Wednesday, May 23, 2012

GW2 A look back at Ascalon Catacombs

In case you've been living under a rock for the last couple years it might be worth pointing out that Guild Wars 2 has done a few things to the typical MMO party dynamic (you probably already knew that). But with the recent Beta Weekend Event, and Stress Test we've all finally gotten a first hand look on how these new dynamics actually affect the standard MMO structure, which for some of us couldn't have come soon enough. For the last 5 years I've been on the perpetual Guild Wars merry-go-round in wait for this foretold sequel. I definitely had my ups (finally completing a Vabbian armor set) and downs (solo vanquishing Cantha... definitely never doing that again) so this breath of fresh Tyrian air was a more than welcome change to the constant grind random arenas had to offer.

Fortunately enough for me not only did I have the entire weekend free, I managed to stumble into a beta guild with enough like minded (over zealous level grinders) to be able to test our might against the Ascalon Catacombs early on in the weekend and get an even deeper look at how party dynamics had been completely thrown upside down.

First of all our group consisted of: Necromancer, Necromancer, Mesmer (me), Engineer, Elementalist (I guess you could add Rytlock Brimstone, and Eir Stegalkin as well since they do help you out quite a bit) but the first thing you would probably notice is that we didn't have a tank. Not even remotely. Our heaviest armor was on the Engineer and he's a ranged support class. Also worth pointing out, the engineer, elementalist and I were all slightly under leveled for the Catacombs. It's a level 30 dungeon and we were 26, 27 and 28 respectively, but given that the necromancers were slightly over leveled (32, 33) we figured we'd give it a shot and see if we couldn't send some ghosts to their ultimate end.

And we did. Eventually.

The run started out a little rocky as everyone was trying to figure out their class and how to work as a proper team. The question was even brought up, before the first boss, if we should just abandon ship and try again some other time. We even wiped 3 times on the first staircase. So far things were not going smoothly.

I get the feeling that a lot of initial groups in Guild Wars 2 will run through the same problem. You see GW2 isn't the typical "tank and spank" that we've all gotten so used to, and the mobs often hit hard, like 2-shotting caster classes hard. You can't stand around and watch the pretty lightis. The priest is not going to heal you up, and the tank is not going to magically taunt the aggro off of you. At first glance it would appear that you have the distinct responsibility of looking after yourself, but eventually it becomes more than apparent that the best way to take care of yourself is, in fact, to look after everyone else instead.

And once the whole party realizes that everything just starts working.

This isn't some weird, hippie, everyone heals each other drum circle. It's a unique and dynamic control system where each of the classes uses their strengths in a way to complement the rest of the group. For instance, as a Mesmer, I figured that my strengths were in confusion, interruption, and misdirection. I could best support the party through my ability to stun, cripple, fear, and daze mobs. My primary goal, it turned out, was not to deal direct damage, but instead to prevent and redirect damage and Mirrored Feedback was a spectacular way to do that. Not only could I keep ranged mobs from hitting any of us I could actually redirect their arrows back and turn their attacks into our attacks. Then if they were still alive I could daze and stun them further preventing those pesky ghosts from doing much of anything.

I can't even recall when I came to this epiphany. It may have been lingering in the back of my head the whole time and I just needed the right moment to realize it, but it appeared that the rest of the party came to this realization at around the same time. The fights kept going better and better that by the time we got to Master Ranger Nente he was a total pushover. This dynamic is something distinct to GW2. The fights can be complete chaos, but at the same time there's a distinct and underlying level of control. It's this orchestrated chaos that made the Ascalon Catacombs the most stressful, dramatic, fun, and rewarding dungeon run I've ever had the chance to complete. Everyone in the party, without any instruction or communication, somehow begins to know exactly what they're supposed to be doing. And there's instances (I'm looking at you Lovers) where it feels like nothing goes right and still by what would seem to be some form of divine intervention the fight ends up in success.

We were dropping like flies, slowly chipping away at Vassar's health, getting pounded by Ralena's lightning storms and managing to just barely keep the party afloat by the slimmest of margins. Naturally though, with Vassar at a sliver of life, everyone drops dead. And we think, "Well this might just be the end of it. Good job team but let's throw in the towel." I can only hazzard a guess, it might have been Eir, or her dog, or maybe one of the necromancers managed to run back just in time to keep Vassar in combat, but by some miracle when I had returned to the fight Vassar was still on a sliver of life and dying rapidly. Everyone was alive again (you see you can revive at a waypoint and run back to the fight if you want) and in mere moments Vassar was dead and all that left was to clean up the vaporal body of Ralena. I think during the entire ordeal there was only one line of text written between the whole group.

"Res at the waypoint. Run back."

After that King Adelbern's death was all but written in stone. Our team had come together and even without a true tank there was no spirit in the Ascalon Catacombs that could defeat us.

also, special thanks to Syp over at Bio Break for mentioning my blog in his NBI post today. The Newbie Blogger Initiative is a great system that he's developed and I'm delighted to be able to take part in it.