Many of us were disappointed about the lack of appropriately targeted balance changes to Dragon Banners with the last balance patch. This post intends to act as a compendium of problems and potential solutions to bring banners more into balance in WvW.
Getting straight to the point, the number 5 skill on Dragon Banners is seen as one of its most fundamental issues presently. With the nerfs to damage, sustain and healing across the board in the large balance patch some time ago for all classes, items like the Dragon Banner were completely skipped over as its power coefficients went unchanged. This alone was a huge buff to the Dragon Banner in real terms since, with its unchanged 2.0 power damage coefficient, it’s effectively the hardest hitting skill in WvW by some margin and, as a result of the healing nerfs, even more difficult to sustain a group that gets hit by it than before.
This has led to its usage being heightened after the damage/healing coefficient reduction patch, with wielders doing a very substantial portion of a group’s overall DPS from fight to fight, with their damage typically eclipsing non-banner users’ damage by a very large margin.
The generous 20 player damage cap, 4x that of typical AoE skills, the 8 second duration which it lasts and the huge 1800 distance it covers in length are all contributory factors that have turned this single skill into something very problematic within the current ecosystem, particularly when you consider the typical scenario of multiple Dragon Banners being in-play at the same time from a single group.
On top of the already high baseline power coefficient of this skill, it’s also capable and commonly used by classes whose traits synergize with it to do even more damage. Common revenant builds, for example, use traits like Unsuspecting Strikes and Swift Termination that can provide 20%+ damage on top of the baseline, making it hit even harder. There are a plethora of other traits and opportunities for synergy that create higher damage scenarios for this skill, or attach conditions like Immobilize to strikes from the banner that make it more difficult to avoid, particularly in tight chokes or narrow corridors of which there are numerous.
In addition to skill 5 being untouched in the patch that changed power coefficients en masse, skill 3 (the uncapped knock-back ability) was similarly untouched. It is one of the few CCs that remain in WvW after the patch that still do damage on top of its CC and has a coefficient of 2.5.
The skill’s CC is disruptive enough as it is, again considering multiple banners are usually being used and the fact it has no target cap. Even assuming a perfect scenario of everyone having stability, this skill can strip stab stacks like no other whilst still retaining its damage component.
There’s currently very little risk and a lot of reward if you’re a banner carrier. Not only do you retain access to your heal, class utility and elite skills while wielding a banner, you’re also effectively completely immune to all CCs due to having a break bar and skill 4 grants you superspeed so you can kite and peel even easier.
I assume the original concept of giving banner wielders a break bar was to act as some kind of balance mechanic. If you’re out of position, play too aggressively or get focused with CC you get stunned for 5 seconds. This doesn’t happen in reality though due to the wielder retaining access to their class skills, which usually include stun breaks so they can bypass the stun trivially. Having the break bar is a huge advantage, since banner carriers are completely immune to all CC effects making them incredibly hard to catch and punish for sloppy play or being out of position.
Retaining utility and elite skills also provides many opportunities for banner carriers to use the various escapes, teleports and stealth mechanics tied to their class that, combined with their CC immunity and access to superspeed, means you have to really mess up in order to ever die while carrying a banner.
Assuming players who wield a banner utilize them for their full duration of 15 minutes, which is common due to their CC immunity and ability to use escapes inherent to whatever class they’re using as they have access to their utility skills and elite as discussed, there is only a 5 minute window where a banner is unavailable from a structure before the next one can be collected, since the banner tactic refreshes in 20 minutes.
Since this is a very short window, this guarantees almost perpetual uptime of banners as the cooldown window is not significant enough to matter.
A justification could possibly be made for the power and impact Dragon Banners bring to the table if they were employed by underdog servers who were unable to match the numbers of the other groups on the map. You could argue the advantages banners bring are reasonable in that scenario. In reality, however, that is not how they are used in most cases.
Instead of helping weaker servers or groups, it’s often those who are outnumbered or have weaker groups who take the brunt of banners even more because how they work fundamentally favors the server that’s already got the dominant force on the map. The dominant force has an easier time defending and upgrading its structures while taking more territory from enemy realms, which ultimately results in more tactic slots to slot additional banners in to.
This often results in a very skewed and demoralizing snowball effect for groups attempting to fight a group that is dominant as the strongest group on the map can elect to, in some cases, carry 3, 4 or even 5+ Dragon Banners at any given time. This can easily change an already uphill struggle into an insurmountable and impossible fight. This changes the dynamic from a potentially fun, fighting-from-behind underdog challenge to a demoralizing, waste-of-time situation which can quickly make commanders and players simply log off due to the frustration of the whole ordeal, which is far from a healthy gameplay experience.
With the strength of the banners as they stand, large group fights often boil down to an arms race as to which group can bring the most Dragon Banners to a fight in order to win it. If an enemy group is using 3 of them, this often forces you to pick some up yourself and gameplay is distilled into which side has the most banners or manages to land the biggest Dragon Banner #5 or #3 at the right time. This takes a lot away from the enjoyment of fights for many as these banners are so powerful they can completely dictate a fight’s outcome.
I’m not a game designer and I’m sure there are many complex lines of consideration that go into balance decisions. These are, however, some things that have been discussed as potential solutions among the WvW communities that I’m a part of that could go some way into mitigating how problematic Dragon Banners are for the game mode currently. The low hanging fruit here is obviously just adjusting the damage of the relevant skills, but if banners have to be kept at current or similar power levels there are some other ideas included on how they could be kept powerful and balanced.
One of the simplest and easiest solutions, as mentioned, is to bring the damage of skills #5 and #3 more in line with everything else in the game mode. As a CC skill, skill 3 could be brought more in line with all of the other CCs and do negligible damage instead of the non-trivial amount it does presently.
The uncapped knock back of skill 3 is already incredibly powerful on its own which, by itself, may need to be re-balanced to perhaps include a cap or have an increased cooldown.
Many assumed these skills would be the primary target of the previous balance patch due to their strength presently, yet they sadly went untouched.
The 1800 length of the 5 skill could be reduced, or the width of the skill effect shrank and/or the duration reduced from 8s in order to make it less have less of an impact or deny less of an area during a fight. If adjusting the 20 player cap for this skill is on the table, that could also be brought down to mitigate the impact a single banner wielder can have on an opposing group.
The 15 minute duration of the banner could be reduced and/or the 20 minute cooldown on pulling out another banner from the same structure could be increased to reduce banner availability across the board.
Banners are an anomaly in relation to how other structural tactics work. All of the other tactics enhance the defensive capabilities of the structure they’re in. Banners, however, can be picked up from any structure and used anywhere on the map, which contributes to the snowball effect and multiple banner stacking issues I’ve discussed above.
Limiting banners so they’re only usable within the region of the structure they’re slotted in seems like a fair compromise to their strength. This guarantees only 1 banner will ever be in play during a fight and the defenders will have it, which seems reasonable to aid defending teams.
A cap could be added to a map that limits the number of banners in use at any given time, to avoid situations of teams using 3, 4 or 5+ banners at once giving them an overwhelming advantage.
Many of us wouldn’t have any resentment at all if banners were powerful tactics employed by smaller groups fighting substantially larger numbers as an equalizer, but for the reasons stated earlier that isn’t often the case currently.
One idea I’ve heard raised was giving access to banners depending on the amount of difference your team has in numbers compared to the other groups on the map. If things were equal, no one would have banners. If a team was substantially outnumbered, banners would become available to them and they would lose that advantage if the numbers started equalizing.
Consider removing the ability of a class to use their utility/elite skills whilst wielding a banner, or at least preventing an individual from breaking their own stun if their CC break bar gets knocked out. This would mean banner carriers would have to play more carefully and have less access to survival skills, making playing a glass cannon DPS class with a dragon banner require substantially more careful play than presently. There should be drawbacks to having access to the powerful banner skills if they’re kept as-is.
If you made it this far, thanks for reading. As someone who has played and commanded on both the NA and EU regions across multiple servers, one big, unifying issue that I hear from everyone regardless of where I’m playing is the frustration surrounding these banners, so I hope ANet takes this feedback on board, realizes they’re still a problem for many in our game mode and makes an attempt to balance them further with future updates.
ANet have confirmed they will be making changes to Dragon Banners during a Twitch stream, which is certainly welcome news. Hopefully toning down #3 and #5 with an eye to potentially limiting banners to the region of the structure they're slotted in in future, as discussed in the stream, can bring them into balance and make them a less oppressive and snowball-encouraging mechanic moving forward.
[TW] Tempest Wolves