#GW2Fanday – The Dungeon Gel

Guild Wars 2 dungeons were one of the big presentation points during the ArenaNet Community Open House (and the press event the day before). I was very excited about this because the dungeon content would have us working in teams, instead of our open world meanderings. In an MMO without healers, it would be interesting to see how this content was designed. ArenaNet told us at the start to choose whatever profession (class) we wanted without regard to our teammates’ choices. Could we really succeed without even talking to each other about our group makeup?

As we started we saw a cinematic for the story mode, and if this is the benchmark of quality for future dungeon cinematics, we are in for a treat. Elixabeth is right (in her great article on dungeons at Talk Tyria); this has to be embedded.

Dungeons are the 5-man group, instanced content in Guild Wars 2 each with a story mode and an explorable mode. The explorable mode splits into about 3 variations based on which path the party chooses (each player gets a vote). At launch there will be 8 dungeons. Story mode is the easier part made for pick-up groups that will tell the story of the disbanded Destiny’s Edge guild. Explorable mode is basically the hard mode where players return to see the consequences of their actions from story mode.

As ArenaNet’s Jeff Grubb points out, the term “dungeons” is a bit of a misnomer. I saw this firsthand when I watched environmental artist Tirzah Bauer work on the “sylvari dungeon,” which looked like something out of Maguuma Jungle. It’s really just shorthand for instanced content requiring a group and separate from the persistent world. Our dungeon was Ghosts of Ascalon, which I believe will be the first dungeon for players in Guild Wars 2 at around levels in the mid-to-late 30’s.

In our story mode, (you have watched the cinematic, right?) we followed Rytlock in to the catacombs to chase after Eir, who was searching for Magdaer, an ancient fire-sword. Ascalonian ghosts stood in our way including Kind Adelbern himself. Once vanquished, we returned to the dungeon to find that the ghosts had been actually keeping another evil, the gravelings, at bay. The gravelings are a swarm-like lizard enemy, which reminded me of the Behemoth Gravebanes from Guild Wars: Nightfall. The recent ArenaNet blog entry on designing these dungeons says that the gravelings actually feed on the ghosts. This evil is actually hinted at in story mode where a few simple bonus events occur to stop a graveling eruption by collapsing their burrow. Elixabeth and Rubi go in to more detail about the dungeon encounters, and there is a playthrough video as well.

Getting back to my main question, Primal Zed wrote to me asking what did it mean to “act as a team” in Guild Wars 2. He noticed that in many of the press write-ups of their dungeon preview the players wiped a few times, adapted, and finally worked together as a group. It’s very hard to understand that progression since roles are not defined. It’s nebulously called “gelling.”

I played with the video contest winners, and I am pretty sure I was the only one that had played Guild Wars 2 before that day. Being excellent gamers and Guild Wars fans, I saw that they had little trouble adapting. The devs commented that all the fan groups were operating at a much more efficient pace than the press. My party did not discuss anything beforehand, and as the devs suggested we just chose what we wanted to play. For story mode I chose an engineer and I was accompanied by a warrior, thief, elementalist, and ranger. It was a diverse group make-up.

The answer to Primal Zed’s question is actually pretty hard to describe with examples. The five of us rarely communicated. I know my mic was pretty much broken. We just played. With the weapons and utility skills, I think we just kind of each lightly modified our loadout and tactics until we gelled. I don’t know how it happened, but after the first boss, we were simply smashing through story mode.

The elementalist I talked to afterwards said he was playing around with the fire attunement mostly in the beginning, but he ended up playing with water after seeing how aggressive the warrior and thief were playing. If things felt good he would switch to kill the gravelings with fire. Interestingly enough, I switched from engineer rifle (decent damage + crowd control) to flamethrower (short range area of effect (“AoE”) damage + crowd control) because I noticed the gravelings loved to swarm. It was almost as if I unknowingly assumed his role as AoE damager as he shifted to something more supportive. The two melee guys also loved going in to my napalm wall for extra damage against the mobs.

But, it’s small adjustments. In one fight two ghost archers were hammering us so I used my flamethrower skill Backdraft to draw them to us and closer together, and then melee teammates swarmed them on top of my napalm wall. I saw that the drawing tactic worked pretty well against the ranged ghosts. If we had a more ranged group makeup, I would probably not have focused on using Backdraft as much. With everybody skillfully making these small adjustments, by the time we got to the end we were a well-oiled machine that just rocked Adelbern back to the grave.

Explorable mode was different. In story mode, it’s easy enough that everybody is given time and room to make small adjustments in order to succeed. Explorable mode requires a “plan of attack.” The first boss of our chosen path was a giant spider with dozens of smaller spiders. We could not even get to the giant spider before the thousand small bites took us down. The small spiders were also strong enough that it was hard to kill one if targeted by one person so we weren’t even making any progress. After a good 5 or 6 failed runs where we tried to make small adjustments, we finally got together  to rework our utility skills and weapons to maximise AoE damage and survivability. It worked like a charm. We never did figure out how to beat the next phase, where we had to defend our NPC from swarms and swarms of gravelings while attacking the graveling burrows.

I find this gelling effect happens a lot in online first-person shooters. When I play on a public server in Team Fortress 2 (now free by the way), sometimes I will make small adjustments to my class and loadout based on the enemy forces. If the opposition seems particularly tough I might try and get a few of my teammates’ attentions so we can form a plan of attack. There are so many moments of perfection where everybody seemed to be acting in sync without any communication, I can’t even begin to describe them or how it worked. “We just gelled” is the best answer. I believe this is largely what the Guild Wars 2 combat system emulates more than any vanilla MMO.

And, that is a huge reason why I am betting big time that Guild Wars 2 will shake the MMO genre to the core.

–Ravious

35 thoughts on “#GW2Fanday – The Dungeon Gel”

  1. Some interesting bits of information. Concerning the overall difficulty level, from your description I got the impression that for the explorable mode we are talking about something in the same ballpark as Vloxen Excavations HM or Slavers’ Exile HM, with the added twist of a lack of exploitative farming builds, and automatic deleveling to prevent solving the problem through throwing more XP to it.

    Would you be able to give your opinion on this, even a rough estimate? If the difficulty level is as high as that then I expect to see a veritable QQ storm when a large portion of the player base realizes that they are permanently below the required skill level to complete a core part of the game.

    1. Hmm…not sure how to answer this. It was difficult, but it seemed fair. Like for the part we didn’t beat, we just didn’t get our roles down well enough.

      The spider boss required that we all shift to survivability + AoE, but the NPC defend portion required that we each have roles.

      The devs said that one of the few times they beat that portion they had two eles on strike force against the burrows and three defenders guarding the NPC. Except when the eles took down a burrow, they would switch to water, run by the defenders, help them out for a sec, and then switch back to damage to hit more burrows.

      We had a warrior in the group, and the dev said that for this portion, the warrior seriously needed stomp to knock the gravelings away from the NPC.

      The key was that it felt really organic. I didn’t feel like I was having to do a specific dance, and if I misstepped we wiped. It felt like we could adapt a little.

      Bottom line is explorable mode is going to take some effort and serious communication for each group makeup. For instance if two engineers defend with flamethrowers, perhaps the warrior in the group won’t need stomp, because of the knockback the engineers have.

      If people expect to just cookie-cutter through it, I think they are largely missing the point (though I would guess it could be done).

      1. I feel the same way as tmakinen, I think. I love how at least explorable mode actually has, as he said, a “required skill level”. How it is impossible to out-gear or out-level the dungeon etc.
        I can see how a lot of palyers would rage at this. But quite frankly I hope ANet will hold the line, and say that “this is perfectly doable, you just need to adjust your angle of approach.” I just hope they do not pull a Cataclysm Blizzard, where content was hard, but got nerfed after a while anyway. (Just ask our good friend Totalbiscuit)

        1. Agreed on this. I really really hope Anet stands their ground on difficulty levels for dungeons. We’re going to see ALOT of raging going own from players who may refuse to adapt to the new style of gameplay we’re going to have here. It wont simply be enough to drone through a cycle of skills, ingenuity is required to maximize your potential here!

  2. A lot of this event coverage has made me very happy, but I think this piece makes me happiest of all.

    I am still torn on the prospect of guilds though…

    I don’t have very social tendencies, so it’s good that PUGging (alone or with my brother) can get some story mode results.

    However; it’s oh so appealing to be in a guild/network of dungeoneers, to polish up on story mode and do battle with explorables – but that necessitates all of the potential guild headaches e.g. cussing, demands, casual spoilers, vent (I’ve just never enjoyed voice-chat) and other such mood deflaters.

    But then; it’s not like PUGging isn’t fraught with the most same perils, so maybe joining a guild is no more of a stretch – or maybe I just won’t get into structured PvE at all! *gasp*

    Maybe the universe will provide a well-mannered guild of like-minded dungeoneering hermits, just like me. ^_^

    In summary: thanks for writing!

    P.S. Any feedback about the ranger? We’ve heard nought about them and, since it was played by a contest winner or their guest, I won’t hold my breath for any formal feedback materializing.

    1. Thanks! re ranger: not really anything new. Pets are still being balanced, and Regina warned us multiple times that they were not in a good state right then for dungeons. I think for explorable mode our ranger actually switched classes, but to what I can’t remember.

    2. That’s the type of guild I look for(minus vent I like it but I hit guilds its not required) so if I can’t find one I generally end up starting it. I pitch it as a more organized friends list and you first go to for dungeon pick ups

  3. Awesome article man, i played the thief you mentioned if you remember. But as you said, story mode was a piece of CAKE, but explorable mode was much much harder. And we didnt play as the same class, i went from the thief to the guardian and im not that good with the guardian. :D

    1. Nice to hear from you again. Yeah, by the time we hit explorable mode I was gone from pseudo-journalist mode to I Am Gamer-mode. I knew people changed some professions, but the basis of our re-gelling/working together didn’t.

  4. Regarding the small spiders: was there no way for anyone to call targets so you didn’t have a bunch of one-on-one battles going on? I would think some capability for calling targets will be essential for cases where you need focused fire, especially when there is a non-obvious priority target. I know there aren’t any monks to take out first any longer, but I would still expect some foes to need special treatment instead of letting every battle break into individual dogfights.

    1. I think someone mentioned it, so it might or will exist at launch? In this case though there were too many to call through targets.

  5. I love this! I seriously do!
    The fact that these small adjustments are made during team play is something that I’ve always wanted to do in Guild Wars, but never could because of how it was set up. See a mob and realize you’ll need a hex remover or an interrupt to beat them, then you’re out of luck. Here, it’s a lot more simple and easy to do so, and is encouraged without being told out right. This sort of group psychology ArenaNet is presenting is really getting me excited for group play in Guild Wars 2. Thank you Ravious, for getting me even more pumped for this game!

  6. Great article as always Ravious!

    Some followup questions, if I may – and this goes to anyone who played, Ravious or Icelander or whoever else might show up :)

    1: How did you enjoy the cross profession combos? Did they make the combat more dynamic and interesting, or was it just a matter of standing *in* the fire automatically rather than getting out of it?

    2: In the embedded gameplay video the players are somewhat static, spamming their basic skills, and not really switching weapons much. Most comments I’ve seen on the interwebs complain that this looks like any other boring MMO combat.

    I assume this is just an effort to make a nice looking video, but did you folks do much dodging and weapon swapping when you played? Or did it feel unnecessary? E.g. if 5 players are fighting 1 boss, clearly most of the players won’t be required to dodge most of the time, and if your basic bow attack is working, why switch to another weapon?

    3: How did the boon and condition system work in group play? Was it easy to manage stacking conditions and boons, or was it automated enough that you didn’t really need to think about it? How about removing conditions from allies?

    4: An easy one – how long were the fights roughly? Are we talking 30 seconds, a couple minutes, or do you have to beat on these poor guys for some time?

    Apologies if you were planning to cover some of these details in a later article – if so, just ignore me for now. :)

    Congrats to everyone who got to go visit ANet, and thanks for the coverage!

    1. 1. I know implementation is weak right now, but it definitely helped the little we had. I would say at the very least it got us syngerizing much more quickly.

      2. I don’t know how to answer this without writing pages, but I will say it definitely felt more active. The dungeon dev said that the dungeon was a tad easier than it will be at launch because of the fact that most demo players never played GW2 before.

      3. That is one area that is simply going to require more expertise as a player. There were a few times I hit use adrenaline shot because I received a full stack of poison or something, but I actually was not paying much attention to boons/conditions.

      4. Most fights were 3 elite ghosts vs. us 5, so active time was around 1-2 minutes.

      1. I know a lot of the dungeon stuff is very work-in-progress right now – not to mention that many of the players were still learning the game! – but thanks for answering my overly specific questions so quickly. :)

        For me, between the inability to really get specific information (due to the reasons I mention above) and the embedded video’s staged nature, it was easy to draw some negative conclusions. Your answers are very reassuring, however – thanks for that! :)

      2. Is Adrenaline Shot a never-before-heard-of engineer condition removal utility?
        Inquiring minds want to know! *poke, poke*

        1. Sorry man, I have no notes because I figured with the wiki guys being there they’d be info delving. I could be imagining it. It is likely it might have been a necro skill, the signet, instead… because I distinctly remember getting pounded with poison on the spider boss in the explorable mode.

  7. Love the article more or less described how I imagined. Party members gelling together naturally. I imagine when you play with friends the gelling process would probably happen a bit more easily especially with working mic. ;)

    I play a monk in Guild Wars because I am a great lover of supportive/protection type roles. I’d be interested to hear what your views were if you saw the Guardian or used it. I mean how did the guardian feel when placing defensive walls down and switching between support and attack, etc. That kind of thing.

    Sorry if my question is a tad vague or not clear what i’m asking.

    1. All the guardians I heard in play were pretty offensive. I think our water elementalist was the most defensive person with the water bubble skill.

      1. Thanks for replying. Emphasizes how role is partially down to preference. Guess I just have to wait till GW2 to get my hands on the Guardian.

  8. Hmm, what was the line near the end of the video? “I don’t want anyone dying because of your ignorance”? Can’t they just get a rez?

    Again we seem to have the problem of NPC’s being worried about dying, or avenging someone’s death, or whatever, in a world where the PC’s treat death as just the beginning of the learning curve… just one of those little things that always bugs me…

    1. A “defeated” hero is different than a “dead” one. ;) I know it’s about as convincing as LOTRO’s morale (HP), but hey…

  9. I have a question about that group sinergy, you all who went on fanday made examples, and your group was most diversified but they said teams with 4 engineer or 4 elementalists also worked well.
    How about full team of warriors or thiefs. Would that work out as well if no.one in the team wouldn’t want or could not swich to more supportive weapon set and instead all used only warhammers and greatswords. Would a team like that make it or is it necesary to adjust for team.
    Because as far as I know, some people are pretty stubborn about their weapon of choice.

    1. If people don’t see the utility in “using the weapon for the job” then their team will suffer. So yes, you could take a guy or two that has to be in his character and only use a greatsword… but the more you take the less your team is able to respond.

      It is also actually quite fun to switch around weapons since you get all new skills and effects. It’s not like WoW where you get a different proc on the weapon and that’s about it.

      1. Thank you for replying, it was most helpfull.
        Another question; How is warriors adrenalin working out, is it stable stream once you are in combat or depends on auto-attack strikes?

      2. I’m curious to see how willing players will be to change their utility skills and traits around to suit the group. Especially since it seems like a lot of the important group synergy stuff will happen there. For example, Bob the warrior might insist he only ever uses dual maces, but still be willing to swap in stomp to help with the spider event.

        Of course, IIRC many of the warrior’s support skills are in the healing and utility slots, in the shape of shouts and banners. On the other hand, a guardian that insists on only using a great sword would seem to be much more limited in their ability to play the support role.

        I’m afraid the first few months of GW2 will be a very rough time for folks intent on using one type of weapon for the RP or “cool” factor… :(

  10. I might be showing my age here a little but the style of that animation in some short parts of it reminded me of the old “Another World” style.

    I quite like it.

  11. Fun fact: Rytlock Brimstone is voiced by Steven Blum, who provided the voice of the male lead character for the Prophecies and Factions campaigns.

  12. I loved this post, it confirms so much of what I’m hoping for in GW2. finally, more dynamic and cooperative play, pick’up fun and flexibility – rather than sitting around putting group setups together and only ever performing the same role and rotation. ‘whole’ characters, not a fifth or sixth of a whole.

    Thanks for the detailed review!!

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