Are rangers actually under-powered?
Now I know from my psychology/statistics work that people can develop incorrect beliefs. I noticed in forums that many of the complaints came from rangers who don’t play their rangers in difficult places (because they’re so underpowered, why bother). And there is the common assumption that rangers are underpowered because their pets die, and they are weak without their pets. And then, as supporting evidence, I’ve heard of people turning down rangers when making groups.
But here’s a different theory: rangers are just as good as any other profession, and the only thing they need is someone to undo the bad rep they’ve been getting.
Two competing hypotheses… It’s time for some science!
We set out to do the latest content in Guild Wars 2: the Molting Alliance dungeon. Granted, it’s not the most difficult content out there, but it has a nice difficulty level that is between that of story and explorable dungeons. Moreover, most of the difficulty is due to stuff that rangers are supposedly bad at: avoiding AoE’s and hard-hitting mobs… especially the bosses.
Participants were recruited via the guild chat. We were a party of 5 rangers, 4 of which were maxed level. One ranger confused the “level eighty” requirement as “level eighteen” for some reason, so we had a vastly under-levelled ranger amongst us. Scaling should fix that, right? I have no idea how maxed out their equipment was, I know mine wasn’t maxed…
We also had a metric-ton-load of pets. Everyone ended up bringing whatever they wanted, which was an uncoordinated mix of everything except a jellyfish (yes, someone wanted to bring that). There was no effort to coordinate weapons, builds, whatever… it was pure bring-your-own-build madness.
I had completed the dungeon with my guardian and a balanced party twice already, so I had a good idea of the difficulty level. Uncoordinated as we were, we wiped or near-wiped a few times, and we had to deal with deaths at the end boss because people didn’t know how to properly dodge the attacks. Overall, I’d rate the experience with a full team of uncoordinated rangers to be pretty much the same level of success (or fail) as a full team of anything-but-rangers. My impression is that the content was completed in about the same time, with about as many downed/deaths, whether we played with rangers or not.
Pets died regularly, but that didn’t seem to really bother our progress. A pet swap is 20sec refresh, and a dead pet is a 60sec refresh. So even if you let your pet die, you can get a new pet a minute after. During that time you can still do ranged damage (or whatever weapon you prefer). You can still dodge and avoid damage. And you still have other players and other pets to take the heat for you. Some of use switched to bears after the first few fights, I am not sure if that was useful.
There were not that many times where I was running for my life. Our foes aggro’ed fairly well on the pets, but not perfectly so. Even with lots of pets, I was not guaranteed safety from aggro. This honestly reminds me of every dungeon I’ve played, where the frontline sometimes has to break away from melee range so they can heal themselves, or when they are downed, or when foes simply ignore them and go for the more fragile midline/backline instead.
Killing stuff was not a problem especially once we started calling out targets. It was difficult to see what the main target was at times, because with arrows flying everywhere and pets being all over the place, it was hard to tell where all that was going towards. Having a melee frontline can make it easier to pick the same target. Calling out targets is highly recommended. But then again, if you don’t call targets as a team, you should, regardless of party composition.
Admittedly, this was a dirty experiment.
We had only one experimental trial, two control trials, and none of which was properly measured or controlled. So I’ll go ahead and present this instead of proper science because I’m the one writing the article and I can do whatever I want.
If rangers are underpowered, I didn’t see it. Going from no rangers to all rangers made no real difference in how fast or how well we blasted through this content. I mean, maybe we were a bit slower, I don’t know… I didn’t see it. So if rangers are underpowered, the difference is so small that it’s hard to notice even in an all-ranger team.
So what it looks like, to me, is that people just assume that because pets die, rangers are underpowered. And such preconceptions easily build momentum in populations. Some people take this as dogma, and stop inviting rangers. Then some people assume that because rangers are being turned down, it must be because they are bad. Except, there is no measure of performance that influence any of this. There was an untested theory, some prejudice, that’s about it. Rangers can easily have been discriminated against for no other reason than they have a pet.
One could just as easily have chosen to discriminate against stealth-users, clone-users, adrenaline-users, element-swap-users, or kit-users. It’s easy to imagine a bad argument gaining ground for any of these things, even if there is no hint of performance difference. I could say for example that mesmers are bad in dungeons because there is lots of AoE there, so clones die too fast. Except, having done a lot of dungeons with my mesmer, and from what I hear, the argument doesn’t work out in practice. Or I could say that necros are bad in dungeons because of a hard cap on conditions, except, I’ve also heard that necros are OP when using condition builds. So really, I keep hearing arguments like that, often conflicting, rarely supported by evidence.
If I am correct, then rangers are a bit overpowered when the pet is alive, and a bit underpowered when the pet is dead, so it evens out on average. Just like any other profession is a bit overpowered when using some skills, and a bit underpowered when those skills are on recharge. Minion-mancer are better with their minions alive. Mesmers are better when they have clones and phantasms up. Warriors are stronger with adrenaline charged and ready to use. Signets are better when they are not on recharge. Elites are strong when used, bad when on recharge. And so on. Now we can add pets to that long list of things that make a profession or build sometimes better, sometimes worse, but overall not really any different from other professions.
We didn’t test in other dungeons or content types. It could well be that rangers are bad in Fractals. Or, it could well be that the same stereotype and prejudice afflicts them there. Until I see some real evidence that they are underpowered, I’m not buying the argument.