From the Other Side: A Second Look at Stronghold

Like pretty much everyone with any interest in PvP whatsoever, I went in to give Stronghold a whirl last Tuesday. (For Kent’s first look, click here).

I’ve heard Stronghold being compared to a number of GW1 PvP modes such as Fort Aspenwood (FA) and GvG, as well as comparisons to other genres such as DOTA-esque MOBAs. From my experience, I think Fort Aspenwood is probably the closest match, with the following distinctions:

  • Instead of one attacker and one defender with two possible lanes of attack, both sides are both attacking and defending, each with an offensive lane and a defensive lane.
  • From what I could determine, there was no way to use resources (such as the amber in FA) to reinforce fallen defences. Once a gate or a defending NPC fell, that was it. This is probably because, also unlike FA, you can’t win by simply holding out – you need to push and kill the enemy Lord, and irreparable defences help prevent a stalemate.
Unlike Fort Aspenwood, once a gate falls, that’s it for the rest of the match.
  • Instead, resources are used to summon NPC attackers. This means that the players have a bit more control over when an NPC push occurs, but on the other hand, such pushes will never occur without player intervention.
  • Heroes act in a similar role to turtles, providing some added weight to a push, but where turtles primarily served to dish out damage, heroes seemed less damaging and provided more defensive capabilities.
  • Like MOBAs, you need to have NPCs present to advance – archers and skritt bombers can damage gates, but from what I saw, PCs could not.

So, with these observations made, how did things go?

Better dead than Red

Over the four games I played, one thing that didn’t change was that the red team lost every time. I think this was basically coincidence over a small sample size rather than there being some inherent imbalance between the two sides, however.

Many red Lords died to bring you this information. Sliced and diced. Blasted with pink lightning. Probably shot and blown up too. Really, it wasn’t pretty.

Due to coming up as one of the PvP dailies, the first game I went in was with my guardian. I was coming in late in the Stronghold beta, when other players had taken an opportunity to familiarise themselves with the format. Fortunately, one of those players was on my team, and asked for the team to invest all their opening supply in Door Breaker skritt. Dutifully doing so, most of us then went to the centre, while the experienced player, knowing what was what, went to attack the gates. We won the initial skirmish at the centre, after which I grabbed supply, got some more skritt bombers, saw a message to the effect that the experienced player was assaulting the castle, and decided to join in.

Thanks to a new wave of skritt, the castle door was blown open in short order, and we were in the Lord’s room. The opposing team then rallied and pushed us out with their Lord on about 20% health. Fortunately, the Lord did not seem to heal, so when more of my team arrived with accompanying archers, we were able to push back in and finish him off.

At this point, I was surprised to find that, unlike Legacy of the Foefire, the lords in Stronghold have a downed state. This didn’t extend his life for very long, but it does, at least in principle, give the defenders one last chance to rally and survive.

The second game, with my mesmer, turned into an exercise of how not to play Stronghold. While it started out similarly to the first, instead of assisting the push directly, myself and one team member spent a lot of the first few minutes generating mercenaries to assist the push. The enemy team, wisely, pretty much ignored supply altogether in the early stages, concentrating on pushing and defending – by the time I switched to other roles, it was too late: they had a good defensive position established (including at least one engineer and some cunning trebuchet use) that stopped us from being able to make progress, while we were slowly being pushed back. We gave it a good fight – this was probably the longest match of the four – but eventually, we were stuck defending the Lord while they had the freedom to grab two heroes, and it was all over.

No blue Lords were harmed in the making of this review. Nothing serious, anyway.

No blue Lords were harmed in the making of this review. Nothing serious, anyway.

Armed with this lesson and wanting to get a win with the mesmer, I went on the offensive right away with the third game – the team generated a group of mercenaries (two archers and three Door Breakers this time), and while the rest of the team went off to fight over supply or to defend, I assisted the NPCs in pushing. This worked out similarly to the first game; when my team members saw that I was assaulting the inner gate they came with reinforcements, and while we had some setbacks, victory was ours, and I personally raised the flag of Wolf over the red Lord.

For the fourth game, I wanted to see what defending from the start was like, and rocked up with my engineer specced for turrets. The initial wave of enemy mercenaries arrived without support, and I basically slaughtered them with the assistance of the two guards at the outer gate.

The second wave of mercenaries came with what seemed to be the entire enemy team, and from there I was basically fighting a delaying action, rapidly losing ground before the enemy advance. However, my own team was doing the same to them in the other lane, and moments after the enemy broke into our Lord room (reinforced with turrets I had placed on the balconies), my team slew the enemy Lord and it was all over. With both teams having gone practically all in on the offense, it had turned into a race, and my elimination of the first wave of NPCs and subsequent delaying action made just enough of a difference.

They may be mercenaries, but they're better off with your support than without it. Unless you want them to die in any one of a number of unpleasant ways.

They may be mercenaries, but they’re better off with your support than without it. Unless you want them to die in any one of a number of unpleasant ways.

From this experience, the take-home message seems to be that it’s much more important for PCs to be in combat than fussing over supply. Like a MOBA, perhaps even more so in fact, a PC can make short work of an unsupported mercenary wave, and getting two more mercenaries into the attack just isn’t worth having a PC that’s not fighting. The tougher heroes are probably worth diverting a PC to get, and possibly to fight over, but otherwise you’re much better off supporting the mercenaries you already have then getting more. The exception is, of course, when you don’t have any, but at that stage you’re better off getting an assault force of PCs together, have them all hire mercenaries, and accompanying the resulting squad.

Bringing Down the Verdict

It was definitely fun, and well worth adding to the game. I could definitely see Stronghold becoming a more popular mode than Conquest, although that could just be the ‘new shiny’ feeling talking. However, I don’t think it’s going to replace GvG.

This is partially because of the player limit. This may be because the mechanic of the beta was that players entered through the Unranked queue, but a five-a-side battle doesn’t really feel much like a battle between guilds. It could be, however, that the final release will bring more epic battles that will feel more like a war between guilds.

The bigger issue, though, is that all of the things Stronghold has been compared to had multiple lines of attack and defence. This means that if players encounter a defence they cannot overcome, they have the opportunity to shift their focus on a different route, one that has perhaps been neglected by the enemy defenders. By contrast, while Stronghold does allow for some limited room for manoeuvre, at the bottom line if your enemy forms a strongpoint, your only option is to try to smash through it.

If there's a Victory or Death stage where this happens, I didn't see it.

If there’s a Victory or Death stage where this happens, I didn’t see it.

If this is just the case for one map, then this could simply be regarded as a feature for that map. As more maps get developed, though, I think the format would benefit from implementing some means of allowing an attacker some more choice in attack route.

Overall, Stronghold was a fun experience. There’s certainly room for improvements, but I expect there’s plenty of time for tweaking before anything gets set in stone.

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