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State of the Game—June 12, 2006

The Balanced Build: The Ability to Adapt

By Jonathan Sharp

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.


The oldest and arguably best GvG template in Guild Wars is the balanced build. Balanced builds have been around since the first BWEs, and they still make up a large portion of GvG builds. These complex builds require a great amount of tactical precision and multiple layers of synergy between the individual characters, and they demand multiple levels of offense—pressure, spike, and split. Balanced builds test individual skill and team coordination in ways that few other builds do. Ask many top teams which type of build they prefer to play, however, and you'll usually receive the same response—a balanced build.

I caught up with Kriegar Shutdown of Treacherous Empire [Te] (currently 4th on the worldwide Guild Wars ladder with a record of 43–1), and asked him why Te has stuck consistently to a balanced build. According to Kriegar, "A balanced build cannot be countered by swapping in a skill, and it can hold its own against nearly anything." It isn't easy to counter a balanced build in a three game set (such as the playoffs), and they can stand against multiple build templates on the open ladder. Currently there has been a trend of "gimmick" builds on the ladder, and I asked Kreigar if he was concerned with these builds dominating Guild Wars. "Gimmicks are great for climbing the ladder," he said, "but a lot of guilds underestimate the ladder as practice for the playoffs. So if they just run the same gimmick, people stick in a few counters and they're done."


Nuts and Bolts
So what exactly is a balanced build? In Guild Wars, a balanced build has two components: a "balance" of classes—meaning a good combination of damage, utility, and healing—and it's built in a balanced way, having the ability to counter a wide variety of builds while remaining flexible. Most balance builds use a combination of pressure and spike, but a good balanced build is most effective when it can win battles through pressure alone. When pressure proves unsuccessful, spikes can be added to help keep enemies on their toes.

Heal Party
Heal Party
Heal PartyHeal Party
Monk - Healing Prayers - Spell
Energy: 15
Activation: 2
Recharge: 2
Spell. Heal entire party for 16..80 Health.

Most balanced builds function with two Warriors for their offense, while some field two Warriors and an Assassin or three Warriors. The midline is usually a combination of Mesmers, Rangers (based either on Crippling Shot or Traps), and Necromancers. Rangers almost exclusively focus on harassment and interrupts, while Mesmers use shutdown and fill a utility role. Necromancers usually act as Hex spammers, and some may also be used to inflict Disease. Two Monks usually solidify the defense of most balanced builds. Secondary heals (such as Infuse Health and Heal Party) sometimes find their way into character's Skill Bars, but running more than two Monks in a balanced build usually hinders its ability to pressure. Elementalist/Monks usually support the Monks in these builds, and while many offensive and defensive skills change, most Elementalist/Monks employ Heal Party, Draw Conditions, and some form of Hex removal. Because of their more mobile nature, Rangers or Elementalists act as flagrunners.


Splitting
Balanced builds are almost always designed with splitting in mind. Team leaders split their build in half (usually a 4/4 or a 5/3) so that they don't have to face their opponents in a 7v7 or 8v8 setting. The importance of splitting becomes apparent when facing a spike team. Instead of facing 700–800 points of spike damage from 8 characters, the split team is only facing 300–400 points of damage from 4 characters.

Cry of Frustration
Cry of Frustration
Cry of FrustrationCry of Frustration
Mesmer - Domination Magic - Spell
Energy: 15
Activation: 0.25
Recharge: 15
Spell. If target foe is using a skill, that foe and all foes in the area are interrupted and suffer 10..44 damage.

Versus a Spike Build
Balanced builds have two options against most spike builds—attempt to split it, or try to pressure. Balanced builds often find it difficult to pressure a spike build unless they're built specifically for such a task, but as some maps are proving to be highly difficult to split on, many balanced builds are adjusting. This means numerous interrupts (most notably Cry of Frustration), multiple Blackouts, a few knock downs, and a strong anti-spike defense.

To successfully pressure a spike build, a balanced build must first interrupt spikes, rendering them non-lethal, and then must ensure kills on the correct defensive targets. In older versions of spike builds, this always meant Monks; they were the key to the spike build's defense, and without them, spike builds were instantly forced to kill or perish. Recent versions of spike builds, however, do not include any Monks at all, replacing them with Ritualists or Ranger/Ritualists.

Splitting is the more traditional response for a balanced build up against a spike build, but this strategy is largely dependent on the map. A balanced build can employ guerilla tactics against a spike build due to the latter's lack of mobility. Small maps, however, may prevent this from being an option, and in such a case, a balanced build is usually forced to engage head on.

Scourge Healing
Scourge Healing
Scourge HealingScourge Healing
Monk - Smiting Prayers - Hex Spell
Energy: 10
Activation: 2
Duration: 30
Recharge: 5
Hex Spell. For 30 seconds, every time target foe is healed, the healer takes 15..80 holy damage.

Versus a Hex Build
While it's sometimes possible to pressure a spike build with a balanced build, it's much more difficult to do so against a Hex build. This is because of the massive amount of defense provided by the Hexes, which will slow or totally negate the balanced build's pressure. If the balanced build is unable to deal with the Hexes in a full confrontation, it's forced to instigate a split. Scourge Healing is a key Hex in this match up, as it can sometimes prevent an Elementalist/Monk from using Heal Party as effectively.

Extinguish
Extinguish
ExtinguishExtinguish
Monk - Protection Prayers - Spell
Energy: 15
Activation: 1
Recharge: 12
Spell. Remove one Condition from each party member. Party members relieved of Burning are healed for 10..100 Health.

Versus a Condition/Degeneration Build
Conditions and massive degeneration can often prove problematic for a balanced build if key defensive characters are interrupted. Chief among these is the Elementalist/Monk with Heal Party. If the Elementalist/Monk comes under pressure, or if Heal Party is interrupted, the balanced team must retreat until it is able to deal with the degeneration. Skills like Extinguish, Martyr, and Restore Condition can play a huge role in the outcome of this match up.


"I Will Avenge You!"
"I Will Avenge You!"
Warrior - Strength - Shout
Energy: 5
Activation: 0
Duration: 10
Recharge: 45
Shout. For each dead ally, you gain 10 seconds of +3..7 Health regeneration and your attack speed increases by 25%.

Versus Pressure Build
IWAY is probably the most well known pressure build and shows how this match up presents difficulties for a balanced build. While a balanced build is designed to deal with many different offenses, it struggles to defend against an overload from a single type. While IWAY lacks utility and defense, it features a strong offensive assault in the form of melee damage, AOE damage, and Conditions (usually Disease). If a balanced build can hold off IWAY's offense long enough to pick off key targets, it can contain the Warriors. Player skill is an enormous factor in this match up, and a sound tactical retreat can mean the difference between "Let's back off and let our Monks regain Energy," and "What's everyone's death penalty?"

Mirror Match—Balanced Versus Balanced
This mirror match up is all about individual skill and tactics. Monks become the kings of the GW chessboard, and Resurrection Signets are worth their weight in platinum. Pressure, spike, shutdown, splitting, Hex, and Enchantment removal all become huge factors, each of them being absolutely crucial for both offense and defense. Execution is paramount, and clutch plays can suddenly tip the scale in either direction. Some of the most exciting games in GW occur between evenly matched balanced builds, as gimmicks and possible skill imbalances have no say in deciding the victor.

Balanced builds are complex and hard to play in many ways. Once the philosophy behind them is mastered and the execution perfected, however, they prove to be the most versatile and malleable builds in competitive GvG. Forethought is demanded of all characters within a balanced build, and after you've tasted the satisfaction that comes from running a well-executed balanced build, you'll quickly understand why many top GvG guilds prefer them.


Jonathan Sharp has been playing competitive online strategy games since Warcraft 2 and StarCraft. In Guild Wars, he has been a member of two top-5 ladder teams: Club G and Negative Zero. He recently worked as a multiplayer game designer for Stainless Steel Studios in Boston and has a B.A. in Philosophy. Currently, he's pursuing two of his passions: game design and writing. Find him in-game as Chaplan Observant.