Thursday, November 8, 2007

Guild Wars: The Promised Day Has Come

Clammy let out that a skill update was in the pipeline the other day and it's now arrived. There's some interesting (read: wacky) stuff here. Heading into this we were promised that Izzy was working on the following:

  • Spiritway
  • Dual Clums Build
  • Ancestor Rage Spike
  • Splinter Weapon at VoD
  • Three Monk backlines
  • Recall
  • Blood Spike

I thought for sure that shadow stepping was going to get a nerf.

But, no, instead it's Recall that's been hammered. Disabling your skills for 10 seconds is brutal but doesn't really end the abuses that skill allows in capping formats like HvH and the new Arenas. The key there is mobility, that you can cast it and flit around the map to gain a positional advantage. Using it to go on the offensive is of secondary importance. Nice, but not really why you're bringing it along. Now, you just have to run around for a bit if you port into the thick of things. Otherwise, if no one's around then it really doesn't matter.

As for Ancestors' Rage, I'm not sure how switching it to a skill actually helps there. I mean, you can't use enchantment stripping to time it now but your opponent can't mess up your timing and take the hit when they want, either. There's now no way they have to stop it except to prot up. And it's hard to effectively prot for AoE. It still hits for way too much damage for too little cost and is lethal against the shortbus AI at VoD.

Splinter Weapon, on the other hand, took the necessary hit. It's now limited in the number of foes it can hit at once, meaning that scythe swinging Dervs no longer decimate your archer horde in three seconds. Now, it takes them eight seconds, I guess. A good and needed change but the problem here is structural. It's the idiotic behavior at VoD that needs to be fixed, not the skills that are being used to take advantage of it.

Loving the change to Sundering Weapon, though. And Weapon of Warding might have crept back to playable levels again.

Dual Clumsiness builds don't seem to have been touched on at all. Of course, since I haven't been playing or watching much obs mode, I'm not even all that sure what they are to begin with. I imagine with the recharge what it is, it's all about maintaining it constantly on a target or something since removal can't race it. Annoying but I actually think the metagame would benefit from a monkeywrench that deters standard frontline tactics - encourages people to bring somehting other than the narrow range of builds we're dealing with today, to spread out into other areas, ripe for exploration (And, with a few key tweaks here and there, actually effective.). Of course, it depends on what else you're running with those twinned Mesmers. If it's something like hexes to cover for Sin spikes then, yeah, that's more than a little lame.

Instead, the Mesmer gets a few upticks to marginal skills for sticky illusion hexers. Shrinking Armor is forgettable unless you're a PvE Mesmer in which case, you're forgettable. But, at the moment, I don't know why you'd run Phantasm over Nightmare. Same cast, same recharge, only 5 en more for Nightmare's 3 extra pips of degen. That's 6 extra damage a second. Not much but it's now objectively better as long as you can swing the extra energy.

Blood Spike also escaped the foam reaper as the real culprit behind it all is Angorodon's Gaze. That's a powerful damage dealer that, thanks to things like Blood Drinker, that only costs 3 energy. Again, that's actually the kind of damage spell I'd like to see. Minimal cost on a 4~5 second recharge in the 75 damage range. That's what you need, I think to get pressure damage out of your casters. The problem here, though, is that 3 energy is way too cheap. And it's not damage it's life stealing which means you cut through armor and other defenses while healing yourself at the same time. And on top of it all, it's in the Necromancer line which means you're just begging for ridiculous SR fun and games even now. It's the same problem as Ritualist spikes - you can't give a profession with the ability to defend itself well anything like decent offense or you get a slow turtle build that drags the game down into the muck and takes everyone along with it.

But, nope, that skill wasn't touched and, instead, Weaken Armor finally gets the long-promised switch over to causing Cracked Armor - along the way it gets a lot cheaper because it's now condition spam instead of a sticky hex. Why they can't make more hexes like that, I don't know. But, again, Cracked Armor is a PvE condition. I love this change because now I can stack a Cracked Armor on my Necros along with Enfeebling Blood so they can rule Hard Mode for me. But, everywhere else, it's forgettable. Also, Oppressive Gaze got more conditional.

The Ranger line took some lumps, too, in an effort to combat spiritway, I suppose. Energizing Wind and Fertile Season now cost more and stick around less, one way or the other. Fertile Season, especially, took a heavy hit. Good, as far as I'm concerned. Hate spirits and the type of gameplay they involve.

It's an interesting change to Magebane Shot, though. I think I'd still stick with BHA but it's debatable on my Ranger Heroes if henchies can now use it right - before they didn't use it anything like as often as they could, thus, wasting it. It's gotten a bit worse when it comes to interrupting as now, you're basically going to be aiming for whatever it was you took down once you recharge instead of getting a bonus shot to pluck off something else. But the real plus of this change is that it's no longer blockable. Now you can use it to nail that Aegis or something that's going up in the center of a defensive web. That' possibilities. It's definitely moved off the automatic discard pile. Just not sure if it's good enough to run just yet.

Let's see what else... Ele's had only one change and it's a good one. If you're into PvE, anyway. Shell Shock will recharge faster and do more damage. Since it was the best and easiest way, outside of PvE skills to get a Cracked Armor that's a good thing. Still not going to see much play outside of dungeons and hard mode and other places where foes have ridiculously large amounts of armor and will stand there while you pound on them, though.

Of course, the big change I've been dancing around is to the Monk line. Izzy had said he wanted to work on Three Monk backlines. And it looks like, to do so, he put in some sweeping changes to the Monk's lines. Especially Healing Prayers. The danger here, of course, is that by trying to encourage more diversity you weaken the Monk and require people to bring not 3 but 4 Monks (read: dedicated healers) just to stay alive. The challenge is similar to something Ensign puts beautifully here: The bars going up and down needs to be fixed because damage has outpaced healing. That's the root cause of the defensive webs that have clogged the game and robbed it of diversity - your offensive characters are now all over the build and can hit for so much that you need to have that much protection just to survive the initial encounter. So, to counter the offenses' ability to spike damage, you need to be able to spike heal. And the Healing line which is supposed to be where you turn for that just hasn't been up to snuff for a long, long time. Red bars fly down, you have to be able to send them soaring back up. And you need to be able to do it faster and more effectively than offense ever can so you can justify bringing an offense of your own.

Alright, so, did it work? I have no idea. The hugest change here is the nerf to LoD. This skill is now effectively dead - it's interrupt bait instead of picking your party off the mat and cheaply buying you the time to save them. You are begging for a D-Shot or something else nasty to land on you and I wouldn't want to chance it when it counted. Which, actually, I like. It makes me nervous because LoD's undeniable power has been floating a lot of teams and keeping a lot of people alive. Nerfing it means we might have tipped too far towards the weak Monk scenario that's going to require overloading on healers and, thus, weakening teams offenses to the point where they can't kill anything, just to survive. But there's no denying that LoD has been, hands down, the most powerful skill in the game for a while now. There's been no reason to run another Healing elite. There's been only minor variations in backlines. And it's all because LoD was overpowered. Tuning it down makes sense but it's risky, is all I'm saying.

It's the same reason I think Mystic Healing got nerfed. It's just too cheap and too strong. So, at the same time, the costlier options like Heal Party have been ticked up so they become the more attractive choice. One solution to the many Monks problem is to distribute some of the healing duty to the midlines and this might be heralding the return of the multi-tool Elementalist. The one who stands around and spams HP and does a half dozen other things, too, when they have the time. And the changes to Healing and Restful Breeze - regen skills that don't require DF to operate - seem to bear this out. Weapon of Warding, too, come to think of it.

Along with the nerf to LoD some other Monk elites have been pushed up to more powerful levels. Presumably to promote some diversity or at least force people to scramble for the latest platonic Monk bar for a little while. Again, I don't have any problem with that. It's exactly what skill updates should be doing as long as they happen often enough to keep the game from stagnating.

Glimmer of Light now heals for more and recharges faster. I think Ensign put it best when he said "I thought it was bad when it had a 1s recharge. It would be bad without any recharge at all as well." That was when it was at 2 seconds recharge - it was originally an instant recharge when NF was coming out. And it was still awful then. Increasing the healing makes me pause but the problem here is time commitment. You take Glimmer of Light and you're devoting yourself to spamming it as often as you can. But with this skill the way it is you're spending nearly half your time just mashing that one button. That's just asking for trouble. And if you're not casting this as often as you can, it's not worth the elite spot since that's its whole point - it's a quick, cheap skill with no downside that you can spam almost as fast as your fingers can fly. It's all about the recharge. But there are other ways to get bars up that are better for your team, better for the game, and just plain better. I predict this is what's going to replace LoD for a lot of people but, bleh. A game where Glimmer is good is a game I don't want to play.

It's a similar story for Word of Healing which is now self-targeting. I actually like it better than Glimmer since it's both quicker to cast and is a better spike heal. You hit that teammate under heavy fire and you're going to get the bonus health and most likely shove them back out of danger just like a mini-Infuse. At other times it's still a powerful nearly 200 health heal (With decent DF) for a mere 5 en. The difference being that the recharge is a bit longer so you have more time freed up to cast other spells and to kite around while still kicking out the heals. I maintain, however, that kicking out a power heal, while important, is not the best thing to spend your elite on. I'd rather have a skill, like SoD that kept the red bars up or like LoD, old school, that made a lot of red bars go up because it's a more efficient usage of time. Making the red bars go up is critical but there are skills like Gift of Health for that.

B-Light, on the other hand, isn't looking too bad. I still wouldn't want to run it, though, but it's at least atractive now. The problem is that it heals, removes conditions, and removes hexes. You need to hit at least two to make it worth the cost. But if you're hitting two of those things then you're likely getting overwhelmed by one of them and it's just not going to be enough. It's a good, solid, all around spell that gets pushed off the bar in favor of skills that are more effective at their narrow purpose. Still, it's something like a 200 health heal now and that'll get people to sit up and take notice.

But I like the change to Healer's Boon the most, though. It's now official super-Holy Haste. And I have an unhealthy love for Holy Haste (It's not what I'd run in serious PvP but it removes a lot of the problems I have with the Healing line, namely that it's just so damn slow that I feel like I'm wading through molasses to land a heal.). This is super cheap at 5 en and on a 10 second recharge so you can fight it through removal. And it's going to not just give you one awesome cast but amp up everything you're doing. Even more so now since a lot of Healing skills that formerly weren't affected are now boosted by HB, too. It's an open invitation to power out the heals and, really, I think the real winner in the sweepstakes to replace LoD on your healer's bar.

So, let the QQing across the boards begin.

But, in the end, does this take care of the problems or does it only add to them? I can't say for certain myself. I haven't played in too long, haven't seen the changes in action recently enough, to be anything like accurate. So, I really shouldn't. But I'm going to go out on a limb anyway and say that, no, it doesn't. What we've seen with the game is the result of powercreep. The supremacy of the offense and the addition of a bunch of misguided mechanics that have detracted rather than added to the game's complexity. The very flexibility that makes everything go. A few problematic issues got hit, a few needed changes went in, a few blind stabs have been taken at some others. But, in the end, the problem isn't going to get fixed until the the issue of overpowered offenses has been addressed. And that means, at this point, pretty much taking Sins and Dervs out of the game.

Edited to add:

Ah, okay, I've figured out the deal with Ancestor's Rage now. As an enchantment you could use it with Ride the Lightning and a 20% enchanting mod for insta-gib action. As a skill, you can't do that anymore. Yes, Virginia, insta-gibs are bad and need to be rooted out wherever possible even if it means going through some balancing acts.

Re-edited to add:

Whoops, forgot about WoH. It's in there now.

Basic story of this patch, though: "For PvE, we buffed the hell out of Cracked Armor. For PvP we nerfed the crap out of LoD."

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