A few years ago, I would have told you that a flawless online experience for a fighting wasn’t possible, and certainly not for one as fast-paced and technical as Guilty Gear. Netcode tech has improved over the years, especially with increased take-up of a rollback framework rather than delay-based, and most fighting games these days are playable enough online, assuming good conditions—not perfect, but good enough to have a bit of fun as long as you can deal with the occasional latency-driven hiccup.
In last weekend’s beta test for Guilty Gear Strive, the majority of online games I played felt flawless. Barring the occasional player with a poor connection, games with other players from the same region felt like playing offline—not a single dropped combo because of stolen inputs, or mistimed counters because of a rollback stutter, or the teleporting thing you sometimes get when rollback netcode hasn’t been implemented well.
The caveat here is that I was playing with basic, day-one combos and setups that are a more lenient, and therefore more resilient to minor latency disruptions—it’ll be interesting to see how the netcode holds up with more advanced tactics that depend on stricter timing—but it’s still impressive. And under beta conditions, too, where things are necessarily a bit less stable than they should be in the final release.
I even managed to get some decent games going further afield. Playing in Japanese lobbies from New Zealand was hit and miss, but with more hits than misses. Latency becomes a bit more noticeable—expectedly, given the distance—but most games are still playable enough for a bit of fun. The idea of getting even a mediocre experience with players anywhere further than Australia once seemed impossible, but Guilty Gear Strive made it happen. (New Zealand to the USA was a step too far, sadly.)
But there’s a catch. As good as the online play is when you’re in a game, getting to that point was an ordeal. The imperfect conditions of a beta test will be responsible for a lot of this, but connecting with other players in the first place took a long time in almost every case, when I could even connect at all. Strive‘s frankly awful lobby system didn’t help, with the whole process of raising your avatar’s weapon to indicate you’re ready to fight (or finding ready players and challenging them), and the delay at the other end as your lobby characters cheer or weep, adds so much needless extra downtime between every match.
Between that, the pre-match connection issues, and the relative brevity of matches themselves given the high damage output across the board in Guilty Gear Strive, I think I spent more time in the beta between matches than actually fighting. I expect normal online conditions post-launch will iron out some of those things, but I’m not convinced that the design of the lobby itself isn’t also part of the problem.
As for the game itself, Guilty Gear Strive is going to be divisive—it has been since it was first announced, and none of that has changed. In a lot of ways, it’s very different to “traditional” Guilty Gear: the tempo feels slower, there’s more focus on a back-and-forth style of neutral play, limited gatling strings make it much harder to get big combos off small pokes. In some ways, I got a bit of a King of FIghters sort of vive from it—but then, I did mostly play Giovanna, who feels quite KOF-inspired in her design anyway.
But you can also see elements of classic Guilty Gear in there, too. I had the good/bad fortune of fighting a few decent Millias during the beta, and she’s still an okizeme queen with a lot of mixups and a lot of bullshit. She’s quite different in the details, with lots of changes to most of her attacks, but the basic idea of using her mobility and tandem tops to mix enemies up, knock them down, and make sure they never get to safely stand up again seems more or less intact.
I think when the game’s actually out and people have more time to really dig into it, we’ll see a lot more of the borderline broken nonsense that makes Guilty Gear as much fun as it is. It’ll still be different, in the way that Guilty Gear Xrd is very different to Guilty Gear XX, but I don’t think it’ll be so far removed that it no longer feels like Guilty Gear at all. Time will tell, I guess, but I think it’s too early for the Guilty Gear faithful to write off Strive completely.
Either way, I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out. Even in a beta test, Guilty Gear Strive had one of the most robust online experiences I’ve seen in a fighting game, and that’ll go a long way to helping it build—and, most importantly, retain—a community. It’s going to be exciting to see what the future of Guilty Gear holds.
Guilty Gear Strive launches April 9 for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and PC. Players who pre-order the Deluxe or Ultimate edition will get early access starting April 6.