I was helping a friend learn Guild Wars 2 last night when he hit level 11. That’s when players start getting trait points for leveling up. For leveling purposes I told him to go with the power trait line or the precision trait line because both would let him kill enemies faster. I explained that for the next 30 levels he would have to branch out to other trait lines though because until level 40 each trait line could only take 1o points. It appeared the obvious thing to do was fill the damage role first.
I went to sleep thinking about the “wasted” trait lines. Were the more defensive trait lines simply going to be ignored in PvE? Would their traits be strong enough to pull players away from glass-jaw nuking? Between all the beta weekends I had participated in, I just couldn’t picture making any of the more defensive trait lines a primary focus.
I woke up, and read a bunch of really good feedback from some bloggers I like (especially Biobreak, Inventory Full, and especially Spinksville with all of the links). Coupled with a few non-Guild Wars 2 forums I frequent, and it seemed there was some ill feeling about melee viability for Guild Wars 2 PvE.
On paper the differences are quite clear. Ranged combat in Guild Wars 2 is less powerful but safer because it is easier to dodge enemy projectiles and one should be out of melee reach anyway. Melee combat is much more powerful, but players are within claw-to-the-face range. It is also much harder to dodge anything but the charge-up attacks from enemies.
Last night I saw this in full. My friend picked up a greatsword for a ranger, and he was going through mobs like butter with a heated-AoE butter knife. I was playing support, and we were such a great team. If he needed to retreat I would shatter my illusions in the mob’s face for a momentary daze or try and intervene otherwise. If he was using his longbow, I know that we would have been much slower. If players are going to travel around in small parties, having one person slotted for melee is going to rock. The ranged players just have to be ready to support the melee damage dealer with vulnerability and control. Seriously, one well-placed blind followed by a daze can make the close-combat damage dealer feel like he is an indestructible god.
I am hoping that as players progress in pick-up events, the ranged players start watching to support their melee brethren. For the first zone everybody is likely going to be in damage mode, but I think that later on pick-up groups will be much more efficient if ranged players look to support roles. Melee players should also make sure to always practice the golden rule of Guild Wars 2 combat: always be moving.
That still doesn’t take care of the solo aspect of PvE melee where ranged support is non-existent. Traits might be the answer to having PvE a viable “solo” option. Perhaps since the power of melee is already well above ranged, focusing on a defensive trait line first is actually a better idea. It just feels weird to forego power for “solo” PvE to start getting better defense. Isn’t defense tank stuff? I would love to hear from anybody that did go this route and put points in defensive trait lines for melee in PvE.
There is also the disparity in that a melee player has to be aware about the enemy’s action much more than a ranged player. Ranged players simply have to circle-strafe and dodge projectiles or charges. Even if they miss an enemy’s charge-up to attack, they still get the momentary projectile flight time as a safeguard. Melee have a much smaller window of defensive opportunity, but the tools are there. A dual sword mesmer has two defensive skills For example, the #2 sword skill, Blurred Frenzy, is an invulnerable attack. It gives some great damage, but wasting it between enemy attacks can lead to death.
Finally, the champion elite mobs seem to have their way with melee players regardless of all this. Perhaps melee players fighting bosses necessitates support. They have to be much more willing to strike the enemy when the enemy is controlled and otherwise stave off. With bosses it might simply be that the longer a player stays in melee, the more guaranteed death becomes. This of course leads back to the feeling that ranged is just easier and more efficient since even though the power level is lower, so is the guarantee of death.
My gut feeling is that the path to becoming a great melee player requires balance from ArenaNet and the player. Right now, I’d say it is less apparent what ArenaNet intends for PvE melee combat, which makes it tougher for a player to balance the playstyle accordingly. Ranged combat does seem a lot easier to get. I must admit that I’ve spent the least amount of time with warrior and guardian professions, so my views will be a bit skewed towards the squishier classes in melee.