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State of the Game— February 19, 2007

Upheaval in the Hall of Heroes
Analyzing Heroes' Ascent Changes

By Harold J. Chow

Special note: Each State of the Game article presents the opinions and insights of one game observer. These observations are personal in nature and do not reflect the opinions of ArenaNet. While ArenaNet does review each State of the Game article to assure that it offers content that is respectful of all players, we intend to allow our reporters the freedom to inject some personal opinion into descriptions of the current atmosphere of competitive play in Guild Wars, and to express views based on their experience and observation.


Many people took their first foray into Guild Wars Player-versus-Player combat through Heroes' Ascent. However, this format has experienced a popularity decline that started before the party size changed from eight to six. Hopefully, recent changes to Heroes' Ascent can revitalize these old battlegrounds.


Kill Count

Kill Count stands out as the most easily recognizable but most misunderstood new victory objective. Simply put, teams compete to score the most kills before time runs out. Just keeping the opposing Ghostly Hero off of the central altar no longer grants victory on altar maps. The Ghostly Hero and the altar still play important roles under Kill Count rules, but enemy teams now become the primary focus.

Successful teams bring enough damage dealers to get credit for kills but must stay mobile enough to avoid getting sandwiched between two teams. Some teams take advantage of the automatic resurrection every minute. Rather than spend time resurrecting fallen comrades in the middle of a three-way battle, a tactical retreat prior to the minute mark (1:00, 2:00, 3:00, etc.) buys time to regroup without giving up unnecessary deaths. However, the other two teams may attempt to take advantage by ganging up when you’re short-handed. Alert teams try to land quick kills after a minute mark, forcing a choice between using up a Resurrection Signet or playing with one less person for a full minute. Likewise, a team that loses its Ghostly Hero needs to beware of gank attempts on the Hero back at the resurrection shrine. A lapse in vigilance can give opponents two free points.

A common misconception lies in the notion of "kill stealing," where a team tries to get credit for a kill when another team has dealt most of the damage to the victim. However, credit for the kill goes to the team that did the most damage to the target within the past ten seconds. Thus, a target taking damage from your team over time could get constant healing from Monks, keeping the Health relatively close to full, before it suddenly gets finished off by another team's spike, leading to the perception of a lost or stolen kill. In many cases, the team trying to steal the kill often ends up helping an opponent get credit for the kill. Damage calculations during that ten-second window don't always make themselves clear, as healing and damage from multiple sources all contribute to the final outcome. Teams who want to steal a kill therefore must find a way to deal more damage to the target than the other opponent. Although spike teams can make a target fall over, savvy teams who do more damage to multiple targets over a ten-second span can let the spike teams do the dirty work for them to finish off targets low on Health.


Randomized Objectives

Now that the objective in the Hall of Heroes changes from match to match on a random basis, teams can no longer build for just one map, try to skip from the Underworld directly to the Hall of Heroes, and then expect to hold the Hall for several matches. Players must now prepare to face one of the four new objectives: Kill Count, Murder Ball, Capture Points, and King of the Hill. While Kill Count operates the same way in the Hall of Heroes as it does in other maps (and we have discussed that above), the other modes have confused even experienced players.


Murder Ball

Murder Ball probably stands as the most frenetic new mode in the Hall of Heroes. After a test weekend filled with body blocking, confusion over the single relic in the middle, and an imbalance in relic placement that perhaps gave an advantage to the defending (blue) team, the developers reworked this new style to address the problems. Players must now run relics from an equally distant spawn point to the central altar to score points. Widened hallways make body blocking a trickier proposition, and the need to split your team's attention between guarding your relic-running path and harassing opposing runners keeps the action fast-paced and challenging. The relic respawns as soon as a team scores a point, so the strategy of "dual running" the relic has caught on quickly.

Ward Against Foes
Ward Against Foes
Ward Against FoesWard Against Foes
Elementalist - Earth Magic - Ward Spell
Energy: 15
Activation: 1
Duration: 8..20
Recharge: 20
Ward Spell. You create a Ward Against Foes at your current location. For 8..20 seconds, non-Spirit foes in this area move 50% slower.

To prepare further for this mode of play, more teams have begun bringing Ward Against Foes and snares such as Deep Freeze to keep runners slowed with minimal effort. Other teams simply try to spike down opposing runners to prevent them from scoring points.

Capture Points

The Capture Points mode seems to give even experienced teams the most difficulty and confusion. Many Heroes' Ascent teams have grown accustomed to playing in full team-on-team combat, so Capture Points mode introduces a level of splitting to Heroes' Ascent well beyond anything teams may have used before. Teams now must plan how to capture more points, as in Alliance Battles, while preventing or delaying opponents from stealing points back. Successful teams tend to split off a player or two with the Ghostly Hero to capture unguarded points or challenge for lightly guarded points while the rest of the team fights over the central altar.

King of the Hill

Perhaps the most familiar objective for long-time Heroes' Ascent players, even King of the Hill has changed a bit. With the cost of the Ghostly Hero's Claim Resource skill reduced to zero, Energy-denial schemes alone can no longer prevent an altar capture. Likewise, the shortened casting time makes chaining interrupts more difficult, forcing teams to find ways to break through opponents' defenses before taking down the Ghostly Hero.


Evolving Metagame

With teams still learning the ins and outs of the new victory conditions, builds will undoubtedly evolve to provide teams with enough tools to compete in each type. Zergway builds (three "Fear Me!"/Steady Stance Warriors and three Paragons) took some heavy nerfs recently, but they still showed up in healthy numbers during the initial test weekends. With only six character slots available, few teams could muster up a strong-enough defensive spike build to consistently hold the Hall of Heroes. However, Oppressive Gaze and Ritualist-based spikes did see moderate success.

Blades of Steel
Blades of Steel
Blades of Steel Blades of Steel
Assassin - Dagger Mastery - Attack
Energy: 5
Activation: 0
Recharge: 8
Attack. Must follow an off-hand attack. If it hits, this attack strikes for +5..16 damage (maximum bonus 60) for each recharging dagger attack.

To take advantage of kill count maps, some teams tried running with two Burst of Aggression Assassins (each able to spike down their own targets), two Savannah Heat Elementalists, and two Monks. With the Elementalists spreading area-of-effect (AOE) damage and maintaining defensive wards, these teams can pump out a lot of damage while fending off melee pressure.

Lamentation
Lamentation
LamentationLamentation
Ritualist - Channeling Magic - Spell
Energy: 5
Activation: 1
Recharge: 20
Spell. If target foe is within earshot of a corpse or Spirit, that foe takes 15..75 damage.

During the recent 8v8 experiment, Ritualist spikes quickly became the dominant build choice. Offering a mix of offense and defense on each character, Ritualist spikes could keep themselves alive with Communing spirits and Restoration Magic while spiking down targets with Channeling Magic. Some teams, trying more balanced builds, often brought a traditional three-Monk backline. However, these teams found they lacked enough offense to overcome opposing teams' defensive measures and their healing often became redundant in less coordinated pick-up groups.


Six or Eight

With the 6v6 format, many teams resorted to so-called gimmick builds because balanced builds could not deal with the pre-update victory condition of holding the altar. Even after the update, teams avoided playing balanced builds because of the perceived need to spike. The recent experiment in reverting to 8v8, however, showed that more players simply allowed for more robust spikes, and balanced builds showed up in relatively small numbers. Keep in mind, however, that balanced builds take a while to develop and refine in any new format. With all of the changes to win conditions, balanced builds must adapt and redefine themselves to fit the format. Whether ArenaNet stays with 6v6 or reverts to 8v8, players who enjoy Heroes' Ascent should continue to provide constructive feedback via the fan forums so the game experience can continue to evolve.


Harold J. Chow is a freelance Guild Wars reporter. His in-game name is Guild Informant.