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Guilty Gear Strive rollback netcode impressions — Is the online play truly the best fighting games have to offer now?

Yeah, it kinda is

Posted by Dakota 'DarkHorse' Hills • February 23, 2021 at 1:43 p.m. PST • Comments: 31

Many players who gained access to Guilty Gear Strive's early last week said that its online play was among, if not the best they've ever experienced in a fighting game, but how did it hold up once the rest of the world flooded the servers?

Well, Steven 'DreamKing23' Chavez, Nicholas 'MajinTenshinhan' Taylor and I took on countless matches from the West coast, Sweden and Midwest respectively to see Arc System Works' first attempt at rollback netcode in action against all regions. It did not disappoint.

Everyone's experience will vary depending on location, connection type and other factors, but Strive seems to handle all of them consistently well to provide one of the smoothest rides in the FGC — that is when you're actually inside of a match.

ArcSys' unresponsive and weird take on their new lobby system could often bog down the time needed to find a game significantly, but the netcode itself showcased exactly why good rollback is so important to the genre's future.

Those connections that were played against the other side of the planet show great promise. The dream of running international online tournaments might not be here just yet, however.

Let's dive into all of our in-depth impressions of Strive's rollback in the beta now.

DarkHorse's Guilty Gear Strive beta rollback netcode impressions

As some of my colleagues and many online have said for the last week, I think Guilty Gear Strive has the best rollback implementation that I've played in a modern fighting game — and it was a breath of fresh air.

I'll be honest up front though and say that I don't have enough experience to effectively compare to other games like Killer Instinct and Mortal Kombat 11, but my ratio of near-flawless / great games was better than Skullgirls when I used to play years ago on PlayStation 4.

This is the first fighting game in probably years at this point that I've managed to sit down and keep hitting matches over and over and over again because it felt so good to do so.

On Saturday night alone, I think I had about 10 "one more match" experiences in a row, which just doesn't happen when I play Street Fighter 5: Champion Edition, Granblue Fantasy: Versus or Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

Strive's rollback will likely get you closest to the mindset of playing offline again since I never had to worry about connections being bad enough that would make me change how I approach playing.

At least 90 percent of my matches in the North American servers went down without any noticeable visual rollbacks, which felt fantastic, and the majority of games against European and Asian players remained perfectly playable as well.

The ping and rollback frame inclusions were a great choice and learning tool to figure out one's own personal comfort zone in terms of what kind of connection they were getting.

Matches of upwards of 200ms ping remained largely stable and playable for me though going above six rollback frames would make it much more likely to start seeing noticeable rollbacks in the game state.

As far as I'm aware, having like three rollback frames essentially means that you might not see the first three frames of an attack coming out, but has nothing to do with input delay. The higher the number, the higher the chance that you'll start to see more impactful rollbacks.

I had to travel all the way to Japan to find my one unplayable match, which certainly isn't surprising seeing as I'm in Iowa, so I applaud ArcSys on making intercontinental online play viable in a game like Guilty Gear where you have to deal with air dashes and react to other nonsense from Millia, Chipp and Zato-1.

Games against Southeastern Asia and Oceanic players were on the fence enough to make me believe that the time for worldwide online tournament is not here yet, but I'm sure it's going to be something the community experiments with after the game launches.

My hope is this type of rollback implementation can become standard going forward for all fighting games, but we'll see about that. Now, they just need cross-platform play with PC, and Strive could become the gold standard alongside Killer Instinct.

It's probably a pretty telling sign too when most players seem to be bummed that they can't play more until April.

DreamKing's rollback netcode impressions

Strive's netcode during the beta period was very promising. With Arc System Works now implementing rollback netcode into the game, the initial tests we conducted yielded positive results — for the most part.

I ran games with players from various regions, including major tests such as my connection to our very own MajinTenshinhan out in Sweden. Despite me being in California, our games were entirely playable.

We hit a handful of hiccups throughout our matches, with a connection message popping up on the screen for a split second before disappearing. But outside of those handful of delays, the action stayed flowing.

Overall, the experience was consistently strong, with a netcode that comes close to some of the best online experiences we have in modern fighting games. I'd like to see how things hold up come Guilty Gear Strive's launch in April, but if this beta is any indicator, we should be looking at another strong online landscape for fans to jump into and enjoy.

MajinTenshinhan's Guilty Gear Strive beta rollback netcode impressions

My general impressions of the netcode in the Guilty Gear Strive beta is that it's definitely the best netcode I've experienced in any modern fighting game. Personally, I'm never a big fan of online play, but seeing it improved to this degree is always a great sight.

While I defaulted to mostly playing against people close to me, as I tend to do in online fighting games to minimize the potential lag, I did go out of my way to try a few long-distance sets against my colleagues to properly test the netcode.

As I'm based in Stockholm, I generally tend to have good connections against most players across Europe depending on the game and of course their connection as well, but against Americans it's rarely a very good time.

DarkHorse lives in Iowa and DreamKing lives in California, so the distance against both of them was quite large. I would say that both of them definitely felt playable, though they were still obviously online. I was very positively surprised, though, to have connections against people so far away feel smooth enough where it wasn't that big of a bother to play.

While I kept my own long-range matches fairly limited, I also watched a lot of friends play and discussed with them their experience, and I even had fellow Swedes say that they managed to have playable connections against Japanese players on occasion, though I can't personally vouch for that statement.

When playing against DreamKing in California, I definitely noticed some stutters now and again, but I'd still call it relatively playable even if it wasn't pristine. It was definitely fantastic given the massive distance between us.

DarkHorse, who is also quite far away, had a much more stable one against me, though there were instances of me trying to hit-confirm but the game rolling back to block after I pressed my button.

These instances are of course unavoidable at great distances, and it happened very rarely. Overall it felt like combos worked fine (though the ones I used were quite lenient timing-wise) and I could react generally well to what was happening on the screen, which is high praise for cross-continental gameplay.

One big issue that occurred for me even when playing against local players who live no more than 15 minutes from me was the game freezing and trying to re-establish the connection. Although this was quite a frequent occurrence during the early days of the beta, it seemed to be much more rare after the emergency maintenance period that rendered the servers offline for several hours.

I'd imagine this was more of a beta issue than an issue we'll see in the final game, but I'd be remiss to not mention it, especially since it happened even against players living in such close proximity to me. I really don't think we'll see anything like this in the final product, at least not often, since ironing out these types of problems is usually what beta tests are done for.

Since the beta didn't have a Wi-Fi filter available I never got to see, at least to my knowledge, how Wi-Fi connections held up in the game, though in my experience they're always better to avoid if possible.

Even if they can have good bandwidth, the instability can lead to some real problems during matches. I never experienced anything like that which didn't seem to be on the server side, so I'd guess I never fought any Wi-Fi warriors.

Given that the ping is always listed at the top of the screen, it was easy to get a general gauge for which connections felt okay to play and which didn't, and find your own sweetspot where you felt the game was still enjoyable.

I'd say that for myself I could still have decently fun with the game around 180ms without any major issues, which opens up a much larger pool of opponents than I'd have in most fighting games.

Bad connections never really happened that much to me, though I was as always picky with my opponents. If you're interested in trying out Guilty Gear Strive because of its netcode, I'd definitely recommend it.

The fact that it consistently shows your ping against said opponent makes it very easy to weed out who you're okay to play against and who you aren't, so it's easy to adapt your pick of opponents to your own standard.

Note: All impressions were made using the open beta version of the game. Results in the full release of Guilty Gear Strive may differ.

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