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Columns: The Decline of Build Diversity

By Alexander Wilkie on January 09, 2017

The Decline of Build Diversity

Guild Wars 2 prides itself on being a game where players can be competitive in a variety of builds and fulfil a variety of roles. Of course, like any game, there will always be a meta, and the best possible combination of builds and classes to achieve your goals, but this game always made it possible to complete content without using ‘best in slot’. In the last year, since the release of Guild Wars 2 Heart of Thorns with its elite specialisations and raids, as well as the increasing difficulty of Fractals of the Mist at higher levels to earn maximum rewards, classes have been forced to take on specific builds and roles to meet the demands of the game. This has carried through to all forms of the game, not just in PvE but also in both the player versus player environments.

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Being forced in to a build is something that a lot of MMO players will be absolutely familiar with, with certain classes already having designated roles from selection. To look at the big one, WoW, you know from the get go that you won’t be healing as a warrior, or tanking as a priest, and it’s all pretty clearly laid out what the possible roles of your class can be. Unlike most MMOs however, the ‘trinity’ of a healer, tank and DPS was never strictly implemented or even desired in the game before raids last year, with the most desired builds being full damage and everyone looking after themselves with personal heal skills and on demand dodges. Almost all of the content has been possible without full damage gear in the past, albeit somewhat slower, but sometimes even easier than when playing as a glass cannon. This meant that every class had healing, support, tanking or damage dealing possibilities they could choose to use if they desired without dragging down a group in the way it can today.

Due to the elite specialisations and also the difficulty of content ramping up, players are now more than ever expected to ignore their niche creations and go down the meta path for highest damage compositions and builds/classes. Players who don’t want to be a part of the meta comp will find it is completely impossible to take part in raids, unless they can fill the group with friends willing to make up for whatever your niche doesn’t contribute and would be expected from the meta build. Even the high level fractal groups are getting picky, with the content supposed to be fairly easy-going and accessible to everyone, high tier groups now more than ever kick players who they see are running something they don’t consider meta. This can be frustrating for players who are running off meta but still feel they are contributing, and takes away from the spirit of the game as it was at launch. But groups are sometimes justified in this approach, as they have no way of knowing you on a personal level or as a player, or how much you are contributing, with no DPS meter in the game or even desired by the developers and no other easy to see way of knowing what a party member is doing for the group.

For an example I’ve experienced on a number of occasions in fractals, I play with a friend who likes to bring their partner to the game. He is pretty unfamiliar with fractals, and likes to play whatever he feels like, even though we know it isn’t going to be that helpful. The difference is staggering between having 5 people doing the right builds and playing the right way than to having 4, and the strain on the other 4 of us is considerably bigger when we know we have to be squeezing out an extra person’s worth of damage. A couple of years back, playing with the same person, we would breeze through even the highest levels of fractals, and sprint through dungeons, without even a second thought about it. So I can see why, when a group has been slugging through for 30 minutes on one instance, and they know that their fifth member is making it more difficult with a bad build, that they would want to replace them and just get through their level.

In raids it is even worse, as many groups struggle to clear this content even with a perfect composition. When you are seconds away from meeting your DPS checks and timers, one person with suboptimal gear or traits can take away your chance for success. Something like a longbow only ranger standing at 1500 range safely taking pot shots at the boss would be unthinkable here, simply not providing the damage or group support and buffs that is required to complete the content. This means that now, if you want to play your class, you have a pretty strict role you have to take on if you want to complete the content on almost all levels. There are some very skilled groups that can take on these bosses with smaller numbers or with random builds, but finding these players in LFG is basically impossible, and should never be something you expect of your pug players.

Many people now like to say that its fine to run whatever they want, and that the failure cannot possibly be blamed on them. After all, if 4 people can take down Vale Guardian, then how come 9 meta builds and one guy who wanted to be a healing banner warrior can’t complete it? The mindset where some players are expecting to be carried through the content is more and more common, as players seek to jump in without experience hunting after legendary armour or the great rewards of raids and high level fractals. Can you blame them though? After 3 years of a game where any build could get you through even the worst dungeon paths, it’s a rough transition for the players who like to take it easy in Guild Wars 2.

That mentality is even worse in PvP, where you might see a 5 signet guardian flaming his team for dying as he claims ‘I’m bunker home’ and moves just the bare minimum not to get kicked for being AFK. People can queue with whatever they want, and once you’re in you are stuck with them. Arenanet has even acknowledged that the game needs you to run meta builds, taking the builds from metabattle (the site that contains builds for all forms of the game) and putting them in the game as default templates to encourage players to use the best builds. World versus World is a little better, because even though players run around with whatever they want and like to ignore that a meta even exists, it’s significantly less punishing to the players around you what you run, and is the place where the most build diversity still exists in both organised and unorganised play.

The game is going to keep evolving, and the new specialisations may open up new roles that satisfy more players and make some of these niche builds more viable, but until then, does the game need some sort of DPS meter or build inspection to ensure strong comps? Or can the content be accomplished by any builds, in any composition, and the ‘elitist’ players are just over reacting? 

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