Guild Wars 2: when worlds collide

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If you’ve played any of the large-scale player vs. player in an MMO, you know what an absurd jumble it can be: a hundred character models jammed together with names hovering above them as if a layer of random multi-colored letters have snowed down onto their heads. Guild Wars 2’s world vs. world battles (pictured) are no exception.

A lot of Dark Age of Camelot players will appreciate how world vs. world pits three factions against each other, often trying to carry away each other’s orbs (owning orbs gives everyone in your faction a health boost), capturing each other strongpoints, and bringing powerful siege engines to bear. Many world vs. world encounters include powerful and expensive golems that excel at knocking down doors. Above is me in a catapult helping a bunch of players in the red faction while we try to knock down a door. It felt a lot like some of the battles I played in Warhammer Online. But it also felt different enough that Guild Wars 2’s world vs. world combat is one of the main reasons I can’t wait for this game to come out.

After the jump, six reasons Guild Wars 2 is a PvP game I want to play

1. It’s not endgame content
The realm vs. realm combat in Dark Age of Camelot was for characters who’d hit the level cap. The Ettenmoors in Lord of the Rings Online are limited to higher level heroes, although anyone can jump in as one of the monsters whenever he wants. The larger battles in Warhammer Online segregated players by level and region.

But in Guild Wars 2, as soon as your character is “born”, you can click a button to take you into the player vs. player lobbies. These include the typical deathmatchy encounters you’ll find in any MMO, and which were especially well done in the first Guild Wars. But one of the options is to step into the world vs. world map, at which point your character will be boosted to level 80. Not to say you’ll be the equal of level 80 characters who are actually level 80. You still have only the skills and equipment you had when you started. But you’ll earn experience points, karma, and money as you play in the world vs. world map. The idea is that it’s a viable way to advance your character whenever you want, without dividing the community or forcing players to level up first.

2. You benefit from how well your faction is doing
The world vs. world games will divide players arbitrarily into three factions. In the current beta, these factions are simply color-coded: red, green, and blue. There are no racial limits for a faction. Furthermore, you can switch your faction, within limits, if you want to join your friends. Hopefully, the names of colors are value-neutral enough that they don’t lend themselves to faction imbalances like, say, the distinction between the Empire and Republic in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Every several minutes, each faction scores points based on how many locations it controls. These points accrue much like experience points. Every time your faction hits a threshold, it levels up a global bonus for members of the faction. The following screen shows, from top to bottom, the total points for each faction, the global bonuses your faction has earned, how close you are to the next bonus increase, a pie chart representing how much of the map a faction controls, and a breakdown of how many points each faction gets every time the scoring increments.

This means that even if we’re losing — in that screenshot, red is indeed losing — I can contribute to red’s level, and therefore my world vs. world bonus, by helping capture locations. The bonuses include things like increased chances of critical success during crafting, extra health during healing, a boost to the adrenaline meter that limits your evasive rolls, or extra health. They’re minor bonuses, and I’m not sure how significant they’ll be near the end of the two-week period, but they mean that there’s more to world vs. world than just being the winner after two weeks.

3. Strategy game nerds — like me — will love the grand strategy layer
In the scoring section that breaks down who controls which contested area, you’ll notice icons for supply camps, towers, strongholds, and a single super stronghold. These are spread over four “worlds”, as you can see on the following map:

Each faction has a homeworld map, which can be freely raided even thought it’s harder to establish and hold a beachhead. Between them all is a neutral map called the Eternal Battlegrounds, with a huge stronghold in the center. That’s Stonemist Castle, and it gives a hearty score bonus to whichever faction controls it. You might call it the grand prize.

When you hold a location, you can improve it by spending supply. But supply has to reach the location first. You can carry tiny handfuls around yourself, which you’ll often use to build siege engines. But to really develop and defend a location, you’ll need to rely on the steady trickle of supply that moves in automated caravans from supply camps to towers and strongholds. However, these can be interrupted. Either players can ambush them, or your faction’s towers along a supply route will disrupt them.

For instance, when I first jumped into the world vs. world game as a member of the red faction, we were laying siege to Ogrecut, a stronghold that kept plinking at the supply caravans bringing resources to our main defensive base on the Eternal Battlegrounds. The green faction defenders inside Ogrecut were repairing the main gate as quickly as we damaged it, but this was costing them supply. They would eventually run out of supply and we’d break through the gate. And we certainly weren’t letting any of their caravans in.

Or so we thought. Before we could break in, they’d mobilized a powerful counterattack from behind and scattered us. At which point, we broke into smaller groups to hit their supply camps directly, hopefully drawing them away from Ogrecut long enough to let another group resume the siege.

What followed was some really exciting hit-and-run raiding by several groups of about five to ten players each. We successfully diverted green and managed to break into Ogrecut and therefore resume our supply line. At which point, most of the green faction left us to harry their supply camps and focused again on taking Ogrecut back before we could build it up. They really wanted that location.

Meanwhile, players in our faction had built a powerful long-range trebuchet in Stonemist Castle that could reach the green players sieging Ogrecut. While we dashed from supply camp to supply camp, trying to stay ahead of the green army that hunted us, we could hear over Ventrilo the guy in the trebuchet talking to the handful of red faction defenders trying to hold out in Ogrecut.

“You’ve got eyes on that target, right? Can you tell me if I’m hitting them?”

“You’re too short.”

“Was that better?”

“That time you hit the side of the mountain. Way too far.”

“How about now?”

“A little to the left of that. Just a little.”

And then we pressed the dredge into service to even further divert the green faction.

4. Players are not alone on the maps
After taking all their supply camps, a larger green force drove us away. So we went for help. There are neutral factions on the maps. If you do some task for them, they’ll sally forth, attack, and attempt to hold locations on your behalf. And although they may not look it, they’re tough. For instance, the dredge are these goblin-looking slaves that live in caves where they mostly break rocks and run drills. You can help them fix their drills by running mini-fetch quests, carrying the drill parts to the drills.

There were enough of us that we quickly curried favor with the dredge, who sent parties out in a few different directions. With us following along, they pushed into a nearby camp and parked there while green counterattacked, thinking they would just drive us away again. Not this time. So long as we were careful to stay back with our new dredge allies, we held out easily.

This isn’t unique to Guild Wars 2. I recall vividly being able to press giant spiders and eagles into service in Lord of the Rings Online. The first time I saw a spider scuttle out of her lair and help us attack a lumber mill was one of those unforgettable videogame moments for me. But it’s an awesome element that helps bring the maps and even lore alive. There are different neutral factions on each of the different world vs. world maps. And it was pretty amazing watching the dredge hold off the green army that had been harrying us. Between the dredge, the trebuchet, and the supply model, I pretty much fell in love with Guild War 2’s world vs. world gameplay.

By the way, here’s a trebuchet at work, firing blindly from a distant stronghold at red’s spawning point to not much effect beyond the visual spectacle.

5. It’s oddly simple
When you join the world vs. world area, you don’t necessarily have to be in a party. This is how Guild Wars 2 is designed. You can be in a swirl of people and still contribute, because the classes aren’t arranged according to the traditional trinity of tanks, DPSs, and healers.

So when we played during the beta, we just found someone on the map who’d designated himself as a commander, and therefore showed up as a gold diamond (I’m not clear on the mechanics of how you get to be a commander, but I believe it’s something you purchase so that you light up like a beacon for people to follow). Just head to the diamond and do what you can to help!

Of course, being able to communicate helps immensely. During the press beta, we were grouped into a guild with some of the developers and often talking on a Ventrilo server. But even if that hadn’t been the case, you can assume — hope? — that anyone who cares enough to buy that golden diamond either has a plan or knows what he’s doing.

6. The battles
When two groups clash in Guild Wars 2, it feels very much like a battle for how they push each other back and forth. This matters partly because of how Guild Wars 2 handles death, or “death”. When you’re knocked down to zero hit points, you enter a “fallen” state. You can still use a couple of “fallen” skills based on your class, but you can’t move. A bar will gradually drain, especially if a hostile unit keeps attacking you. If the bar drains, then you’re dead until someone uses a resurrect spell or you choose to respawn at a waypoint you’ve discovered. But assuming the bar isn’t empty, any player — no matter what class he is, no matter what skills he’s got — can hold down the a key to revive you. It’s much like the system you might know from Left 4 Dead.

So during the pitched battles I played, it was about which faction can hold its ground long enough to keep reviving their fallen characters. The side that starts to fall back will be unable to reach the characters in the front who fall, and will therefore start to lose numbers and therefore firepower. The language used during some of the larger clashes was “push them off the bodies”. A close battle is about holding territory.

And because there’s no trinity at work, I didn’t find myself fussing so much with trying to hit their healers and DPS characters. I suspect that might be important if you really want to finesse the battle, but I was instead just singling out characters based on where they were standing. It felt much more like a surge of bodies instead of a formation of tanks, backed by DPS, backed by healers.

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