The Stronghold 24-hour live client beta for Guild Wars 2 was a ton of fun. Mrs. Ravious and I had a blast duo-queuing. It is going to be a fun addition to the PvP modes, but its future is in question.
I think Stronghold strains towards the edges of PvP. The core of PvP is arena deathmatch. Nowhere to run, kill or be killed. The current darling is probably Smash Bros. Guild Wars 2 has the Courtyard map for deathmatch, and I hate it.
Conquest brings in the slightest of persisting objectives: capture points, and in doing so allows for disengagement decisions. If I am outmatched do I stay, knowing I will lose to maintain control of the objective for a few more seconds? Or do I run away giving my opponent those valuable seconds? I would call it a binary decision, but maintaining engagement even if losing is not always the wrong decision.
In Stronghold, maintaining engagement is rarely the right decision, and that’s why, I feel, a lot of people are saying Stronghold is “PvE” (and I’ll get to NPC’s). These people want to fight to the death. Seeing an opponent retreat doesn’t feel like a success.
In MOBA’s, Heroes of the Storm being my current fav, if I win and the opponent disengages I know they will be licking their wounds for some time. In Stronghold, if I am escorting an objective the player I beat can return at high capacity very quickly. I don’t feel like I’ve “won” when a player disengages all the time. The exceptions are of course if the disengagement is directly related to me killing an NPC, breaking down a door, or taking a mists essence to summon a hero.
In fact, unless the player’s objective is to be an assassin the deathmatch engagement is very rare. If I am in the lord room, the decision of whether to ignore the defending players and take down the lord is a real decision. I have taken the hero essence by turning in to a Plague and completely ignoring the other player. If I am defending against enemy doorbreakers, I am often times ignoring the enemy player and trying to down the doorbreakers.
The translation problem a lot of players have, I feel, is that the engagement is often not reciprocated. There is biased engagement. This game mode is all about finding that biased engagement.
The PvE of PvP
The objectives in Stronghold are all based around the use of NPC’s. In the first few minutes of the game everybody starts with supply that can purchase an archer or a doorbreaker. Doorbreakers are critical because they can smash through doors allowing players to enter the enemy keeps. Doorbreakers also get one-shotted by enemy guards. The highest objectives in the first few minutes are killing the doorbreakers and enemy guards.
A fight often occurs at the supply depot, which is the center arena, however, if it looks like a player is losing the choice to disengage to move towards one of these initial high objectives is a very real choice. There is no reason to stay and fight over supply when there is something just as important to do.
A hero is a killable objective. It ignores players focusing either on running to the door, killing the door, or killing the enemy lord. When the hero is running towards the enemy base, it pushes its way up to high objective. It takes a bit of focus to take down, but really presents no problem. It’s a moving hittable objective. This is not really PvE.
However, the hero also creates biased engagement. Escorting allied players get a huge buff to staying near the hero. The enemy players want to take down the hero, and taking down the escorting player is now twice as hard. No one is fighting for deathmatch engagement.
The final objective is the lord’s room with the lord and a couple supporting NPC’s. These NPC’s are the only ones that present a slight danger to the player. An archer NPC will attack players, but it’s very ignorable in the archer’s threat. The lord can’t easily regain health and so the damage applied to it is persistent. I have killed plenty of defending players in the lord’s room, but it is a secondary consideration.
There are quite a few differences between the usual three-lane MOBA and Stronghold. In a MOBA pushing an objective alone is usually not a great situation. In fact it is quite risky, especially in the beginning. Players in Stronghold are given pretty free reign against “PvE situations”. The only real danger to players is other players.
In a MOBA, I feel much of the fights are “gank or disengage”. I really can’t ignore another player to focus on an objective, at least until we’re at the snowball stage. In Stronghold, I have definitely bulled my way towards guards or doorbreakers knowing that I would likely die. I did not feel it was a wrong decision.
Lord rushes result in very, very quick matches. I’ve seen a lot of complaints about that. However, just a little defense can go a long way. If one team goes 5 offense with no defense, the other team can be almost as effective just keeping 2 on offense. Sure, the fight to defend is 5 v 3, which sucks, but it is very biased engagement. And, the 2 remaining on offense are just skipping daisies. I’ve had one match where both teams went 4 offense, 1 defense. We won because I was better on defense (necro with weakness, blindness, and chill makes a huge difference in these biased enegagements).
I’ve seen a suggestion of “no initial supply”, which forces everybody to the center arena to fight over supply. I think that would be something really interesting to try. It would definitely cut down on lord rushes, but it would also hyperfocus the map for some time. One team wins the supply and so the losing team then has to kill the NPC’s created with the supply. With both teams starting with supply it creates more decisions. Much like a MOBA, I feel the hyperfocus is better suited late game than early game.
What I Found Fun
The thing that I liked best about Stronghold was that it seemed like the options to build characters and play roles in the game was much wider than Conquest. For instance, as power necro might want to choose Plague over Lich so they get huge amounts of stability for hero summons and lord stomps. I even got to mess around with Epidemic to spread conditions, which would never happen in Conquest.
It is also a more forgiving PvP mode. I feel the “easy to play, hard to master” is much more applicable to this game mode than Conquest. Yesterday, a well-known Twitch streamer (Blu) said that it was about optimal decisions as opposed to bad decisions. A player might continue running supply without anybody escorting the NPC’s might not be optimal. That player is still creating pressure. Even with a loss it feels like I made “right” decisions with small-wins.
ArenaNet has plenty of knobs to fiddle with. NPC’s can be made stronger. Channeling heroes can be made easily interrupted (on hit). Players can start with zero supply. Player deaths can have a compounding cooldown. So many knobs. I don’t think Stronghold is perfect, and in large part because player knowledge and meta just hasn’t had a chance to form. I do think it is a lot of fun, and way more relaxing than the super intense Conquest mode. I am very interested to see how ArenaNet reacts.