Guilty Gear Strive, the highly anticipated anime fighting game from developer Arc System Works, has concluded its second beta test and many Playstation owners have downloaded the beta and tried their hand at the upcoming title. This current build of the game is updated with more characters and features as well as the much-requested “rollback” based netcode. Initially starting on the 18th of this month, players have had multiple days now to formulate opinions on the game and its network functionality.
As the netcode was the primary objective of the test, the most positive opinions of the beta are around the quality of the netplay matches. Guilty Gear Strive is the first major developed fighting game to properly implement rollback based netcode; a type of online matchmaking where the game continues to simulate running and then corrects itself if any inputs are missed from either player by “rolling back” to a previous state in the game. This type of netcode is generally preferred when it comes to fighting games as the standard delay-based netcode found in the majority of other online titles operates by slowing down and delaying the game itself until the proper inputs are received from either party — a situation that is extremely detrimental in a genre based on reaction and proper execution. Delay-based netcode is what leads to the laggy situations that are common in multiple online competitive games over a bad connection. Rollback is often preferred as the netcode of choice for fighting games as plays do not have to alter their timing and unless a connection is particularly subpar, any sort of input corrections done by the netcode is usually unnoticeable.
The implementation of the netcode has so far received much praise. Players in America have reported being able to play with Japanese players with minor hiccups. Coast-to-coast American connections have been shown to be even smoother. Usually, an online player base will be relegated to certain regions due to connection issues but if the netcode is of this quality in the retail version, Guilty Gear Strive will boast an online scene far larger than a majority of its competition just on the back of its online functionality. Needless to say, however, this is still dependent on having a decent internet connection as poor connections will still inevitably lead to low-quality gameplay and unusual occurrences.
Despite the outstanding netcode, the other aspects of the online experience have been less than stellar. The strange and unwieldy lobby system that was a part of the prior beta test remains along with various issues. The most egregious of these is the inability to rematch other plays immediately after a match. The exclusion of a rematch option is so baffling that it most likely was removed on purpose for the sake of having players experience a wide variety of matches in order to stress test the netcode. Regardless, it seems odd to include the widely disliked lobby system with its garish art style and confusing interface as it was one of the more common complaints from the prior beta test. The netplay lobbies in Arc System Works games do have a tendency to be unique and have some amount of customization but a simple menu-based lobby or one modeled after one of their previous games would certainly have been preferable.
For the uninitiated, the Guilty Gear series has traditionally been known for fast game speed, a varied cast with unique mechanics between characters, and a higher than average skill floor that demanded many hours of practice to hone a player’s execution. The combination of these factors has led to Guilty Gear usually being seen as a game for players who enjoy overcoming its challenging barriers of entry, leading a game where playstyles can be vastly different between two players depending on their experience.
As Guilty Gear Strive has been aiming for a wider audience, much of the difficulty when it comes to the game’s initial learning process has been toned down. This was felt initially during the first beta test as players remarked that the potential for playstyle expression is much lower than in prior titles. While Arc System Works has been attempting to ease new players into their games through simple starter guides on their Youtube channel and the simplification of their game engine, it remains to be seen whether this will entice newcomers into purchasing the title at launch, let alone continue to play it and support the player base in the long run.
During an interview, director Akira Katano stated: “that the solution to getting new players to enjoy matches is not to make the game itself easier, but rather to create a rank system that makes it easy for them to play with others who are around the same skill level.” While the ranking system itself in the beta was well received, as the beta went on players started to find issues that went contrary to Katano’s statement. Players who enjoyed exploring combos discovered that certain combo routes that worked in the previous beta were removed from the latest version. The issue of balance also came up as certain characters seemed to be clearly much more powerful despite their ease of use. Most notable of these is the character Potemkin whose giant normals can control large amounts of space and his Potemkin Buster throw leads to staggering damage. Perhaps the idea was to give players fewer options so newer players would need to recall less information to do well but it remains to be seen whether this will be beneficial to the game’s longevity once the metagame has been explored.
Nevertheless, it does seem as if the honeymoon phase has left a mostly positive impact on the people who have tried it. At the very least the beta has shown that rollback netcode can be viably implemented in modern fighting games. Just the idea of a new Guilty Gear title that could be played with people worldwide is a powerful selling point. Whether a newcomer or returning veteran, Guilty Gear Strive will be a fighting game fixture for some time.
Guilty Gear Strive will be releasing on April 9th, 2021 for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC.