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Rezzed Report: Stronghold & Desert Borderlands

Following an incredible showing at PAX East in Boston, the Heart of Thorns hype train rolled into the Tobacco Docks in London for EGX Rezzed, giving new and veteran players alike the chance to roll up a revenant, whip some mordrem backside in the Verdant Brink, and to try out the new PvP mode: Stronghold. Additionally, fans who turned up on the Saturday afternoon were able to watch John Corpening, Tirzah Bauer, and Tyler Bearce proudly show off the new Desert Borderlands map, which will replace (at least for the time being) the current Alpine Borderlands (this is what the devs call the current map). While I had the distinct pleasure of playing the PvE demo (oh boy, that wyvern fight) for nearly an hour, I would defer you, dear reader, to what our roving reporter at PAX East—Kent Benson—and guest contributor Robin Baird had to say about that. As a self-confessed PvP try-hard (who definitely must try-harder), I was more excited by the chance to check out the Battle of Champion’s Dusk—the first map for the Stronghold game-type—and to see what the new WvW borderlands map held in store.

The Lich Tower in the Desert Borderlands

The Lich Tower in the Desert Borderlands

Into the Desert (Borderlands)

World versus World, in my relatively limited experience on low-tier servers, is a game mode with a huge amount of potential that hasn’t yet been entirely fulfilled. I’ll no doubt be corrected immediately (please do so) but it seems that the roles available are broadly limited to joining the closest zerg to run around capturing objectives, roaming around by yourself in the hopes of testing your mettle in duels, or joining up with a few other players to form a ‘havoc group’ which concentrates on capturing smaller objectives like supply camps and generally disrupting enemy players. Back around launch I was firmly in the first column, running around in organised zergs on Whiteside Ridge. While we never really cracked the ‘organised’ part, it was hugely fun, at least until you run into a blob twice your size and your framerate drops to single digits; I have no doubt that there is immense skill involved in doing this properly, but our interpretation of it was largely brainless.

Following a long absence from WvW—due in part to disinterest and to not having a regular group to run with—the new daily achievements have gotten me back into the fray, albeit predominantly solo. Killing guards and sentries, capturing supply camps, and loitering around ruins in the centre of the borderlands map are all quick and easy ways to work towards the daily meta achievement. While I do occasionally come across other players—friendly and unfriendly—it does feel like something of a rarity; I certainly don’t seek out enemies because my ego can’t take the inevitable beating.

If you got through that brief personal history, I gratefully commend you on your staying power: I’ll get to the point. It is my understanding that the top-tier WvW players are pretty happy with how things play out in the Alpine Borderlands; I was even introduced, while chatting to a fellow player at Rezzed, to the ‘points-per-tick’ approach to WvW whereby a server doesn’t care about holding objectives, but instead zergs around to capture them just before the tick every 15 minutes when points are awarded for structures held. This perfectly demonstrates one major flaw with the current meta: holding and defending objectives just isn’t as important as it ought to be. Before launch, I spoke to people who had the awesome idea of capturing a keep for their guild and holding it against all invaders; that’s just something that you don’t see happening. There are other more minor issues with the current implementation, but the common thread is that the variety of roles available are far from equal, whether that be in terms of personal reward or usefulness to your server. In theory you should be doing your world a service by running alongside the dolyak as it brings supply, but in effect you’re probably wasting your time. The same could be said for sitting inside friendly keeps and towers.

The Earth Keep in the Desert Borderlands

The Earth Keep in the Desert Borderlands

So, does it look like the new Desert Borderlands map is going to do anything to change this? First things first, if you haven’t read about the ‘essential elements‘ of the new map on the official site yet, go and do that. It’s okay, I’ll wait for you to get back.

Sorted. What we saw at Rezzed, and what has since been covered in Tyler’s blog post above, is very much a first look at what we can expect from the new map. We’ve been introduced to the various areas (based around the elements of fire, air, and earth) and their particular mechanics, activated by capturing and holding the three shrines located nearby each keep. The very first thing that struck me is how distinct each region is, a huge change from the fairly same-y Alpine Borderlands; for a casual WvWer like me it’s quite easy to forget whereabouts you actually are. I don’t see that happening so easily in the desert. Unique aesthetics and lord NPCs for each tower and keep add a huge injection of personality to a game mode which severely lacks it.What would go even further to draw me in would be a whole bunch of other players on all sides.

Each world has to divide their attention between three different borderlands plus the Eternal Battlegrounds, but I’m hopeful that broadening the range of feasible (and rewarding) roles within the new map will give people cause to stick around. Dolyaks are being reworked so that they’re a lot harder to kill if a friendly player is around. Sentries are getting new abilities to counter this by crippling enemy supply caravans as they pass by. Your world will now not only want to hold supply camps, but also the relevant sentries, and you’ll probably want at least one escort. Nothing has been announced yet with regards to changing the way in which defense might be rewarded with points, but I don’t think that it’s beyond the realm of possibility.

The Mage College in the Desert Borderlands

The Mage College in the Desert Borderlands

While nothing has been announced, it stands to reason that the Desert Borderlands will be put through the same rigorous beta testing that the other game modes will be receiving. If I’m lucky enough to gain access to that, my focus is definitely going to be on trying to figure out what I enjoy most about the new map and whether or not I can find a useful role doing those things. I like the idea of extending what I currently do for daily quests to also focus on new soloable objectives like shrines, exploring the map (apparently there are lots of neat shortcuts for those that go looking), and jumping into the meta event in the centre of the zone: killing dinosaurs in order to collect power cores so that we can FIRE A GIANT SKY LASER AND ATTACK EVERY OBJECTIVE THAT WE DON’T ALREADY OWN. Right?

The community reaction to the Rezzed presentation has definitely been mixed. I’ve not been digging too deeply, but the general feeling from players on top tier servers seems to be that the new maps are too much like the karma-train that is Edge of the Mists and won’t allow for the kind of open zerg vs. zerg plays that form the current meta. This may well end up being the case, but I feel confident that ArenaNet will work with players like these throughout the beta in order to finesse the experience. If changes to the meta are required in order to mix up gameplay roles and pull more casual PvE-focused players into WvW, then I’m personally very happy with that. From what we’ve seen and heard so far, I will definitely be giving the Desert Borderlands some attention.

Josh 'Grouch' Davis rallying the troops for Stronghold at EGX Rezzed in London

Josh ‘Grouch’ Davis rallying the troops for Stronghold at EGX Rezzed in London

Stronghold

The new PvP mode, Stronghold, has probably received more coverage than anything else announced at PAX East for Heart of Thorns. I was lucky enough to play three matches at Rezzed (two of them alongside the mighty Jebro), and it absolutely lived up to my expectations. While predominantly sticking to PvE content, I’ve been making a reasonable attempt to improve my skills in PvP, not least in order to find the whole experience less table-thumpingly frustrating. The promise of a new ruleset and map that brings with it a range of different roles (and doesn’t focus largely on your ability to duel another player one-on-one) is definitely of interest to me.

The first thing that hits you when you load into Stronghold is how gorgeous the new Battle of Champion’s Dusk map is; it’s airy, spacious, and bright – a stark contrast to pretty much all of the existing Conquest maps, and a pleasure to be in. I decided to take my usual meditation hammer guardian build in with the aim of focusing on supply-running and defending our lord if the enemy got that far. What happened in reality was much more frantic, something I didn’t really expect going into it. In some games the mid-point from which supply is collected stayed fairly empty, with the occasional 1v1, but in my final match it turned into a good ol’ fashioned slobberknocker and had pretty much everyone distracted for the first five minutes. As things settled down I got to running supply back and forth, summoning either skritt door breakers or tengu archers as required, constantly making use of the new UI at the top of screen to track my team’s progress. Further in, I’d try to spawn heroes whenever the opportunity arose, and found myself often jumping in to defend the near end of our lane from enemy players who came to try and disrupt our NPCs. In my first two matches we managed to get both enemy gates down and made it into the lord room, stomping him the first time and getting him to 1% health just as the 15 minute timer expired in the second game. Two of the three games ended up being decided on points, but I’m inclined to put that more down to our inexperience than issues with the game mode itself.

While I currently feel like I’m likely to stick to a similar kind of defensive ‘home-lane’ role when Stronghold is released (or if I manage to blag my way into closed beta), I was impressed with the range of potential jobs that need to be handled in order to be successful. Besides a supply runner, it seems to be very important to have a shepherd guarding door breakers and archers as they progress up your lane. Without one, the NPCs are likely to be killed before they can contribute anything useful, effectively wasting time and supply. Additionally, you need at least one defender in the enemy lane, focusing on killing their NPCs in order to protect the gates. More experienced PvPers that I spoke to at Rezzed suggested that a menace-type role is also useful, harassing the enemy team by killing players and attempting to lock down their access to supply. The cool thing is that I suspect that this list is nowhere near complete; I can’t wait to see the kinds of strategies that players come up with when access to Stronghold becomes more widespread.

Both the new Desert Borderlands and Stronghold show clearly that ArenaNet is attempting to open up the WvW and PvP game modes in Guild Wars 2 by enabling players to choose from a wider selection of potential roles and responsibilities. In the case of WvW, I completely understand why the existing community are apprehensive, but I think that change is necessary. The new borderlands map is going to be featured on Ready Up this week, which will likely be going over things we know already, but expect to see more information coming out in the near future. The reaction to Stronghold has been a lot more positive: I don’t think I’ve come across a single person who didn’t like it, and I can’t wait to get back into it.