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State of the Game—April 30, 2006

Thus Spake Balthazar

By Jonathan Sharp

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.


Guild Wars FactionsTM is upon us! We're in the early days of the Factions release, and the Guild Wars® PvP metagame is changing considerably. The two entirely new professions and 300 new skills featured in Factions have nearly doubled the choices open to the player community. Now that the original game is over a year old (it released on April 28, 2005), let's look back at some of the PvP shifts that have been seen over the course of the last year.


In the Beginning Was the Balance

When Guild Wars was initially released, balanced team builds were extremely popular. They usually used two or three Warriors or Rangers, a few Monks, and some midline characters such as Mesmers and Necromancers. Elementalists were used for "Warrior hate" in the form of defensive Wards, while Necromancers filled the same role with Hexes. The defensive components of balanced builds utilized many different skills (Hex removal, Enchantment removal, and Condition removal) in an effort to adapt to any build they might face on the ladder. The offense came from a combination of Warrior and Ranger damage, while the Mesmers, Elementalists, and Necromancers filled a "control" role.


Emergence of the Runner

After Guild Wars had been out a little while, the "runner" was born. Many top guilds realized that flag stand control was a major point of victory in a guild-versus-guild (GvG) match—it became so important that most teams dedicated a character solely to this job. The dedicated runner became popular (and powerful) and was charged with running flags as quickly as possible while also having the ability to "solo" other runners. Crippling Shot Rangers and Elementalist/Monks excelled in this role as both professions have skills suited to the runner's tasks.


The Rise of the Spike

As teams began to progress in overall coordination, spike builds started to emerge. "Spiking" is when one player calls a target, and then everyone on the team attacks that target simultaneously using the Guild Wars target-calling feature. Players realized that if they were able to coordinate spikes well enough, they could take a target from full to no Health in a single volley. This became known as "spiking," and many builds formed around this concept.

Obsidian Flesh Spike
This build centers on the Elementalist elite spell Obsidian Flesh. During its duration, the caster cannot be targeted by enemy spells but incurs a small penalty to speed. Teams understood that they could use this skill as protection from Hexes, Interrupts, and enemy damage spells while they spiked with Obsidian Flame. Obsidian Flame ignores armor and has a quick recast, and its only drawback is that it causes Exhaustion. Once teams learned to work around the Exhaustion, they were able to harness the power of the Obsidian Flame spike.

Ranger Spike
Another popular form of the spike tactic revolved around Rangers and Necromancers using dual Orders (Order of Pain and Order of the Vampire). This spike causes a tremendous amount of damage, and it is also very durable due to the strength of the Ranger's armor. This build still sees heavy use today and is relatively easy to coordinate.

Deep Wound Spike
This spike uses Mesmers to inflict a Deep Wound on opponents while spiking with other miscellaneous skills. The rest of the build changed significantly over time, but the Mesmers always relied on Phantom Pain followed by Shatter Delusions. This combination inflicts heavy damage and leaves the target with a Deep Wound.

Bonded Mixed Spike
This build is a counter to other spike builds. It uses a "Bonding" Monk who sits behind the rest of the team and maintains Life Bonds (hence the build's name). This greatly reduces the effectiveness of enemy spikes and allows this build to take a lot more punishment than the average spike build.

Fast Cast Air Spike
In most spike builds, missing or failing a spike leaves you open to a pressure or "degen" build. The Fast Cast Air Spike build, however, relies on Fast Casting Mesmers to use Air Magic spells like Chain Lightning, Lightning Orb, and Lightning Strike. The premise is simple: even if the first spike does not succeed, the ensuing spikes will be hard and will occur very often. In the hands of a good team, this build often produces more damage than the average defense can withstand.


Divide and Conquer—Split Builds

As some teams were experimenting with new types of spike builds, others were working on ways to counter them. One popular method was splitting. Splitting took away the spike's largest advantage—high amounts of concentrated damage—and split it in half. Spike builds often need their entire spiking component (for example, all six of their Elementalists) to land successfully in order to produce a kill. Split builds prevent spike teams from staying together, often winning through NPC advantage, guerilla-style tactics, and long battles of attrition.


It Came From the Tombs...

While GvG builds were changing, a similar evolution was taking place in Tombs—the main battlefield for PvP play—and a single build came to enjoy increasing popularity over all others: IWAY.

IWAY
IWAY (or "I Will Avenge You!") centers on the Warrior skill from which the build takes its name. It allows Warriors to do more damage and gain self-healing after an ally goes down in battle, giving the build a very "noob"-friendly aspect—it's strong and easy to run. Eventually players started to bring pets, which gave their Warriors more ways to trigger IWAY. Necromancers were later added to provide healing, Orders (also used in the Ranger spike build) and other utility skills. While IWAY never enjoyed widespread success on the GvG ladder, a few guilds were able to pilot it to the top 50.

Blood Spike
Blood Spike became one of the favorite builds for dealing with the ubiquitous IWAY. It relies on a large spike that entirely ignores armor, which can be lethal to IWAY teams. "I Will Avenge You!" has a built-in "regenerating" effect, but it helps very little against the Blood Spike build's armor-ignoring spike damage.


Balanced Pressure

At the close of the season and in the most recent playoffs, balanced pressure builds rose to the top. They included answers to most spike types (a "Shields Up!" buff gave balanced builds a great answer to Ranger spike) and were able to split very effectively. By correctly using the split techniques, most of the top teams on the ladder were able to deal with Spike, Hex, and Degen builds. They packed just enough Warrior hate to deal with most balanced Warrior builds, they had good Hex and Condition removal, and most of them included a copy of Heal Party to help against Degen builds. As the name suggests, this build relies on its balanced defense until its pressure overwhelms the other team.


What will Factions do to the metagame?

Because Factions has just arrived, now is a good time to start asking some questions about how it will change Guild Wars. It's never too early to get with your friends who play PvP and ask some questions like:

  • How will Assassins and Ritualists change the metagame?
  • Will the new professions fill existing roles better than contemporary character builds, or will they create new roles that only they can fill?
  • How much will current balance change?
  • How much will current GvG/Tombs builds change?
  • What Random Area/Team Arena builds will become the most popular?
  • Things have become very interesting in the world of PvP. The new skill combinations will provide players with a multitude of new strategies to learn, master, and employ. With Factions so close, it's a great time to reflect on the last year of struggling for top spots on the ladder, warring for supremacy in the Hall of Heroes, and battling through the Random and Team Arenas. Factions heralds a brand-new era in Guild Wars.

Jonathan Sharp has been playing competitive online strategy games since Warcraft 2 and StarCraft. In Guild Wars he has been a member of two top-5 ladder teams: Club G and Negative Zero. He recently worked as a Multiplayer game designer for Stainless Steel Studios in Boston and has a B.A. in Philosophy. Currently he's pursuing two of his passions: game design and writing. Find him in game as Chaplan Observant.