This past weekend, Arc System Works ran its first open beta for Guilty Gear Strive. Along with giving the general public the first sampling of this revamped fighter, it was a proof of concept for the company’s official implementation of rollback netcode into its latest title. For years now, Arc System Works has been hesitant to shift away from the traditional method of delay-based connectivity, but Strive shows just how crucial that change is.
Before I even get into a discussion on what the game feels like, I want to highlight just how fundamentally enjoyable the online mode was. For the first time in at least a decade, I didn’t experience even the slightest bit of lag in my matches. That’s not to say connectivity issues won’t happen but I only encountered those before matches. During play, even something like six frames of additional delay felt smooth. Strive just works, which is brilliant.
The lobby system is where the real issue of online comes into play. I wasn’t aware that the beta even had a PS5 version, so I cannot attest to reports of long load times or stuttering in the lobby (which I assume were happening on PS4). For me on the next-generation build, the longest I had to wait was maybe 30 seconds before the game automatically disconnected me from a specific opponent. Everything else from requesting a fight to loading into a match was fairly seamless.
That’s not to say everything is perfect here. It’s kind of awkward how you have to physically walk around a 2D space to interact with opponents, who can sometimes stack on top of each other. You also run into issues where despite requesting a match, the lobby will give it to another player that may have done it at the same time. Then there are the public match lobbies which seemingly don’t function at all. I couldn’t get a single match to launch in there likely because the people playing had awful connections.
Once a match gets going, you barely feel anything close to lag.
There’s certainly work to be done here and I almost wish Strive went with something more traditional. Rollback is 100% the method fighting games need to embrace going forward, but there’s nothing wrong with a simple list of names and rooms that you can connect to. I appreciate trying to make online play more of a game unto itself, but less is more as they say.
That said, Guilty Gear Strive is anything but traditional. While the characters included in the beta physically look like their past incarnations and even have most of the same moves, there’s a fundamentally different feeling here. I was skeptical when the producers stated that Strive would be something like a reboot, but that has wound up being true. Despite history with XX Reloaded, I was lost at first.
The largest change is that Strive does not have those famous one-hit KOs anymore (or if it does, I did not find them). Arc System Works has also moved away from the auto-combo system it implemented in Dragon Ball FighterZ and Granblue Fantasy Versus. This sort of feels like a “back-to-basics” title in that you need to rely on spacing and footsies to open up your opponent for combos. If you just spam specials and randomly throw out supers, expect to get punished harshly.
Fans of the series were out in full force and I was getting stomped for a bit sticking with Sol Badguy. He was usually my go-to character in the past, but the style of Strive necessitated that I change things up. After taking some licks, I switched to Ky Kiske and started to fight back. His propensity for aerial projectiles and target combos let me play some mind games instead of having to rush down the opposition. I’m not saying I suddenly became a god, but I was able to pull off multiple wins thanks to Ky.
What makes this such a break from tradition is that Guilty Gear has never truly played like a traditional fighting game. At its core, the series was always flashier and faster-paced than the competition. You could make a comparison to something like Marvel Vs. Capcom, though obviously without the tag mechanics or air combos. It’s hard to pin down, but Strive resembles something closer to Street Fighter than the series ever has before.
I don’t think that is a bad thing at all. It could also be a change that began with Xrd, but I never took the chance to play that. With crappy online play being the bane of fighting games for the entirety of the PS4 generation, I would typically dump fighters rather quickly since I was aggravated at connectivity issues. I didn’t give many a chance since it just wasn’t worth wasting the time practicing only to get stomped by someone’s lousy modem.
With Guilty Gear Strive, however, I’m excited as all hell. Testing across both wired and wireless setups, I honestly couldn’t tell the difference. Once a match gets going, you barely feel anything close to lag. It would be nice to include some feature to see if your opponent is on wireless or what their connection quality is like -which will be in the final game, mind you-, but maybe that isn’t even necessary. I bet most people were on some kind of WiFi this weekend and no one was able to discern it.
Once the game is out in the wild and a wider audience is playing, there is bound to be a few matches that are simply unplayable. Not even the best netcode can stand up against a person with outdated equipment and slow speeds. Still, Guilty Gear Strive has proven that rollback netcode is the future when it comes to fighting games. The consensus is still out on the mechanics, but at least you’ll be able to play them online with consistency.
TechRaptor played Guilty Gear Strive on PS5 using a code provided by the developer. The game is set to launch on April 9, 2021.