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State of the Game— May 7, 2007

Disruptive Play
On the usage and avoidance of interrupts and knockdowns

By Harold J. Chow

Special note: Each State of the Game article presents the opinions and insights of one game observer. These observations are personal in nature and do not reflect the opinions of ArenaNet. While ArenaNet does review each State of the Game article to assure that it offers content that is respectful of all players, we intend to allow our reporters the freedom to inject some personal opinion into descriptions of the current atmosphere of competitive play in Guild Wars, and to express views based on their experience and observation.


Click! Every caster hears that dreaded sound eventually. It happens when the enemy disrupts a spell, possibly important enough that the tide of battle turns. Interrupts and knockdowns at key moments serve a crucial role in defeating opponents. But what separates the great interrupters from the mediocre? And how do casters counter disruptive tactics? Let's take a look.


The Disrupter's Arsenal

While Mesmers and Rangers have access to the best interrupt skills, every profession except Dervishes have some sort of disruption available in its primary skill line (even Monks have access to Smiting knockdowns). Mesmers disrupt spells most effectively, having quick cast times on spell-range interrupt skills that don't require line of sight to the victim. Rangers disrupt any type of skill most efficiently, with cheap, non-elite, bow-based interrupts. And, even though these skills require line of sight to the target, they recharge so quickly that Rangers can afford to miss an interrupt or two and still come out ahead.

Disrupting Dagger
Disrupting Dagger
Disrupting DaggerDisrupting Dagger
Assassin - Deadly Arts - Spell
Energy: 5
Activation: 0.25
Recharge: 10
Spell. Send out a Disrupting Dagger at target foe that strikes for 10..35 earth damage. If that foe was activating a Skill, that Skill is interrupted. This Spell has half the normal range.

The rest of the professions have fewer interrupts, but some are worth noting, if only so you can avoid them. Most of the Elementalist's knockdown spells, such as Gale, don't require line of sight, giving them an edge on some maps. Warriors must be within melee range for their interrupts and knockdowns, but most of their disruption also damages their targets. Assassins have both melee-based interrupts and Disrupting Dagger (which does require line of sight even though it's a spell). Ritualists rely on Spirits, Wanderlust and Dissonance, which provide random knockdowns and interrupts. Necromancers and Paragons can interrupt, but you will rarely see a Necromancer cast Wail of Doom or a Paragon attack with the conditional Disrupting Throw due to efficiency and reliability concerns.

Power Block
Power Block
Power BlockPower Block [Elite]
Mesmer - Domination Magic - Spell
Energy: 15
Activation: 0.25
Recharge: 20
Spell. If target foe is casting a Spell or Chant, that Skill is interrupted. The interrupted Skill and all Skills of the same attribute are disabled for 3..15 seconds for that foe.

Of particular note are those interrupts that can also lock up one or more skills on the target's Skill Bar. Distracting Shot and Disrupting Chop both disable the interrupted skill for twenty seconds. Power Block shuts down all skills from the same attribute line as the interrupted skill. Skills like Blackout and Signet of Humility, while not interrupts per se, can still cause the target's current action to fail. They simply lock up all or part of the target's Skill Bar. Opponents who cannot use skills do not pose much of a threat, so this disruption can pressure your opponent or give your Monks a break.

Migraine
Migraine
MigraineMigraine [Elite]
Mesmer - Illusion Magic - Hex Spell
Energy: 10
Activation: 2
Duration: 5..20
Recharge: 15
Hex Spell. For 5..20 seconds, target foe suffers -1..3 Health degeneration and takes 100% longer to cast Spells.

In addition, some skills make spellcasting slower, thereby reducing the effectiveness of casters and making their skills easier to interrupt. Some of these skills, such as Migraine, apply as Hexes to the target, while other skills apply the Dazed Condition, which has the added benefit of making all of the Dazed caster's spells easily interruptible by normal attacks, including wands and Spirits.


Target Selection

To maximize the effect of interrupts, players must make split-second decisions. Experienced players have studied the popular skills in the game and memorized activation and recharge times. Knowing what the skill does lets them first decide whether or not they need to interrupt it. Remembering a skill's activation time simply by recognizing the skill's icon or name lets them decide right away if their disruption skills can stop it. Likewise, knowing a skill's recharge time allows them to anticipate when the opponent can use that skill again.

Distracting Shot
Distracting Shot
Distracting ShotDistracting Shot
Ranger - Expertise - Attack
Energy: 5
Activation: 0.5
Recharge: 10
Attack. If Distracting Shot hits, it interrupts target foe's action but deals only 1..16 damage. If the interrupted action was a skill, that skill is disabled for an additional 20 seconds.

Some shutdown players learn their target's behavior pattern and combine that with their skill knowledge to anticipate when to fire a devastating Distracting Shot to lock up a normally uninterrupted spell (such as the quarter-second cast Reversal of Fortune) or land a game-breaking Diversion right as the victim finishes activating a key skill. If you've played caster roles before, you know that casters must stop moving to cast spells. Some Rangers catch casters off guard by firing Savage Shot or Distracting Shot right when the caster stops moving, assuming the target is most likely getting ready to cast something. Conversely, some casters run around, stop moving, wait for an interrupt to hit, then cast something. This mini-game within the game takes place as a subtle dance, but if you watch closely in Observer Mode, you can see examples of it all the time.

Generally speaking, successful interrupters focus on stopping threats to key aspects of the team. For example, teams relying on melee will interrupt Aegis or use Power Block on a Curses Necromancer (on a Curses skill such as Price of Failure as opposed to the ubiquitous Soul Reaping skill, Reaper's Mark). Teams using elite skills such as Restore Condition or Divert Hexes to counter key elements of the opposing offense often choose to prevent Signet of Humility. Against spike teams, interrupting the most damaging skills in the spike gives Monks a better chance at saving the spike victim.

Interrupters also consider their arsenal when selecting targets. A Mesmer who's only brought Power Leak and Power Drain can't hope to stop an Oath Shot Ranger from spamming spirits, because both of these Mesmer skills can only interrupt spells. Likewise, a Ranger will have difficulty interrupting a Shout-affected Monk hiding behind Soldier's Defense, because the Monk will block most of the Ranger's interrupt attack skills.

Note also that many of the interrupters you see on Observer Mode spread their disruption around to multiple targets. Many casters, seeing the Poison on them from a Ranger will, at a minimum, play more tentatively in case the Ranger targets them with an interrupt. Even the threat of interruption can act as a type of shutdown. Combining knowledge of skills and fast reflexes, a good Ranger can spread Poison among different targets, annoy a Monk with random interrupts, and still count the seconds until a Mesmer will use Diversion again, and then switch targets to catch it.


Coordinated Disruption

Gale
Gale
GaleGale
Elementalist - Air Magic - Spell
Energy: 10
Activation: 1
Duration: 3
Recharge: 5
Spell. Knock down target foe for 2 seconds. This Spell causes Exhaustion. (50% failure chance with Air Magic 4 or less.)

When playing in a team format GvG, interrupts and knockdowns become much more devastating when coordinated amongst teammates. Gale proved devastating enough to warrant an early nerf, raising its cost from five Energy to ten, and a more recent nerf from a long three-second knockdown to two seconds. These nerfs were necessary mainly due to the ability of teams to chain the use of the skill. This "Gale lock" prevented Monks from staying on their feet long enough to cast anything, and stopped stragglers from retreating back to the safety of their base. Rotating Gale use between several characters prevented any one character from accumulating too much Exhaustion.

Similarly, coordinating teammates to disrupt specific enemy targets or skills prevents the team from wasting resources and allows for more overall shutdown. For example, sticking a Mesmer on an opposing Blinding Surge Elementalist allows the Hammer Warrior to keep an opposing Monk on the ground with knockdown chains without having to worry about Blindness.


Ounces of Prevention

Preventative measures help players avoid enemy interrupts. At the same time, knowledge of these same measures is important for interrupters who want their interrupts to hit. First, interrupts all have limited range, so staying out of range of an interrupter allows a caster to finish a critical spell. Rangers require line of sight to interrupt, so hiding behind a wall easily thwarts their interrupts or forces them to move around that wall. Players trying to avoid interruption can cancel their own skills if they anticipate an interrupt is about to land, thereby saving the skill for later activation. Casters with Glyph of Lesser Energy can even cancel and recast without burning the Energy the glyph saves. As explained above, casters often cast as soon as they stop moving. Some casters make it difficult for interrupters to predict their actions and wait a second or two before casting, or otherwise vary their behavior patterns.

Balanced Stance
Balanced Stance
Balanced Stance Balanced Stance
Warrior - Tactics - Stance
Energy: 5
Activation: 0
Duration: 8..20
Recharge: 30
Stance. For 8..20 seconds, you cannot be knocked down and you do not suffer extra damage from a critical attack.

Some skills like Mantra of Concentration and Balanced Stance prevent interruption or knockdown. Monks often use Balanced Stance to get away from Hammer Warriors or to prevent Gale lock. Caster spikes often pack Mantra of Concentration or Mantra of Resolve while standing in a Ward of Stability to make sure their spike gets off without disruption. While these skills can help immensely, relying on good positioning and unpredictable behavior often proves more effective in the long run, since not every build has room for such skills.


Hours of Practice

Random Arenas provide a good way to practice interrupts. Each team you join has different vulnerabilities, forcing you to evaluate which opposing skills will require disruption. Plus, each opposing team you face will have a variety of different skills, forcing you to learn those skills and make judgment calls about which ones to interrupt. Likewise, learning to change up your casting patterns and practicing good positioning will keep opposing interrupters from shutting you down.


Harold J. Chow is a freelance Guild Wars reporter. His in-game name is Guild Informant.