Flameseeker Chronicles: Hands-on with Guild Wars 2’s Stronghold PvP

The PvP team at ArenaNet is steadily gearing up for the release of the Heart of Thorns expansion, with the PvP-inclined among the Guild Wars 2 playerbase being treated to a 24-hour open beta Stronghold event last week. I don’t know about you lot, but I found the Stronghold open beta experience to be very interesting and perhaps even game-changing for me. I was invited along by the team to join forces with other journalists and ANet staff, including Game Director Colin Johanson, in an epic battle across the Champion’s Dusk map during the day-long playtesting period.

My name is Tina and I am PvP-phobic. I have an embarrassingly poor track record in PvP, opting instead to sink my time into PvE adventures rather than bashing my toon against the might of other players. PvP usually switches me right off, presenting a very steep learning curve that’s quite unforgiving for a curious explorer like me. But I put my dread aside and threw myself headlong into the perilous fray of Stronghold this week in order to sum up the experience for an edition of Flameseeker Chronicles… and was pleasantly surprised!

Frustration usually follows the PvP newbie around like a bad smell, and as a PvP-phobe I consistently find myself at an inherent disadvantage when occasionally queueing with friends to check off a few extra dailies. I don’t usually enjoy other types of player-killing games either, so MOBAs and shooters don’t get much airtime on my PC. As much as I appreciate the real-time strategic calculations and min/maxing veteran PvPers are expert at, I often feel overwhelmed when attempting to break into their world. Having now played Stronghold, though, I’m confident that it will take all my PvP hangups, smash them up, and make me dance on the broken pieces.

map middleI’ll start by talking about objectives and what makes the Stronghold PvP mode different from Conquest. In Stronghold, each team attempts to break through enemy lines by smashing through the enemy gates. Once that has been done, the enemy lord must be defeated to end the battle, but that lord will most definitely be surrounded by plenty of protection goons. We’ve seen this sort of format before in Conquest within the Legacy of the Foefire map, but I assure you that the mechanics are quite different. In Stronghold, players are presented with several MOBA-style strategic factors that require consideration straight from the off, transforming the experience from a skill-focused battle between well-honed player-killing machines into a collaborative PvP experience with the sort of planning a good dungeon boss kill might require.

Supplies lie in the centre of the battlefield, and each team must collect these supplies and bring them back to its barracks in order to employ the use of Stronghold’s NPCs. In Battle of Champion’s Dusk, these NPCs take three forms: the Skritt doorbreakers are crafty wee weaklings that pack a punch to the super-strong enemy base doors but die in one hit, while the archers aren’t much use against the doors but deal high damage to the enemy NPCs. How to gather these supplies and on which NPC type to spend them is at the discretion of the team, and this plan must be balanced against the enemy assault of your own barracks. The third form, heroes for hire, are summoned by mist essence that appears every three minutes. The heroes give a solid defensive bonus that allows the players to make a more effective offensive push and also pops a powerful AoE attack if you can manage to march that hero to the enemy lord.

tina blue baseThe Stronghold beta made me feel useful in PvP for the first time ever, and I really enjoyed that. Each player spawns with one supply to spend immediately and can carry two supply units at a time. I found that I was a useful supply carrier as my chosen Necromancer glass cannon build suited the task; I could quite effectively deal with enemy supply runners and grab those goodies for myself. Since you can gain supplies from downed players who were carrying them, I found that popping off the enemy runner after gathering one supply for myself worked out very nicely. Sending a wave of archers out to help my team first also helped, as they needed to tie up the opposing NPCs quickly so they could get to work downing players. My team were fantastic at keeping me in the loop on Skype, so I was able to switch into sending up doorbreakers as soon as they were required and the lane was clear for them.

We opted to leave the hero summoning until we had cleared a relatively safe path, but we still had to be aware of the chance that the enemy would push for heroes before us. Since I was close to the barracks for my early supply running anyway, I was able to look out for any enemy push on our barracks and call my team back when needed. Our strategy adapted to the enemy’s as it needed to, but no matter what task we were doing, I felt supported and useful. The number of points that could be accrued outside of standard PvP combat was also significant, and this definitely helped me feel more useful to my team. There are 20 points up for grabs for summoning a hero, 50 for destroying a gate, and 10 points for each guard that was killed. My role turned out to be just as important as the role of the seasoned PvPers in my team who were more comfortable standing toe to toe with whatever the map and opposing team could throw at them.

tina red baseAt one point, while waiting for my team to pull back to prevent a larger assault on our barracks, I hopped on the trebuchet to lob heavy things at the assaulters and support my team trickling down the map. With my PvP skill being what it is, I never could have been effective in holding them off without that clever map-provided tool to aid me. True, I ended up being swiftly chased out of that trebuchet and killed, but those antics bought my team some valuable time. Damnit, I even had fun dying too, which was an entirely new PvP experience for me. Some games make me swear while playing more than others (just the sight of a Mario game and the air turns blue in my house), and PvP usually triggers a torrent of verbal diarrhoea. But rather than effing and blinding about how stupid I was, I actually laughed – laughed! – at my demise. I really enjoyed hearing, “good job, Tina!” and similar phrases coming from my teammates instead of the usual, “oh Tina, what are you even trying to do?” and really hope other players take on this positive attitude when Stronghold goes live. My team won two of its three bouts, and I performed admirably for a wee lass who doesn’t play much PvP. Joint-second in the last match, if you please!

score board

Knowing that the open beta for Stronghold was only a day long, I am aware that some of you might have had to give it a miss due to other commitments. I hope my overview of my play experience has helped fill you in! If the Stronghold open beta is any indication of the gameplay we can expect at launch, I might actually start enjoying PvP in Heart of Thorns. If Stronghold can make even this PvP newbie feel that she can make a credible contribution to her team’s efforts, it may very well make a PvP convert of me. Now that I have an easy in and a way to make myself useful while I learn the tricks of PvP, I might even accidentally become better at smashing other players’ heads in. I could even earn myself a pretty llama

Tina Lauro has been playing Guild Wars 2 since it launched and now pens the long-running Flameseeker Chronicles column, which runs every other Wednesday and covers everything from GW2 guides and news to opinion pieces and dev diary breakdowns. If there’s a GW2 topic you’d love to see covered, drop a comment Tina’s way or mail her at tina@massivelyop.com.
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15 Comments on "Flameseeker Chronicles: Hands-on with Guild Wars 2’s Stronghold PvP"

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DugFromTheEarth
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DugFromTheEarth

Tina Lauro DugFromTheEarth Yeah, I wasnt really referencing the map itself, just the game mode mechanics. The physical space of the actual map is way too small for 20 v 20. Maybe 10 v 10 at the most.

However, the mechanics of strongholds, would work really nicely on larger maps that were aimed at bigger teams.

Tina Lauro
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Tina Lauro

DugFromTheEarth  Do you think so? I’m sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy it so much. I think the 5 v 5 scale is reasonable for The Battle of Champion’s Dusk. The map feels manageable and contained to me, not really big enough to house 20 or 30 players. As a relative noob to PvP myself, the new mechanics actually felt pretty natural to me. You farm supplies by activating objects much in the same way you would in PvE content. I found things like standing on points in Conquest to capture them more different to the content I usually play. 

I don’t know if you could feasibly ignore the supply gathering since you need the doorbreakers to smash into the enemy base and archers help you get there much faster. I don’t know if you can get into the enemy bse without NPC help. The temptation to skip this step is also diminished by giving each player one supply each to start with, which encourages you to spend them. You could likely do without summoning a hero, but the other NPCs are pretty vital I reckon.

A larger map with bigger teams would still be a cool thing to see, though. Perhaps we’ll get that with new Stronghold maps down the line?

DugFromTheEarth
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DugFromTheEarth

After trying out the strongholds, my hype level for the expansion is a bit lower than I had hoped.

1. Really should be 10 v 10, or even 15 v 15.  5v5 for this mode is just too small and stretched thin.
2. Due to additional mechanics, there is going to be a much larger learning curve for new pvpers, creating a lot of games with experts pulling a “league of legends” attitude on the amatuers.
3. I can easily see a lot of the mechanics of this mode being ignored and never used once players find the most optimal way of pushing for the win.

The disappointing thing is that this pvp mode would have made for an amazing mid sized pvp map for medium sized battles (ie 20 vs 20). Something that could have fallen between normal Spvp, and WvW.  Aftering playing it, strongholds just cry out to me saying “opportunity missed”

Oh well, I hope the new wvw zone doesnt follow suit.

Tina Lauro
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Tina Lauro

Siphaed wolfyseyes  Not reading and then asking for information that was provided is annoying, I’ll grant you. The text is so short that it really doesn’t take long for the majority of players to get through it. I’m not guilty of that, but rather of not being very good at getting the job done. Map reading is a skill that eludes me, and I’m often pretty lost on where I have to go until I’ve repeated the same map several times. If no one is saying, “follow me, we need to go up this lane to do x”, I can get quite behind. Practice makes perfect, but when people loose patience with me it definitely puts me off. 
I find Stronghold remedies this by having such a simple layout and also because I have repetitive tasks I can do, like running supplies back and forth or checking the hero-spawning mist every so often. I find groups are more communicative in Stronghold and I was more in the loop, so I knew when I was needed for a big push and things like that.

Siphaed
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Siphaed

wolfyseyes 
Sometimes there are moments I want to scream at teammates for doing -or not doing- the most stupidly obvious things. Like, what is the point of them putting in tutorial information pop ups that explain the whole thing if newbs are going to ignore it and do their own thing anyways?   GAH!   Seriously, one game I had someone ask “what’s the objective?”, 2 minutes into the game.   Really.

Xephyr
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Xephyr

I don’t play alot of sPvP, but what I did notice is, WOW stronghold is REALLY fun to watch! I always thought Conquest was pretty boring so I didn’t watch many of the tournaments, but I’ll definitely be watching this!

The 2nd match of this livestream was pretty nuts.

Tina Lauro
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Tina Lauro

woolydub  Separate queues would be a good idea. I’ve found myself completing more Conquest PvP since I played Stronghold, strangely, but only with friends where there’s less pressure to do well. If queuing alone, I’d like the choice of just doing Stronghold.

woolydub
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woolydub

I enjoyed it, but if they combine the Conquest and Stronghold queues like they are planning, it will be terrible. Keep in mind they also do NOT have separate queues for premades and solo players. I mostly queue by myself and it’s really off-putting. They need to keep these game modes separate. It’s conceivable that a player such as you Tina, that enjoys Stronghold could end up not getting the vote for Stronghold and an entire play session could end up being Conquest only and vice versa for players only interested in Conquest.

I enjoyed my time in Stronghold when I was in comms with guildies. Queuing solo for that is another matter entirely and a big reason why they need separate queues for solo and premade.

Tina Lauro
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Tina Lauro

wolfyseyes  Well, I think Stronghold has the potential to change that at the very least. Whether it does or not is another matter, but the way points are attributed and how the mode works mechanises supportive behavoirs. When points are accrued through harmonistic play and non-combat tasks, you open up the floor for group planning and good incentives to undertake support roles like supply gathering. When there are specific tasks weaker players can do, they’re less likely to feel the heat for not being so great at head to head player killing. I’m hoping it’ll give people enough breathing space to learn on the job.

Tina Lauro
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Tina Lauro

dirtyklingon Tina Lauro  Yeah, I’m with you. Sending the archers and doorbreakers down the lane isn’t quite the same as the creep waves you mention. None of them attack players and they only focus on either NPCs or destructible stuff like doors. 
I don’t mind dying in itself, but I really hate letting down the side in PvP. Being ineffective in group PvP makes me feel like such a goof. I do think Stronghold helps with that by giving me good out-of-combat usefulness though.

wolfyseyes
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wolfyseyes

You genuinely think players will be supportive? I had one PvP experience in this game and it was so caustic I actually thought to dial poison control.

Tina Lauro
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Tina Lauro

Boardwalker  It’s funny how we all play the same games for such a wide variety of reasons. I’m just popping along in Guild Wars 2 right now, waiting on Shadow Behemoth for my daily. That’d be torture for other players of the sdame game, and that’s awesome to me!

Nyphur
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Nyphur

I’m raging that I missed the 24 hour open beta now, I’m a big fan of MOBAs and this actually sounds pretty awesome.

Tina Lauro
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Tina Lauro

dirtyklingon  It definitely had a MOBA feel, but there was something in the pacing that I feel wouldn’t make MOBA nuts happy. It didn’t have the almost frantic feel of LoL or Dota 2.
I think Stronghold really helped me unlock that secret ahaha! :D

Boardwalker
Guest
Boardwalker

I’m quite the opposite from Tina: I’m PVE-phobic. I find PVE much more intimidating, and immediately spend all my time in PVP as soon as I can. PVE players are used to “winning” and not dying repeatedly, which to me makes it much more stressful to not make mistakes.

That being said, Stronghold definitely has me intrigued. I don’t play GW2 all that much, but Stronghold might keep me engaged enough to stop playing other MMOs for a while.

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