This blog post is a continuation from EU Fan Day Part 2 – PvP, Dinner and Beaches.
Tuesday morning I met with Paeroka, Dutch, Tilion and Kronos for breakfast before heading back to the venue for a few more hours of game play. We were given a choice of taking on the Ascalonian Catacombs dungeon or doing more exploration; nearly everyone in the room jumped at the chance of facing up to the dungeon that we’d seen the press struggle with.
We had to roll charr to get bumped up to the minimum level 30 requirement for the dungeon so I quickly made myself another elementalist, figuring I felt more comfortable and competent with that profession than any other. I didn’t fiddle around with the creation screen very much. This wasn’t the time to make the prettiest kitty in the world as she was likely to spend a lot of her time on fire. I hit the “skip to end” button on character creation and moved on.
A quick word about starter zones in Guild Wars 2. I’ve had the pleasure to play all 3 of the available starter areas and while the human area felt familiar, the charr area was loaded with nostalgia and the norn area felt like new beginnings. Having recently been playing Rift and Aion where the starter areas for either faction feel like skins of each other (ie swap murky area for sparkly one, or tech infested town for a ruin of one), its nice to see the opening blows of a race feeling so different. That is not to say all the starter areas for Guild Wars 2 are unique. They are not. They roughly follow the same formula of “get directions to boss guy, do x, wait at y point until previous group has passed, then fight big boss z”. Frankly, I’ll allow the first 5 minutes of my character’s 120 hour journey to level 80 to have some repetition across all professions of the same race. However, that doesn’t mean that all the areas are identical, especially when it comes to the charr. As part of your character’s setup you choose who in your warband you were closest to, and you see those npcs in the tutorial area helping to fight back the ghosts. I thought it was a nice touch.
So with Barradin beaten back, I warped to the unlocked waypoint next to the dungeons and spoke to an npc who bumped me up to level 30, gave me a load of weapons, new armor, skill points and a book to unlock the first tier of traits. Elites were the most expensive to unlock so I had a look through my options and thought that the racial elite Artillery Barrage would be best for a dollop of aoe damage and control in one. I also picked up Conjure Frost, thinking the skills on the conjured Frost Bow would likely be control or support oriented (it was a little disappointing not to see what skills that would give), Mist Form in case I started getting hit on a lot and Arcane Power to boost my damage output. I picked out the staff as I knew how those skills worked and then sorted out my traits. I can’t honestly remember exactly what I slotted, but I do remember dropping 10 into fire.
After a bit of confusion with teams and working out how to all get in the same instance of the dungeon, I ended up grouped up with Tilion from Dragon Season, Yalu from Guild Wars 2 Journal, 4thVariety from Wartower and Ligia from Mediavida to take on story mode. We didn’t consider which professions we were putting together, or actually how our skills synergised. We just grabbed 5 and went. I won’t spoil the story other than to say that if you have read both books and played Guild Wars 1 it will resonate more strongly with you than someone who has not. However, enough of the background is shared in the cinematics that if you have not you will still understand exactly what has happened and why you are there. The dungeon itself is like no dungeon I have played before in an MMO. The closest I think is either some of Age of Conan or that 3 hours I spend in Dungeons and Dragons before running out of the F2P stuff. There are deadly traps. Enemies come looking for you and there are dynamic events inside the dungeon. You have to think smart and fast to survive, all while fighting mobs that pose a very genuine threat to your group and you have to work together to progress.
The Frost Bow came in handy, not only because it creates another copy of itself that someone else could use, but because the 5th skill freezes foes in place for a few seconds. Using that at the right time saved people, as did throwing up the odd Geyser and Healing Rain. During combat I was constantly trying to balance damage, control and support depending on the health of my teammates and what we were fighting. It turned out that we’d made a group of 1 guardian and 4 elementalists which worked quite well but did not save us from getting downed and completely wiping once (those who say “just take elementalists and you’ll breeze through” are plain wrong). Any comparisons I give to content in Guild Wars 1 will be skewed by people’s experiences of farming builds, but if I had to I’d put it on a par with doing the Underworld or Slaver’s Exile on hard mode with a balanced team and no consumables. It is solid concentration the entire way. Again using the terrain came in handy and especially with the very final boss fight, hiding behind pillars was needed to stop your character taking a dirt nap. We did it though and fairly quickly compared to other groups who had started long before we had and finished a little after.
Gluttons for punishment, we decided to go in for explorable mode, repaired up and went in again. At that point I decided to check the map.
The dungeon is huuuuuge. I knew we’d covered a lot of ground in story mode but really. And when we got to the decision point inside the dungeon and saw marked on the map that we were going to an area that we hadn’t been to before… I think it is safe to say that there is a lot to be done in a single dungeon.
If story mode is tough, explorable mode is the thing that teaches story mode how to be tough. Admittedly we were attempting it at level 30, when I’ve heard various people say you should be level 35 for explorable mode so maybe that isn’t surprising. We didn’t even make it past 2 rooms of enemies before my charr was getting decidedly naked. We took it in turns to go out of the dungeon and repair (I had more than enough to foot the bill several times over) and came back for more. Again there were traps, enemies who came looking for trouble and champions who seemed to be made of stone. Having had only 6 hours on the game rather than the 40 or so we should have had by this point really showed. As did sitting on the opposite sides of the room to each other, where we couldn’t easily converse real time. Typing is not going to be a practical solution in dungeons in Guild Wars 2. Get decent headsets if this is your kind of thing.
Eventually, we made it 5 rooms past the decision point before time ran out and we gave up. What had felt like 45 minutes had actually been closer to 3 hours. Time flies when you’re having fun and getting your butt kicked. I felt exhausted.
Overall, I feel very happy about the dungeon we saw, especially because we couldn’t beat it. Story mode will test you while still being possible and explorable mode will be an extra additional layer of pain over that. Dynamic levelling down to 30-35 will make sure this dungeon is relevant all the way to 80. Yes, there may be a complaint about there “only” being 8 dungeons you can tackle multiple ways, but in my opinion there will be more content to enjoy in the game before a player who can sink 20 hours a week into the game has finished seeing every route. There’s so much of Tyria to see that if you only spend your time tackling dungeons, you’re doing it wrong.
Before wrapping up, I managed to get a few minutes to chat with Matthew Moore about life as a QA tester in the games industry which was very interesting to me, but probably very boring to everyone else out there. I also grabbed a few minutes with Stephane and got the answers to a few more questions – the post with the answers to the various other questions I asked will be out in a few hours.
That done, I headed back to the station and swapped a sunny but chilly Brighton for a rainy Suffolk. When can I go back?
Thank you very much to Aidan, Melanie, Matthew, Stephane and everyone else at ArenaNet and NCSoft that made this event happen. It’s great to see a company support the community in this way and I had a great time.