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The Great Difficulty Debate

By on May 11, 2012 at 9:02 am, in Article, GW2  |  Comments: 6 comments

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.

  • ArcherAvatar

    A well informed and well written article.

    As the article points out, there is significant subjective perspective at work here, and perhaps also a bias among the community of “veteran” MMO players who have grown accustomed to playing essentially the same mechanics they are already familiar with from past titles even in “new” games.  GW2’s combat is quite different (and much improved imo) from the old, stationary skill rotation focused combat of previous titles, and it will take at least a little bit of time to actually LEARN how to play this “new” game.

    In my opinion, the combat was a breath of fresh air, and the only folks who were disappointed with it were the ones with expectations of the “same ‘ol, same ‘ol” and who thought they would be able to master THIS game in one day, simply because they have been playing “those other” games for so many years.

    There is a much greater depth and complexity to this game than might be readily apparent on first blush, and folks who approach it with an attitude of being ready to learn, and not taking everything for granted as being merely a continuation of other titles, will get much, much more out of the experience.  Personally, after my all too brief taste during the first public BWE, I simply cannot wait for more, and know with absolute confidence that this will be my online home for years to come.

    • Xer

       Honestly? GW2 PvE doesn’t have any more depth than any other MMO out there, in PvP things change but PvE is just a button masher as any other game.

      The difficulty issue goes hand in hand with the fact that range completely outclass melee, I remember playing my thief through the char personal story quests, as a melee thief I would get utterly crushed, two shotted every time I drew agro from my 10k hp npcs – it wasn’t fun, I wasn’t doing the quest I was being escorted by the NPCs essentially.
      Then I chose the shortbow, suddenly I was able to skirt around combat, do high damage and never take a hit from the enemy due to how easily I could kite.

      What I’m saying is, difficulty is fine but there is a big issue with “arbitrary” difficulty where mobs can just oneshot you for no reason, they don’t have telegraphed attacks, they just hit you once, twice and you’re on the floor, if we’re to have a balance  between melee-range this shouldn’t happen as only one have to deal with this insanity.

      • ArcherAvatar

        I’m curious…
        As a “range” thief using the short bow you seem to imply you stayed on the move (kiting) and avoided taking hits if possible, and you state you had it a bit easier doing so.
        My question is; as a “melee” thief did you just stand in front of the mobs and wait to get beat down?  If you had used movement and avoidance tactics while playing melee would you have still felt like the melee was more challenging/difficult?

        This is not simply speculation on my part since I’ve had my hands on the beta also.  I actually preferred “melee” style / close range combat during the BWE since the damage is significantly higher.  However, a major difference between my own experience of that, and what I’m seeing described by some folks around the interwebs, is that I didn’t assume that my character suddenly became an old-school, trinity-based “tank” just because they put a melee weapon in their hands.

        The first law of GW2 combat mechanics is; “Enhance your mobility while taking away theirs.”

        While playing an agressive, in-your-face style of melee combat, I made use of everything in the profession that would increase my mobility, and made tactical use of conditions (cripples, stuns, dazes, immobilizations) that would slow down my opponents.  Most importantly, I maintained elusive, situationally aware, tactical movement at all times in combat – whether I was at close or long range, and I never assumed that it was “ok” to take a hit if I could otherwise avoid it.

        Thief was one of the three(3) professions I played during the BWE (necro and ele being the other two) and I found them to be extremely entertaining, in part, due to the increased degree of strategic planning needed to optimize their combat abilities.  In my experience, NONE of the professions of GW2 are going to do well with a “blunt force” style approach to combat, but the thief in particular benefits from enhanced mobility associated with many of their skills/weapons.

        By making consistent use of skills that allowed me to instantly close distance and/or create distance it is possible to use a “hit-n-run” style of combat that avoids most (almost all) damage to yourself, while inflicting extremely high “spike” damage to your opponents.

        The second law of GW2 combat mechanics is; “If you’re not moving, you’re dying.”

        In my opinion, the reason so many folks seem to think that “range” combat was easier than “melee” combat is because they were not performing either correctly… Specifically, they were playing “lazy” and not moving to avoid damage.   Especially if they were in groups, it was possible to remain stationary (lazy) and simply spam abilities (without thought to more tactical application of skills with more appropriate timing) because players closer to the mobs would take the aggro.

        I was ahead of the “zerg” of players for most of my time in the BWE, and was almost always playing solo vs mobs that were at least 1 to 3 levels higher than my character – often 2 or 3 of them at once.  The way I was able to do this was by embracing the difference in this game’s combat mechanics, and not attempting to play it as if it were merely yet another in a long line of games that simply cut-n-paste essentially the same combat systems from older games into their own newer/different settings/graphics/lore.

        Essentially, stop playing “melee” style weapons as if you can suddenly, magically, take more damage and you’ll find that they play as well, or better, than their “range” counterparts.  This is NOT speculation on my part… I did this… it worked for me… it CAN work for you too.

  • Juno

    There’s definitely a learning curve to GW2 combat and a lot of that is trying to “unlearn” what we’ve been conditioned to do in other MMOs like WoW and LotRO.

    It’s definitely not a “button mash” fest like another poster mentioned — it couldn’t be farther from the truth.  It’s also not face-roll easy (hit skills 1-2-3-4, mob dies, move to next mob).  Honestly PvE on my toons in LotRO is not even a little difficult… it’s a pure snooze it’s so easy.

    It took me quite a few hours in GW2 before I finally started using a bit of strategy — and I was playing a heavy armor Guardian.  I thought I was going to be indestructible and was I wrong.  When I finally started planning out a few moves, using dodge, and becoming opportunistic with my skills, melee combat on my Guardian started to click. 

    I’ll be the first to admit I have more learning to do, but so far I have to say the difficulty is spot on.

  • Dave

    GW2 will forever be a niche market failure if they rely on this difficulty to please the masses. 10% of the population likes dying every 10 seconds and calling it a challenge. The rest will go play a fun game.

    • Laura Hardgrave

      Actually, there have been some rather significant changes in the game’s difficulty levels since BWE1 (when this article was written). I’ll do an update writeup at some point before launch.:D