My feelings about underwater combat in Guild Wars 2 could always be summed up in a simple statement: It’s the best underwater combat I’ve ever experienced in any MMO, but it is still terrible. Underwater combat is an area where every MMO which has it struggles with to some extent and has caused many to just not bother with it. There’s a ton of varibles which come into play underwater, after all you are literally surrounded by water and the developers must translate the feeling of moving, and fighting, through water well without making the experience feel unbearable. There’s really a narrow margin for success.
Thankfully on May 8th Arenanet took another pass at making underwater combat more fun. I’m not going to dive too deeply into all of the specific changes, because there’s a ton and every profession got some polish. If you want to know all the specifics it’d be more useful to just read the blog and patch notes which were posted. Instead I am going to focus on a few specific examples and on what still needs to be addressed to make underwater combat reach a spot where it’s a compelling area of gameplay.
One of the biggest issues with underwater combat previously was it often felt like my character who could easily cut through groups of mobs in the HoT zones would suddenly turn into a wet noodle in the water. Not only was combat slow but it also didn’t feel very heroic or exciting. This was less of an issue on my Ranger, but I hated taking my Elementalist or Revenant into the water. Both of those professions felt incredibly ungainly in the water.
In the case of the Revenant I went from a playstyle where my attacks were flashy and fun to something which didn’t feel like it had any interesting abilities at all. Often just spamming the 2-skill seemed like the most effective way to kill mobs. The addition of the trident as a useable weapon has really helped. Not only are all the abilities interesting, but they also offer secondary effects based on what the active legend is. This extra bit adds just enough to make it really feel like I am still playing a Revenant and since we now have a choice of three legends to use underwater there is some actual choice to be had as well. I’d still like to see the rest of the legends become usable underwater but for now this is a marked improvement.
As for the Elementalist one of the biggest problems I encountered, aside from feeling there was no force behind any of the abilities, was the fact many of the utility skills were just not usable underwater. I still remember the first time I went into the water leveling up and was shocked to find I had exactly one utility skill which was usable underwater… it was disheartening. Now many more of the utility skills have been added and it helps to reduce how much I feel hampered underwater. Additionally, some of the skills also got a bit of a rework so now everything just overall feels better and makes a bit more sense. I do have to say though, the indicator a skill can’t be used underwater is it has a waterdrop on it. This seems counterintuitive to me. If anything, I’d think a waterdrop would indicate a skill could be used underwater.
Another area they were trying to improve with this patch was movement underwater, specifically movement while in combat underwater. This might seem like the sort of thing where the easy fix would be to make everyone to move faster underwater in general, but it wouldn’t work well in the end. While this would be nice it would also destroy the whole feeling of being in water. It’s harder to move through water so yes even your hero should move a bit slower. One of the ways this has been tackled is by adding swim speed infusions which also stack with swiftness. They aren’t a huge increase, but they do go a long way to helping combat movement feel a bit less arduous.
One area related to movement which still could use some improvement is there needs to be some way to tell how far away from something you are underwater. Especially when out in open water and there are no close by points of reference telling the distance you are from a mob can be quiet frustrating. There are the bars which appear on the skills to indicate when you’re out of range, but these are very general and easy to miss. I’m not entirely sure what could be added to make this better, but it would be hugely helpful to take some of the guesswork out.
Another big issue with underwater combat is there just isn’t much to do underwater. There are some events, some guild missions, and a handful of other things but all these things offer very little in the way of repeatability and most players just don’t have much reason to go into the water for anything. With this patch they added Sunken Treasure which does add another thing to do underwater, but it also suffers from limited replayability.
With all these improvements to underwater a lot of people are hoping it means we’ll get some more underwater content soon. The theory of the next Living Story chapter having underwater areas does seem like a distinct possibility. I do hope it isn’t a completely underwater zone though unless we are also getting an underwater mount. Even with these changes getting around a fully underwater zone would be frustrating and slow. As for fighting the sea elder dragon… yea I don’t think it’s on the horizon any time soon.
Overall, after logging onto all professions and messing around with them a bit, I can honestly say they all feel like they are in a much better place than they were before the patch. There’s still room for improvement of course but fighting underwater feels like much less of a chore than it did previously. The last few days I’ve wanted to spend time in the water and explore some of the areas I haven’t seen in years at this point, so at the very least by that metric this update has been a success already.