I have played nine PvP matches since the launch of Guild Wars 2. Five of those were played Tuesday, during the Stronghold public beta test. I am not a PvP player; I am not a buildmaker or a theorycrafter. My time in Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2 has been spent delving into the stories, the lore, equipping my characters with beautiful outfits and weapons, and taking in the virtual sights. I had some experience with Alliance Battles and Guild Battles in the previous games; my guild would even attempt Hero’s Ascent on rare occasion. In Guild Wars 2, the only time I had spent competing with other players was in either WvW or Sparkfly Fen, fighting to join an organized Tequatl server (womp womp). So how does Stronghold work exactly?
Each side has a stronghold (roll credits!) with a main road running to the other side of the map to the barracks of the opposing team. These roads serve as the two teams’ offense and defense lanes while many surrounding roads go between the two lanes for ease of access. In the dead center of the map is the supply depot. This is where players on both teams go to fill their two supply slots, to spawn NPC reinforcements, or to repair a trebuchet. Players can also summon heroes through rifts in the Mists to fight for their team. The hero will concentrate on the main offensive objectives along a team’s offense lane and will not deviate. Actions such as summoning a hero or breaking gates will grant players and the overall team points. While these points can be accrued in Stronghold like other PvP game modes, another way to win is to eliminate the opposing team’s Lord stationed in their stronghold. For a more thorough explanation, I recommend this web post from ArenaNet.
As a PvE player, I enjoyed Stronghold. It may have had to do with the fine company of players I was with who had PvP experience or the fact that there were tengu marching around with skritt and Turai Ossa, which I found ridiculous in a humorous sense. I learned right off the bat that if your team has a player or two who are solid “pushers” (players who protect the NPC offense) then the team can burn their initial supply on the skritt demolitionists instead of archers and still come out ahead in the beginning. However, that also requires other teammates to run supplies to keep the demolitionists coming and to commune through the Mist Essences to summon heroes. So where did that leave me? As it happens, each side has a trebuchet, like other PvP maps. At the start of the match, after spending my supply, I would sprint over to our siege weapon and start laying waste to the enemy’s own NPC offense, which appeared content to saunter up a road open to my line of fire. Of course, the opposing team did not let me sit and bombard their advancement or their supply runners without coming after me a few times. Ultimately, I felt like I did some good for my team with siege support by making myself a powerful distraction. When opposing players finally came after me, I was often able to delay their return to parts of the battle that needed more attention. Interestingly enough, out of the five matches that I played the opposing team only made active use of their siege in one, maybe two, of those matches. By the end of my run in Stronghold, I had won four of the five matches (and a trebuchet-themed achievement); a much better outcome than I had expected, but, as I mentioned earlier, I had a party of organized and experienced PvP players.
I think what made Stronghold more fun than Conquest PvP was that the objectives did not necessarily revolve around contesting and regaining key areas, but allowed me to assume more support roles. Sure, the main objective was still straightforward: break through the enemy gates and kill the other team’s Lord while preventing the other team from doing the same, but the game mode offered a bit more. Unlike Conquest’s capture point-centered objectives, Stronghold had true physical advancement. Like WvW on a much smaller scale, players would determine how to divide their time between offense and defense. When gates were broken through on either side, there was often a shift in team strategy. One thing that remained constant was the need for supplies, which sat in the enclosure at the center of the map. In addition, the supply depots were in range of both trebuchets, giving any players on siege support a good default target if no NPCs were nearby. A lot of fighting would take place there; preventing a team from gathering supplies would essentially halt their offensive push on the enemy gates. If supply was hard to come by, one of the trickier tactics was for a team to go after both Mist Essences to spawn two heroes for their team.
Once the gate to the Lord’s stronghold is broken, it becomes difficult to both defend the Lord and maintain an offensive. At that point, the losing team is grasping at straws because you can bet the other team will shift to a full offensive with only one or two players running defense and supplies. When the Lord starts taking damage, it is likely that the whole team will make a run for the enemy’s stronghold to finish the fight. This was the case in most of my Stronghold matches. I had teammates who knew what they were capable of and what their skills afforded the team, which in our case was a relatively quick push through the first two enemy gates. I knew from the beginning that I was not comfortable running a critical role so I stuck to siege support and defense. Granted, if I put some effort into running some offensive builds on any of my characters, I might be more inclined to run supply or even help push.A skritt demolitionist and an overly trusting hero. This won’t end well…
For now, I am glad that I managed to make a difference in the role I felt comfortable with at the time and I believe that may be Stronghold’s greatest triumph as it may allow players unfamiliar with PvP to give players with PvP experience a fair amount of trouble (look out, pros, I’m coming for you). At this point, I am mostly curious about future maps for Stronghold and how the map layouts could be changed to affect player diversion and the overall flow of battle. They could channel players and NPCs through narrow and partially destructible pathways; more WvW mechanics on a smaller scale might make for more interesting battlefields in the future.