Friday, January 18, 2008

Guild Wars: Skill Update 1/17/08

Here's the context.

Here's the critical bit: They buffed Vengeance. That, right there, tells you everything you need to know about this skill balance. And if i doesn't, well, Vengeance is one of those skills where if it ever sees anything like play (Without a major mechanic overhaul.) there are serious problems with the game. As long as there's enchantment removal then an enchantment which keeps your resurrected allies alive and causes them to pitch face forward, stone dead, once it expires is going to be a non-starter. So, if it gets to the point where it's actually viable that means either it's stupid crazy broken, having a one-second recharge allowing you to create a horde of kamikaze teamzombies, or there's no longer any efficient enchantment removal to be found. I'm not sure which would be worse for the game's overall health but both would be capital B-A-D.

That they're buffing Vengeance tells you not that Izzy treats these updates like open mic night at the Giggle Pit, that this is update is a colossal joke that betrays the developers' fundamental incomprehension of their own product, but that he's going in for the sort of update where they give the underused, unappreciated stuff a bit of the old shine and polish rather than shaking it up like a malfunctioning Etch-a-sketch. It's not, in other words, the sort of update where the game is turned on its head, the reverberations ringing across every build, every player, as the message boards fill with gloom and elation. Power Attack doesn't do 500 damage now, LoD doesn't cause your .dat file to corrupt, Brambles isn't suddenly on everyone's bar. It's more like a mild whisper, as the designers gently nudge the game. And, perhaps, sneak in a minor twist here and there like expertly placing a board in the stream so the water twists and flows around it, carving out a new path in the slippery, ever changing medium as it surges past.

It's the sort of update, then, that makes me suspicious that there's something bigger in the works and this is just clearing the brush. But that's just me, I'm a paranoid bastard and when the first update in nearly a month is a handful of buffs to skill no one's going to care about and a few, easy to overlook nerfs, well, I start trying to see the hinges on the cagedoor. But, really, although they don't arrive with the same flourish as the last big patch, there are some important developments in the ether here.

Sticking to the skills, two immediately strike me. The first is Hex Eater Vortex. That skill, more than anything else, is responsible for sinking the hex meta. It absolutely punishes anyone who tries to hex up the frontliners. And if you can't disable the groundpounders then what's left is a bunch of degen and shutdown that you don't strictly need (Since you can get the same effects out of a traditional Dom Mesmer or just your Ranger) on the midlines, if you can even withstand the opportunity costs of wading through their unchecked midlines to get there. If HEV goes out of the picture, then it's possible that hex-centric strategies could make a strong comeback, especially in light of other changes - degen's more scary now that party-wide healing is more of a failure point and more. But while I've seen it thrown around that the three second increase to recharge and the loss of two points of damage per attribute point (Or about 20~28 armor ignoring damage at a reasonable spec.) reduces your effectiveness by half, I think it's still quite useful. It loses a hex, it costs whoever's being trained a buff, and it deals damage, too. It still does all of that, it just doesn't do it nearly as well. And the question is whether it's enough to matter.

The second is Coward! which, I have to admit, is rather eye-catching now. I think, at the end of the day, it's still a ranged Bull's Strike when Bull's Strike works perfectly well enough to save your elite slot. But I think this is more of a "hey, look at me!" update than anything else. The developers' way of flagging out an interesting skill, a fruitful mechanic, that's being overlooked. YAA's back, too, so I think the devs are hoping one or the other catches fire. Because if a lot of people start running either then what you have is a return of the old YAA split Warrior templates; perhaps with a different way of going about having your melee working out in space. Those have been out of vogue for some time, I think, but it's a sound concept that could be poised for a comeback.

Let's run through the rest quick to get to the other good stuff. Elsewhere, you get some buffs to useless skills that aren't enough to make me pay attention to them any longer than it takes to dismiss them.

Yes, I was looking at the Elementalist skills when I typed that.

The reduction to the casting times on touch-based rezzes (Along with the uptick to the still-pitiful Vengeance) continue the overall trend of making rezzing much easier. Still, touch rezes went out of style once people figured out that W/Mos weren't the best option for combat rezzing overall (Remind me to tell you how awesome we thought Restore Life was, once upon a time. And don't laugh. I did it. iQ did it. Te did it. KOR did it. Everyone did. Because we thought that's how the game was supposed to work. Imagine how we're going to think the game works this time next year.) and I don't see them coming back any time soon. Ditto We Shall Return, made it nicer but no where near nice enough to actually use.

Patient Spirit still doesn't find room on a skill bar. Not a bad skill, just not good enough to crack the top 8 because it's not working hard enough, fast enough. Getting closer, though.

Aura of Stability needed to be kneecapped. You can still keep it up continously with a reasonable spec and enchanting mods but it's no longer nearly as easy. Which is nice because it leaves it useable - it's undeniably something that should be in game you should just be able to fight through it, if need be, placing it on spot duty not out completely annihilating entire strategies. I would have gone after the casting time but, then, I'd want it completely out of the game. That's just me.

Divine Healing and its Factions twin, Heaven's Delight going to earshot is part of correcting the gaping whole that nuking LoD from orbit left in the game. The recharge is way too long for my tastes for them to be effective party-wide healing but outside of PvE but, now, there's at least another option out there that could be made to work. One day.

Crappy Assassin self-heal/defense bamfs get marginally better by being more under the player's control. You'll excuse me while I stifle my yawn. Scorpion Wire and Caltrops don't look half bad now, though.

The change to Pious Assault is a weird one. It's expensive, sure, and I don't like the recharge. But I still like it. Could lead to a lot of fun with those "effect on end" enchantments that the Derv lines are sprinkled through with. Still, do Dervs really need another way of causing a cheap Deep Wound? They don't get enough of those already, really? I mean, sure, if you don't play a Treeblader and you don't like Wearying Strike. But are they expecting people to run something other than Melandru's now or something?

Another "hey there, I'm a good skill" update for Wail of Doom. Changing it from 15 energy to 10 energy doesn't do anything but flag up that it's there so a bunch of eyeballs give it a looking over. Which, I think is incredibly dangerous. Wail of Doom is one of those skills that can get stupid crazy, stupid fast. You're talking about something that lets you utterly wreck the opposing frontline: no attack skills equals no killing power, period. I'm constantly amazed it isn't being abused into the ground. What holds it back, more than anything, is that it doesn't fit very well into any bars since you need Soul Reaping for it. Doesn't synergize well with anything else you want a Necro (If you want a Necro at all, and that's part of the problem) to be doing.

The lower recharge on Ethereal Burden and clone is actually a big deal since those skills are energy gainers. Making them faster means better energy management. You're talking about nearly 0.2 energy per second difference or about 2/3rds of a pip. Of course, that's still a really, really crappy return since you net only a fraction of that and the time frame is too large. So, they're marginally less crappy but not so much that you'd notice.

And I'll worry about Wastrels and Mind Wrack once e-denial becomes serious again. Which it's not.

The new 1 second activation bow skills are pretty decent since that's half the normal rate, if not more on certain bow models. Shame it only got onto the crappiest ones out there. And, having heard the horrific tales of the R-Spike model, I always get a bit leery at the return of Quick Shot-like damage compression to the Ranger line.

Magebane went to 10 energy. Which is a good change. Skill was crazy spammable at 5. The change isn't knocking it off any bars but now it's a lot more sensible.

As for the Rit, Rejuvenation might actually be useful now. It's still realistically only a mega-Mending but at least it's a mega-Mending that's going to last more than 3 seconds now.

Sight Against Sight got a buff, too. It's now really attractive for a secondary Rit. You can get it to go infinite with only a minimal investment even without an enchanting mod. It's cheap, casts lightning fast, and it's got a low enough recharge that you can fight through removal. Another one of those, "might be big" updates.

I've been using Sundering Weapon a lot on my PvE weapon Rits (I love weapon rits. Make everything better. Razah is my constant companion.) and the only thing I ever wanted from it was for it to last more than a single hit. Nice change, in other words. I maintain that Cracked Armor is less than useful in actual PvP but these days with everyone walking around with damage typed shields and everything it might not actually be so mad.

I've been making heavy use of Warmonger's, too. So, while I'm sad to see it take the nerf, it's definitely something it needed. A constant stream of interrupts that your opponent can't do anything about is brutal. But, again, while it's worse than it was, it's still useful as you can keep it up almost constantly especially if you'r running it with Spawning Power.

But those skill changes pale in comparison to the alteration to the game's mechanics. There are two big ones here, as well.

First, the GvG mechanics. Adding armor ignoring skills to the NPCs is a nice little switch, to be sure, helping to make base infiltration harder and VoD blockwebs less useful. But the big change is the nerf to VoD itself. Lowering the damage buff to 15% is one thing but taking out the health reduction means it's far, far less powerful. VoD should now play out much more like the rest of the match which, I think, is a good change. Should make it more interesting when teams can no longer camp it out and then rely on being supercharged. I'm not sure, though, that matches need to get longer. Games lasting a long time while evenly matched teams seesaw back and forth is what VoD was designed to prevent. It amplified advantages, turned mistakes into wipes, and it's not longer as effective at doing that. I'll live with it, though, for the net benefit this change brings.

The other is the addition of skill binding to Hero skill bars. Herobinds lets you control your Heroes much more effectively, especially if you're used to activating your own skills with your keyboard and found having to mouse them out to be frustrating, like me. Should make things like chaining Defensive Anthem or interrupts much more viable. Now, I just have to find 32 keys with which to bind my Hero bars...


Revan Ancaria said...

Logitech G11 keyboard almost 4tEhWiN... It has 3 seperate clusters of 6 keys each on the left side of the board. I guess I could try using the M1/M2/M3 tabs which ends up turning those 18 keys into 54, but I think for now, while I'm still a member of the Lazy Keyboarders Guild, I'll just remember that I have a mouse to do these tasks.

Sausaletus Rex said...

Old FPS punter that I am, I prefer to keep my equipment as simple as possible to cut down on any latency. Not that it matters much at the moment but just like I don't like to use a cordless mouse, the keyboard I have on my main gaming machine is straight out of the 1985 IBM catalog. Plain, simple, unadorned, nothing but industrial off-white efficiency, faded and aged by years of use. I have some other keyboards with a few more bells and whistles but my control scheme has to be designed with the most plain one I use in mind.

And the problem is since I primarily use the keyboard to interface, most of those keys are already bound to something or other.

I'll have to sit down and ponder it out but I think what I'm going to wind up doing is reorganizing my Hero bars. Make sure that the skills I'll want to quick activate are in the first half, say. Then shuffle around some underused shortcuts like Party Search and Score so I can bind about nine or twelves keys in one convenient block so I can use those without having to move my hands off my WASD too much. Those'll be the skills I care about and the rest will be the ones I trust them to use or won't have to hit often enough to just mouse them if need be.