State of the Game— June 25, 2007
Defensive Anthem, Mesmers, and the Metagame
A Week of Play Balance Testing
By Christian Brellisford
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.
On Friday, June 15, 2007, ArenaNet gave us a new set of changes to play with. Introduced as a "play balance test week," it had immediate impact on the metagame, ranging from GvG to the arenas to Hero Battles. Assuming the changes remain in place, they promise to steer the metagame in another direction. To explain the update, developers posted a list of notes on the official Guild Wars Wiki. This State of the Game article takes a peek at how the various tweaks affected gameplay over that first weekend, and looks at implications for the future.
Paragons and Mesmers
Defensive Anthem [Elite]
paragon/Leadership - Chant
Chant. For 4..10 seconds, each party member within earshot has a 50% chance to block incoming attacks. This Chant ends if that party member hits with an attack Skill.
If a single skill balance affected the metagame more than any other, it would be Defensive Anthem. A staple component of many GvG builds, it effectively countered the mass of Warriors, Rangers, and Paragons rampaging through the backline. It worked so well that many teams brought multiple copies so they could chain it back to back and squeeze out the maximum potential. With its one-second activation time, it was harder to interrupt than Aegis. And, unlike Aegis, it couldn't be removed once active. This made a team protected by Defensive Anthem incredibly hard to kill. It also slowed down the rate of Ranger disruption, blocking key interrupts from Distracting Shot and Savage Shot. When Rangers pressure the midline less, the team tends to survive longer because its defensive measures and shut-down skills don't get interrupted.
This last week, Defensive Anthem's cast time was increased to two-seconds. Although this skill was still useful, it became much easier to interrupt or divert, making it much harder to keep active on a reliable basis. If this balance tweak sticks around, teams will likely revisit Aegis chains (perhaps combined with one Defensive Anthem) and find other ways to mitigate enemy damage.
Power Block [Elite]
Mesmer - Domination Magic - Spell
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.
Another game balance had a tremendous impact on Defensive Anthem, and Paragon Chants in general—changes to the Mesmer "power" skills (Power Drain, Power Block, and so on). Originally confined to interrupting spells only, the changes from this last week opened them up to interrupting Paragon Chants as well. No longer could a Paragon hide behind Defensive Anthem and Chant in the face of frustrated Rangers. Instead, Paragons had to keep a wary eye out for Mesmers. Given that Power Block already has awesome shut down against casters, an additional ability to counter Paragons will turn it into an elite skill to rival the popular Mantra of Recovery.
During the play balance week, the Mesmer primary attribute, Fast Casting, also received a bonus: the activation time of Signets was reduced. In the GvG metagame, this change probably won't make much difference, even with the slight nerf to Signet of Humility's activation time. Signet builds are niche builds, and are hard to design a team around, making them impractical for many GvG players. But we did see some new gimmick builds with Mesmers using Signet of Judgment, other Smiting Signets, and offensive Signets such as Signet of Weariness.
Mesmer - Illusion Magic - Hex Spell
Hex Spell. For 5..15 seconds, Spells cast by target foe and all adjacent foes take twice as long to cast.
If these changes weren't enough for Mesmers, the Illusion Magic line could also see a resurgence in PvP. Arcane Conundrum, Clumsiness, Conjure Phantasm, and Conjure Nightmare all received notable buffs. Necromancers, who previously fueled Hex-heavy builds with massive Health degeneration, could now be coupled with high damage/disruption Illusion Mesmers. If these changes remain in the game, we'll see stronger Hex builds percolating through the metagame.
The Recall change affected those teams that enjoy hopping around the map at will. Rather than having a large unpredictable area, this skill was put on a leash and restricted to Compass range. Recall Assassins, normally devastating in split builds, will simply have to maintain their teleport-webs at a closer distance.
Warriors received a hidden buff to Agonizing Chop. With an activation speed of half a second, a Warrior can now spike with it as a follow-up attack. Viable chains like Dismember/Agonizing Chop/Critical Chop might induce Axe Warriors to equip elite skills other than Eviscerate.
Blurred Vision was slightly nerfed. A two-second cast time for this skill means that Water Elementalists (usually flag runners) have to use it more wisely to avoid Ranger or Assassin interrupts.
Rangers received a few positive updates, too. Crippling Shot returned to its 10 Energy cost, giving it some appeal compared to the powerful Burning Arrow. Even if the changes to Heal as One (bug fixes and healing reduction such as Deep Wound affecting it) remain, we'll still see it in Hero Battles. The hearty buff to Melandru's Resilience might herald the return of the Melandru's/Draw Conditions Monk.
The ever-changing Soul Reaping attribute received yet another balance. The intent was to address the popular Necromancer/Ritualist spike builds. Previously, all Spirits returned Energy, but with the change, only Spirits the caster controlled would return Energy, making these builds less viable. Regardless, the skill changes were mostly PvE-centric. Wells, rarely used in PvP, were made much more desirable with quicker cast times. But their static functionality and the general lack of corpses should conspire to nudge Wells out of most PvP. In PvE, where corpses are more common, Wells will no doubt see much more use.
The Meta as It Stands
Most of these balance changes will likely become permanent, but it is still too early to tell how they may affect the metagame. It took longer than a month for an established set of builds to coalesce out of the last game balance updates. However, it seems this latest group of changes won't shatter any core pillars of the metagame. Most teams, for example, still prefer to take one or two Warriors (or melee types) per game.
This latest crop of changes hardly affected the meta-Elementalist. Fire, Air, and Water all have their places in the game, showing up often on top team builds. Even with a two-second cast time, Water Elementalists will still use Blurred Vision to defend backlines and bases. Mind Blast Fire Elementalists are still widely used, and Blinding Surge is a popular way to counter all the physical damage dealers running amuck.
Backlines weren't changed much with this update. Two-Monk backlines are still common, augmented with a flag runner that can be a third Monk, Elementalist, or Ritualist. Although they'll still have to adapt to any new developments in the metagame offense, Restore Condition and Light of Deliverance are still the top choices among GvG teams. Because Hex-heavy builds are less common (at least for now), most teams rely on Holy Veil or Paragons with Expel Hexes. For Monks, players favor Protection Prayers. Skills like Spirit Bond and Shield of Absorption are as popular as ever. The elite Shield of Deflection occasionally makes a cameo appearance, and Shield of Regeneration is a popular skill choice for flag runners and base defense.
Most top GvG is still predictable. Warriors run standard Axe, Sword, and Hammer builds. Rangers generally pack Burning Arrow and are split capable. Mesmers lean toward Domination skills. Necromancers still equip Hexes, and Elementalists still have roles shifting between defense and offense. However, if the play balance test week is any indicator, we will no doubt see new Mesmer experiments, resulting in new team builds and a new metagame to keep Guild Wars fresh and exciting.
Christian Brellisford is a college student currently studying video game design in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in hopes of pursuing a career in the field. A gamer since an early age, Christian has been involved with Guild Wars since the E3 for Everyone Event in 2004, and currently leads the Spirits of War guild.