Ever since Stronghold was announced, I can’t help but think about the vital role map mechanics play in sPvP. The new game mode, even without being properly released, has already seen several changes to its mechanics that moved it away from the typical “Lord rush” meta. It’s this idea that made me wonder, what are the pros and cons of altering the map mechanics of the current maps, and what can they learn from their most recent Conquest map, Skyhammer?
I believe it would definitely be for the good, as such changes would act as a new ground for balancing to be based on. They would also give birth to new strategies as well as make the current game mode feel new.
- Balancing is a rather difficult subject to work on or even argue about. What if, instead of nerfing or buffing professions, the secondary objectives could be altered to change how the map is played?
- New strategies are bound to arise that will perhaps provide PvP with more interesting moments to take part in as a player and watch as a spectator.
- As a result of working on the secondary objectives, Conquest will feel fresh both for the newly-drawn to PvP and veterans alike.
This perspective, nonetheless, features several possible issues. These range from resource management, to adding layers of unnecessary complexity, to even ending up dealing with a balance nightmare.
- The team would have to allocate resources onto this task that may be needed on a different project. Those would have to be dedicated to the cause, as constant maintenance is more than a necessity when it comes to monitoring newly implemented features.
- Moreover, if this became the norm, future maps would end up being more complex. For example, they could feature easily malleable mechanics that when modified they would meaningfully affect the gameplay. Of course, as in the first case, that would perhaps increase the time the devs need in order to build new maps.
- Finally, the balance game once again. Stronghold is a thing from now on, bringing several unique mechanics and types of gameplay on the table. Also, future additions to the elite specialization roster as well as the recently promised more “frequent” balance patches, are meant to shake how the sPvP scene unfolds.
The Failed Skyhammer Experiment
As an example, let’s take Skyhammer and see how this treatment should affect the map. We all know Skyhammer is not really well loved by the community, that it used to have some issues, and that ANet took way too much time to address them.
- It’s a map with unique terrain. It has some nice verticality attached to it, you can fall off its edges, and there are disappearing platforms scattered all over the place.
- It also features a secondary objective similar to the Trebuchet: the Skyhammer cannon. That has a map wide range, a large warning tell appearing when its skills are about to land, and it can destroy the disappearing platforms instantly.
Designing a map with such mechanics felt like a good idea at first. However, those ended up being a horrible experience for the player at the map’s launch.
First of all, you could destroy the disappearing platforms while in stealth. Any class with access to both stealth and a pull (namely thieves and engineers) could step on a platform to make it disappear, step off of it, and then pull their foe onto it, throwing them off the map, all without any kind of counterplay. The time needed for the platform to disappear was too short as well.
Secondly, let’s be honest, the cannon was badly designed. It didn’t matter whether you dodged or had stability, you always got hit by it for a high amount of damage and got knocked down. Couple that with the disappearing platforms getting destroyed, and the whole experience left you completely vulnerable to all kind of CC aiming to drag you off the edge to your inevitable death.
Finally, the calibration platform was so narrow that some classes had the complete advantage over some certain builds. That wasn’t something necessarily bad, but when the cannon is so annoying and strong, it creates an even worse environment during the flow of the battle.
In the end, the developers changed some of these mechanics: making it so you could no longer stealth-destroy the platforms, when those take longer to disappear anymore, and the cannon could now be avoided with a well-timed dodge.
Even though those changes came to be, Skyhammer’s most unfair, in my personal opinion, mechanic, that of the disappearing platforms, remains a thing. It’s always good to see that a map mechanic like that plays such a significant role in capturing or securing capture points, working in coordination in Skyhammer’s case with heavy CC builds. It’s definitely not fun though having to deal with instant death as a result of a specific part of the map design process.
With Skyhammer being just an example, we can note how difficult it is to delve into designing maps with more complex mechanics. If those end up being badly designed in the first place, it won’t matter how much you tweak them later on. They will always feel unfair, hence, not fun.
The Stronghold beta evolution showed us how much of an impact map mechanics can have in the way sPvP plays out. If you change the way they work, you may possibly alter the way the entire pacing of the game unravels.
There are pros and cons on whether or not introducing new maps mechanics would be beneficial or detrimental to the game. However, Skyhammer showed us how important designing fun map mechanics is.
To conclude this discussion, I’m referring to you guys. What’s your take on the matter? Would you like to see map mechanics having a more obvious presence in actual gameplay, or would you rather keep things simple as they are now?