Going Berserk: A Guild Wars 2 Commentary

With Heart of Thorns on the Guild Wars 2 horizon, hardcore min-maxers have been theory-crafting day in and day out about how the new changes might shake up the PvE (player vs. environment), PvP (player vs. player), and WvW (world vs. world) metas. Of these three game types, PvE definitely has the most clearly defined meta, as PvP and WvW cater much more to versatility and thinking on one’s feet. For the average Guild Wars 2 player, the term “PvE meta” is almost synonymous with one word: berserker.

The berserker stat set, which grants players increased power, precision, and ferocity, is effectively as glass-cannon as glass-cannon gets. Due to the way Guild Wars 2’s combat mechanics work, berserker players and party compositions can roflstomp challenging PvE content more quickly and efficiently than any other stat set up, which has resulted in a game-wide “berserker meta” for PvE. However, the berserker meta has fiercely divided the community. On one side of the fence, we have a large portion of the community that thoroughly enjoys playing through content the most efficient way. On the other side, we have a sizeable chunk of the community that finds the idea of one stat set being far more viable than others limiting, restrictive, and toxic to their gameplay experience and to the community. But which side of the fence should you be on? Well, actually, you shouldn’t care either way.

Level 80 weapons with berserker statistics.

Level 80 weapons with berserker statistics.

The berserker meta is currently in place due to one of Guild Wars 2’s core differences from other MMOs: the lack of the “MMO holy trinity.” In most MMOs since and including Everquest, the “holy trinity” of player roles in combat consisted of the tanks, the healers, and the DPS (damage per second, or simply, the damage dealers). These roles were not only available to the player-base, but were necessary for completing content, effectively guaranteeing three viable roles for players to choose from in PvE. In Guild Wars 2, outgoing healing is made purposefully weak and unreliable, and the most effective way for players to regain health is through their personal heal skill, making dedicated healers a thing of the past. Furthermore, the tank role, which traditionally absorbs damage and holds aggro, has also been extinguished through carefully balancing the application, duration, and effects of boons. Replacing these roles in what some have dubbed a “soft” trinity are the “support” and “mitigation” roles. Support players focus on outputting boons, minor healing, and condition removal to party members, while mitigation players focus on crowd controlling and disabling enemies. You’ll notice that both trinities have one thing in common: DPS. This is the root of the berserker meta in Guild Wars 2 PvE. You see, though this “soft trinity” is technically present in the game, fully building into DPS (berserker) will yield far more impressive results relative to the role than fully building into support or mitigation. Statistics like healing power, boon duration, condition damage, and toughness do not affect their respective skills nearly as severely as power, precision, and ferocity affect DPS. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that the base effectiveness of support, crowd control, and healing skills is more than sufficient in most encounters, resulting in full berserkers being able to mete out effective support and crowd control without sacrificing any DPS.

An example of the attribute spread of a level 80 character with full berserker gear (varies with traits and skills).

An example of the attribute spread of a level 80 character with full berserker gear (varies with traits and skills).

That being said, is the idea that MMO players want efficiency anything new? No, no it isn’t. Every game has an optimal route. Games always have, and they always will. The idea that playing the game efficiently breaks the game is only true in extreme situations, and the berserker situation in Guild Wars 2 is nowhere near extreme for one simple reason: there is nothing forcing anyone to play berserker.

I know many people aren’t prepared to hear this, but Guild Wars 2’s content is on the easy side when compared to other MMOs. Much of the content is very forgiving in terms of the level of skill required to beat it, and all, yes, ALL, of the content can be beaten without a single shred of berserkage. It’s a simple case of risk vs. reward. The berserker stat combination is a high risk, high reward stat set, the risk being the player’s lack of defense and the reward being the speed with which they can blow through content. This is where personal preference comes into play. With berserker being a high risk, high reward stat set, one must be a relatively skilled player to play it with any semblance of competence. It takes a lot of focus and awareness, and that isn’t for everyone. Some people would gladly take a longer, more drawn out battle experience if it means they can relax a bit and not have to constantly be on their toes. The idea that you absolutely have to play berserker and nothing else is a fallacy encouraged by a vocal minority, and should be heartily ignored.

Berserker characters generally have extremely low defense and health, and will take heavy damage when hit.

But isn’t berserker overpowered and therefore game-breaking? Not really. It’s true that there have been some oversights as far as balancing high DPS output, but in those scenarios (fiery greatsword rush for example), the balance issue was with the skills being utilized, not the stats powering them. In order for warriors to stack 40,000 damage with hundred blades, or for elementalists to crank out meteor showers that do 12,000 damage per meteor, a party must engage in a great deal of preparation. It takes an extremely skilled and well-coordinated group to be able to pull off that kind of DPS. Just because it’s possible doesn’t mean its “broken” or “overpowered.” Parties that put in the required amount of effort and preparation to output obscene amounts of DPS deserve to be able to achieve that. It’s a product of careful planning and teamwork, not just berserker stats.

However, the lack of build diversity in PvE is, frankly, a little off-putting. ArenaNet seems to have accepted that berserking is by far the most efficient way to play their game, and could be trying to nudge new players in that direction with their New Player Experience (NPE for short) they released last year. As part of an ongoing study, GuildMag’s own Miko Riel and Starconspirator have been compiling data on numerous features of the NPE over at Virtually Interrupted. Over the course of their study, they’ve found that much (not all, but a significant portion) of the equipment rewarded to players from leveling up and completing personal story comes with DPS savvy stats. While most players will find other ways of obtaining equipment via random drops, crafting, and the Trading Post, it is somewhat disheartening to see the DPS meta being ingrained in players so early on in their experience. However, while the NPE does seem to be encouraging players to go stick with DPS, ArenaNet seems to be taking an opposite approach with Heart of Thorns.

With their upcoming expansion, ArenaNet is undoubtedly looking to rectify the lack of necessity for different builds in PvE. We’ve already seen the beginnings of these changes with the release of season 2 of the Living World, as many of the mordrem enemies feature direct damage mitigation, heavy crowd control, and increased offensive pressure. These mechanics will almost certainly be taken to even higher extremes in Heart of Thorns, and with the addition of a new class and new status effects, boons, and conditions, the types of builds players will need to most effectively combat the new mechanics are likely to be both numerous and diverse.

The mordrem are equipped with several berserker-proof mechanics, such as Tough Bark, which severely limits raw DPS.

The mordrem are equipped with several berserker-proof mechanics, such as Tough Bark, which severely limits raw DPS.

So, if you’re someone who is vehemently anti-berserker, please, put down the protest sign and torch. If you’re someone who can’t abide players who play anything but berserker, please, get off your high-horse. Guild Wars 2 is a game designed from the ground up to be accessible to every play-style and every level of skill, and it’s achieved that wonderfully. Test the waters, decide if you like the play-style, and if not, no big deal, move on to the next one. Just because you can’t speed clear AC Path 1 in three minutes doesn’t mean you can’t do it at all, and if you can, more power to you because that’s insane.

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