Guild Wars 2 launched a month and a half ago. Rounding. Look, close enough. The point is I’ve been playing lots. Lots. I should probably get around to a properly details analysis of its various systems and mechanics; I ought to talk about how pretty is. Instead I’m going to talk about 1.5 things which aren’t specific to this game, but are: kiting and pet choice.
1. A Brief History of Shooting Once and Then Running Like You Stole Something
The earliest kiting in MMORPGs I ever heard of was back in EverQuest– and that’s original EverQuest, the one you could play on a toaster. (A mechanical toaster.) The idea back then was there were quite a number of horribly unfair monsters that, upon catching you, would brutalize you so badly that they’d be finding slivers of your spleen in hard-to-clean places for a month. The traditional answer to this was to get umpteen dozen of your friends and then take turns getting brutalized until the thing finally flopped over dead. (Incidentally, EverQuest’s raiding was the direct precursor to World of Warcraft’s– I believe several of the people recruited to develop WoW were world champion EQ raiders. (Incidentally, that was about as prestigious and exclusive a title as world champion empty-soda-bottle-spinner, given how little competition there was. Ahh, the days when MMOs were a nothing!))
And then someone noticed that not all of these terrifying, insanely tough, full-of-goodies monsters ran any faster than a dude with a couple of buffs.
So the first example of kiting that I distinctly remember was watching some nameless higher-leveled player run around with a small pack of city guards hot on his tail but never quite reaching him while he whittled down their hitpoints. In that instance the player was motivated by the prospect of some kind of reputation increase/decrease, but the idea was pretty universal: want to kill something you can’t take in a fair fight that doesn’t run particularly fast? Run, stay out of its reach, keep lobbing some kind of hitpoint-reducer at it, and collect your goodies when it croaks. EverQuest made this easy in some ways: mobs chased you until you died or zoned to another area, and lots of tempting targets were sufficiently slow relative players. In other ways it was awful: you just didn’t have enough space in some areas, and monsters could shrug off weak spells or inaccurate projectiles on top of having crazy-high life totals– so the time I watched someone murder a pack of guards, it took them the better part of 20 minutes to do it. And then presumably they waited for them to respawn so they could do it again… and again and another 997 times to finish getting enough reputation of whatever sort. (EverQuest was not meant for people who did things besides play EverQuest such as eat or sleep, to say nothing of going outside or being a productive member of society.)
So EverQuest kiting was pretty simple in concept but tedious in execution. I got the gist of it but never bothered because young me was just as lazy as present me is. Plus I don’t think I had a steady supply of the buffs necessary to make the endeavor merely a hassle instead of “I’d have more fun reading the tax code out loud to myself– and it’d take half as long”.
Cut to some unspecified time in the early mists of World of Warcraft, where I found myself in the Hinterlands on a beach full of turtles with a quest: kill that one jerk turtle who keeps wrecking everything, because seriously, it’s a jerk. “B-but it’s an elite!” I protested. “One does not simply solo an elite!” Which, to be fair, was pretty true at the time. Players at the pinnacle of ability, gear, and class selection could reliably kill some elites. The rest of us hired help.
But then someone– and I don’t know who, whether it was an online friend or my brother looking over my shoulder– told me to try kiting it. “It runs pretty slow, right? So just like… run away, and then turn to shoot it, and then run some more.”
“I… can you even do that?”
The answer, a comparatively small number of deaths/leashing and lots of adrenaline-fueled shaking later, was “yes”. I found that I could run along but periodically jump into the air, spin around 180 degrees, fire an instant shot off, turn back around 180 degrees, and resume running when I landed. It wasn’t pretty, but it DID let me kill an elite all by myself. The immediate effect was mostly psychological, because as soon as I collected my quest reward I went back to never kiting things. But over the years, I got a little bit better at the game (learning to strafe and having the keys to do it was a quiet revolution) and there were more things ripe for the kiting. Not to mention miscellaneous improvements to the classes I played. By the end of my WoW days I’d say I was a mediocre kiter: I could reliably handle one monster at a time, as long as there wasn’t too much interference and it wasn’t too tricky a set-up. Definitely not the best, but suitable for every day purposes.
2. Warring Guilds, the Sequel (That Isn’t Really a Sequel)
The very first day I spent playing Guild Wars 2 was not a particularly good day. It was the first beta weekend event, the first public beta. The character creation was fun! I’d been looking forward to playing with all the possible charr appearance options, and there was no shortage of possibilities. But eventually I was done with that: picked something I liked, put in a name, and off I went to play.
At which point I discovered that this game is not the WoW/EQ clone I was used to. Nothing was TOO alien– it’s not like they were trying to default bind my movement keys to the num pad or something– but everything was different enough that I had to stop and think about where to go to open a pane or find information. Combat was even worse: again nothing too crazy, but it was just… hard. I couldn’t articulate why, and I was clearly learning and adjusting as I went, but I was just out of sorts enough to be permanently irritated. I concluded the day somewhat fearful that I’d wasted $60 with my prepurchase.
The next day I remembered how to kite.
Most common MMORPGs prior to GW2– at least ones I’ve messed with– have had very routine combat. Ranged classes stand in the back and fling spells/projectiles like a turret; melee classes have to run up to a thing, usually, but then they stand there toe to toe trying to kill it. WoW’s introductory advice to group PvE combat has been “don’t stand in the fire” for so long that it wasn’t even a joke the first time someone said it, but there’s a reason for that: the game is focused around not moving. In the absence of specific, probably short-term motivations, you’re best off standing still. I used to raise an eyebrow at the weirdly twitchy melee-playing people who amused themselves with bunnyhopping or running in small patterns around something’s ankles while fighting– they got no benefit for it, it just meant they were pressing more buttons than strictly necessary. Ranged classes generally had no such option, because basically everything they had came with a casting time, and You Can’t Cast While Moving, so movement was an especially bad idea. This also lead to some resentment of fights or strategies that emphasized lots of moving, because it was generally at the expense of normal epeen measures (damage dealt, healing done, etc) which could only be maximized when players weren’t distracted by their movement keys.
So the pivotal moment was when I realized you can cast (almost everything) while moving in GW2. They did it that way because they expect you to.
WoW’s best and most important defense against dying, at least by the later parts of it, was defensive stats. Tanks needed the most of them– armor! block chance! parry! hitpoints!– but everyone else was expected to cart along >X hitpoints, where X is the amount of unavoidable damage that one boss deals to everyone in the room. Sometimes you had to get fancy and save a defensive cooldown, plan around PW:S rotations, or learn to hide behind a big block of ice– but for the most part the idea was that there will be D amount of damage dealt out and not a drop more, so bring D+1 defensive stats and not a single point extra because the odds of survival drop to 0 the longer a fight wears on, best to pare away all that superfluous defensive stat in favor of more offense.
GW2’s best and most important defense against dying is not taking damage in the first place. There’s no clear “aggro” system so it’s impossible to designate one dude to armor up and act as a living shield. You have an ever-replenishing resource called Endurance to fund your Dodges, maneuvers that send your character tumbling or cartwheeling in one direction and for the duration of the roll make you invulnerable. Movement speed boosts are precious and uncommon, which works out alright because almost everything runs at about the same default speed as players do. Everyone gets a variety of possible tools to heal, cure, and revitalize themself. By late levels in PvE (and for all of PvP) there will be enough pressure to persuade most players to pick up some defensive stats, but right from the get-go the monsters will painfully and repeatedly teach you that trying to stand toe-to-toe (or bow-to-bow, when they’re ranged) with something leads to a world of avoidable hurt. This is made especially obvious with the plentifulness of telegraphing monsters engage in: almost every single thing a monster does that’s fancier than an auto-attack causes a noteworthy animation or spell effect. And that’s just the common enemies! Veteran monsters are uniformly difficult to impossible without some sort of evasive tactics; Champion monsters are often so punishing that a single person packed to the gills with defensive tricks still can’t keep up with them.
3. And the Ranger Pet Winners Are…
So if the #1 trick to staying alive in PvE content is “don’t get hit in the first place”, how do Ranger pets do? Bears make out ok. They have the highest total defensive stats and one or two abilities that help even more (a bite that heals!) so even without specializing in a really beefy pet, I found that my polar bear could stand there all day without a care in the world– most of the time. Other pet families are… less fortunate. Monsters seem to prioritize pets for termination, and none but bears have any significant defensive stats or abilities, so I rather quickly realized that sending a non-bear into melee range = dead pet. Moas, canids, drakes: even on a good day I can barely kill a common monster before they finish stomping my poor pet into the dirt. Melee pets just don’t do very well in PvE content.
But there are some ranged pets.
There’s three possible starter pets for each race of Ranger. I ended up picking a carrion devourer as mine, because 1. not a cat 2. derp-drake has survival issues (see above) and 3. it’s a freaky eyeless two-tailed scorpion thing. I also made the run at level 2 to obtain a forest spider from someone else’s starting area. I named the devourer Sif, the spider Vig, and then I set out to reach level 3.
I hit level 80 still using Sif and Vig, and it doesn’t look like I’ll be swapping them out anytime soon.
All devourers are ranged pets: their auto-attack is to fling tail barbs at whoever has angered them, and they’ll lob globs of poison too. Their last two tricks are actually pretty amusing: they can punt something backwards if it’s in melee range, and they’ll burrow underground and flee backwards to escape things in melee range too. I have watched Sif never get touched by an ettin without any input of mine just because ettins attack so slow that Sif has plenty of time to go “NOPE” whenever the ettin reaches it. Spiders are also ranged: they spit poison by default, and can be told to spice up their venom with something extra potent. They also, handily, shoot globs of poison and can web a foe to the ground. Vig isn’t quite as clever at continually evading an unpleasant fate, but it does a fantastic job of pinning something down while I kill it outright. I later discovered (while discussing pet stats with a guildmate) that spiders and devourers handily fall on the more defensive side of the stat spectrum, but the most important reason for their success remains that they don’t try to tank things in a game where almost nothing can tank.
The advice I feel like I can’t emphasize enough for all new GW2 players: kite. Kite constantly. Do not stop kiting. If you have pets, make them kite too. It’s not difficult with ranged weapons/abilities– if I can do it, most people probably can. The only difference between me and people who don’t kite is whether they showed up wearing ranged weapons, and whether they tried.
Now I just have to figure out how to explain that to my guild… and random bystanders. Just because I CAN kite a group event Champion for 60% of its health by myself doesn’t mean I want to– it goes so much faster with help! (Once you’ve dodged one gigantic boulder, you’ve dodged the next 15 minutes of them.)