Some people hate it, other love it. However, no matter your feelings towards the new sPvP mode, there’s no denying it is riddled with issues that hide its true potential.
I’ll outline several problems I find impactful enough to keep Stronghold back from achieving a higher competitive status. But before I go there, let me first talk about the things I consider Stronghold does right.
No Time Wasted: An Objective Based Game Mode
The true power of Stronghold and the reason why it offers such a different play style than Conquest lies in its goal: it is an objective-based game mode, as opposed to Conquest, where matches are more teamfight-oriented aimed at point-holding.
What does ‘objective-based’ mean? Well, freely put, it means that at any given moment in the game there is a number of well-defined things to do –objectives. The very combat itself is broken down in clearly outlined stages, making the whole fighting feel like it has a better pacing and less chaos than that in Conquest.
At the beginning you will summon your minions and the first part of the game will commence: supply management, attack and defense. There is a variety of strategies to take here; “do we defend heavy on at the start?” and “should we focus on offense and supply?” are just two of the most common questions.
Three minutes after your initial actions, map awareness comes into play with a bang, as the first Mist Essence spawns. Obtaining it is crucial to winning the game, as it brings points to your team on top of summoning a Hero ally to fight by your side – so here’s where the first big teamfight should take place.
Or not! There can be other approaches to this situation. For example, instead of getting the Hero, you can push down your lane forcing the enemy team go defensive – while a couple of teammates prevent them from ‘channeling’. When such a time approaches, the use of the Trebuchet is highly helpful and advisable Going deeper into the match, a new Mist Essence will spawn every 3 minutes, creating countless different situations.
As a final note, the objective-based nature of the game mode gives the developers more levers to balance the game mode on. They don’t have to rely solely on nerfing strong builds, but can also adjust the NPCs and the different objectives’ effects.
The Problems and the Need of Action
There are two specific sources of problems. The first one springs from the Archers and the Heroes, while the second relates to a future potential problem: the need for action.
The main protagonist of this first group is, without a doubt, Archers. Archers are, seemingly, the only map mechanic ArenaNet hasn’t nailed down yet.
There’s one big reason why Doorbreakers are clearly better than Archers. Basically, Doorbreakers can do something a player can’t do -that is break down doors- while the Archers’ main utility is taking down the NPC Guards easily (apparently destroying enemy Trebuchet is also a priority for them!).
Players themselves can take out enemy Guards more effectively however, since players are generally stronger than them and they don’t die on the way there (as Archers do, when an enemy player defends). It is my belief we can take three approaches to balance this:
- Reworking Archers completely. This is highly unlikely, as the expansion just launched, so I will just discard this option. Nonetheless, this discussion can be taken in the future.
- Giving archers the ability to inflict extra damage on players they attack. For example, they can apply conditions on auto attack -such as cripple, chill, blind, weakness, etc. – or even be able to strip a boon from a player, possibly transferring it to their nearby allies. This would make Archers more valuable in fights, as they will become more helpful in your fights against enemy players.
- Lastly, making the damage an Archer does to the gate higher, the more attacks they ‘stack’ on it. As an example, they do 1% of gate’s total HP with the first attack, the second does 1.5%, the next one 2% and on, thus making them a considerable threat if left unattended at your doorstep.
On the same vein, they can make Archers focus on Guards and Doors instead of players and add a ‘stacking’ venom on every arrow the Archer shots at the door, damaging it for a fixed amount and potentially adding a boost to the damage Doorbreakers do to the gate – but that would imply reducing the damage Doorbreakers do now.
These potential changes can even be mixed, creating a wide array of options the devs can try out, along with any other ideas they come up with. No matter what, this first problematic group must be tackled as it is the main source of troubles crippling Stronghold’s gameplay.
Let’s look at the other group now, Heroes. Heroes are not bad at all. The main problem with them is that they lose a lot of power when they are not inside the Lord’s room. Once they get there though, they are truly devastating.
On one hand, they don’t do a lot of damage to doors, albeit it is enough to break one down if they are well supported. Depending on which Hero you summon, they have a different, unique, AoE buff that will help in teamfights. However, it’s not enough to keep them alive in a huge 4 vs 4 or 5vs 5 fights.
In this case then, if it’s proven that Heroes usually die before getting to the Lord’s room, maybe it would be a good idea that they can perform the ‘Lord room attack’ on enemy players. That way, even if they can’t survive the trip, they can still cause havoc and help their team to win a fight. This would make them more impactful outside of the Lord’s room.
On the other hand, we know there will be more Heroes added in the future – and this raises the question: will the new Heroes be available for every Stronghold map (should they also release more maps for this game mode)? Or will each map have a special set of Heroes?
If the answer to the first question is yes, then they should be extremely careful on every new Hero specialty as it will have a different impact on the different maps, since it’s obviously meant for each one of them to get a relatively equal amount of participation (statistically) in the matches played.
However, if ‘yes’ is the answer to the second question, then this will give Developers more freedom when balancing and designing different, unique maps within the game mode, as they won’t have to deal too much with how the new Heroes will affect every different map.
The Need of Action
All the changes made through the Beta stage proved how the actions ArenaNet can take on the map mechanics can change the way it is played, without necessarily needing to change the class’ builds.
In my opinion, this factor is extremely important, as it grants existing maps added longeivity by allowing devs to “adapt” those maps to the playstyle of future metas.
Let’s look at an example: suppose that, for whatever reason, the meta evolves into heavy AoE damage pressure. This would make summoned NPCs die rather quickly, so they could add more HP or defense to them. At some point, players would realize going with heavy damage wouldn’t be as viable, so they would change, let’s say, to more defensive setups.
This situation would change the meta-builds for some classes by simply adjusting a map mechanic and it wouldn’t affect negatively other maps. Having said that, this approach would make build templates even more mandatory, given some maps would have different viable builds.
Stronghold has now been officially released and although the new game mode is rather unique and has a good potential to be competitive, it still has some issues that hinder that potential.
Archers are the only problem left in the map that they need to change, since the first iteration. Furthermore, Heroes are not in a bad state right now but they could still use some buffs to aid in teamfights before reaching the Lord’s room.
Lastly, for an objective-based game mode it is important to refine and change its different map mechanics in order to provide meta shifts and a more equilibrated strategic play on it.
Overall, I think Stronghold still has a few problems, but problems that can be easily fixed making an even more unique experience out of it.