Guild Wars 2 mythbusting: If damage is all that counts, why are you getting one-shot?

If damage is all that counts, why are you getting one-shot?

This one has been simmering in my mind since the launch of the game.

First a little background, then the claims, then my counter-claim.


Guild Wars 2 is a no-trinity combat system MMO. The idea, the intention, was that fluid roles of control, support, and damage would replace the trinity. Each aspect of the tank, healer, and DPS trinity model actually maps to one of the control, support, and damage items. The difference is that you are not supposed to locked to one of them. Not in character choice, not in talent choices, not in gear choices, not even in ‘which one am I for today’s mission?’

If the system worked perfectly, you would be playing all three roles in the same PvE combat – and they would just be labels used to describe your current action.

Intended design:

  • One moment you bash the enemy – damage.
  • The next you put up a smoke screen or protection field – control.
  • A second later you drop a healing seed or revive an ally – support.

If Guild Wars 2 worked, as it was claimed to be designed to work – we would alternate between these various tasks to get through PvE content. Bosses would hit hard enough that control and support would matter, and be susceptible to having damage become more effective when proper offensive control was used (conditions).

Would this be required, optimal, or just possible? There’s a LOT of room for debate there, and I don’t claim a bulletproof answer to that, though my theory below might seem to.

The popular claims in contrast:

I see two very popular claims among notable segments of the Guild Wars 2 community, and a third claim that compliments the first major claim. To me the two claims are a contradiction that form some of the basis of my counter argument.

The first claim is that damage is all that matters, or all that matter enough – two degrees of the same basic argument: one is best served not bothering with control and support is too weak to be impactful (some claim it is so weak it is useless, most just claim its not strong enough to be focused on).

The notion here is that just straight out bursting down an enemy is all one should care about. Build for DPS only. Do as much damage as fast as possible, before the enemy can kill anyone. The phrase “the best defense is a good offense” is the mantra of this theory.

If one focuses on just straight damage, it is possible to turn out some pretty high numbers (my thief probably has about a 4k to 5k DPS, and is NOT focused on pure damage. She could likely get about 10% higher).

The second claim is that bosses often have hidden moves with no ‘clear’ telegraph that can and will one-shot anyone hit by them. This claim then notes that there is nothing that can be done about this RNG based one-shotting. It is a flaw of design, for which some people have to ‘take time out’ to revive downed teammates. Protection, regeneration, armor, vitality, AoE healing, and so on all are too weak to counter this issue.

Because the telegraphs are hidden, or because an attack chain can put a couple of big hits in a row – dodge simply cannot catch these: which is why the claimants call it bad design.

The notion is that these attacks need to be telegraphed so skilled players can avoid them, or paced so that endurance can be there to dodge them.

A complimentary claim to the first claim is that the bosses are just giant health sinks. They have way too many hit points and so all one does is sit there and spam direct damage at them, as much and as fast as possible. That because of this high health, other tactics are less useful. I’m listing this third because I intend to put the first two claims against each other, and am less interested in this claim but will address it to a degree.

My counter-claim
As the subject of this blog post implies, I see a contradiction in the first two claims.

Essentially I boil it down to ‘if damage was all that mattered, why do you keep getting one-shot?’

If the boss is alive long enough to reach one of those untelegraphed one-shot hits and execute it – either their was not enough damage, or something other than just damage must be important somewhere, or the design is just flawed.

I’m going to argue that something other than just damage is likely important.

In part because the bosses are such health sinks, they will tend to last long enough to get off several of those untelegraphed hits, or a chain of effects that come too close together to all be dodged.

Where I flat out disagree with the claims above is the idea that control and support are so weak that they cannot be that something else.

Starting with defensive control.

Protection is a good example. If this boon is up, that’s 33% of the damage of a hit just pushed right off the table as if it never happened. 24000 damage just became 16000 damage. Bring in armor, regeneration, and a steady flow of self and group heals and a hit that might face-plant a group focused only on damage might need to occur 5 more times before it can take someone out – and even when the attacks chain together quickly, attacks on that massive of a scale will rarely chain in 5 times in so many seconds. The normal ‘very bad situation’ of 2 of them back to back moves from a sure killer to a moment to shift up the thinking for just a bit.

Armor… Armor starts to go through significant diminishing returns after 2700. But in the ramp up to that number, a few hundred more armor can be gained with a loss to damage of only a few percentage points. The trade off starts to sound very worth it when that difference is the difference that makes an untelegraphed mega-hit survivable. Instead of the sudden one-shot, you get a ‘mostly shot down’ moment that you step back from, self heal, and re-engage.

That is just two aspects of defensive control, both of which can work wonders to make the concept of a one-shot moot.

And that heal? The support aspect?

If you can toss out a 5 to 8k self heal, then you can handle any hit that leaves you with at least 1 health, and come back strong enough to just grin at the enemy. Threat in the game is heavily impacted by who has already taken notable damage. If you’re at 50% of your health, and the other person is at 90% – that gives you a threat boost. So a medium heal is actually useful as a threat management tool… The heals are designed in conjunction with the threat mechanic to allow clever players to stay up and hold aggro off of more ‘glassy’ teammates.
– granted you will want to get more healing soon… or the next hit might do you in… and so good healing counts. In fact for this regen based or proc based small heals can be better than the big self heal. If you have something like like ‘30% chance to heal on crit’ and that gives you a few hundred health – it will proc enough to get you to a place of safety after the self heal, but not so fast that your threat advantage is lost.

But this becomes a more complex act of balancing factors.

However done right – there is no longer any such thing as a surprise one shot attack in GW2.

Those untelegraphed mega attacks?

Maybe they are there on purpose – so that just dodging is not optimal. They are there, as a certain amount of unavoidable damage, so that people will hopefully be willing to suffer a 5% to 10% loss of damage for a 200% boost in mitigation through control and support.

And there is offensive control…

Why are bosses massive health sinks?

Because in addition to having high health, ensuring they last long enough to run a cycle of unavoidable hits, they have high armor – which mitigates out a lot of direct damage.

Try spamming a huge stack of conditions on a boss. Enough so that you cap out on them and some players are wasting theirs… Note how much faster the boss health can go down, when boss armor is no longer in play…
– But this again requires greater coordination, to avoid too much of players wasting them.

Condition damage builds in PvE have become unpopular due to unshakeable and defiant. Boons on bosses that prevent CC. But these boons do -not- prevent interrupts (just the associated benefits like the followup stun), and they do not stop things like bleed, poison, and confusion.

Because two aspects of conditions perform poorly on bosses (capping conditions and CC), many have simply given up rather than take advantage of the remaining still working aspects.

So maybe offensive control still has a place too, just like defensive control and support.

The counter counter that defeats my entire argument (or does it):

Some will say there are no hidden telegraphs on enemies, that you can dodge every notable attack, shake off every condition without even having a trait or skill for it, never go down, never need to revive anyone else, and burn down all enemies in mere seconds. They point to a few videos making this claim. And maybe for some content they are right, when its done by players who are so amazing they have superman underwear and three times the endurance pool of the rest of us.

But are you all that leet? And does that really work in any content?


Builds coming next:

If my plans work out right, I’ll be following this up with 5 builds – one for each of my as of this date 80s. These builds are designed to be PvE balanced builds: in the point between offense and defense. For me they work amazingly well in dungeon and open world content. I can routinely solo in places people claim are impossible to solo. I can do events in Orr on my own, I can ‘almost tank’ dungeon bosses, and so on. I do a little less damage, but I get a LOT more survival. I don’t bunker play. These are not pure support/control builds. They are offensive, but with solid defense for those moments when adds show up, bosses hit too often, telegraphs are missing, and so on.

We’ll see once I post them, hopefully I will be able to explain the choices I made.


6 thoughts on “Guild Wars 2 mythbusting: If damage is all that counts, why are you getting one-shot?

  1. I think you hit the nail right on the head there my friend, most players seem to not want to take the time to coordinate condition spreads and such so just load up on damage dealing stats/skills instead, ive noticed that whenever i fight a boss like the champion giant in diessa and use my Guardians Scepter number 2 skill(i cant remember the name right now) it does a heck of alot more damage over time than regular hit it till it drops attacks so conditions used well are a good way to go for champions and world bosses when combined with pure melee damage and support as needed.

  2. Hiya there =)

    I just wanted to say that even though I may have come off saying those points.. as the extremes of an issue are often easier to debate I think it’s a little bit more nuanced.
    Damage isn’t the be all of dungeon running, and support and control both can be helpful. The point I failed to make is that many items parts of the support and control aren’t as strong as they should be and damage is more important than it should be. I think if they balanced their trinity further for these instances then
    they could create far more complex and interesting encounters.

    I came from Tera into GW2 which is probably why I’m more critical of the boss animations, attacks, and cues. In Tera it was your duty to learn their mechanics and as such, with learning and practice you could theoretically avoid all damage. It had an inherent difficulty but it never felt punishing.

    Mechanics and attacks a player cannot avoid will always feel cheap and unfair..GW2 does do pretty well with attack animations but then completely forgets them for certain bosses… and it surprises people. Myself included.
    I would always like to think skill matters more than luck when it comes to completing an instance.

    I also miss the trinity for PvE.. I just can’t help it. I like that greater sense of structure

    • Yeah – damage IS very important, and my blog isn’t trying to claim that’s not true. Its very likely more important than it should be for ideal design.

      My dispute is with the claims that it is the only thing to think about – and I think even people who make that claim -still- do some control and support and when they, for example, revive teammates or put up a reflection wall.

      Speaking of missing the trinity, in other MMOs I am usually a tank, except when I’m a healer. Coming here was a system shock couched from having been in GW1 and City of Heroes before-hand which have ‘soft’ trinitys (optional) or no trinity, or sometimes a duality.

      City of Heroes was arguably control and support – no pure damage role, and even damage attacks that lacked a control element were often disparaged by the community: an opposite of GW2: if you brought the CoH version of a zerker to an “elitist” speed run, you’d get booted for it – control was overtuned there.

      At first I missed the trinity, but now I’m glad its gone. I do wish the ‘fluid roles’ we had were more pronounced – and that the balance was more even, or where it is already pretty even, more obvious that this is so. But the only way I could see to make it more obvious to players that a balanced character is actually good would be to make a pure x, y, or z character too weak to use. I think human instinct makes it seem for many that if you -can- tune one part of the engine to be everything and still drive the car, then you have to do so.

      Even in a balanced build that uses a mix of damage, support, and control – GW2, in my opinion, asks you to make that an offensive mix. Playing something like my GW1 monk that leveled to 20 without ever doing ANY damage is just not a good idea in GW2. Nor even is playing a ‘bunker’ in PvE a good idea: a character who’s blend of support, control, and damage leans to defensive.

      (Its funny if you think of it: in GW2, we -DO- have tanks, but only in PvP: bunker characters. Designed to “hold aggro” in the sense that they hold a capture point, and not be killable. But we don’t have them in PvE. The opposite of the state of things in many MMOs where tanks are useless in PvP but kings of PvE).

      • reply reply because I failed to fully read you first. 🙂
        I came from WoW by way of having first been in GW1 and City of Heroes.
        And speaking of learning boss animations and timing… in WoW this is so extreme there is the addon ‘Deadly Boss Mods’ which will literally spam out every action into chat and flash screens so you can perform what starts to feel like the dance moves of a boy-band.

        – Highly repetitive, in step to the rhythm, in sync to your fellow dancer on stage, and something all the kids watching you on MTV can learn and show off.

        WoW boss fights are the K-Pop boy-bands of MMOs. :p

        – But the timer there is so tight, and so repetitive, that every fight ends up feeling like a Canach style gimmick fight: learn the steps and farm it. Eventually you start feeling like you might as well be lip-syncing this concert… and the addons feel like ‘auto-tune’ to fix your voice but making you all sound the same… 🙂

        So at first in GW2 it was very exciting. No timer, no predictability, no choreographer, no endless repetition. But of course over time the illusion of that’s worn off just a tad. 🙂

        I still find the fights here funner than there were over there – but they are not as well designed as I had originally hoped they were, and some of them (Canach), have what I see as extreme flaws.

  3. I think you are pretty spot-on here. Anyone that goes with a pure DPS set-up and thinks that they will be able to power-through everything in the game will be very surprised later. Having diverse builds is really important, but when it comes to the difficult dungeons and definitely Fractals, you aren’t just going to spam a sword-slap repeatedly and win, but rather you’ll need to stack conditions and stay alive while dishing out damage until you overcome the boss. And this is also true some in PvP and WvW, depending on the type of play you like (huge crazy fights or small-unit capture-the-flag stuff with single-target DPS focus).

    • The trick is finding that perfect balance. You need enough mitigation to, as I sometime mention to people in-game, survive not the first two hits, but the one that comes right after you just dodged twice. 🙂

      But you don’t want to over-mitigate and end up giving up solid damage potential, as I’ve recently been trying to explain to two different people who were stacking soldiers gear in PvE (power, tough & vital). You can end up being a rock that is unable to pick itself up and throw.

      Some who advocate all DPS might just be seeing a binary world, where they only other option they imagine is the ‘boulder with no hill to roll down’ build. All offense, OR all defense – either strategy is going to be troubled.

      Maybe there are people who can dodge everything with perfect timing all of the time. But if a person has EVER been taken out by ANY mob in PvE, they are not one of those people and might want to consider some level of defense in their build strat.

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