Many players eagerly walked into Guild Wars 2’s first beta weekend unsure of what to expect. Some of these players found themselves surprised at the game’s difficulty level. For some, this surprise quickly turned into appreciation. Others were disappointed and frustrated. Opinions are always going to be widespread and varying in a beta event for a game of GW2’s size, but with the case of the game’s difficulty, some interesting opinions, critiques, and reviews surfaced. Which held water? I’ll let you be the real judge, but for now, let’s take a look at some of the beef regarding GW’s difficulty.
GW2 is definitely considered an MMORPG with action-based combat. I think most players knew this stepping into beta, but not everyone knew what exactly that meant. So what does it mean? For starters, there won’t be much in the department of typical MMORPG-style combat, where standing still, occasionally moving out of fire, and concentrating on a perfect rotation is the norm. Movement is key in GW2. Without the typical tank/healer/DPS set up, everyone’s survival is essentially left in their own hands. Sure, your teammates may help you, but at the end of the day, if you’re about to die, you need to get out and heal up.
Bosses in GW2 will ping-pong between different targets, and this, essentially, is how everyone survives. By prioritizing survival above damage, most players will get a better feel for combat, but the priority shift does take time to get used to. Players need to accustom themselves to moving, looking out for AoE circles, and watching the animations of their enemies. A large number of enemy attacks are dodgeable and avoidable, but it may take some time to get a feel for which animations to watch out for.
It’s also important for players to learn to not simply spam attacks. All professions have a wide array of crowd control effects, buffs, debuffs, self-survivability skills, and group survivability skills. Learn to use them to avoid nasty attacks, and if possible, learn to use them to help those around you. By learning to use the right abilities and combos at the right times and the right weapons for the right fights, players will be able to control the battlefield without needing a taunt button, shiny bubble, aggro drop, or a “HEAL PLZ” macro. Learning all this takes time, and this adjustment period may be the largest factor as to why players may find GW2 difficult.
There are other factors at work here, too. Lag is a factor, especially with action-based combat. The fact that some dynamic events and areas are densely-populated doesn’t help as far as lag issues go, but also as far as visibility issues. One of the best ways to really get a feel for the dodge mechanic is to grab a tough enemy and watch its attack animations. Add in a dozen players and spell effects, and it can be difficult to see attack animations let alone dodge and avoid them. This is one of those things that players will have to learn to adjust to, or learn to try and find quieter fights to take part in.
Large-scale dynamic fights also make the learning experience rather difficult because of the scaling nature of these fights. A boss’ AoE effect may only do 200 damage normally, but when scaled up to challenge all 20 players that are attacking it, that same effect suddenly does 400, and now can one-shot players with 377 health. This is another aspect that players will have to learn to work with, or work around. ArenaNet could tone some of the AoE effects down, I think, but it also may not be necessary (it was also said that many boss effects were bugged– this may have added to the difficulty).
This leads me to one of the glaring issues when it comes to looking at GW2’s difficulty curve in general– the difficulty of melee combat. For these large scale fights and many other fights around Tyria, trying to melee a boss is significantly harder than attacking it from range. This is largely due to the inherent danger of attacking in melee range. A monster can easily flip around and pound a melee player unless they see the attack and dodge out of the way, thus forcing them out of melee range. Meanwhile, ranged players are safely hauling spells and arrows into the beast’s belly.
ArenaNet has attempted to equal the playing field a bit by upping the damage on most melee weapons and attacks. The idea behind melee combat is sound– melee if you want, but be prepared to run around, dodge, strafe, and learn to time your attacks, or pling away at ranged. The problem? It still doesn’t seem quite equal.
For the dynamic bosses with large-scale AoE spells, especially, it’s generally safer, even for a player skilled at rolling in and out of danger, to switch to a ranged weapon. And this, of course, is one of the common rebuttals against the complaints of disgruntled melee players: “Learn to use ranged weapons.” Yes, it makes sense. All melee players should learn when to switch to ranged weapons when necessary. The issue? It almost seems constantly necessary during large-scale fights.
If a ranged player never has to move, never has to dodge, and a melee player can’t even take a tick of an AoE spell without dying– something seems off. There’s also the fact that no profession, even among the melee professions, should be encouraged to always stick to one type of weapon. Weapon variety is supposed to be one of the best aspects of GW2, and I don’t know about most melee players, but I know that when I rolled a Warrior, the last thing I wanted to do was stand at range and shoot bullets 90% of the time.
Luckily, ArenaNet themselves has admitted that melee combat may need a slight touch-up. Here is the developer announcement made regarding the issue. We will be seeing some tweaks to help melee players out a little during large-scale fights, and hopefully it will be safe to melee more often in fights of this size.
Another issue many players had with GW2’s difficulty was the difficulty ramp-up during many of the personal story quests. Some fights were surprisingly challenging, and it seemed important to go out into the world and level a bit before returning to complete them. I don’t think there’s anything wrong in this, honestly, and I’m glad the quests encourage players to explore and use a bit of strategy when it comes to completing them. I do, however, think the difficulty of many of them ties into one important feature GW2 should add more of– tutorial-type fights.
Instead of a tab popping up explaining the dodge mechanic, I think it would be more beneficial to take part in a tutorial fight that shows players how to watch out for enemy animations, and for melee players, how to circle strafe around enemies to dodge their frontal attacks. These tutorials, of course, would be optional, but for new players, they may just make the difference between them getting the hang of combat in GW2 and them leaving, frustrated.
Tutorials could be made for a few different weapon choices, as well, to highlight the fact that even in the first few levels, players should be getting used to swapping between various weapons to make the most out of each battle. Characters could be given more of a variety of weapons during the starting levels, to help encourage players to try out different weapon combinations. A little bit of knowledge goes a long way.
And that– in essence– is Guild Wars 2’s difficulty in a nutshell. It does take some time to get used to. We could also really use a few tweaks to better help us customize our playing experience. A larger camera distance and more ways to bind keybinds would go a long way to helping players become accustomed to the game. More UI options in general would be awesome.
Besides these few tweaks, bug fixes, and the adjustments ArenaNet are planning for melee combat, I honestly think the difficulty of GW2 is quite excellent. Your mileage may vary, of course. I love the fact that difficult fights require strategy and teamwork. I love the fact that it takes some practice to learn a new profession. I love the fact that it’s rewarding to play melee when things go right. The time of ROFL-romping through dungeons is over. About time.