Category Archives: Combat

[Wildstar] Silver Dungeons and the Return of the DPS

(Is anybody still playing Wildstar out there? Well…I am!)

Before disappearing from gaming for the past few days due to real life, I got my Esper in Wildstar ready and prepped for silver dungeon runs. No doubt the bronze patch is incoming soon to speed up that attunement process somewhat but silvers are still on the table for many players and frankly, I was curious about difficulty compared to WoW heroics. Turns out, Wildstar silver runs are really more like mini-raids than WoW-style 5 mans. There’s no way a random group of mostly inexperienced people will finish anything for hours and hours.

Silver progression goes the same for most groups and guilds: STL first, then KV, SC and SSM, that last one being a nightmarish place created around a jumping puzzle. There are only four dungeons to run in WS albeit in three different modes. In no way can they be compared to adventure difficulty. Silver comes with a timer and extra objectives/bosses compared to bronze. Gold on the other hand, comes with everything and zero deaths. So far the theory.

I’m halfway through silvers now myself, thanks to running with experienced groups and vocal leadership. It still took several attempts per dungeon due to the unforgiving mechanics, yet that is nothing compared to what early progression teams had to go through. Even if you keep the same people around to crack a dungeon, and that’s what anyone does who wants to reasonably progress, you’ll spend entire afternoons learning WS dungeons before silver. You’ll be resetting over and over, going again after an early wipe or unlucky deaths slowing you down. You’ll consider mastering single bosses a success, rather than entire dungeons. You’ll be back after dinner. Persistence is the only one way to crack silver dungeons, so you better bring a good-humored bunch of people.

Ready for battle! Well...sorta.

We’re ready for battle! Well…sorta.

Or maybe you just get very lucky sometime and have a team invite you that’s already done most of the work together, with willing leaders and/or imba DPS (or the stars will align for you once every 100 years while pugging). At encounters like Stormtalon your damage dealers easily decide over make or break – a difference most acutely felt by healers.

Bringing DPS back to the Table

There is something that dawns on the traditional healer in WS at silver runs latest. It’s an obscure hunch the first few times you keep dying horribly during an encounter, a hunch that solidifies once your group keeps going on without you for minutes on end, sometimes until the boss dies. A guildie of mine condensed it best in a related forum topic on healing, a comment that hit a nerve for me too –

Tank is most important
Dps need 2 out of 3 good
Average healer = complete adventure/ dungeon.

the worrying thing is that in every other MMo I have played the healer was rated as important as the tank now with the interprets we are last even behind the Dps. imho.

WS is a game of self-sustainability first. Even if the healer dies, at least half of the encounters allow for the party to continue (and DPS finish fights). That doesn’t mean healers should die by any means or that bad healers cannot still screw up your silver runs – they definitely can. However, nothing is quite as devastating as missed interrupts in WS, the mechanic all major encounters revolve around thus far. And the responsibility of timing and rotating interrupts is almost exclusively on tanks and DPS, even if every class can theoretically do them. Needless to say, I concurred with my guildmate’s points although way more cheerfully so:

WS healing is indeed quite different to the position it holds in many other MMOs. I’ve been a healer in many games and I agree with you on this. the reason is Wildstar’s game / encounter design:

Mechanics are more unforgiving and a lot more about individual survival skills (dodge that shit, use a pot) than in other classic MMOs (not GW2, GW2 is more similar and has no roles anyway). I was used to being able to ‘save’ most of my party members all the time in WoW – you can’t do this so much in WS. People die quickly if they screw up and so does the healer, so your overall playstyle needs to be a lot more centered around your own survival + MT. There’s less leeway for the ‘extras’ (not the normal damage but the unnecessary one) in WS than in other games that I’ve played (and then there’s also the telegraph / cone thing that gimps healing). Sure, once a healer has better gear, stats, etc. he/she can make up for more screwups but still, many mechanics are just unforgiving and up to the individual player. You can’t save a one-shot, and depending on the situation not a 2-shot either.

And that’s why you feel the healer matters ‘less’ in WS which is true; because the onus of survival is more well-spread in Wildstar. So really, think of it as a good thing. The fact that even the healer is allowed to die first sometime (for some encounters it doesn’t matter), is a good thing. It means responsibility is shared more evenly, which is also true thanks to the interrupt mechanics in WS. So, imo we are more even now / not less. DPS finally aren’t just being carried in this game. [Syl]

I love it. I love the fact that DPS don’t get the back seat in a trinity-based MMO. Enrage timers aside, there was never a time during my WoW era (up to Cataclysm) where pewpew were nearly as much on the spot as they are continuously in Wildstar’s encounters. The scales have evened out and while some oldschool healers might feel that sting of lost power, they should also feel the relief of shared pressure.

Wildstar silver KV - cheat when you can!

Wildstar silver KV – cheat when you can!

Tangentially, I realized that there’s still a strong WoW healer beating in this chest; I installed GRID right away and am still working on “untargetting” my healing style. And I still die way, way too often because I choose to try save others over ruthlessly minding my own six. That simply doesn’t fly with heroic telegraphs – it’s be there or be square for each and everybody!

Wildstar Healing and all the Ways it’s different

For the last two weeks, I’ve been on a roll with my Esper getting her through the first 7 steps of the raid attunement which includes silvering all veteran adventures. Having also healed through my first veteran dungeon last night, I’m finally back to the point where my old healer muscles and reflexes run on auto-pilot; healing is a routine and if you’ve stared at other people’s healthbars for years in WoW or elsewhere, you own the mindset that comes with playing support classes.

The main reason why healing is appealing to me is the complexity of choices, not just for yourself but everyone in the group. It’s the splitsecond decisions on what action to prioritize next and if need be, whom to sacrifice for the sake of the greater good (or a much needed lesson in self-management). While most roles are centered around the interplay between ‘self and the other’, healers focus on three units in combat and depending on the MMO, they’ll be asked to do this while being more or less mobile. Healers are also the guardians of time, as far as their role within trinity-based MMO combat goes.


And Wildstar asks for a lot from healers. I wouldn’t say it’s more difficult than in some other games but in terms of complexity, there’s an adjustment phase that can feel bewildering to someone coming straight from WoW, Rift or LOTRO. I’ve tried to put my finger on what initially felt so different about healing and decided that similar to Wildstar’s doubly-active combat system, it’s a new combination (and accumulation) of several aspects:

  • Positioning telegraphs
  • Focus and combo management
  • Mobility
  • Limited actionbar

None of these mechanics are new. MMO healers are used to managing mana and optimizing their healing, for instance via proc timing. Games like Age of Conan have featured non-targeted and instead more area- and conebased healing. Many newer titles come with some form of action combat and minimal UI. For some of them like GW2, that makes sense too.

Speaking from an Esper perspective (which more or less applies to all classes), the biggest difference about Wildstar’s healing is that it combines all of the above added difficulties or restrictions at once. The most noticeable change for me personally, was mana management in combination with a resource / combo system, similar to a rogue’s combo points in WoW or a warrior’s rage. Not only will you manage your focus (manapool) but Espers can stack up to 5 combo points (and only with certain builders) which are required to heal efficiently and dish out the big single-target or area heals. That’s two numbers to monitor for your healing at all time while making smart builder- and finisher choices.

Of course this being Wildstar, even as an Esper many of your heals and cleanses aren’t targeted but come as a cone or AoE. So, in addition to moving out of red telegraphs constantly and staying in range of the tank, you’ll have to try position yourself in a way that affects as many party members as possible. They should do their utmost to stay in range / in front of you of course but in the heat of battle, well…we know how the theory usually works out.

The limited actionbar (8 skills) in Wildstar is my only real gripe, because it makes no sense. There are games like GW2 where the minimalistic UI covers all player needs and is perfectly tuned to combat. Wildstar on the other hand, with its fussy skills menu and plethora of situational abilities in the offensive/support/utility department, forces you to manually swap skills for every other fight with only two specs per default (although you can buy more later for Elder Gems). Every time you swap something manually, you have to go back and fill in the points to boost said skill, too. It’s awkward and feels out of touch with the game’s overall approach to combat.

Healing in Wildstar

Wildstar certainly adds its very own flavor to group healing but once you’ve had the opportunity to heal a couple of dungeons in a decent group, you’ll adjust to its resource management, telegraph positioning and mobility requirements. Maybe more than for other MMOs, Wildstar relies on players knowing a dungeon and specific boss abilities (esp. also due to the limited action bar), so it’s advised to always do a practice run or two on normal mode before attempting to crack veterans.

Healers learning the veteran drill should also insist that party members bring their own utility (healing gadgets) and medipacks to fights for as long as everyone’s performance is in those early stages of chaos. There is only so much you can heal / reach and what goes for every other MMO out there, also applies to Wildstar: The tank always comes first. Many whelps? Handle it!

So that Elder Scrolls Online NDA was lifted, if not my Spirits

I want to say ‘finally’ but last Friday’s NDA lift for ESO was so shamefully overdue that I almost didn’t care to post about it. The game is due in April and already selling a much debated collector’s edition, so how nice to finally give the fanbase a voice two months before launch. We will try not to interpret the long hesitation. Personally, I believe Zenimax have caused this launch more harm by keeping ESO under NDA for as long as they have. Not only wasn’t the press particularly gentle once the press NDA got lifted (see RPS or Ten Ton Hammer for reference), the title would’ve benefited from the buzz created by more balanced and positive blogger reviews. After all, there are still many players excited for ESO.

I used to be one of them but alas, that enthusiasm was shaken in its foundations after participating in two of the more recent beta stress test weekends in January and February 2014. To be fair, I didn’t have the bar set very high for ESO: I expected it to feel more dated and traditional than the other upcoming AAAs this year, less polished and overall pandering to the Skyrim demography. Yet in retrospective, the Skyrim comparison is doing things far too big a favor.

My quick and dirty ESO review

While I don’t wish to rain on anyone’s parade, this much anticipated game has dropped on the 2014 priority list much to my chagrin. I don’t intend on buying at launch, in fact I am not sure I’m gonna buy at all for as long as there is also a monthly subscription. Subscriptions aren’t a financing issue for me but like everyone else, I draw comparisons and try to justify the expense. ESO, for me, is not in the right shape to ask for a sub. But let’s have a more detailed look, shall we?

The Good (at first glance):

The settings of ESO are very pretty. Having visited every faction’s starting zone, I liked them all equally as far as overall zone design, weather effects and light cycles go. The world feels more realistic than in many other MMOs, if that’s a criteria for anybody. I love the mature and authentic look of ESO.


The diversity of character customization is a forte of the franchise and ESO is no exception. While some basic faces across all races feel too templatey still, you won’t be missing options inside the rugged, old, scarred or unattractive spectrum; like every ES title before it, ESO makes it hard (but not impossible) to create your staple beauty. Really big props go to armor design which doesn’t discriminate gender and keeps things in the realm of the practical.


She looks alright.

The crafting system appears to be complex and rewarding. While I’ve only meddled with it briefly, I could see crafters getting their share of attention and I didn’t expect anything less from this MMO. I liked the crafting hubs too and many of the small details for tools and ingredients.

The Bad (or why I was so appalled):

ESO gotta have the most sloppy and inaccurate combat I have experienced since [add random console hack’n slay title here]. What was already a boring exercise of throwing lackluster magic balls as a caster, went downhill fast once I experienced the completely unresponsive dual-wielding mess of melee mode. Combat is missing feedback, aiming is off and animations are frankly awful. I don’t want to look like a WoW undead when moving around hitting stuff. There is nothing of Skyrim’s more impactful combat and precisely aimed shots to be found!

While we’re talking animations, they are mostly horrible. I made a particularly awful acquaintance out in the wild with an eagle circling my head, its flight animation as graceful as a tour bus trying to squeeze into a beetle’s parking space. It’s great that ESO has birds flying around, you just don’t want to look at them too closely.


The wonderful cave intro.

As beautiful as the world is, as dead does it feel traveling from place to place. The NPCs do precious little which is a stark contrast to MMOs like FFXIV for example, that comes with complex scripts for NPC behavior and events. Towns feel empty and there’s no life bustling inside unless it’s created by a bunch of coincidental players. This was very disturbing for me, especially since the more dynamic mechanics in Skyrim would constantly throw you into unpredictable situations and have quests and NPCs involve you actively. This is something that GW2 managed to do while being an MMO, so ESO gets no pass from me here.

Questing is a traditional and straight-forward fetch and delivery, featuring the transparent quest window and occasional dialogue choices that franchise fans will know too well. Friends of the tunnel experience in MMOs will be glad to hear that ESO makes you play through the same dark pit for 15 minutes on every new character. As far as the NPCs and (much praised?) voice acting go, I was under-whelmed and sometimes appalled at the sound and look of some of them, their shrill voices and bland, badly written humor harassing me during several multi-step quest chains. The early “John Cleese” appearance has already been criticized by others but I reached my personal high point with this remarkable fellow here:


(It only looks as if Eiman has to go really badly…this is his usual facial expression.)

A difficult closure

At this point, I don’t know when I will be ready to give ESO another go. My admittedly short beta testings were a painfully disappointing experience and while they might not be completely fair or balanced, they are lacking in ways that cannot be made up by playing the game longer or praying for the unlikely wonders of another two months of final polishing. My issues with the game are of no subtle nature – they are fundamental. Which makes me think that ESO just might not be the MMO for me after all. That is something I have to accept and which makes my return to the wonderfully dynamic and physical world of Skyrim all the more likely. I used to dream of adventures in ESO but that arrow to the knee was quick. Ah well!

[Wildstar] A Look at Telegraphs and Active Combat

While the Wildstar closed beta is still running hot and more and more press footage is being released on the net (the lucky ones), players have been debating and in places worrying about the active combat and telegraph system. How comfortable does Wildstar’s combat feel compared to other active combat MMOs? How are the telegraphs gonna pan out in 40man raids?

Already in July 2013, Carbine released a devspeak introducing telegraphs, making it very clear that the most defining aspect of Wildstar combat was gonna be this: aiming. After analyzing what similar titles had done in the past, Carbine settled for a “freeform targeting” approach which, while conserving the basic tab targeting function, allows players to adjust (and miss with) their area of effect at any given time, and vice versa for enemies. The result is a fairly colorful and at times hectic bling-fest, where the player is not only trying to aim his attacks most effectively (not all parts of a telegraph deal the same damage) but reacting to enemy attacks pro-actively and dodge-rolling or strafing to get out of the really bad stuff. This makes for a rather complex and highly skill-based combat, especially where tougher challenges and PvP are concerned.


As illustrated in the devspeak, telegraphs come in various shapes, with different cast methods, ranges and synergies. They can be stationary or mobile, instant or require ramp-up times. Naturally, colors signify whether a telegraph is detrimental (red), beneficial (green) or a variety of other things players will need to internalize. This has justifiably raised questions of overlapping (telegraphs are translucent) in group play or prioritization. No doubt, telegraphs will be adjusted and tweaked for a while to come yet, before Carbine have found the perfect balance – and then there are always addons. What’s probably safe to say is that this active combat looks far from boring or the automated face-roll we know from older games.

How Wildstar combat compares to other MMOs

Not surprisingly, Wildstar’s combat is frequently compared to that of recent predecessors TERA and GW2. That is interesting because, having personally played both MMOs, their active combat falls on different sides of the same coin for me.

GW2 is hands down my favorite MMO combat to date. It is characterized by a very high mobility and character-centricity, in the sense that combat focus is less about the aiming (there is auto-attack and classic auto-aim via tab) and more prioritizing dodging and survival on the player’s end. When the stakes are high in GW2, players will always move out of the bad first while not having to worry about aiming; auto-attack can take care of such transitions for a while. Indeed, you could take your eyes off the enemy completely if need be.

Auto-aim but quick on your feet

Auto-aim but quick on your feet

TERA on the other hand, flips the coin: while there are some mobile abilities, TERA is back to classic stationary combat that won’t generally allow you to cast while running. While it combines good old feet-of-stone with dodge-rolls, it prioritizes a mob-centric focus. Special attacks and AoE aside, TERA’s active combat is all about freely aimed projectiles (via cross-hair feature) which makes for a fun change from other MMOs. Coming straight from GW2 however, I did miss my mobility. I even wondered how awesome it might be to combine the two modes.

So, where does that put Wildstar? From all I’ve seen so far studying various sources and footage, Wildstar combat falls squarely in the middle. It requires the same constant vigilance tougher GW2 encounters ask for in terms of self-management and survival, while improving on TERA’s aimed combat with telegraphs. While there are some more stationary classes such as the Esper, this new MMO is all about mobility and aiming in equal amounts!

That will take some getting used to, especially for the more laidback and lazy casters among us. I wouldn’t go as far as declaring the peaceful solo-questing routine of one-handed pewpew dead but Wildstar combat is most definitely gonna ask for more attention than many popular AAA-titles have in the past. Carbine intend to keep their combat interesting for a long time and given how combat is such a central feature for most MMOs, I don’t blame them for putting that much thought into it.

As Telwyn recently pointed out too, it’s all about finding a happy balance. We will see how the player base adjusts once the dust has settled over the Nexus and everyone has had time to learn some new tricks. I for one welcome that MMO combat is still evolving.

Why do we raid?

While rounding up last weeks numerous posts on multi-classing and writing an article on my private immersion (yeah that’s still gonna happen), I came across Jeromai’s recent post on GW2 and the latest Origins of Madness patch. It made me chuckle.

Jeromai displays a particularly fascinating case of raiding malaise in the sense that he dislikes almost everything about MMO raiding, including its basic nature – many of the inherent challenges and social dynamics that make raiding such an exciting activity for others –

Nor am I terribly keen on the idea of separating oneself from players that are playing poorly on average because it’s easier and more rewarding to be elitist and isolate oneselves, than to lead, coordinate and teach. (Though I recognize that it is a reality of life, and periodically tempting, especially when you can’t take repeating yourself any longer.)[…]My other pet peeve about raid bosses is regarding the clarity of mechanics and gimmicks of whatever it is one is to do.

[…]There’s the waiting.[…]There’s the suffering involved with matching schedules and timezones.[…]And there’s that old bugaboo of needing to rely on other people to perform well while not being able to help them much at all.

Now to be clear, I have suffered from all of the administrative side-effects mentioned by Jeromai for most years of my raiding in WoW. A good while ago, I published an article called “Vanilla Raiding – A Trip Down Memory Lane” reminiscing on all aspects of the insane raiding prep, downtimes and aggravation that was part of vanilla WoW’s competitive endgame. Players joining WoW later are unaware of how much more convenient things have become since. I can sing a hundred songs about the woes of 40man raid coordination that include the most trivial and silly of things – yet, we lost sleep over them at one time or another.

Yet, I love raids. I love the cooperative idea of raids. In answer to Clockwork’s more recent Wildstar 40man worries, yes I still love 40mans too. Since we really don’t know much yet about Wildstar, I’ll focus on WoW which seems to be the general reference anyway: 40mans had a lot of bad in vanilla WoW but if you compare my nostalgia post with today’s situation, the way class and gameplay mechanics have changed drastically over time, much of the old raiding downtimes have been removed completely. That starts with things like having guild agendas and guild banks, diverse and instant raid buffs and boons, dual specs….and ends with the removal of progression hoops such as atunements or resistance gear. Oh and flex raids, thank you.

That doesn’t necessarily make 40mans easier but it sure as hell reduces the more aggravating and redundant aspects all around setting up, recruiting and raiding effectively. Because underneath all the organizational hassle, coordinated large scale raiding is an absolute blast and unlike smaller raid units, allows for a more lenient roster in which it is possible to make up for that weaker player or three. It’s nonsensical that MMOs with few to no mechanisms of social control or pre-selective hoops before endgame, should toss players right into some of the hard-ass, unforgivable encounters that are 10-25mans, the way we know them in WoW.

However, returning to Jeromai’s well argued points on raiding, he also dislikes core characteristics such as the clarity of mechanics (and associated learning tactics) or the need to rely on other people’s performance. Now, if you raised a poll on a given MMO’s raid forum, you would probably find these listed among the primary reasons why many people currently love to raid. It’s a huge challenge to coordinate big raids and yes, it involves time often spent on someone else than yourself. But equally, the reward of beating such high-req encounters is unforgettable – a feeling many raiders live for. As an ex-healing coordinator, I would also add that I’ve always loved the “extra work” that comes with guiding others, improving team work and progressing together.

PUGs and mass zergs have their appeal because they’re all too often the only alternative to setup/balance restrictions and recruitment headaches in MMOs. However for myself, nothing truly beats your own guild’s smooth raid machine that you yourself have oiled together with your mates over months and years. That sense of group progression. I do miss that. A lot.

I got the first twilight draaaaake!! That’s pre-nerf!

There is also a rewarding aspect in learning raid tactics and then getting them to be performed perfectly. I am not a fan of “synchronized swimming” or static combat but it’s worth pointing out how that’s a different type of challenge; not primarily a challenge of finding all new solutions (as most guilds don’t do blind raids) or spontaneous action maybe but one of coordination, balance, communication and perfection. Let’s put it this way: any long-term successful raid guild in WoW is also an achievement in different social skills.

I realize how some of my views presented here appear to clash with more recent preachings on active combat or more playstyle freedom – but at the very core of encounter and combat design, I don’t think these things need be mutually exclusive.  In a world of more flexible raids, with less unproductive downtimes and more dynamic combat, I am all game for large scale guild raiding! The only thing that worries me is time. It still takes time to raid in a dedicated, competitive fashion, that won’t just change completely. And I realize given my current circumstances, I might simply not be eligible for that type of focused play in MMOs anymore and well, that’s okay. That’s on me. We’ll see what future games will do about the casual hardcore.

Tanks, Healers, DPS and Time

Rowan over at I Have Touched the Sky is musing on WoW a lot lately and recently went to explain why you can compare apples and oranges and that all MMO boss fights are essentially the same. Sure, Ragnaros had the fiery adds where Nefarian had randomized trash and class calls (add any epic boss fight here) but at the end of the day a lot of what makes the so-called complex encounters in WoW is added fluff around the tank-healer-DPS equation. Iteration, iteration.

Not surprisingly, I’m with Rowan when it comes to appreciating MMOs for a lot more than boss fights or raiding. I wouldn’t go as far as to claim that WoW raids are the exact same as Rift or Allods raids, but there are only so many ways to design great trinity-based encounters across all games and only so many ways to make one of them truly memorable. If I think back on my very intense WoW raiding spree between vanilla and the end of WoTLK, there are maybe ten out of a 100+ different boss fights that I would call remarkable. (Coming to think of it…how many raid bosses did I experience in WoW? Now I am tempted to count them down! Scary.) The world on the other hand, the setting and lore, the cities and zones, the races and other creatures, the graphics and music – those things make MMOs for me. They give them their unique face and flavor.


While boss design is one thing, I would like to differentiate between encounter design and combat here: combat style and basic mechanics are a huge part of MMOs no matter what you choose to do – in those games where no non-combat classes exist, anyway. Solid combat design, as in intuitive, responsive, tactical, you-name-it is essential.

It’s a DPS world

Rowan is right of course in that all encounters are essentially DPS races or “about DPS”. The easiest way of proving that is that you can design pure DPS fights (which includes all soloing) but you cannot design pure healing and/or tanking fights. Even the so-called “healer or tank fights” are DPS fights: famous Valithria Dreamwalker was nothing but a weak twist and other bosses relying heavily on taking are essentially about tanks bravely biding their time until DPS is back. How are you going to kill stuff without dealing damage?

In that context, I always liked to think about the three roles in relation to the element of time, when discussing trinity based combat:

– Tanks create time in MMOs. Without them, it’s usually an insta-wipe and no fight can take place. They’re the wall between life and death. From that point of view, for the raid tanks are the creators of time and opportunity.
– Healers, in analogy, keep time. They ensure tank survival and therefore maintain time so DPS can deal damage in peace. Healers are therefore the preservers and extenders of time. They let any crucial role in the raid die and time (to kill the boss) disappears.
– Last but far from least, DPS are those that progress time and only them. Their output decides whether it’s gonna be a long or short fight (which affects healing and from there, tanking) or a wipe. DPS are the great drivers of time and by the same virtue, masters of duration. They can shorten the required time just the way healers should extend it.


Since time means life, you can pretty much substitute the terms in that analogy and it still works. Either way, it makes for an interesting picture if we imagine DPS as that driving force or the pendulum that swings between tanks and healers. You can add any other mechanic to an encounter – timing, phases, rotations, hybrids – it comes down to the same. Of course that goes for trinity combat as much as any other MMO combat and encounter design, in fact even more so.

And yet, ironically DPS have always been the undervalued, inflated currency of trinity MMOs. While good tanks or healers are important, the only reason DPS don’t receive equal love in WoW and elsewhere, is not necessity of role but numbers. In a game that would require as many healers and tanks as DPS to beat encounters, nobody would ever fail to thank his fellow DPSer. After all, what good is having all that time if you can’t spend it?

A Beginner’s Guide to Guild Wars 2 Combat

I’ve been pondering a quick introduction to GW2’s combat ever since the beta weekends and now that so many players are deep down that rabbit hole, I’ve had plenty of time to analyze my own playstyle during various encounters and listen to others experiences. As many have pointed out, combat in GW2 is both similar and different to older MMOs which means depending on where you’re coming from, it will take more or less adjusting.

Naturally, the following beginner tips are all based on these personal experiences, having played several classes during beta and mostly an Elementalist since headstart. If you’re handling yourself just fine in GW2’s combat, then congratulations – this guide is not for you! If you however feel slightly frustrated with the new playstyle, things like damage taken or frequent deaths, maybe you can find something here. For myself, I know it takes time to evolve a playstyle that fits with an MMO this new and comparing notes is always the way to go for me before reaching final conclusions and judgements. I’m still learning how to properly move and work with my Elementalist and here and there I am carrying old MMO baggage in terms of combat mindset. GW2 has different, tactical elements from WoW or Rift for example and beasts of habit that we all are, I think it would be a lie to claim I am not affected, nevermind my general enthusiasm.

So, the following recommendations are sweet and simple my observations and tips for getting into GW2 combat for fellow rookies:

1) Move it, move it, move it!
Level-inappropriate mobs and bad pulls aside, the majority of all my deaths in GW2 so far can be attributed to not moving and dodging enough. I’m not just talking obvious red rings on the ground; many attacks and mob-specific specials can be anticipated and dodged with some experience. Circle- and side-strafing IS your friend to keep tougher mobs at a distance which can’t be kited as much as maybe in other MMOs (they reset quite soon). This is particularly important for all the more squishy, ranged classes out there: mobility and timing are key, which is easily forgotten while taking unnecessary hits. You can move while performing most attacks, so make use of that advantage and remember that most GW2 attacks/spells/projectiles aren’t homing missiles!

Some illustrations for the visually inclined (images expandable):

Take the hit? I don’t think so!
Use line of sight / Circle strafe while casting

If you find your fingers playing twister more than usual, consider using a keybind for lock-on-target that suits you. Obviously mouse key bindings are fantastic for various commands.

2) You have more than 5 attack abilities!
My partner commented that, having played a ranger just a short while and then reading up on it, he had completely missed much of that class’ full potential. Using a more “classic hunter approach”, he had stuck to one pet rather than swapping frequently, and within the same encounter. While at a first glance GW2’s 5 attack skills appear very straightforward, none of the classes actually only have 5 of them and they are also not “your spec”! I am not a fire elementalist; I switch elements all the time during longer fights, to cycle through AoE or kiting abilities as needed or to avoid spells on cooldown. At any given time, I have 20 attack skills to use within the same encounter. More when I switch weapons between fights.

For other classes weapons work the same way in combat, or pets, or turrets. This is your versatility – make use of it and don’t stare at cooldowns unless you want to! If you’re the type that gravitates towards a “rotation”, consider that your rotation can include a lot more than the attacks currently seen on the action bar. If you dislike the use of F-keys for switching, change some key bindings.

A note on auto-attack: At first, the auto-attack in GW2 takes some getting used to. The best way to think of it though is as your “bridge attack”; its not the strongest attack, but it let’s you cycle through different weapons, elements etc. looking for other, active attacks while not doing nothing. Considering that GW2 does encourage frequent switches within longer encounters, one auto-attack ability used as “time bridge” is incredibly well conceived an element. (You can actually re-assign your auto-attack by clicking ctrl+mouse2; I would advise keeping a no/low-cooldown ability though for obvious reasons.)

3) The show ain’t over at death!
Hunter wrote an interesting article pointing out that in GW2 parties don’t just wipe because one or two people are down. If you find yourself in a 5man dungeon for example, there’s the option to rez at a waypoint and run back to your (hopefully) still-fighting buddies as fast as your two feet will carry you. I’ve always liked this approach in other MMOs I’ve played – just because someone is down shouldn’t mean the entire group surrenders! Where’s the challenge in that? Players should be able to make up for each other and try outlast such situations. It can be an incredible rush and fun to make it despite all odds!

Obviously, having no focused roles in GW2 means it’s easier to outlast critical deaths. Roles are fluent and there are no more or less “important people” in a party, the often unforgiving way you’d have it with a holy trinity. This adds tactical and potentially chaotic elements and decreases the sort of downtime where some party members are constantly forced to kill themselves because of others. No, you can still do it – so, don’t give up yet after a death, keep fighting and/or running back!

4) Know your utilities and adapt
It’s easy to get used to the same buffs and abilities in your right skill bar, but many skills have situational value and are worth swapping frequently depending on encounters. If you notice survivability issues for example, maybe it’s worth choosing more oh-shit abilities and debuffs (blind, paralyze, slow etc.) for a while, or pets to get some mob focus off yourself. In some areas enemies use status ailments frequently – that’s when otherwise shunned dispel abilities come handy.

In general, quite a few utility skills you can buy in your character tab probably look a little “useless” at first; however, if you think of them as less permanent and more situational, things change.

5) A word on traits
It’s worth mentioning that your traits especially have significant impact on your overall powers and abilities. Unlike skills which you cannot reset (there are skill points available to buy what you need in abundance), you can reset your traits at your class trainer. Experimenting can make a great difference and it’s how your personal preferences and specific playstyle really come through and impact on overall combat. Is your gear low on a certain stat? Choosing traits accordingly will let you balance that.

…Of course, it only took me 24 levels to realize I actually had traits at first. Oh, blessed are our newbie days! All guides and good intentions aside, enjoy them is all I can tell you – they are wonderful and not here to stay!

P.S. I’ve written a similar overview for leveling and gaining experience points in GW2. It can be found here.

[GW2] Tired of Trinity Whining. Or: As if!

So, the third and final GW2 beta weekend has ended and we could all be talking about how wonderfully achieved a race the Asura are, how Metrica Province or Rata Sum rock as zones or alternatively, how the Sylvari despite many initial misgivings, succeed at being a little more than just another translation of elf. I know – I was shocked too.

….Or we could do none of that. Instead, we could go on and whine about the missing roles and damned trinity in Guild Wars 2. Yeah we could keep bringing that up, again and again and again, like an obnoxious guest asking for burgers in an Italian restaurant. Some days I honestly feel with game designers and it’s not like I haven’t been an ardent critic of MMOs myself over the years. Three public betas past, I keep reading the same ignorant moping and fallacies by a vocal crowd of circus clowns on ANet’s official forums. The fact that many of them are drawing comparisons to WoW of all games, makes the whole thing all the more amusing, complete eyeroll that it is otherwise!

So, just for shits and giggles and because I feel like whining about whiners today, let’s have a look at some of the most missing-the-point, lalala-pink-pokémon-glasses and I-just-like-to-complain-about-something arguments! Here’s what the broken pro-trinity record has to say about GW2’s gameplay, roughly summarized:

a) No holy trinity means there is no cooperation anymore! *GASP*
b) No holy trinity means people do not coordinate / communicate in groups!
c) No holy trinity means zerg-mode and needing no strategy!
d) No holy trinity means there can’t be difficult combat!


There’s variations of the above, but it’s what whiners basically claim while glorifying WoW and prophesying the doom of GW2…already. Of course the holy trinity in itself has no direct bearing on any of the criticized points, however to realize that one needs to have a hard look at WoW – which is what I will do since people insist on bringing it up as role model. Note too, the big majority of whiny commenters refer to overall combat/cooperation in GW2, meaning questing and the FFA dynamic events. Precious few can currently claim group play experience beyond that or more in-depth knowledge about coordination in dungeons (especially exploration mode) or organized PvP. Here’s my reply to the popular arguments, since “wait and see?” didn’t really go far these previous betas –

As IF!

First off, as IF people communicated or cooperated much during questing in WoW! Where have you been the past 8 years? You can’t be referring to the WoW I have played. Some well-known, honest facts:

  • 95% of all WoW players either solo quests or take their friends/guildies along. You don’t need any type of “strategy” to beat quests together, joining up is more about the social factor. There aren’t even many elite outdoor quests anymore or bosses that would require a group to beat. People don’t need to communicate and there’s nothing to coordinate when everyone already knows what their role is. Oh, and people don’t coordinate, let alone communicate in most LFG 5man runs either – but then you knew that already.
  • If “actively creating the party”, which usually comes down to clicking an invite button and waiting for the other side to accept it, equals good communication among strangers…well, you’re an easy one to satisfy!
  • You can progress with ease in WoW pushing the same 3-4 buttons, just in case anyone feels like bringing this up against GW2. Not that the “amount of buttons” is a great or very telling argument for or against anything, really…
  • If “zerging” equals “rushing into combat without the need for communication or coordination”, then zerging is what’s constantly being done in WoW, during questing and even 5man runs. Just because tanks tank, healers heal and DPS deal damage, doesn’t mean people are actively cooperating (or need wait on the tank for example) – rather, I would call it playing side by side, each role knowing their motions. There are synergies and there’s timing, both exist in GW2 as well. The holy trinity sees to that; it creates a basic order so players won’t have to think about assigning jobs or tactics much (outside raids) themselves. That’s hardly active cooperation or communication though – it’s a script! In fact the opposite, a free and versatile setup, requires strangers to coordinate and talk more if at all!

But hey, I’ll give you that – due to the lack of pre-defined roles, the combat in GW2 feels more chaotic, certainly is for quests and events. But errr…so what? Already I cooperate more in GW2 than I ever did in WoW: thanks to the FFA, auto-join events I have joined and helped out more strangers than I ever did while questing in WoW. I’ve had a chat with a few who shared a quest spot with me and several whom I rezzed or rezzed me in return (fat chance on that in WoW). I don’t claim any of this was particularly coordinated or difficult (maybe the events aren’t supposed to be particularly difficult, anyone?), but at least it’s a change from the usual silent, solo routine I used to have in WoW. Plus, where more people group up there’s always an unpredictable element. It’s a little cynical to criticize auto-join grouping or lack of roles when the opposite did nothing at all to improve matters in the past. As for kill stealing, mob camping and loot rolling – needless to say I haven’t missed them one second! That’s when having less communication is actually a good thing (/ninja /doom /ragequit).

The real strategic and demanding encounters aren’t out there in quests or trivial group content – not in WoW and not in GW2. Quests and events are simply not very hard right now and things like cooperation and coordination live and grow under duress. I would claim that GW2 requires teamwork and strategy where it matters, just like WoW does too; in harder/heroic dungeon modes and in big scale raids or PvP/WvW. If you think it’s all a zerg there you are mistaken. You need strategy and communication to bring the trophy home, to win against opposing teams or survive tough encounters. Teamwork is very much alive even if it works differently in GW2. Plus, the game adds other tactical components, such as the whole dodge/positioning mechanics and making use of the environment. I’ve beat several tougher challenges myself only because of active movement and tactical positioning which is rather great considering I play a caster in GW2 (typical feet-of-stone classes in other MMOs).

Getting facts and questions straight

Now, this post is no attempt to discourage any well-founded critique in favor of the holy trinity (ya rly); in fact, there are a few very interesting questions one could ask about GW2 in this context. For example how different group mechanics will truly be in a well-organized party, during a difficult run that requires a lot of communication. Once players assign roles/tasks in order to succeed and hence end up specializing, would we have to admit to a “soft trinity” in GW2? And where are the differences then to let’s say WoW or Rift? I can see a few but it’s definitely a valid overall question. So would be the question about how well control mechanics are realized in the game and if they make for enough encounter variety, in lieu of things like classic threat and mitigation mechanics.

Then, there’s simply those players who love to tank or heal and I certainly empathize with that – after all I used to love to heal myself! If you miss the holy trinity on that note, I have neither reproach nor consolation to offer because GW2 is a different game. And just like the F2P vs. subscription horse can be kicked to death, what it really comes down to here is preferences and target audience.

If you were however, like the individuals I addressed further up, to move the holy trinity on a pedestal for all the wrong, uninformed reasons, drawing faulty comparisons and even faultier conclusions about GW’s and MMO combat in general, then you have me for a very impatient and frankly ill-tempered commenter these days. I am really sick and tired of half-assed, destructive discourse that is so easy to refute it’s an intellectual insult. My biggest, returning gripe is mixing up role restrictions with things like encounter difficulty or pacing. Or in other words: if role restrictions are the one thing that makes your fights “hard” (likely because you already can’t find the right group composition…/sarcasm) that is sad news indeed!

The holy trinity creates no more or less demanding encounters than a non-trinity model would; all it does is enable patterns and offer mechanics to utilize in (boss-)encounters. And it tells players what their role is right away (hence the often referred to “crutch”). You can like that or not, that’s your prerogative – but the trinity does absolutely not just magically create better, active cooperation, coordination or communication…or alternatively other random words that start with “C”. And where one player sees ordered combat thanks to the trinity, I see boring same-ish strategies and synchronized swimming! Preferences – pros and cons, ya feel me?

To close, and so I can return to more pleasant topics tomorrow (with pictures!), let’s say it once more with feeling: The holy trinity does not a cooperation make. The holy trinity does not a communication make. The holy trinity does not a coordination make. The holy trinity does not an encounter’s difficulty make. If ever in doubt – go play World of Warcraft. Thanks!

GW2 Beta Weekend – Overflow, Exploration, Combat and a second Look at Customization

Just when I had tweeted the above picture waiting on the GW2 beta on Friday evening, ANet’s servers suddenly went live – over one hour before official beta start. I am tempted to call this a smart move on their side, ~1mio people trying to log on during the same, small time window = not fun.

Anyway, I was an early starter and a rocky start it was! After so many hours of disconnecting and not finding your mates because of cryptic overflow mechanics (I CAN’T SEE YOU!), I went to bed hoping for some fixes. It’s certainly been a good stress test and ANet were fairly responsive in getting the worst issues sorted a.s.a.p. which cannot have been easy. I skipped most of Saturday due to lag issues but finally today, servers were stable and I’ve had ample time for more detailed impressions.

Overflow servers

I’ll start with my only, big annoyance and say that I am very unimpressed with the overflow server mechanics. It’s all beta state so I am not screaming in terror, but it was a big negative that for 95% of my playtime up to now, I was unable to group up with friends. Some of us were constantly sent to overflow servers (different ones too) while others were not – usually without any indication given. I am missing respective indicators on the map/zones and most of all: people who are grouped up should be able to join each other! This is a vital thing in a game that pushes cooperation as much as Guild Wars 2 does, so I hope next beta come they will have solved this.

I’ll also admit that I was surprised to see the overflow mechanic pop up for every zone in the game. I didn’t expect zones to be gated via loading screens and from an explorer’s point of view, it’s rather disruptive to one’s game-flow to be told “sorry, that zone is full”. I’m sad that a consistent world was not an option. Personally, I am capable of judging whether a zone is too full for questing myself. I would still like the choice to travel through though or meet a friend there quickly, and not be told to queue up or go to the overflow. I see the advantages in terms of lag or impatient players doing quests – however to me, it is more important to be able to travel a cohesive world without loading screens and queues. Queues will improve later no doubt, still a minus in my books.

Exploration and combat

I’ve spent substantial time off the beaten track, trying to get a sense for the scale of Tyria. As expected the graphics are beautiful, with elaborate weather and shading effects, banners flowing in the wind and dancing snowflakes. The starting areas are somewhat claustrophobic in space and I have yet to be overwhelmed by a great vista or endless plains; but then I have maybe seen 5 zones so far. The environment is not as accessible as for example in Rift (where you can climb pretty much any peak), but there’s a lot more going on under water than usual, inviting players to test their underwater combat skills. The waypoints are there in abundance for the lazy – having mostly soloed so far however, I was not pressured to use any. This early into a new game, you gotta be particularly goal-driven to already rely on teleports…

Explorers get plenty to do and zone loading screens encourage them: four indicators per map will keep track of your zone progress, points of interest discovered and events partaken in. Special challenges await you when attempting to earn extra skill points. However, a word of caution to the eager traveler: mob level in GW2 is to be taken seriously! As an elementalist I was hard pressed to kill foes 1-2 levels above me and I certainly didn’t manage to kill groups. I died quite often, also because I blundered into areas prematurely which happens easily. If you travel too far ahead, you will get feedback immediately!

GW2 zone tracker explained (click to expand)

The dynamic events (heart shapes) at lowbie level work as intended: assisting others is effortless, rezzing dead players (indicated on the world map) is fun and participation is always rewarded – in fact you gain most EXP by assisting and joining events, not farming or grinding mobs all by yourself. I second Keen in that the quests could be a bit more imaginative than gathering crops and throwing snowballs at children, but then we’ve seen very little. Sometimes these events will also lead to further steps and more demanding objectives. From what I’ve seen of my personal storyline so far, quests are more engaging and I look forward to see my path unfold.

I am enjoying the combat mechanics in GW2, as I knew I would. Auto-attack and circle strafing take some getting used to; due to the mobile combat style, you will easily reset mobs getting too far out of range. It’s a wonderful feeling to cast while running though, I love the elementalist’s mighty AoE effects and different attunements and weapon abilities to choose from.

A second look at customization

Naturally, I also spent some time scrutinizing the Norn female character creation first-hand. It’s funny how impressions can vary once you get to be your own skipper. For one thing, there are not as many facial choices as I thought there would be; the individual sliders are also more or less effective, depending on your choice of face. But judge for yourself in this quick “before and after” picture:

Norn faces – before and after customization

There are a total of 15 Norn female faces currently in the beta, along with 21 hairstyles. For the human females, there are 18 faces and 23 hairstyles. However, the Norn choices have suited me better in every aspect: they have more diverse body options, nicer (especially many longer) hairstyles and colors available for hair and eyes. Make-up is a deplorable given, although degrees may vary. For those who asked about more mature or scarred faces, there’s in fact one older looking face to be found for the humans (if you expand the image you can spot some wrinkles) and one scarred face for the Norn (also the Norn get tattoos):

“old” Human face / scarred Norn face

One thing to take note during customization is that once you’ve made individual adjustments to one face, the changes will appear on all the presets when going back. This way, you are instantly presented with a whole “new set” of variety which might help you find that unique look for yourself.

Temporary bottom line

After a rocky start, the GW2 has been a lot fun; so much to see and explore and especially so much to learn! Guild Wars 2 IS its very own game and that is good to remark at this point! You will not be tempted to compare this MMO to other games you’ve likely played in the past.

ArenaNet will certainly need a few more months (so much has become clear) to take care of some balancing and technical issues now and there is missing polish where ingame functionality (for example on guild management level), menu options and indicators are concerned. Early overflow gripes aside, I have not come across any major disappointments or annoyances though. I think we can agree that GW2 is a safe bet for anyone looking to immerse himself in a fresh and original MMO world this year. I’m off to play some much anticipated WvW now – more on that another time!

Where are the Orcs in Guild Wars 2?

Just in time with my private life going back to normal (adjusting took a little longer than expected but hey, new apartment is shiny!), the NDA of the GW2 closed beta was lifted and so I’ve spent the past few days catching up on all the juicy details on what’s no doubt the most anticipated MMO of 2012. I was somewhat disappointed at the material on youtube, but some of the written reviews were able to bring back the proverbial ants in my pants! Facing such a flood of informational tidbits, it’s hard to decide on what news were the most exciting – to me it is probably the confirmation of many anticipated features that bloggers have already been discussing or hoping for for months now.

Let me say once more that I love love love the cross-profession combos, they sound every bit as cool as I hoped they would! Then, there is confirmation that using terrain will indeed affect the outcome of combat (for example you can use a boulder nearby to your advantage). Questing is supposedly a lot less grindy and yes, less kill-ten-rats than ever. I just want to believe that for now. There’s the intriguing “downed” combat state that appears to be a lot more fun in practice than it sounded on paper. There’s the way equipped weapons affect your key abilities which will greatly add to tactical gameplay.

Most of all though, there are finally firsthand experiences on the cooperative aspect of Guild Wars 2; I was very happy to find reviewers confirm that every class could self-heal easily enough and that grouping up is a non-issue for any group setup. Some people still doubt that GW2 will manage without any holy trinity, but I actually do – and if there’s ever going to be more “dedicated” healing or tanking going on in a specific encounter, it will probably be a situation in which everyone must take turns or decides on a random player. It won’t be that classes are associated with fixed roles though.

All in all, awesome news on the combat front for someone like me. I believe that longterm Guild Wars 2 will rise and fall over its battle for me personally, on mid- and end-level / PvP. This is really where I need to see big changes, the way classes and groups can play together dynamically, cooperate and find different solutions to the same challenge. ArenaNet has promised us a lot in this department, they really need to improve, innovate and hit the ball home. I can’t help but think back to their instructional pages on combat from long ago, where they first lit the spark and also took a not-so-subtle yet brilliant dig at the most popular MMORPG to date, namely World of Warcraft –

(click to enlarge)

Now, we all know that there are no Orcs in Guild Wars 2; we also know which popular concerns of WoW are being presented in each comic frame – the lack of role flexibility and heavy gear focus, the holy trinity, the lack of “world” and impact therein. ArenaNet intends to do better on all accounts and make the Orcs a symbol of days past – something not to be found in their upcoming MMORPG.

And yet, it all sounds a little too good to be true. I can’t help but worry, the closer we get to open betas and the long overdue launch; so much waiting has gone before GW2, so many genre lovers’ eyes worldwide are fixed on this blockbuster title. All the high expectations – it’s filling me with dread. Who can possibly fulfill that many big wishes? As more and more information will be released over the coming, unbearable weeks and months, the ultimate question will grow: where will GW2 fall short? Where will it disappoint and fail to deliver on its promises?

Where will be the “Orcs” in Guild Wars 2?

I’m curious about the prime concerns currently out there among all the antsy veterans. I admit that the beta reviews did not dispel all my doubts and that there were a couple of things I found concerning among the clips and summaries I’ve come across. But more on that in a follow-up post on my current GW2 concerns. If you’re already down with your own, now’s the time to share them!