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Guild Wars 2 Column: Underwater PvP and the Downed State

By Michael Bitton on August 22, 2012

A new structured PvP map, Raid on the Capricorn, made its debut in Guild Wars 2 yesterday during the (most likely) final stress test before head start begins on Saturday. Raid on the Capricorn is Guild Wars 2’s fourth sPvP map and is significant in that it is the hotly anticipated “underwater map”. 

Does the map meet expectations? What’s underwater combat like in PvP? We’ll discuss it all in this week’s column.

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First off, Raid on the Capricorn is a conquest style map (just like all of Guild Wars 2’s sPvP maps) and while it does feature a significant portion of contested underwater area, the majority of the capture points are actually on land. There are a total of three points, including the Beach (east), the Docks (west), and the Ruins (north), with the latter being the singular underwater capture point.

Each of Guild Wars 2’s sPvP maps are based on conquest mode gameplay (a deliberate choice on ArenaNet’s part), but each features a distinct secondary mechanic to set it apart. In Raid on the Capricorn, the secondary mechanic consists of the underwater play space patrolled by a school of large sharks. These sharks will align themselves with whatever team is currently in control of the Ruins capture point and will assist in defending said point and attack any players of the opposite team that dare swim by. These sharks also hurt quite a bit, so they will make all the difference in a drawn out underwater skirmish.

I didn’t spend enough time with the underwater combat to say conclusively whether or not the weapon skills offer enough depth or are balanced across all the classes to make them a competitive form of combat all on their own. But, like underwater combat in PvE, it’s certainly a good deal of fun so far. This is especially true for a Ranger player who has the opportunity to bring his own underwater pets into the fray (including a giant shark of his own!).

It’s not all great, though. ArenaNet has placed a strong emphasis on gamers being able to recognize what’s going on in combat by watching the action, for example, by use of obvious visual effects and other tells. This is generally a good idea, but has drawn a bit of criticism from some due to the “spell effect soup” it can sometimes create. Unfortunately, if you have a hard time figuring things out on land, matters may be worse beneath the waves. It’s possible that I’m just not as familiar fighting underwater right now as I am on land, but I feel the visual noise is even greater underwater.

There’s also another issue, and this was easily the most frustrating of them all. I realize I’m in the minority here, but I’m admittedly not a huge fan of the downed state in PvP and especially underwater PvP. I’ve been trying to keep an open mind on it and give ArenaNet the benefit of the doubt, but I’m still not seeing the net positives here, and my recent experience with underwater PvP has only made matters worse.  So far, the downed state has generally been more of a nuisance to me than anything else – but it was especially frustrating underwater. Other than the fact the “Finish Him!” function wasn’t always working (beta!), players don’t even go down like they do on land. Instead, just like PvE, you can swim up to the surface in order to heal and even swim away. This is fine in PvE, but when you’re on the other end of it in PvP, it’s not a great feeling. You can completely destroy someone in an underwater skirmish only for them to swim up to the surface, reach shore, flop onto the beach and take off. I actually spent a good two or three minutes leading some poor guy around as he tried to grind my health down while I swam above water (after, you know, he’d already beaten me). I’m not really sure what this adds to the experience, other than frustration, in most cases. It’s honestly ten times more annoying than half of the goofy downed state shenanigans you may experience on land.  The adrenaline rush and satisfaction of winning a battle against another player are completely drained when they start floating to the surface and begin swimming away, and this feeling is compounded when you realize you now also have a school of sharks chewing on your ass at the same time.

Watch this person 'die' and live to tell about it! Mortal wounds are nothing land and fresh air can't fix!

Keep the downed state in PvE, but something needs to be done about it in PvP, both underwater and on land. I don’t expect ArenaNet is looking to make any significant alterations to the downed mechanic at this point, but I’m going to offer a suggestion anyway. I’m no designer, but I feel a simple Battlefield 3-style resurrection system would suffice in place of the current arrangement. If you go down, you’re down and you begin waiting for your respawn timer, however, if a teammate happens to clear the area (or can tank the incoming damage) and works on getting you up, you can choose to wait to get back on your feet or respawn.  Simple! It doesn’t rely on needing a healer or someone with a resurrect ability and it doesn’t reward poor play or cheat someone out of a well-earned kill.  I realize the downed state offers some potential benefits for clutch plays and such, but I’m really not convinced that the pros outweigh the cons at this point.

In PvE, the downed state is an ingenious way to continue to contribute to the encounter while potentially earning you a second wind without having to rely on a healer. In PvP? It simply feels toxic. By that, I mean when it does work out in your favor, it’s generally at the expense of someone else’s enjoyment. There are just far too many scenarios where the downed state either ultimately delays the inevitable or provides for moments where you feel like shouting obscenities at your screen. The downed state in underwater PvP is, at least so far, the worst example I’ve seen of the latter.

Fortunately, at least for right now, outside of capturing or defending the Ruins, you could conceivably do all your combat on land on Capricorn. In fact, since you can technically win by holding two out of the three points, it’s quite possible to just ignore the map’s secondary mechanic altogether and simply focus on controlling the Beach and Docks.  This makes the Raid on the Capricorn’s underwater element feel more gimmicky as opposed to being a meaningful secondary mechanic that sets the map apart. Ideally, I feel an underwater-focused map could provide an excellent twist on Guild Wars 2’s sPvP experience by forcing players to also consider their loadouts for both on-land and underwater combat. There’s a lot of potential here, but it’s just not quite there yet.

Did you enjoy the Raid on the Capricorn sPvP map? How do you feel about underwater PvP and the downed state? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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