Boss fights are supposed to bring a challenge to players, putting their skill and patience to the ultimate test! Without them, there would never be a truly worthy foe to stand between the players, and their goals. Guild Wars 2 has featured some amazing bosses thanks to their design, but some mechanics prevent these types of encounters from feeling as epic as a boss fight should be.
Guild Wars 2 features bosses in dungeons and story content, but I like to include the champions that roam around Tyria in this category. They’re much stronger than the rest of the enemies you encounter, are generally used at the end of dynamic event chains, and sometimes even possess unique abilities. Even still, I’ve always felt like fighting most champions was just like fighting a veteran enemy with just boosted stats and HP. Many just lack flavor, resulting in a dull encounter. So what can ArenaNet do to spice up boss battles interesting?
First ArenaNet has to fix things up. Since launch, they’ve received a lot of feedback about the defiance ability. While players can indeed control a fight, it often doesn’t reward, or punish players enough for their efforts. While defiance is an interesting way of keeping players from permanently stunning champions, making them feel a bit stronger than normal enemies, the way it was executed felt more like a mechanic from a tabletop game. It seems the Heart of Thorns expansion will be sporting an updated version of defiance, and it’s a game changer.
First, let’s do an overview of how defiance will work. The first noticeable change is that defiance isn’t a stack anymore, instead it’s represented by a bar below the champions name. This visual change will make it easier to track defiance for new players, and for many, will actually let them know it exists. It’s crazy how many players are still running around and have no idea what defiance is. Ask folks in your next public event, and I'm betting only a few will know the answer.
In the new system, as players use control skills on the champion when the defiance bar turns blue, the bar will begin to deplete based on which control skill was used. After beating down on a champion, you break through their defenses, the enemy is stunned you do much greater damage for a brief period of time. It still works much the same as before, but with a new interface, and rebalanced across all the control skills. This new method feels and looks more like a video game mechanic that players can learn thanks to a simple visual change.
Now let’s get to the best part. Defiance is no longer just something that prevents bosses from being constantly controlled. Now defiance is worked into the actual design of the boss encounter. Last week ArenaNet talked about a new enemy type in Maguuma: the Wyvern and how defiance is used in it’s design. Wyverns can fly, so the champion will begin a take off phase. If the players can break through the defiance when this happens, they keep the creature grounded. If they fail, the Wyvern takes to the skies beyond the players reach to unleash a bombardment of fire. This is a great way to make control feel like it’s actually paying off. Before, all players could do was time it so that they could interrupt a boss as it was about to use a heavy hitting attack. Now an entire series of events in an encounter can be prevented.
I love the way these changes are sounding, but I can’t lie, I’m a bit concerned. I’m worried that these unique phases during encounters won’t be used for every champion. I know it would be a lot of work to give each champion its own unique attack pattern. When you look at most champions, they are just beefed up version of some creature without any unique attacks or abilities. Sure the loot is better, but the fight itself leaves much to be desired. If we see all of these bosses gifted with unique attack patterns and phases, then the updated defiance will really shine throughout the entire expansion experience.
ArenaNet could have just switched defiance to a bar, adjust how much defiance each control skill took away, and be done with the changes. Really that’s what players have been asking for on Reddit and elsewhere. But defiance is being taken a whole step further, by actually being used in the design of a champion encounter. Players that build to focus on control will actually be able to, well, control the fight and feel rewarded for doing so. The best part is seeing what other ways defiance will be incorporated into champion encounters, finally making these powerful foes feel epic.