Episode 49: PVP Map Layouts and Knowledge Breakdown

Let's talk about how you can acquire exceptional map knowledge and understanding the easy way!

A Beginner's Guide to Getting Good, Part 4

Understanding Arena Layouts and Acquiring Map Knowledge

Originally shared on Reddit. By Mercules904

I want to clarify that these are simply the personal definitions and checklists I use for myself, and by no means should be considered the only way to detail maps or define things like Entrance or Choke Point. I'm 100% certain some people will believe certain maps fall into different categories or will have definitions different than my own, but these terms are laid out how I have used them up to this point. Thanks for reading!

Also, credit for the maps goes to /u/OrionTheTitan and /u/syr13pittbull15.

Arena Layouts

First things first: If you want to understand how to excel in PvP, you have to understand the maps themselves. In Destiny, there are two major layouts that Crucible maps use, as well as several other one-off variants. I'll be discussing the two main ones here, and at least showing examples of a few others. Keep in mind that understanding layouts is only the baseline of our map knowledge, but like any foundation is exceptionally important.

  1. Circular Maps - Examples include CauldronTimekeeper, Icarus, Skyline (to an extent, it's a semi-circle), and Floating Gardens

    • Characteristics - Defined by concentric circles with spokes connecting them. Imagine the center circle is the hub of a wheel, then the middle circle is the rim, and the outer circle the tire. The spokes go between the circles allowing for movement into the center of the map and back out again.
    • Battle Types - The center circle (hub) is usually chaotic chose range battles (think of B on Cauldron or Floating Gardens in Control), while engagements on the outside rings are generally mid-range, looking either into the hub through a spoke or around the outer circles. In some instances there will be longer sight-lines on the far outside circles (top B to Alpha and Bravo spawn on Floating Gardens is a good example), but generally the curvature of the map prevents exceptionally long-distance engagements.
    • Engagement Flow - Players on the outside tend to rotate around the center hub, with battles flowing through the quadrants created by the spokes, as opposed to remaining in one place and holding down a front line.

      Think of a minute hand moving around a clock, except it can go back and forth, not only in one direction. The outside battles are usually in order to find a good point from which to push into center and evict the current occupants, who then take the outside lanes and begin the process again.

      Support players will want to remain outside of the center hub in order to prevent opponents finding a good push-lane, while aggressive players will engage in the center and fight back against attempted pushes. Sometimes an aggressive player can make quick rotations of the outer circles and pick off individuals as the spawn, or hold down a single quadrant and draw the attention of the opposing team to serve as a distraction, but these techniques are difficult to master and recommended only for high skill players. Rumble is an excellent arena to practice on circular maps.
  2. 3-Lane Maps - Examples include Asylum (Diamond, 1 Across)Bannerfall (Rectangular, 3 Across)Black Shield (Square, 3 Across)Pantheon ( Rectangular, 5 Across)Frontier (Rectangular, 5 Across)Rusted Lands (Square, 3 Across), and Burning Shrine (Rectangular, 5 Across)

    • Characteristics - Usually rectangular, square, or diamond shaped. The 3 defining lanes go between the initial spawns, and there can be 1 to 5 intersecting lanes (referred to as Across Lanes).
    • Battle Types - The intersections formed by the Across Lanes and Main Lanes usually mark heavy points of conflict, but engagements in general tend to lean on the longer side when compared to circular map layouts. The intersections of lanes are generally high traffic areas of the map, with either control points, ammo, or initial spawns placed there. Usually one or two of the three main lanes allow for longer sight-lines (think Waterfall Hallway on Pantheon, Water Tower to Truck Lane on Rusted Lands, or Outside Special Lane on Black Shield), with extensive cover being provided on the remaining lane/lanes to cater to more close range playstyles (Low Heavy Lane on Pantheon, A to B Lane on Rusted Lands, or Inside Heavy Lane on Black Shield).
    • Engagement Flow - Engagements on 3-Lane maps are generally defined by the establishment of a front, and then subsequent attack and defense of said front. A front is formed when one or both teams have pushed up to one of the Across Lanes and then stopped or been stopped in further advancement.

      Equally matched teams will generally have a front drawn at the center Across Lane, where the combat will then turn to control of whatever assets are located there, be it a control point, optimal sightlines, or ammo spawns. If one team is better than the other, the front will move slightly past the center Across Lane, and begin to force the losing team into a predictable spawn pattern, known as a spawn trap.

      This is a well known phenomenon on maps with 5 Across Lanes like Frontier and Pantheon, where the frontal line has been pushed to between the center and middle Across Lanes on either side. The front has not been moved far enough forward to cause a spawn flip (or in some cases this is prevented by the gametype, like Rift) so the trapped team is left with no choice but to spawn in a predictable area and then take predictable lanes to meet the front.

      In some gametypes like Control or Clash, if the team advances too far, the spawns will flip, and the front will shift to behind the advanced team. If the team whose spawns just switched reacts quickly enough, they can in turn spawn trap their opponents. This is why you never want to take the third control point when you already have two.

      A front can also be broken when the engagements are not happening on the same Across Lane/Main Lane intersection. This can be caused by a defender on the front being killed and an attacker taking his place to then attack other defenders from the side or rear, or a defender pushing too far forward on their own, allowing enemies to get behind him and/or getting killed.
  3. Other Layouts

    • Figure-8 Maps - An example would be Widow's Court. Functions like a mixture of 3-Lane and Circular. Outside lanes are similar to 3-Lane, but inside lanes are made up of two conjoined circular lanes, that allow for multiple sightlines to cross, instead of just two intersecting lanes. Unlike Circular maps, these circular lanes are generally not open in the center, or, if they are, the center is not a point of interest like a Control point, thus there is little reason to engage directly in said center. Instead, 3 or more shorter lanes intersect to form a section that is subjected to heavy crossfire and is difficult to traverse safely, but provides the fastest means of travel to other important areas of the map.
    • 4-Lane Maps - Examples would be Exodus Blue (Rectangular, 2 Across) and Vertigo (Diamond, 1 Across). These function the exact same way as 3-Lane maps, except they have an additional lane going between the spawns. In Exodus Blue's case, there is no middle Across Lane, simply having an additional middle Main Lane, while Vertigo has the middle Across Lane, and then also has an additional middle Main Lane. Engagement and battle types function the same as 3-Lane maps, being defined by intersections and points of cover.

Map Knowledge

Once you've learned the basic layouts of the maps you're playing on, you need to refine that knowledge. Understanding the design isn't enough, you also need to focus on some of the finer points that will define how a map plays.

  1. Symmetry - Perhaps the most important thing after layout. Is the map symmetrical? If it is, learning the map just got a whole lot easier, since each side is basically a mirror image. If it isn't, you need to find out immediately which side you want to be on, and get there.

    Asymmetrical maps often have one side that is good to defend, and the team that doesn't control is is left struggling to take it the whole game. Examples of this include Shores of Time (defend C), Blind Watch (defend C), and Firebase Delphi (defend A). You don't want to be forced to attack all game, because it makes you predictable.
  2. Areas/Focal Points - Learning the names of the different areas of each map is key to providing both yourself and your teammates with enhanced situational awareness. The easiest way to do this is by looking for focal points, or things that draw your eye in each segment of the map. Designers place them there on purpose so that respawning players can easily figure out their location, but if you don't specifically make note of them and remember them, it may take you ages to catch on.

    Examples of this include capture points, special and heavy ammo spawns, and physical items like Pillar (B on Burning Shrine) Water Tower (Alpha Spawn on Rusted Lands), Cube (B on Pantheon), Waterfall (Top Heavy on Pantheon), Bridge (Rift on Frontier), etc. The sooner you learn focal points, the sooner you'll learn areas, and the sooner your callouts will become useful. Simultaneously, you'll also be better able to understand teammates' callouts, which before may have sounded like gibberish.
  3. Entrances - Put simply, they're ways to get into an area of a map. B on Cauldron, for example, has five of them. Top heavy on Black Shield has three. B on Exodus Blue has three. Entrances are something you need to be aware of when you're making the decision what area to defend. The more entrances there are, the more difficult it is to defend. Any area that has B flag on it will almost inevitably have a lot of entrances, while A and C areas will often be more easily held. Keep in mind that an Entrance is something an opponent can come through, but won't necessarily, which separates it from a Choke Point.
  4. Choke Points - A Choke Point is what an Entrance becomes when an opponent has to go through it. For example, if the game is Clash on Black Shield, and your team is in the lead, should you choose to sit on inside heavy, the doorways, which prior to this were now entrances, have become choke points. The opposing team must go through those doors in order to get to your team because otherwise they will lose the game. Your team, knowing this, can simply guard the doors and pick off opponents coming through them. The determining factor for a choke point or entrance is the knowledge that an opponent must come through it.

    Similarly, if your team holds B and C on Cauldron, the the doorways from inside and outside A to B are now Chokepoints, since your opponents must go through them to in an attempt to capture the point. If you were to lose C, they are no longer Chokepoints, since now your opponent may come through a different Entrance, or may ignore B entirely. On Frontier when playing Rift, the bridge is a chokepoint, since players must pick up the Spark, but that works for both teams. Once a team has acquired the spark, the entrances into a team's base become chokepoints, since the Runner must go through them to score the points.
  5. Pick Ups - Pick ups in Destiny are simplified compared to a game like Halo, since players start with their own power weapons. As such, all you need to worry about are Heavy and Special Ammo, and in Destiny 2 it will only be Power Ammo.

    When looking at the location of Ammo pickups, you need to question whether the ammo is in a safe location, or one that promotes engagement, and be prepared accordingly. For example, the special ammo crates on Pantheon are all in lanes where you can been seen by the enemy quite easily, as are the heavy ammo bricks.

    Each side's special ammo is more safe, however, than the central special ammo in Waterfall Lane. On Floating Gardens, both side's Special and Heavy are relatively safe, backed away by the initial spawns which makes it unlikely you will be attacked when grabbing it.

  6. Cover - Cover is a defining factor in whether or not a lane is appropriate for your weapon choice, and vice versa. Lack of cover means long and mid-range weapons will excel (think low heavy lane on Black Shield), while abundant cover favors close range weapons and aggressive playstyles (most Across/Main lane intersections, Inside Lane on Black Shield, Top Lane on Rusted Lands, etc).

    If you go into a lane with a shotgun and there is no cover, you're very likely to die to a sniper or scout. Likewise, if you take a sniper into a lane with no long sightlines, you probably won't get a shot on the sidearm user pushing you. Pay attention to the amount of cover in given lanes, and adjust your loadout or strategy accordingly.
  7. Verticality - Verticality is similar to cover, in that it's used by design to balance map lanes for different playstyles. High and multiple variations in verticality often caters to sidearms and handcannons, while low variations are better for snipers and non-aerial primary weapons.

If given the option of holding the low ground or high ground, the high ground is almost universally the better option. Remember that it's almost always easier to hit the top of someone's head than the bottom of it, and looking down on opponents can help make their movements more predictable. Cover is less useful when you have the vertical advantage as well, plus you can often extend sightlines by taking high ground.

Examples of this include Water Tank on Rusted Lands, Top Special on Floating Gardens, Top of Cube on Pantheon, and Porch on Bannerfall. Generally, the benefits of a high vertical point are slightly negated by a lack of cover, but smart players will still use it to their advantage, even if only for short periods of time to get the drop on someone.

On Framing

How Maps Frame our Field of Vision, and How to Take Advantage of Frames

By Kyt_Kutcha

  1. What is a Frame?

    • From a design perspective, players have a frame in the form of a screen, and you're trying to provide an interesting vantage point that fits inside that frame where the action might be taking place. So when maps are being built, some of the considerations are: What vantage points does a player have on this area of the map? Do they fit with a player's screen, or field of vision? Does this vantage give players enough information to make decisions about where enemies are, or might be, or is it too complicated or confusing? 

      A stronger map will feature frames that are visually interesting, but not confusing, and which provide players clear information about where they can go and where enemies might be. A good frame fits clearly within the player's field of vision, or screen, and puts the player's decision making (where to look first for enemies, where to go next) at the forefront. Pantheon, discussed above, is an example of a map with great framing.

      A weaker map will feature frames which are larger than the player's field of vision, which are confusing and don't provide clear options for where to look and where to go. These maps leave players feeling like the game is chaotic, and out of their control, like they are being attacked from all directions at once and never know where to look. The big maps often suffer from this, but a smaller example where sections of the map have less defined framing is Timekeeper. The outer area is so open and undefined that it is very hard to know what direction to look, or where the action might be coming from.
  2. Using Frame Knowledge

  • From a player's perspective, the concepts are similar, but with a different aim. Whereas map designers are trying to provide consistent, enjoyable tactical experiences for all players, when you're in the game your aim is to out-think and out-shoot your enemy. Understand how maps use frames to convey information, and how other players use that information is key to benefitting from this.

Let's take Pantheon as an example again. Waterfall Hallway (pictured right) is a great example of a really simple, well-defined frame. You can see that enemies can come from 3-4 different angles, including the other end of the hallway, the bridge/under-bridge on the left, and the stairs/top-heavy on the right. It's also possible, but unlikely, that someone is hiding down behind the platform or in the waterfall.

And it's that assessment of how likely an enemy is to be somewhere that makes frames a useful tool for front-loading your decision making. Once you're familiar with how a map is laid out, where the frames/vantage points are, and where enemies are likely to be at any point in time, you can start making mental checklists for every time you round a corner - where do I look first, second, third. 

So when you round the corner into Waterfall Hallway, for 90% of players, you're going to first check the far end for snipers, then check the bridge area for inbound players, then check the stairs/heavy for anyone hiding up there. You probably don't really check the platform/waterfall, except in relying on your radar to let you know if you've missed someone. When heavy is spawning soon, you might (or might not) switch out the order you check bridge and stairs.

Good players start to do this intuitively at a certain point. If you've been holding down a lane, and an enemy sniper slides into view and immediately maps you in the face, it's because they knew where to look first, and you were right where they expected you to be. And that's how we first begin to use frames, whether consciously or unconsciously. 

But there's another level, beyond that, which great players take advantage of to excel. Once you understand, consciously, how you're using frames and checklists, it will soon occur to you that other good players are doing the same thing from the other end of the frame - they're making mental lists, checking down that list in order and looking for you to be in the most likely place, the second most likely place, and so on. You can use that.

You use that by being where they don't expect, by sliding or jumping around corners instead of coming around at head level, by finding unusual angles, by not peeking the same lane twice in a row, and by choosing to attack or defend from locations that give you a superior angle on a given frame - this ties back into understanding the choke points, verticality, and cover on the map, as discussed above. 

At a certain point, this becomes a game of 4D chess, as you mentally guess where a player will expect you to be, and they counter-guess where you're coming from. This is perhaps the highest level of this type of knowledge, and when it begins to come together in a manner bordering on pure intuition, it becomes part of Flow, which we'll save for another week.

Another week, another Massive Breakdown. Thanks for tuning in, and be sure to find us @destinyMBP on Twitter to share your feedback and comments!