State of the Game— June 18, 2007
Evolution of the Hero Battle Metagame
By Alex Marsyla
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.
Although Hero Battles are a relatively new venture in Guild Wars, they have matured rapidly since their inception. One could argue that implementing the 1v1 ladder and placing top Hero Battles on Observer Mode have rapidly developed the metagame for Hero Battles. Although many players would claim those features have stagnated Hero Battles, they have also generated more interest in this new form of PvP.
Going into a Hero Battle, a player needs a different frame of mind than other forms of PvP. Much like Alliance Battles, most effective characters in Hero Battles need a degree of self-sufficiency. Players tend not to bring a build balanced for 4v4 play because 4v4 battle occurs infrequently. If one of the players does not want to fight 4v4, it simply won't happen. Instead, a player can choose to split forces the whole time and concentrate on controlling shrines, earning one pip on the morale meter for outer shrines and two pips for the center. The more pips, the faster the score rises. Thus, most battles revolve around 1v1 or 2v2 skirmishes, and self-sufficient characters become crucial.
As a result, the popular metagame build is one Assassin (player-controlled) and three Heroes consisting of a Monk and two "Pack Hunters" (named after the Ranger/Paragon pre-made character template from the Nightfall preview). Some builds replace a Pack Hunter with another Monk, support character, damage dealer, or shutdown character.
Currently, the most common setup for the self-sufficient Pack Hunter is the following:
Heal as One
Heal as One [Elite]
Ranger - Beast Mastery - Skill
Skill. If you or your animal companion are below 75% Health, you are both healed for 25..145 Health. If your companion is dead, it is resurrected with 50%% Health.
Skills: Heal as One, Barbed Spear, Whirling Defense, Remedy Signet, Poisonous Bite, Lightning Reflexes, Charm Animal, Resurrection Signet
Some add Disrupting Lunge or Disrupting Spear instead of Resurrection Signet or one of the defensive Stances.
A Pack Hunter capably splits and captures shrines for a number of reasons. First, Rangers are durable with their 70 armor and +30 armor versus elemental damage. Using defensive Stances with this armor, Pack Hunters can survive without Monk support. Also, the Hero AI manages this skill set well and can hold out by itself for a long time in a 1v1 confrontation with another Hero. Finally, the AI of Heroes tends to attack a pet instead of the pet's controller. Consequently, the pet soaks up damage in a 1v1 battle between Heroes and, if it dies, the Pack Hunter can quickly resurrect it with Heal as One. Although a good micromanager can lock a Hero's target to the pet's controller, a Pack Hunter, with solid self-healing, still lasts longer than many builds. These aspects of the Pack Hunter make it useful for taking a shrine by itself.
Shield of Regeneration
Shield of Regeneration [Elite]
Monk - Protection Prayers - Enchantment Spell
Enchantment Spell. For 5..13 seconds, target ally gains +3..10 Health regeneration and 40 armor.
Few people play the Monk themselves (if they even choose to bring a Monk along). When building Hero Monks, players search for skills that don't require micromanagement. They select skills like Guardian or Shielding Hands that are effective in smaller battles. These skills also counter the physical attackers that dominate the metagame in Hero Battles. Hero Monks commonly carry Shield of Regeneration and other skills with Health regeneration to combat metagame Assassin attack chains and Health degeneration. To compensate for the high Energy cost of Shield of Regeneration, Hero Monks tend to have Elementalist as their secondary for Glyph of Lesser Energy. Of course, Hero Monks are still vulnerable because most builds have limited support for them.
In the current metagame, people often choose to play Assassin themselves because a successful Assassin requires constant micromanagement in terms of target selection and tactical movement. It is simply more efficient for players to directly control an Assassin character than to delegate it to the AI. A player knows exactly when and where to execute single target strikes, whereas the AI may attack the wrong target in the wrong place.
Assassin - Deadly Arts - Hex Spell
Hex Spell. For 5..20 seconds, target foe moves 33% slower and you move 33%% faster. This Spell has half the normal range.
Assassins can quickly unleash tremendous damage on a single target with a well-timed attack chain of skill combos. More and more, these Assassin combos change in response to Monk builds. As the Monks have shifted towards more Enchantment-heavy Skill Bars, Assassins have moved toward skills like Assault Enchantments and Shattering Assault. Typically, Assassins also carry a snare like Siphon Speed to ambush characters en route to another shrine. This Assassin build is a glass cannon, so players keep a Monk or similar support character nearby.
Of course, many players deviate from the typical metagame build. Some drop a Pack Hunter for a second Monk. Although they can't split as dynamically, they fight better in 4v4 encounters. When splitting the single Pack Hunter, they can stand and fight with the remaining three characters, scoring kills when the opponent tries to disengage and the Assassin player jumps on straggling targets. At the same time a Monk can split off to either assist the pack hunter capture a shrine, or go capture a shrine by itself and leave the Assassin with healing from the other Monk. Players running these builds often go for the shrines that give them an offensive boost, such as the siege cannon on Bombardment, or Warsong's Shrine on Desert Sands, to make up for having two Monks instead of offense. Another viable change involves dropping the Assassin for a character like a Burning Arrow Ranger or some form of Warrior.
Another metagame build removes the Pack Hunters entirely. Often these builds include an Assassin, a Ritualist Spirit spammer, a Necromancer Hexer, and a Monk or other support character such as Ritualist healer. Players using this build concentrate on mass Hexes and Spirits to overwhelm an opponent. While players may still control the Assassin in builds like this, they choose an entirely different play style.
Generally, players capitalize on the huge range of defensive Spirits to bolster the entire party around the map. This tactic works best on smaller maps like the Crossing. While a number of Ritualist Spirits comprise the defense, the Necromancer supports both defense and offense with Hexes such as Insidious Parasite, Faintheartedness, and Reaper's Mark. Equipping a few offensive spirits like Pain and Bloodsong on the Necromancer is another typical tactic. Although players with these builds have trouble in a battle where the opponent can run around, they can win by controlling the center shrine and another shrine in close proximity.
Currently, builds with incredible split ability dominate Hero Battles. The two Pack Hunter, one Assassin, one Monk build is designed specifically to split off in multiple directions and win through shrine control and picking off opportune targets. Yet players who can force these builds into a 4v4 confrontation tend to succeed when they build for that purpose. The Hero Battle metagame may seem stalled on one build, but many players try new tactics and strategies with varying degrees of success.
Also, the dominant build may fold under recent changes to Hero Battle mechanics and skill balances. Bug fixes to Heal as One could reduce its effectiveness, making Pack Hunters not quite as good. A longer recharge to Expose Defenses may encourage the return of more blocking skills, while the Ritualist change to Spawning Power might generate some Weapon Spell builds. Finally, the balances to morale meter rate and siege cannon fire rate could considerably alter split tactics. Whatever the future holds for the metagame of Hero Battles, its popularity is sure to continue for quite some time.
Alex is a college student in his third year studying Computer Information Systems. He's been into online gaming for most of his life and has been playing Guild Wars since its release.