Friday, January 5, 2007

Guild Wars: What the Heck is Eurospike?

One of the charming qualities about the Guild Wars community is that whining about the game is a perennial, ongoing sport. It just never ends and, I think, people spend just as much time and effort into complaining about the state of the game and declaring that the sky is falling, people are leaving the game, and we'd all better listen to their ideas on how to improve it before it's too late as they do actually playing the game. I'm, of course, no different and will cheerfully tell you at the drop of a hat just what's wrong and, hopefully, how to fix it (It's all about the infrastructure, if you ask me. Give people better tools and they'll make something out of them.). But, well, no matter what's done you're always going to see people bitching and moaning. That applies to players just as much as it does to the devs. I mean, if you're a team and you run something that, in the considered and considerate consensus opinion of the community, is unorthodox (In the real meaning of the term – in that you're not conforming to the common wisdom – rather than just being something unusual.) then you can expect the same measured and erudite response as the developers get: That you, in fact, suck and should go die in a fire. Because, of course, if you run something people don't like that's your problem, not theirs.

This attitude is, of course, wrong on so many levels it's hard to even know where to begin. But I suppose it starts with the idea that people have these days that there's no possible way their opinions should ever be challenged – and that when they are the proper response is to get defensive and attack that which they find unusual (I could go on about how the ability of people these days to find likeminded individuals means that we're become a series of interrelated tribes held together only by the loosest of threads and this territoriality is indicative of much deeper, structural problems brought about by the march of progress but, well, I have elsewhere and I'll spare you.). Back in the day it was teams that ran spikes. If you were a “real” player then you looked down your nose at people whose skill consisted of, apparently, counting down from 3 and pressing a button. And when I last rode the snake, the hip thing to do was disparage IWAY – a particular build that was seen as taking less skill to run than others, so it was mostly people who weren't very good who ran it. Me, I tried to avoid slandering everyone and anyone who did such things although I'll have to admit I'm not nearly as virtuous as I make myself sound, of course. But, for me, if something works, if something's effective, then you don't dismiss it, you take a good hard look at what makes it tick and see what it can teach you. It takes time, of course, and more moderation and consideration than most people are willing to give to things, so most, simply put don't.

Anyhow, since I'm getting back into the game I've heard people speak in hushed tones about something called “eurospike”. Derisive tones, tones that tell me that only scrubs and poor players run such things. And tones that tell me, of course, that it's common enough that the people not running it don't like it at all. It, in so many words, works. And works well. So, I wanted to figure out what it is. And although I haven't come across any good guide for putting one together as far as I can tell it's not all that difficult or, really, revolutionary. It's, in fact, evolutionary from the state I last left the game. But, basically, it's nothing that good teams and good players weren't doing already just refined and using different skills thanks to balancing changes. And, of course, as players have gotten better at doing it, it's gotten much more lethal. Anyhow, the basic idea is that you take a Warrior – still the best at dealing damage and the most threatening character in any battle in addition to being one of the most well protected – and give them an Assassin secondary. That lets them teleport next to their target and immediately attack with their adrenal skills once they're built up. Along with that you have a Mesmer or three to shatter enchantments and use armor ignoring damage spells. And once everyone's charged up, you pick a target, swarm the Warriors around them and try to score kills by applying a lot of damage in a short amount of time. It's, you know, the old adrenal spike that teams have been doing for a long time. Having played on or at least observed good teams since the game started getting serious about PvP, I can tell you that co-ordinating attacks – what people call “spiking” - has always been there. And there's little different that I can see between your wars bamfing into someone and them building up their adren then rapidly switching targets to get a kill (This is, in fact, how “balanced” “pressure” teams got their kills. Slugging away was just to stress the healing base, it was the weak spike that finished people off.). Where the emphasis lays is the big change.

It works well because, obviously, spikes can be very hard on teams that aren't prepared for them. And with the elements already there, it's a team that can apply pressure even when it's not spiking (From what I gather the big difference between a eurospike team and, say, a pressure team with Warriors and Mesmers is that eurospike hardly even bothers to attack when it's not spiking. That's not a bad thing that's, in fact, a smart thing, if you ask me.) and Warriors are particularly hardened targets who are difficult to stop. It's just yet another example of the kind of tactics that the better teams use trickling down and finding its way into the lower tiers of competition. Three are logical, rational reasons for why people use eurospike and for why it works. And those lay not in any particular skill imbalances but in the way people have learned to play the game. You can nerf Shadow Prison and Spiritual Pain into the ground and people will just find different ways of doing the same thing. Those skills, at this moment, do of course make this an extremely good strategy but the underlying idea is still going to be there. And rather than just dismissing it out of hand, I'd rather people thought about exactly how to combat it rather than just throwing up their hands and going “totally imba imho!”

Part of the problem, I think, is that the average player doesn't have as firm a grasp as they could on just how teams do what they do. Terms get used and thrown around without deep understanding of them and that leads to concepts getting muddled. Guild Wars, after all, is a complicated game made up of many moving parts. And, to be blunt, the average player is a slackjawed moron who can barely lace up their own shoes (Since I am, in fact, an average player this isn't meant as an insult. Just that these people might think they know what they're doing but they don't. There are only a few people who actually know how everything about the game works or how to play and win at the highest levels of competition. Everyone else can get there, if they had the time and talent, but the odds say they won't. It's all down to the inverse square law and pareto distribution and things which I've also talked about before. But, simply put, in any given system there are going to be a few “rich” people – rich here in skill and experience – and a vast majority who are relatively “poor”. Getting from absolutely bad to average might seem like an accomplishment but it's a much bigger step to get from there to being good than it was to get to the middle ground.). And since the game's very subtle and the feedback about how teams actually win is very indirect, it can be hard to figure things out. I know it is for me and, in all due humbleness, I'd like to think I have a clearer understanding of strategy and tactics than most. I've certainly spent enough time studying and considering them. Because, really, the skills might change, the mechanics might be altered, but the underlying issues are always going to be there. So, if you don't mind, I'm going to try and establish some ground rules and definitions.

First, there are three basic things that teams Guild Wars are doing. These, if you will, form the rock/paper/scissors that keeps the game in balance. They are as follows:

  • Attacking: This is trying to kill or otherwise hurt the other team. Obviously, attack skills and spells like Fireball fit in here. But so, too, do the things that increase and improve your ability to attack like Frenzy or Orders. Even energy management can, if you're using it to fuel your offense, be considered as part of “attacking”.
  • Protecting: This is trying to keep your team from being killed or otherwise hurt. Pretty self explanatory, I'd think, if you can understand how attacking encompassing more than just swinging a stick and causing damage. Works the same way for protecting – it starts with recovering or preventing said damage, true, but everything you do that helps you to do so is also included here.
  • Disrupting: This is preventing the other team from doing what they want to do. Interrupts, skill locks, energy denial, and so on. The Mesmer would be the prototypical class here just as the Monk and Warrior would be for protecting and attacking, respectively. But keep in mind you can also disrupt disruption and you can spiral into layer after layer of yomi moves and counter-moves.

Not only do the skills you use fit under these three basic categories but so, too, do the overall strategies your team is using. Now protecting overpowers attacking because defense is naturally stronger than offense (It's complicated but, basically, if you want teams to run any defense at all it needs to be strong enough that you don't have to devote your whole team to it. If it's not capable of neutralizing a lot of offense on its own then you get crazy things like teams having to have four dedicated healing Monks just to survive. And that limits flexibility a lot more than having a lone healer able to hold off an entire team. It leads to silliness on its own as anyone who's run into a two Monk team in the Random Arena can attest but it's generally better than the alternatives. As far as I understand it, anyway.). And disruption will spoil the defenses that protecting will establish and once those are gone you can finish people off any old way. But there are lots of ways of doing attacking – far more than there are protecting - and disruption is, by its nature, narrowly focused, so a strong attack foils strong disruption. The thing to realize here, though, is that just because people cause damage or have healing that doesn't necessarily mean they're attacking or protecting or whatever – those are skill level things while strategical concerns are different (This, by the way, works for tactical concerns, too. You're either taking it to the enemy, trying to keep the enemy from taking it to you, or doing something to keep them from doing one of those. Think about it this way – in a GvG what does your team do? They press forward, right? Or they fall back to a better position. Or they split and try to keep away from an engagement they'll lose.)

But at a basic level there's three things: you doing something to the other team, you keeping the other team from doing something to you, and you stopping the other team from doing their thing.

There are, then, two ways of setting up your team based on the mix of these three elements – Balanced and Imbalanced.

Balanced teams are what you get when you try and include all the elements that you can. They look rather like the team I like to make in PvE. Now, even in an eight person team with ten professions it's almost impossible to include all of them (You have 16 profession slots, though, or two per each character so it is possible. Just not very smart). But even if you have every profession represented you'll be ignoring skill lines and skills so, from the very start, you're not including everything. What you are including, however, are the archetypes. You have a mix of characters, players, professions, attributes, and skills that, well, cover the bases. You have a bit of attacking, a bit of protecting, and a bit of disruption so that, in theory, you can match up against anything thrown at you. It's a resilient team, then, that can handle a number of other builds and strategies. But to understand just how that's done you need to understand that characters in Guild Wars aren't defined so much by their class as they are by their role. There are, as I see it, five of these:

  • Offense: Your job is to kill things. Pure and simple. Warriors, Assassins, Dervishers, Rangers, and Elementalists fit into here. So long as they're built for dealing damage (Which, of course, they might not necessarily be.). Which means if you have a pure Smiting Monk they're also playing to this role. There are, then, any number of ways of going about offense. There's melee, there's ranged. There's physical, there's magical. Armor ignoring or armor impacting. But these characters are what make your team threatening.
  • Offensive Support: Your job is to help other people kill things. You don't in and of yourself attack (Or, if you do you don't do it very well) but you have the skills that supercharge your offense. An Orders Necro is probably the prototypical ideal here; you'll spend most of your time buffing up your attackers and have very little else to do but what you do is what's helping your team win. Of course, this means without an offense you're useless but, as a general rule, if replacing an offensive character with another character means you gain something to offset the loss of damage then you're dealing with a support character.
  • Interruption: Now, to me these type of characters get called disrupters but I already used that term and I'm trying to be clear. I'd call them breakers but I don't think it's illustrative enough. So, we're going with interrupters even though, in GW terms, that has a very specific meaning – someone who uses interrupts. However, I think that interrupts like, say, Power Spike are just one way of going about this role just like using Power Attack is just one way of going about offense. The idea here is disruption so it encompasses things like interrupts and energy denial and enchantment removal and so on. But, here, your job is to spoil things for the enemy. How you go about doing that is a matter of preference and efficiency. Mesmers are the class that cleaves most closely to this role.
  • Defensive Support: Your job is to help other people keep the team going. Like with offensive support you don't, in and of yourself, heal so much as you have the skills that allow others to keep healing. The protytpical character here is probably a warder Elementalist. Those wards aren't going to save anyone by themselves but what they do is to provide the defensive cover that your Monks need to power out the heals (Or, you know, anyone needs to keep themselves from being the meat in a Warrior sandwich). But another way of looking at it would be a Blood Rit Necro. That energy they pump out isn't being used – by them – to heal but it is keeping the people who do heal in the energy. So, being an energy battery for your backline is an example of supporting the defense. As is, say, a Blinding Flash turret who keeps the pressure off of your Monks by reducing the effectiveness of enemy attackers. So, it's defensive Elementalists, Necros, Ritualists, Paragons and the like that fit here but even a Ranger who's main job it is to snare and blind people can be considered to be defensive support.
  • Defense: Your job is keep your team going by keeping people from getting killed. The prototype here, of course, is the Monk. But other classes can fill in for that role in a pinch because while healing is the most obvious way to go about this it's not the only way. Defensive buffs and damage mitigation are another way and I'll leave it to people more familiar with the game in its current state to tell you how you can go about building a team without a Monk.

Now, the lines blur here and you get characters with multiple roles. A Warrior packing Signet of Humility or even Distracting Blow has an interrupting role, for example, and that E/Mo you have in the back to lay down wards can have, say, Obsidian Flame to help out with spikes. And you can argue whether removing enchantments is offensive support or interruption just as you can debate whether hex and condition removal falls under interruption, defensive support, or even plain old defense. We're talking generalities here, after all, to explain how a team that doesn't have each and every profession can be considered “balanced”. And the way to do that is by having a mix of all these roles to fulfill each of the three tasks – attacking, protecting, and disrupting – that teams perform. The stereotypical way to do so in an eight person group is to have two or three healers, one or two defensive caster, one to three offensive casters, and three or four attackers. That defensive caster's a warder, say, or will typically be the character devoted to running flags. The offensive casters typically include a Mesmer. And the attackers are generally Warriors or their expansion equivalents of Dervishers and Assassins although they could quite well be something else – Rangers or Elementalists, maybe. It's just that Warriors and melee have long been the best way to deal damage so they're what gets used. But there's nothing in this approach that requires a team to run Warriors or even, for that matter, Monks or anything else. What matters is that all the elements are represented.

As you might imagine very few people run perfectly balanced teams. Everyone has their own mix of roles and strategy that suits their playstyle. And that pushes and pulls them away from the platonic idea of being completely well-rounded. But what separates the balanced team is that there's at least some attempt to include everything. What happens when they don't is you have an imbalanced team.

Imbalanced teams are more typically called “gimmick builds”. I don't like that term, though, because at heart every build has a gimmick. If it doesn't then it's a bad one. Now, this is more of a team concept but take, for instance, an individual build. Even something incredibly basic like your prototypical sword Warrior – Sever, Gash, Final, Frenzy, Sprint, Healsig, and Rezsig plus a pick-em – has a gimmick. That is to say, they have skills that work together and interact to make the build really hum. It's as basic, even, as using Frenzy to increase the rate they attack so they can use their adrenal skills more often. It's not an unusual gimmick, mind, or even all that mindblowing of one but that's only because everyone's been using it for a long, long time. But, trust me, there was a point when IAS on a Warrior was a revelation.

Unlike “balanced” teams what an imbalanced team does is to concentrate on one or two of the big three to the exclusion of the remainder. They're either really good at attacking but not so good at protecting or disrupting or it's a very defensive and disruptive team that can't kill very well. And they do so by marginalizing or eliminating some of the standard roles. The most common way of doing this is to concentrate on the offense. There are, of course, other ways – the two Monk team in RA would be an accidental way of unbalancing things towards the defensive - but killing people is how you win the game or at the very least what enables you to win. But an example of how this sort of team would be set up is with two Monks and five to six offensive characters with, perhaps, a dedicated flagger (Not a necessity - if they don't have one then anyone on the team can run a flag when they need it.). Because melee characters have to deal with body blocking and pathing the more you have the less efficient your offense gets so these offensive characters are typically ranged, somehow.

Now, this might sound a lot like your average “spike” team to a seasoned GW player and, indeed, most teams that rely on the spike are what I'd call imbalanced (Which, I guess sounds like something of an insult. Perhaps “focused” would be a better term?) though that's not the only kind of build that fits under this umbrella. Something like IWAY would, too, because it's definitely too narrowly constructed to be balanced yet, at the same time, it's about as far from being co-ordinated as you can get. At least, when the average team is running it, anyway.

But there's an important distinction to be drawn here. The term “spike” often gets held up as the antithesis of “balance” and while that has some truth – even in my ordering of things – it's misleading because a “spike team” is only one way of getting away from the starting and ending point that is balance. Rather than being a strategy in and of itself, though, teams spike because that's how they go about implementing their strategy. Spiking is nothing but one way of doing damage. There are, basically, either a staggeringly large amount or only two methods – pressure and spike.

  • Pressure damage is delivered constantly and in seemingly low dosages. But over time and in total it adds up to a lot. Now, whether this is done through degen or through Warriors or however else the general idea is that it's all damage the other team has to deal with and, done properly, that strains their ability to recover or mitigate the damage. After enough time the healing base of the other team breaks – it runs out of energy or a critical cast is missed or something else happens that's bad for your opponent – and that slow and steady damage turns deadly. Teams and players that concentrate on pressure are going to talk about DPS or damage per second a lot and the teams that defend against it are going to talk about how efficient their healing is. Wasted energy and effort is not what you want when the other team is trying to make every last bit count.
  • Spike damage, on the other hand, is delivered infrequently but in large amounts. Teams who like this sort of thing are going to talk about “packets” and how much damage they can squeeze into a single instant as well as how long it takes them to build up their resources and respike. But the idea here is to overwhelm defenses and give them no chance to respond. Either the damage dealt is so massive there's no hope of healing saving someone or it happens so quick that any defense arrives too late. That sudden burst of offense, though, spikes through the defenses of the opponent. And as you score kill after kill, they become progressively weaker allowing you to get kills more easily.

They're two sides of the same coin, really, and just as good defenses will be able to fend off both, good offenses will also include some of both. Teams that rely on a lot of pressure will be able to momentarily spike to finish someone off – the way that a sword Warrior would carry Final Thrust for when their target hit half health. And teams that rely on infrequent spikes can have some follow-up to make sure their target gets killed or they're not simply running around waiting for things to recycle. That's hard, of course, when you're dealing with caster based offenses who live and die on their recharge times. But when you have a team of spiking Warriors who can deliver pretty good damage even without using skills then you have a team that can spend the time in-between spikes stressing their opponent's defenses and leaving them weakened for when they do pour on the damage.

That, by the way, seems to me to be what eurospike does. And even though it's a “spike” build it seems to me to be pretty balanced, really, compared to some other ways of doing things. Certainly a lot more versatile and resilient than, say, a fast-casting air spike. It happens to concentrate more on the spike and less on the pressure to follow-up than “balanced” teams were doing previously. But what it does is nothing more than the logical extrapolation of the way those teams were doing things already.

Put simply, eurospike is teleporting Warriors (Typically using Shadow Prison which snares their target so they have a harder time kiting. And while that can be removed it most likely won't be before they get some hits in.) assisted by casters (Typically Mesmers who'll be shattering and otherwise tossing in armor ignoring damage and disruption although I can see something else working.) who'll use co-ordinated, regular burst of damage rather than simply beat on people until they fall. It's a balanced team that relies on the spike instead of pressure. Simple, effective, and easy to run. I can see why people hate it so much.


Clamatius said...

In a word: yep.

Sausaletus Rex said...

Heh, glad you like it. But the formating on this one is kicking my ass.