Thursday, May 31, 2012

Humble Indie Bundle V!

Or in other words how to get Bastion, Amnesia, Psychonauts, Limbo, and Sword & Sorcery for $7.50

What's that? Not interested you say? Alone all those games normally would retail for $110. Get on it you gamers you. It's the best deal you can get this side of Christmas.

Did I mention you get all the soundtracks too? And that it's for charity? Why are you still reading this? You should be playing Bastion by now!

NBI Wrapup

It is without question a fact that if it wasn't for the Newbie Blogger Initiative I wouldn't have started this blog. Thanks Syp for carpet bombing the internet to such a degree that even I, who before this month only read one gaming blog, got the blogging bug. And now every weekday for the last 2 weeks I've written something. If you discount work emails and job applications, that's more writing than I've done for the last 2 years. Easily. And that's what I find is really cool. Initially I was afraid that getting into blogging I'd just stumble around with nothing to say about much of anything. As it turns out I actually have a whole lot more to say than I initially thought, and surprisingly some people actually read it.

Thank you mysterious people, you're awesome.

What have I taken away from this month the most? Probably These two posts:

If you remember Nothing Else .... WRITE! -JadedAlt

Hey, Newbie! Stop Writing! -ProfessorBeej

Notice an connection here? All the advice that's meant the most to me has simply been "Get out there and put what you're thinking down into words!" You can do all this planning, and over think every word of your posts, but in the end what really matters is that you're blogging. Sometimes it is prudent to do some research, but generally what people want about your blog is a real person talking about their real experiences. If you glossy it up with too much polish then there isn't any real left for people to enjoy.

And that realness is what I enjoy the most about blogging. It's knowing that what I'm reading is actually coming from someone out there in the world and not a printing press worth of publishers and editors.

If you want a full list of all the bloggers from NBI go check out Syp's wrapup, but I'll warn you there's a whole hell of a lot of new bloggers now so be prepared to do some reading. Some good, interesting, enjoyable, luscious reading.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

PC Review: Origin eon-15s

Here's something a little different for you all.

Recently I've been talking about games all this time, but really I feel that it's important to cover the gear that runs them so let's get right to it.

Note: As of my writing this Origin has released a new model of eon-15s. That being said the difference between the new laptop and my current build is almost nothing. The difference between gtx 580m and gtx 675m is actually nonexistent. In fact the 675m is actually the same board as the 580m just running at a 1-3% higher clock speed. So regardless of the numbers this review still pertains to the newer model eon-15s almost entirely.

About 2 months ago my laptop (alienware) of 4 years decided to fry itself into oblivion. It had been a good computer but was definitely starting to show signs of aging. Add on the fact that it was still ruining DirectX 9 in all reality it probably was time for an upgrade, I just needed the right excuse. I had been doing some research here and there till that point, as I knew that my computer would bite the dust relatively soon, and to my dismay nearly every major computer manufacture was peddling what I'd like to call total crap.

If we're looking at just the PC market everything had outdated videocards, small displays, and puny processors. Sure you could get a 750gb HDD, or some form of a SSD, but for my actual work I'm a product designer, so not only do I need something with a quality, high resolution, screen I also need a processor that can render video files with ease and chug through extremely complex computer models without flinching. Those factors alone almost require an ultra high end gaming computer. The final nail in the coffin to mortal PC's is it has to be portable. I do a fair amount of freelance work, so I need something I can just toss into a backpack and go, which means anything larger than 15" is out of the question.

I would love to get a Mac, and as a designer I feel like sometimes it's my obligation to do so, but in this case the Mac just wasn't going to cut it. Most of the programs I run (Guild Wars 2 :D) can only be run on a Windows OS and I wasn't about to go and shell out an extra $300 above the already premium Mac price to install Windows, so I had to look elsewhere.

The list essentially got broken down to boutique premium laptop companies: Origin, IbuyPower, and Falcon Northwest. IbuyPower didn't have the options I wanted, and while Falcon Northwest was essentially identical to Origin I wasn't about to go and pay an extra $800 for some candy paint. The reasons I went this way can be broken down in a simple list:

15" 1920x1080 screen
Full Keyboard (with number pad!)
USB 3.0
i7-2760QM (2.4GHz)
Nvidia GTX 580m
16GB Ram

Does the laptop work? Hell yes it does! The 1920x1080 screen is spectacular, though I've found that in a 15" size I have to set the default web browser zoom to 125% so I'm not squinting to read the text. This is not a bad problem to have. The first thing I noticed with I booted up the laptop was how spectacularly crisp everything is. It's amazing. And having a gtx 580m running in the background means that you can actually play all your fancy games at this high of a resolution and not have to turn down any of the settings.

Starcraft 2 on Ultra? Check

Borderlands totally maxed? Check

Diablo 3 totally maxed? Check

Guild Wars 2 totally maxed? Check (note: GW2 is currently processor locked, so that's actually more of a sign to how good the i7 processor is, but also means that the speeds in GW2 will only get better over time. awesome!)

Even at these settings I'm still getting 40-60 fps in most cases. Could I get higher FPS if I dropped the settings a little? Yes. But there's a certain satisfaction of running a game with everything maxed out that you just can't pass up. Up until this point I had only ever been ruining Starcraft 2 poorly on Medium, it's like I've been living in a cave for the last 4 years and someone finally turned the lights on. I'm never going back.

On more of a physical side, the chiclet keyboard is super nice. It has great tactility to the typing and definitely responds to even my most feverish Starcraft AMPs. (Did I mention if it wasn't for the fact that I work for a living I would probably be a Masters level Zerg?) I would, however, normally use a standard keyboard for gaming, but sometimes you just don't have that option and this one works out great when that's the case. I only have 2 complaints, firstly is the proximity of the F-keys to 'escape.' Given that it's a 15" laptop the board is pretty crammed together and that proximity can make for some annoying accidental key presses if you're not being careful. Secondly is that some genius who designed this board put the SLEEP function key DIRECTLY BETWEEN MUTE AND VOLUME DOWN. Not paying attention when you want to mute an annoying youtube ad? Computer goes to sleep mode. God that's annoying.

All in all it's a great computer. If you're ok parting with over $2k of your hard earned savings you definitely won't be disappointed. You just have to know that the build time can take in the upwards of a month, so even with rush delivery it will take forever to get to you.

Finally here's some short gameplay videos I put together to give you an idea of how it generally plays. Even with the FPS hit from xfire both games were still running above 40fps. Totally Stoked.


Starcraft 2

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

GW2 The BWE Downtime Game

As many of you have already read this morning ArenaNet announced that the next BWE will be from June 8th-11th and there's some interesting bits in there that should be of interest to you. Particularly all your characters will be kept.

I find this to be great news because after spending 30+ hrs building up a Mesmer over the course of the last BWE and Stress Test I would hate to have to do it all over again. Of course I totally would do it all over again, and probably take the opportunity to explore some different options starting out. Maybe go through the Charr story instead. I really fell in love with their starting area when I was exploring around and just having fun. Their dynamic events have a particular flavor to them that's really fun and unique. You're definitely not going to find little human kids running around commenting on how badass they are when you kill ghosts for them.

With that in mind, I can't wait to see what the Asura and Sylvari zones have to offer. I've been gripped by the Sylvari lore since they were first announced and was planning on making one even before they became even more awesome. I just hope we don't have to wait too long to get a chance to see what they have to offer. And all this waiting has really gotten me thinking what to do in all this GW2 downtime? I'm not going to pony up for Diablo 3 right now because, well frankly I don't have the money, but that's besides the point. I know that once GW2 launches I'm just going to shelve everything else anyway so I don't really think it's a great idea to go and buy a bunch of stuff potentially months before you stop playing it entirely.

So I've been picking up hobbies, like blogging, for example, and I've been watching SC2 streams over at TeamLiquid. As well as chugging through the Brutal campaign in SC2. Sometimes that campaign just feels like you're smashing your head into a brick wall. It's like a test in how much of a masochist you are. Honestly, I don't think it's really worth it, but it's something to keep me entertained in the meantime. I'm also going through and finishing up Playthrough #2 of Borderlands. I've built up a SMG Siren to the point that almost nothing poses much of a threat though, so it's really more to get some kind of FPS kick than anything else. There's a few Achievements I have left to get, but the Underdome is retarded and I don't really feel like spending 16hrs of arena grinding to get 4 more achievements.

Vanilla GuildWars has always had a special interest for me so I log back in there from time to time, but given that I've already gotten 40/50 in my HoM I've almost entirely retired my character to playing dollhouse with all the armor sets I've collected and screwing around in Random Arenas from time to time. And with the gargantuan time commitment I'd have to invest in order to get another 5 HoM points it's one of those things that I'm really not interested in anymore.

What have you been doing in this downtime? Are you still working on finishing up your HoM? Or is there something entirely different that's been keeping your attention? I hear a lot of people have been logging back into old favorites to pass the time.

Monday, May 28, 2012

GW2 Building a Mesmer pt.3

Now that you have a good idea of the history of Mesmers, and how Mesmers fit into GW2. It's time to get more analytic around here and go into the gritty details of traits, and builds, and stats. This will most definitely be the longest post of the ones to date, but I promise if you read through it the information will be well worth your trouble.

(Note: I realize it's probably worth mentioning that until Guild Wars 2 actually releases the trait lines will most likely change, so take this information with a grain of salt. Depending on when you're reading this it may or may not be completely accurate to the current state of the game. Because of this I'm going to try and be as general as I can with the builds and trait suggestions. That way if the trait lines change during the course of later Beta Weekend Events, and the eventual Release sometime in 2012, at least some of this information will still be pertinent.)

Starting out, and leveling

I'm a firm believer that when leveling up in PvE you should always put your first five points into the Chaos trait line. Metaphysical Regeneration is simply spectacular for starting out leveling. The regeneration this gives you means that you can run through larger mobs, and even higher level mobs, without having to worry about your health as much. Furthermore, you have the freedom to be a little more careless with the encounters you engage in. If you take an extra hit that puts your health below 75% the regen can almost completely negate the damage you just took.

After those first five points the rest of your point allocation has a lot to do with how you plan to flush out your character. Keep in mind though that until you get to level 40 you'll be limited to 10 points in any one trait line, so at the earlier levels it can be fun to diversify a little (you're somewhat forced to, actually) and find out what some of the trait lines you hadn't been considering have to offer. Once you unlock the major traits at 10 points you are free to change them whenever you're not in combat. Go ahead, experiment around, use all the major traits and find out which ones work best for you. It doesn't cost you anything. One person may really enjoy the traits that give them bonuses for interrupting foes, but if you find that interrupts are a little challenging for you then maybe it would be a better idea to go for some of the passive abilities. A 30% bonus to your Mind Wrack damage can definitely finish off mobs quickly with a well timed spike.

With all that being said though, here's some basic builds I've put together that should serve as a good starting point for pretty much anyone who wants to give Mesmers a try. I feel that there's enough utility and variety here to cover pretty much everything, but if you've got a great build idea that isn't covered here feel free to let me know. I'm always open for ideas and suggestions.

So without further ado, let's get right to it.

The Melee Mesmer
Primary Stats: Power, Precision
Weapons: Sword + Torch // Greatsword

Many of you have read my previous post about the Melee Mesmer so this may be more of a refresher, but for the sake of completeness I figure it merits including so everything can be together in one place.

Initially I had thought up this as a PvP build. The rational was that the Mesmer has enough survivability and escape options that if you used good tactics it would potentially be possible to stand toe to toe with any class. Furthermore, the ability to use dodge as a method for Illusion generation meant that you could free up some utility slots for escape skills. I still have to do some testing with some of the more specific aspects, especially whether or not the stealth at 25% trait will allow you to survive one of the many "one shot warriors" running around right now or not. The questions is that if a warrior slaps you for a 17k crit, or a serious hundred blades hit, would the stealth override it and negate the damage that goes past 25% of your health? Or would you straight up die? I feel it's worth some looking into, because if you can survive their initial hit then I feel the Mesmer has a distinct chance of taking a warrior on straight up. Though it definitely wouldn't be all that easy and you'd have to be a boss at utilizing Distortion at the right times. It's possible, that in the current meta game a warrior would probably be the hardest 1v1 match up right now (probably for anyone actually).

At any rate, when I thought up this idea I was mainly doing PvE content with my guild I figured I'd branch out a little and see if maybe I could get a Melee idea to work in PvE. And it did. Since most mobs don't have the capacity to one shot you, apart from some bosses, you don't need to slot in as much survivability and can instead focus on increasing your damage output, though having a high vitality and toughness is definitely a good idea. Other things that change in PvE is that you no longer need to focus heavily on traits that drop conditions, or increase mobility since mobs generally don't kite you much. The one issue with this build is that given the prominence of ranged classes right now in GW2 it can be tough getting a hit in before everything dies, which can potentially limit your 'contribution value' for dynamic events. Once ArenaNet fixes Illusionary Leap, and the subsequent swap skill, I don't think that will be as much of an issue though. If it was up to me the range could be increased as well, I feel it's a little short to act as a true gap closer and as it stands right now if I keep running at my target then by the time the Illusion has leapt I'll already be on top of the mob anyway.

Either way I've still been having fun with this build. It definitely gives the Mesmer some good straight up damage potential. It also feels like something you shouldn't be doing, which I really like.

The Condition Mesmer
Primary Stats: Toughness, Vitality
Weapons: Staff // Scepter + Pistol

Without question I was using a build like this for much of my leveling. Back in my WoW days I had fantasies of playing a warlock, but for whatever reason I never stuck with leveling one up much past the 50s. This build definitely feels like it fills that void. It's got some serious survivability (so much so that I could even argue that with some minor tweaking it could be great in PvP) you just have so much toughness. It can, however be rough starting out because it won't be until you get to lvl 60 where your toughness will start to contribute towards your condition damage. But after that point you get some serious damage output. It's pretty stupid actually. Though, even at low levels (~25) I've soloed champion mobs with some effective use of kiting.

Something worth pointing out is that you absolutely have to get Illusionary Elasticity. Remember the primary staff attack is actually a bounce attack, so that extra bounce means more conditions on your foes or an extra might on an ally. Also because of this if you're soloing mobs it's actually a good idea to try and stay just outside of melee range that way the bounce of your staff will bounce off of you as well and really mess some stuff up. You don't really have to worry about getting hit because with all that toughness you've been stacking you're going to have a lot of damage reduction.

As a final note I've got a plan to play around with Decent Into Madness in PvP. On paper it sounds like it could make for a lot of fun. There's enough height in the Battle of Kyhlo that you could easily take fall damage when you initiate on someone. Land on someone's face with a surprise chaos storm and then start wrecking. It might work?

The Healing Mesmer
Primary Stats: Healing, Vitality/Toughness
Weapons: Staff // Scepter + Focus

ArenaNet lied. There are totally healers in GW2 and I feel like there's a lot of merit to the healing Mesmer. If you're running a lot of dungeons, or dynamic events you can help out a ton of people given that there's no upper limit to how many people can currently benefit from the Phantasmal Healing, they just have to be in range.

With the right Phantasm generation skills you could essentially keep regeneration up 100% which is super awesome in fights that have constant DoT pressure such as the Lovers in Ascalon Catacombs. You just have to make sure to take Persisting Images, that way your Phantasms will actually stay alive long enough to help. I also recommend going with ranged Phantasms, they tend to do a much better job of not getting dead.

Then if you want to further go crazy with the healing you can take advantage of mantras, which are super fun by the way, as a way to actually heal your party. It takes a little bit of planning, but since the Mesmers have mantras up the wazoo you can really start going crazy with the healing. And with a mantra for a healing skill combined with being able to trait most mantras to activate twice it can get totally nuts. Heal yourself, heal your party. Interrupt the boss, heal your party. Remove your conditions, heal your party. Kill a mob, heal your party.

Talk about Synergy! I Love It! It's like being a freaking priest. A confusion generating, damage dealing, phantasmal arcane death priest. Totally Boss.


And there you have it. Hopefully by now you'll have some ideas on how to go about playing a Mesmer, or maybe I just confused you even more. Heck there's so many options that honestly I don't even know which way I'll end up going in the end, but that's half the fun. The ability to have so much diversity in one class is simply amazing. And that's what makes GW2 worth playing. Regardless who you are there's guaranteed to be a class that fits your play style.

Have fun out in Tyria my Mesmers! From here on out Madame Valerian will be on Sorrow's Furnace. Don't be a stranger!

Friday, May 25, 2012

GW2 a Mesmer's Role pt.2

Previously I went through a small history on Mesmers and Guild Wars so in part two of this Mesmer bonanza I'm going to look at the new Mesmer and how she fits into GW2 ecosystem.


If you're part of the 13% of the Guild Wars 2 population who's already decided that a Mesmer is the class for you then that's awesome. I'm glad you're here. But maybe you're on the fence and haven't decided? Maybe you previously played a heavy class and are considering changing it up with a caster this time. Maybe you really love casters, but are put off by the complexity of a Mesmer? Worry not weary traveler by the end of this you'll have a better idea of what a Mesmer is and be fully capable of experiencing one of (IMHO) the most rewarding classes in GW2. So hang on to your butts kids because we're going for a ride.

Mesmers, an Introduction

Mesmers are casters and as such they aren't specifically designed to stand on the front lines and deal with their foes directly That being said, they sure do have plenty of ways to evaderedirectinterrupt, and avoid damage. I've even made an argument for their viability in melee before. But in their purest form Mesmers are actually unique form of hybrid support class. I feel that best way to put it is as follows.

The Mesmers' primary role is to prevent their foes from fighting effectively and to increase the effectiveness of their allies.

Though their support methods can be strange at times primarily Mesmers function to distribute boons, spread conditions, interrupt attacks, or trick foes into killing themselves. There's a number of different ways Mesmers can achieve this goal and Illusions are definitely one of my favorite.

These are not the Mesmers you're looking for

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Illusions are amazing. Illusions deal damage, cause conditions, and can buff your allies. They love distracting enemies, and they're more than willing to die in order to save you. Through traits Illusions can be augmented to do any number of awesome things. Some Illusions even tank damage for you. And the best part is you don't have to get your hands dirty to use them.

Say your party is getting annihilated by Ettins? A timed diversion will interrupt their attacks and prevent them from doing anything for another second. Plenty of time to send them to the grave. Or you could change it up and run for the hills while your Illusions act as a distraction to help you escape. OR you could start the fight entirely differently. Summon the Illusions first and then make your party invisible and sneak up on the Ettins. Kill em before they saw it coming! That'll show those pesky Ettins!

The options are endless. I love having options. The problem is, for a new Mesmer, understanding how to make sense of all this madness. There's currently 17 different skills that create Illusions. Many of them are bound to weapons, but plenty of them are utility skills? Mesmers have a TON of utility skills. Heck, you could fill your bar with just Illusions and still have some leftover. So how do you even make sense of all this?

Well here's a good rule of thumb I've developed.

Focus, Focus, Focus

Find a play style you like and focus on it. Despite what your mother always told you. Do put all your eggs in one basket. Don't diversify your portfolio. Specialize on one thing and do it right. If you're ok at everything, you'll be great at nothing. Be great, be amazing, be spectacular! As an example, if you find yourself always rushing headlong into fights then pick skills that work for you. Fit in skills that stun, stealth, interrupt, and daze. Make sure that your foes are attacking you for as little time as possible. That way you can stab them in the face without retaliation. Lovely!

And when in doubt. Turn it into a moa. Everyone loves roast moa for dinner!


Originally I had only planned to make this a two part series, but in my writing, rewriting, and revising, I realized that I had enough different content to merit a third part! Lucky you! So stay tuned, next time I'll be looking at how to maximize your Mesmer and even give you some build suggestions as you level through Tyria.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

GW and Mesmers. A short history pt.1

I've realized that I'm developing a common theme among my posts. It's definitely Guild Wars, and probably Mesmers. I don't want go and say that for sure all I'm going to write about is Mesmers, but given that's what I have the most direct experience with right now, I'm going to make the most of it and work towards developing this trend. So let's get started properly and work through a some lessons on Mesmers for those of you who are new to the Guild Wars universe, or for those of you who have been here a little while and are only just now considering rolling a Mesmer. In this first installment we're going to go back in time and take a brief look at Mesmer background and history and how they pertained to Guild Wars from the start.

First of all: What are Mesmers, exactly?

In as few words as possible the Mesmer is an Arcane Trickster, my single favorite class description of all time. It gets right to the point. They're not Elementalists, or Mages but they are magic users. At the same time they're also deceivers intent on causing confusion and misdirection. They do damage, but not directly. They have plenty of hexes, but usually the hex comes with a caveat. Something like, the hex will only work if your foe performs and actionor doesn'tor whatever. Though their amazing interrupts and energy denial made them a staple in the PvP format. You can, of course, make a Mesmer revolve around doing direct spike damage and that furthered their roles in structured PvP, but even the Mesmer spike relied on your target having energy to deal it's damage. If your target could hide their energy then most of the spike tended to fall short.

Mesmers: Tyria's Neglected Child.

All these factors served to increase the confusion of  "why bring a Mesmer" specifically in a PvE situation it didn't make sense to bring a character who could only deal damage under certain circumstances. Even with all their usefulness the Mesmer tended to be very contextual. Mesmers were a class that was complex by nature and the massive pool ArenaNet had developed with their skill system (1319 total skills to be exact, of which a player could use any 8 from 2 different professions. Giving them anywhere from 222 to 281 skills to pick from at any given them) only worked to compound this complexity. Furthermore there wasn't typically something that a Mesmer could do that another class couldn't also do. After all, with the secondary class system anyone could take a Mesmer skill if they wanted. And in PvE, when the goal is to kill mobs as quickly as possible, people usually just went for the damage. It just made more sense.

You tank the mob, you heal the tank, you kill the mob.

A Mesmer was a big question mark in that equation. On their own, were too niche to handily fit into the standard Holy Trinity template. They were great for soloing, and specific builds, but general PvE didn't have a place to fit them in. Mesmers were almost too specific of a class.

If you're interested in some deeper reading on the Mesmer's lack of a role in PvE I suggest this post, it's quite lengthy but it goes into great detail on the issue.

Introducing ... Hard Mode.

Turn the clocks forward to the Hard Mode update. The days of Normal Mode and mass nuking were over. Previously all that the party needed was tanking, healing, and damage. They could clump up the mobs and decimate them all in one swoop. Elementalists were great at that. The introduction of Hard Mode improved monster AI dramatically, and increased their health and damage. Packs of mobs no longer stayed clumped up under meteor storms. They would scatter and avoid damage. Nuking, in the old sense, was no now impossible.

The group now needed a way to control the mobs as well, mitigate damage, reduce their healing, and shut them down. So much so that if you're going to run any Hard Mode PvE content today you'll always want to consider including Mesmers. It turns out that the way most Mesmer abilities worked made them perfectly suited to exploit Hard Mode and the mobs' increased attack speed and altered AI. Since Mesmers had always done damage best whenever mobs performed actions, now that they were performing actions 33% faster it meant that the mobs were actually now killing themselves 33% faster as well. It became a perfect situation for Mesmers to flourish. Then take into account Mesmer's amazing interrupts, they became crucial to killing any mob that had a lot of healing potential. The Mesmer could shut down the healer and the rest of the group could do their job and finish off the pack.

That's where it turns out the Mesmer fit in after all, by controlling how and when their foes perform actions. When you can't act, you can't fight, and when you can't fight, you die.


I hope you enjoyed this short lesson on Mesmers. In the next part I'll be looking at the new Mesmer and how she fits into the Guild Wars 2 universe.

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.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Portal 2 Lessons in Perpetual Testing

A few weeks ago Valve announced the Portal 2 Perpetual Testing Initiative and ever since the Initiative launched I've been neck deep in figuring out new and unique ways to kill my friends. That is, of course, what Portal 2 is all about. I actually now realize how Wheatley feels (spoilers?) as I build my very own test chambers and then send my friends to their certain peril while I look on and chuckle manically at their deaths or praise them for their successes.

The trick to building test chambers can sometimes get lost in the journey. It's all about simplicity. I've found that some of my chambers, while clever, unique, and challenging, are much too complex for people to grasp. A problem that one wouldn't often think about while building the chamber. The solution always seems obvious to the one who designed it. The challenge is making it complex enough that the solution isn't obvious at first but becomes clearer as the subject learns your chamber. You're aiming to reward your test subjects with the 'Ah! HA!' moments. When suddenly everything clicks together and they just get it. Sometimes death is a very good method of encouragement. I really like it, but as my friends have told me my chambers are vicious and unforgiving, so maybe I enjoy killing them a little too much. I also like to force subjects into uncomfortable situations. The feeling of knowing that there's turrets aiming at you and no way to get at them can make for some interestingly tense moments.

So if you're interested in a challenge, and are more than comfortable getting stranded, gunned down by turrets, and flung into deadly goo by all means check out the Foundry. I built it, so you know it's going to be tough. 

Here's a teaser I put together so you can get an idea of what you'll be getting yourself into.

Monday, May 21, 2012

GW2 Rumor to start your week

File this under 'unsubstantiated rumors' but I figure I'd bring it to your attention all the same.

Usually the first thing I do when I get up is check Google reader and get up to date on what's rumor milling around the internet and surprisingly the things have been relatively quiet these days. That was until I loaded up the GW2 beta client and it started downloading something.

See for yourself.

Noted, the download was pretty small. Somewhere in the realm of 35-40mb. And the content text from last week's Stress Test hadn't changed, but could this be a sign of an upcoming Beta Weekend Event? Possibly. We do know that during the first BWE the beta clients from earlier were updating as much as 2 days before the client was released to the public and we also know that ArenaNet has stated that they're aiming to have a BWE once a month. While last Monday's stress test was fun and all it wasn't a BWE, and factor in that there's only one weekend left in May, so if ArenaNet want's to keep up to their word it reasons to believe there's a good chance of a BWE this coming weekend.

Though, as I'd mentioned at the start, this is all just unsubstantiated guessing.

In the meantime you should go check out GW2Guru. There's an awesome post showing all the armor sets we know of. It's great eye candy.

UPDATE: There was a post on the GW2 Facebook a little bit ago regarding BWE and their frequency. I think this part gets to the point:

"We're going to adhere to a monthly schedule as much as feedback and development allow, so it may be a little more or a little less each time, depending on how things progress. For now, we will have more information on upcoming Beta Weekend Events and stress tests as soon as we're able, and we thank each of you for being an important part of the creation of Guild Wars 2. ~RB2"

So while it's possible that there might be a BWE this coming weekend, I'm definitely not going to get my hopes up.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

RNG Achievements. A rant

Achievements for me are a love hate thing. I love them because it's a fun way to know how much of a game I've finished. I hate them because it's a terrible way to remind me how much of a game I haven't finished. Thanks Xbox for eternally changing (ruining?) the way people play games.

Why do I bring this up? And what's the significance of RNGs here? Well it's taken me quite some time to get around to it, but I've finally queued up Borderlands in my wait for my next Guild Wars 2 hit (tip of the hat to Ravious over at Killtenrats for helping me realize I'm a GW2 drug addict), and generally Borderlands is 100% superfun. I grew up on Diablo so dungeon grinding and loot whoring is familiar territory for me. Also I sure do love me some good ol fashioned FPS frag fests. Borderlands delivers on that end, completely. So combined all that together and you've got yourself a recipe for one awesome game, and it is awesome. The killing, murdering, exploding, hilarious vulgar humor, and spectacularly great gun design.

But then they just had to go in and add totally retarded achievements. I've probably killed the entire Claptrap population twenty times over and I have yet to get all my goldfish, or panties, or pizza, or oil cans, or .... whatever. Heck I'm certain I've made the Hyperion corporation mine out an entire sector of space to build, and rebuild, all the Claptraps I've blown to bits over my search for stupid robot fish. The worst part is that even after you've collected all your pointless 3D glasses they continue to drop. It's like the Claptraps, even in their death, continue to taunt me, "Look, here's some more 3D glasses! Too bad what you really need is our panties!" The worst part is, naturally, that there's no Achievement tracker. I don't even know, for certain, if I've already collected all the panties I need and since they keep dropping I keep picking them up because maybe with the next one I'll finally ding the achievement over and be done with this torment in RNG robot hell.

Oh yeah, on a final note, I hate you stupid robots in Portal 2. Why can't you be better at rock-paper-scissors. I swear from now on I'm sticking to fantasy titles. It's obvious robots aren't good for my health.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

GW2 The value of 100%

I'm hooked! It's like drug. I just have to do it. After I finished Queensdale there was no turning back. I've become a completionist.

I'm a perfectionist, maybe it's my biggest flaw, so when I get a reminder every time I zone of how much of an area I have left to complete I always have the nagging urge to get that one last heart, or find that final way point. It's a nice reminder though, Guild Wars 2 doesn't force you to do anything if you don't want to and there's no rush either. Completing a zone in 15minutes won't get you any extra rewards and the journey to 100% is where all the fun is anyway. 

For example, I was on my way to get the last heart in Diessa Plateau and ran across this guy laying waste to the Town of Nageling. There was a number of Charr, Norn, and Humans all working together to fend off the giant and many of them were already dead on the ground by the time I showed up. A dynamic event like this, with it's promises of loot, experience, karma, and gold is just too hard to pass up. How could I not help out? After all, I am the awesome level 33 Mesmer who vanquished the Centaur Horde from Kessex Hills. Lending a hand is my duty.

For my troubles was rewarded with a badass sword. It had +condition damage, great DPS and since I was in dire need of replacing the crap sword I had been running around with for what seemed like an eternity, well I couldn't have been happier.

Did I mention the sword was badass? Just look at the spikes.

The crazy part is that to get 100% in Diessa Plateau the Champion Giant is totally optional, and yet completely necessary. Having a "questing structure" (I don't know if I should even call it that, you never actually accept a quest apart from your personal story) that creates habitual exploration like Guild Wars 2 has done means that by venturing out to complete a zone you feel obliged to help every little villager who's running into an issue. You're a spectacular hero saving the lands from subjugation and ruin, and by doing so getting handsomely rewarded in the process.

Oh and if that wasn't reason enough, once you finally do get that coveted 100% the Tyrian Explorer's Society mails you gold, and loot, and praise. It's all win and I'm loving every obsessive moment of it.

Friday, May 18, 2012

GW2 Mesmers and Melee

I figured I'd preface this post with a little bit of background, over the last few betas for GW2 I've been playing a Mesmer almost exclusively. Sure I've leveled up some other classes (Guardian, Warrior, Engineer...) but the class I've been having the most fun with has definitely been the Mesmer, which honestly surprised me a lot. Back in the original Guild Wars days I went full tilt with a warrior (40/50 Hall of Monuments and all that jazz) and definitely enjoyed every minute of it. I had tried plenty of other classes, but the warrior was one that I always kept coming back to. So going into GW2 I was almost convinced that for sure I'd end up going with a warrior or guardian. I just like heavy classes, even in WoW I had warrior a deathknight mains. There's just something about plate mail that gets me excited, maybe it's the shoulder pads. Also I definitely enjoy hitting like a freight train. With that in mind, you can imagine how it would be hard for me to fathom playing a caster, a cloth wearing, squishy, fragile, paper thin caster. And not only that, but a support caster no less. Up until this time my entire gameplay experience has been based around getting up in the thick of battle and carving my way through the horde like Paul Bunyan felling a forest of bodies. I enjoyed the feeling of combat. All this wishy washy magicy stuff just never was my thing.

Boy was I wrong. What I had not considered is that it tuns out I enjoy deception EVEN MORE.

Now, for those of you who haven't quite gotten your feet wet in Guild Wars the Mesmer is what's being referred to as an "Arcane Trickster" and they are amazing. It's a class that revolves around controlling the battle, through either conditions, clever use of invisibility, or the ability to control who has boons and who doesn't. They also have the unique advantage of being able to create Illusions, clones of themselves, which can be used either for straight up damage or can be shredded to confuse, daze, or spike your enemies. The best part of the Illusions is that they're more than willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good, and with the right build they're never in short supply. Of course you're limited to only 3 illusions at a time, so you do have to be clever about how and when you use them, but with the right decision making shredding your illusions for a clutch daze can change the tide of battle in a millisecond. It's a highly complex class, so maybe the Mesmer isn't for everyone, but I'm always up for a challenge, and the satisfaction of being able to completely get into the head of your opponents in the way the a Mesmer only can is simply astonishing.

Now that you have some idea about how Mesmers work you might recall that I'd mentioned at the start I'm the most comfortable getting right up in the face of my enemies, and recently everyone and their mother has been complaining about melee in GW2 being underpowered. I figured, this being the beta, I would take that as a of challenge and see if Mesmers could actually hold their own in melee. Noted being a melee caster you can't tank a mob straight up unless you like being gibbed in a second so I wasn't getting my hopes up for some stellar performances, but with the Distortion mechanic you can completely negate the bigger hits mobs can dish out, combine that with the main hand sword abilities like Blurred Frenzy or the torch's ability to make you invisible Mesmers have a surprisingly high level of melee survivablitiy. Furthermore the sword's auto attack applies stacks of vulnerability and removes boons which gives your party a hefty damage boost. So far so good, it would appear that building up a melee Mesmer wasn't completely out of the question and actually complemented some of the other classes quite well.

For weapon and gear suggestions what I was tending to lean towards a sword/sword or sword/torch primary set with either a greatsword or scepter/focus secondary set. The sword/sword main set gives you a good level of damage output and distortion with a block option on the offhand to negate even more damage. Having the torch offhand grants you the aforementioned invisibility escape and a phantasm that stacks retaliation on all the allies in the area which can be useful in the right scenarios. Personally I felt that from a playstyle perspective the sword/torch works much better in the pvp realm than it did in pve given that invisibility isn't the best escape mechanic for pve and having the extra block from the offhand sword makes staying around in melee range much easier. The secondary set really depends on how your trait build is, if you're heavily stacking power and precision then the greatsword is a good option for it's damage output at range. The greatsword also has a good cripple and knockback for those 'oh shit' moments when you absolutely have to get away. On the other hand if you're leaning more towards a truer 'melee support' role then the scepter/focus option shines for its illusion generation and confusion stacking. You can also take advantage of some of the Inspiration, and Illusion traits to get some more utility out of your Illusions than you would normally. Since this build doesn't rely on conditions to do it's damage you are primarily going to want to look for toughness, vitality, power, and precision on your gear to make sure you can stay alive when you're in melee range and still be able to dish out enough damage to merit getting in close.

So for those of you who are looking for a little bit of a challenge, and something quite a bit different, I highly recommend trying out a melee Mesmer. You might be surprised at how much fun you end up having. And definitely keep checking back, in a later post I'm going to break down traits and builds to really get in and show you how to optimize your Mesmer.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

GW2 What is your story?

ArenaNet recently posted an amazing story about the real world inspiration for Ameranth, a Sylvari NPC who's decided to venture every corner of Tyria. They mention that you can find her outside of The Black Citadel, which is definitely true. I stumbled across this particular Sylvari during the beta and was definitely curious why she was standing there on the steps of the Charr fortress. Not only was she completely across the continent, the towering structures of iron and flame were a massive contrast to the Sylvari standing at their steps. The designers have definitely put quite some time into polishing the GW2 world and living up to their claim to create a living and breathing Tyria.

To think that it's entirely possible that there could be any number of other characters in GW2 who have been inspired by such stores is great. We already know that the ArenaNet team is going to great lengths to build community for GW2, and given that they've said that they will be making sure to add post-launch content there's no question that any other stories or events worthy of praise could get included into the game with ease. They even go on to add that anyone could go out and have a similarly epic real life quest. You don't have to be superman, you just need to get up and walk out the door. ArenaNet keeps asking in GW2 "What is your story?" maybe now is the time to find out. After all, you could be next to be immortalized into Tyria, forever standing as a hero against the Elder Dragons.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Server Psychosis

The internet is going crazy. They can't get their fix of digitized mayhem, gore, loot and gold. If you know what the significance of the number 37 is then you're right in the middle of it. The Lord of Terror is causing devastation and death and there's nothing you can do to stop it. Barred on the other side of the wall, helpless, hopeless and filled with desperation.

It is happening now, it has happened before, and it will surely to happen again.

We've all been there in the past, when the servers crashed. Feverishly smashing 'log in' and hoping that the servers had fixed themselves in the 5 seconds since the last time and instead, without realizing, guaranteeing that our focused DDoS attacks would keep Blizzard down even longer. Kotaku summed it up nicely earlier today, and the gravity of the situation persists. This is, as it stands, not just a problem with how Blizzard has decided to structure their servers for Diablo III. It's a problem inherent in the online gaming world, and the problem is not going away. There is an extreme demand for online gaming, and the demand is growing, as casual games attract larger and larger markets the entry point into "gaming" has become so accessible to anyone that it's entirely possible your next door neighbor is cursing Error 37 right along with you.

Page Questing

I feel like I'm on a quest, but all the objectives are hidden. I have this overall goal, talking about gaming, or MMOs,  or something... Though, there aren't exactly any flagstones that say what to do, so I'm just going to talk about whatever I feel like, and maybe it'll be worth reading (maybe not... either way the content will probably be interesting). Hopefully I can keep this updated with some kind of frequency.

I sure do play enough games, mostly MMOs but I'm also huge into StarCraft, as well as various FPS titles (Portal, TF2, Borderlands, Halo...), so I'll probably have a little bit of a unique gaming perspective given that I pretty much try to play everything I can so long as it's fun. I've spent the most of my time divided between WoW and Guild Wars, but my entire highschool life was deep in StarCraft: Broodwar and Warcraft3 so I have a fairly good grasp of the RTS genera as well, especially on the competitive end.

Recently I'm starting to lean heavily towards Guild Wars 2, so that's definitely going to be a primary focus around here once it goes live. It's an awesome game, definitely go check it out if you haven't already. Though if that's not your fancy don't worry I plan to discuss a lot more than just GW2.

Deckard Cain said it best, "Stay a while and listen."

You might get rewarded.