defensively, too, as the Weakness from Ebon Hawk drastically reduces offensive outputs and if it's not cleared then Stoning will cause a knockdown allowing someone to kite free or providing a crucial interrupt (Pleased to say I got off more than a few of those. I, perhaps, got a bit too trigger happy and involved on the offense when I should have been concentrating on other things but, screw it, I wanted to have fun and kill stuff.). At the same time this character is the build's hardrezzer who's supposed to use GlyphSac into RezChant before anyone even reaches for their rezsigs. It's an automatic, ranged rez at a lot of health and enough energy to start casting immediately so it's a nice little trick even if it does take up two precious slots. E-prod's the elite and it's there for energy management, obviously, although unless there's a lot of unnecessary casting this character isn't too terribly hard on the energy pool. A good thing because I found that skill stripped off quickly more often than not and well before I'd get the full benefit of it.

Anyhow, this build is, obviously, all over the place. If you're counting there's at least four separate and, in their own way, crucial roles this character is providing in the build – offense, defensive support, removal, and hardrezzing. Playing it requires you to be aware of the enemy and the positioning relative to them, your team's health bars and status displays, pay attention when spikes are called out, as well as pay attention to your energy and your skills recharging. It's, frankly, a lot to handle even if I were on top of my game. And since I've only been playing for about a week or two at this point, I'm not. So, in my head I made up a little program to tell me what to do and how to prioritize. It went something like this.

  • LOOK at position on the battlefield
  • IF ward is not up, find Monks and cast WaF near them.
  • IF enemy is nearby, cast Grasping Earth
  • ELSE, LOOK at party menu
  • IF a teammate has a condition arrow on their health bar target them and cast Draw Condi. (Add a black box in here about prioritizing the Warriors and people getting damaged while ignoring myself)
  • IF someone calls out a condition target them and cast Draw Condi
  • ELSE, LOOK for called spikes
  • WHEN a spike is called, begin casting Ebon Hawk (Start casting early so it arrives just as the countdown ends and the rest of the damage is happening.)
  • THEN follow with Stoning
  • PRIORITY INTERRUPTIF RezChant is available and someone dies, cancel everything else target them and cast GlyphSac followed by RezChant as quickly as possible.
  • IF RezChant is recharging then inform the team they need to use a RezSig.

Okay, so I suck at programming (And I have no idea what language that's in, but it's what I jotted down in my notes, so...) but it went snares then removal then damage unless someone got killed in which case drop everything and get them up.

As for how I'd tweak this build, well, I think the whole Ebon Hawk into Stoning thing is pretty weak, actually. The Furies seem to like it but I think it's taking up too much space on the bar for too little effect. Ebon Hawk's casting time makes it hard to add to a spike plus they're both projectiles so they miss as often as they hit, for me, anyway. Weakness sounds good, in theory, but with all the removal out there it gets washed away too quickly, especially on the melee characters you actually want it on (And, ugh, I even got sloppy and tried to get some Melandru's Dervishers with it. But those are pretty common, too.), often before Stoning can even land. So, I'd drop that and replace it with a Ward Against Melee to drop along with the WaF – which would help out when kiting a lot more than an occasional Weakness. And the other slot I'd give over to Obsidian Flame – I'm a sucker for the classics, really. But even though it takes as much time as Ebon Hawk to cast, I like it a lot better in spikes because it cuts through armor and doesn't have to worry about line of sight or anything. The exhaustion can hurt especially with heavy E-prod usage but, to my mind, even though it recharges fast obs flame doesn't get used very often and it's only there when you can contribute to a spike – this character's going to be too busy doing other things most of the time and when it's not then things are either going very good or very bad and you just need something to chip in. When it's there 100 damage in an instant is better, to me, than 160 or so points spread out over a second. Although the exhaustion hurts, the 5+exhaust from Obs Flame is actually a lot less costly than the 25 you'll spend on a full Ebon Hawk+Stoning cycle, too, with a full second more to cast other things. Cheaper, more efficient, and probably more effective, that's what I'd want.

Anyhow, so we get everyone together and, as is the Furies custom, headed to the rez pad to signify we were all there and ready to head into a match (They're not the only ones to do something like that but it's a good trick to avoid those last minute cries of “Oh wait, no, I forgot to set my attributes! Cancel, cancel, can—aw, hell, too late.” At least, to step on the rezpad people have to take a moment to consider if they're really ready or not.) and the evening got underway. And, well, it didn't go so well. Our first match was a thrilling come-from-behind victory on the Warrior's Isle (Which is a good, basic map and the Furies' hall. Pretty nice for split techniques without too many bells and whistles getting in the way of a straight fight. Also, catapults can be a lot of fun. We were the lower rank in every battle so it's what we played on all night.). I spent roughly half the match lying on the ground, DPed out as – and this became a theme – teams swarmed me early and often and our Monks seemed unable to catch most spikes. We got hammered but fell back to base, started splitting, and fought the enemy team off, capped the flag and killed their runner for a critical morale boost that let me auto-rez. VoD hit and we worked their NPCs then their team and it was all over as we swarmed their defenseless Lord.

The team we played, though, was in my opinion horrible. I caught a bit of it on obs mode (Since I'm guildless at the moment, I joined up with the Furies temporarily so we could hold some pre-run scrims and the like. One unexpected benefit was that I could watch all of the night's matches on observer mode.) and the other team just couldn't split to save their lives. Even though they were set up in mirrored 4/4 teams of a Dervish, an Ele, a Mes, and a Monk, they couldn't play well when they were apart. They really responded poorly once we went in for ganking and that cost them the match. We got severely outplayed and got slaughtered almost every time we tried to fight them heads up but we managed to build up a good NPC advantage and that proved to be too much come VoD.

That was about as good as the night got, however. There was, apparently, a lot of lag from the other players – apart from the customary little lurch I have whenever an enemy team comes into view for the first time and my aging machine has to cope with all the new textures and polygons and whatever else it takes to render a full character I didn't really feel it. Did err out at one point but the reconnect feature had me up and running in about thirty seconds. But, again, the Monks just couldn't save spikes. They caught maybe one out of five which is horrible. It meant a lot of people died and that generally put us in a whole. I think, overall, the build was a bt underpowered compared to what we were up against. You had your eurospike and your Dervish frontlines and some massive hex pressure that the build just couldn't deal with and although we tried to compensate tactically we ran into some good teams like [ocho] and Spirits of War that could capitalize. One of our matches was even against the then #71 team in the land, Sacred Clergy. We played well, I think, and took most teams to VoD but we were outmatched the whole night and finished down several ranking points and well out of the top 1000. The Furies, though, are just practicing their build and polishing their tactics for when the eventual rebalance comes – figuring it's going to nerf a lot of what's popular and they'll have a good opportunity to run with something simple and unspectacular while everyone's scrambling for the next thing to exploit.

Me, I would have liked to win a few more because it's a lot less frustrating. I did end the night up roughly 2k in faction (plus the 1k I spent to unlock Ebon Hawk) so it's not like the night was a total loss. But, hey, I was just a guest and happy just for the chance to play again. I had to relearn how to do things like kite through wards and pay attention to health bars while avoiding big people chasing me with pointy things on the fly (I'm an old hand at this, ever since the PvP scene was wowed by the idea of kiting thanks to the amazing Koreans and their running shoes. I'm saying it used to be gosu, real damn gosu, but these days it's entry level tech. And, well, it's been a while.). And I certainly made some dumb moves like GlyphSacking the wrong skill or not getting a rez off quickly enough. But, again, I made some good moves, too. And I'd like to think they even out, in the end. In the wise words of Clamatius to improve I need to, “suck less”. But I take solace in the fact that as the night wore on, I got better.

And, really, learning not to make the same mistakes is what I'm looking for at the moment. An okay run but as long as there are better ones in the future, I'll be happy with it. As I told the Furies, it was nice to play with them again and they can ask me to guest any time they want.

[1] – And, yes, you can tell I've been PvPing or otherwise competitive because the trash talk is flowing. Just, you know, always remember that I suck and have absolutely no clue what I'm doing. Maybe that way at least one of us will be able to remind me of that when I start getting too full of myself.

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