Another fun week of Guild Wars 2 info dumps is headed our way. On my end I played in a much more relaxed manner than the last press beta weekend. I have many stories to tell, and two larger posts on crafting and the personal story. The focused posts should be out later this week. In the meantime here are a few smaller stories and thoughts.
I enjoyed the higher amount of invited players with a few “worlds” up. There was never a queue, but I was in the Queensdale overflow area for a little bit. I was in the middle of stopping some centaurs from stealing wine with two other players when I was asked if I wanted to get to “real” Queensdale. I was having so much fun I said no. (It puts you back in the queue, and I was asked again in a couple minutes.) I don’t think I noticed a difference between the overflow Queensdale and the “real” one that much. It was really nice to not even really notice that I was queued.
The Invulnerable Swarm of Players
Starting out it sucked. There’s no good way to gild the lily for the first couple of hearts. The crush of population just skews the fantastic ease of grouping by not grouping out of whack. The starting area of Queensdale seemed a lot more active in terms of finding things to do, but the compression of players was the problem. At the Western Divinity Dam heart there is an event where harpies start trying to take over the dam. They are level 5-6 in a level 2-3 area, which makes it more of an elite event than anything (although it was not noted as so). The same thing happened for spiders over in the orchard heart area. It was nice that it took a few more hits to down these mobs, but the mobbing of players felt unlike how Guild Wars 2 plays when in balance (see below).
A small event chain in the orchard leads to a queen spider boss. There were a good 15-20 players that had been constantly feeding in during the lead-up event of just killing normal level 6 or so spiders. The spider queen just turned in to this amorphous mass of players doing… whatever, versus the spider queen in the middle on fire, poison, bleeding, vulnerable, and everything else… doing whatever. No one reacted because the swarm was too strong. If a player went down three players propped the downed player up while the rest of the swarm just kept damaging the queen. For the early areas and events this invulnerable swarm of players felt wrong.
It was great and apparent that the developers had made the amount of activities for knights of this swarm much greater than the previous beta. The iteration on early renown activities and events was definitely felt. It still sucked that it felt like my contribution was nearly meaningless if I attempted to group up. Even as a thief, which requires initiative balancing, it didn’t feel like it mattered what I used. Thankfully the swarm broke apart fairly early (about level 5), but I did see it re-appear at a few events later on in Queensdale.
I would guess that as a human (likely most popular) with only three starting areas, instead of five, it was at its worse. At launch, I would tell readers to make their characters, and be prepared for this. Some people might feel it is fun because it is totally different from that “playing together, alone” feel of most MMOs. It is not what most of the rest of the game is like. This would be a great time to explore the cities (which do give significant experience for exploring) and get some waypoints while the invulnerable swarm makes its way through the countryside.
Going off of the earlier informal poll, I created a human thief who had commoner blood. The thief was an interesting high-wire type class. With initiative instead of cooldowns it is much tricker to use the necessary skill instead of playing cooldown whack-a-mole of the other professions. The thief also has to get in close, which makes it an intricate dance to get hit as few times as possible while hitting as much as the thief can. Thief players are also going to need to learn to dodge roll really quickly as rolling is a more-than necessary part of their skill kit.
One worry I initially had was the overlap between a necromancer and a thief with regard to conditions. It was pretty apparent that while they shared some style, like their love for poison, they used conditions in a different manner. The necromancer’s style is just to pile them on and make the enemy suffer, whereas the the thief uses them as tools. With poison for example, the necromancer seemed to use the condition more as a damage-over-time, whereas the thief seemed to have much longer poison durations with less damage. The thief was using poison to ensure that healing wasn’t going to save the target.
Finding that moment, with the thief is critical. Almost every weapon bar had cripple, but it was a short cripple. I had to watch for when I needed it most. If I wasted the initiative on a mis-applied cripple, it could hurt. If I couldn’t cripple and roll away that extra second or two I missed from having the extra difference could mean a win or lose. If I was using dual daggers on a tough opponent, I couldn’t just use two Leaping Death Blossoms to rain overhead death and 6 bleeds as awesome as that would be. It would be wasting two dodges, and 8 of my 10 initiative. I had to watch for my enemy to wind up then use one Leaping Death Blossom to leap over the enemy’s attack. A thief might not need to have awesome battlefield awareness like a guardian or engineer, but a thief is definitely going to need good situational awareness.
Just about every profession has an area-of-effect (AoE) weapon with the thief’s short bow being my favorite. Instead of laying down AoE circles like a fire elementalist, the main skill for the short bow Trick Shot chains along enemies, and it will return to hit already-hit enemies. Sure, 3 of the other 5 skills are AoE circle fires, but Trick Shot is a beautiful skill to use. It is also a combo finisher (thieves can use their own poison from Choking Gas), which is great for when a thief is teamed up with another AoE nuker.
Sadly I did not use the pistols that much. I loved Unload, but the main skill Vital Shot just felt so weak in comparison to the other skills. I guess I needed to be constantly using Body Shot to make the foe vulnerable. Body Shot followed by an Unload was usually a nice way to blast away a huge chunk of the enemy’s life. That left me with a low amount of initiative and running around with a weak Vital Shot to finish the creature off didn’t feel right.
Finally, let’s talk about the thief’s mechanic Steal. Press F1 to shadow step to an enemy, and the F1 skill is replaced by whatever the thief stole. Usually stealing a good thing, but it is risky. There’s an AoE gunk that is just merciless as it applies random, very strong conditions to the enemies. If I stole that gunk it was a win on the Steal slot machine. Blinding Tuft on the other hand felt like a lose. That Steal skill gives a small point-blank AoE blind (next attack of foe misses). Most of the time though, I wanted to steal and then fire off the skill immediately. A better thief will probably learn to steal and save the item for a necessary moment. As with most F1 skills, I just need more time to learn to keep using it.
Overall the thief is fun. It is about finding that opening. More aggressive players might get frustrated at not being able to go toe-to-toe or glass-jaw barrage assassinate as much as they’d like. Less aggressive player are probably not going to like feeling the risk of putting their life on the line to get in their and do something horrible to the foe. A player that take the time to learn that critical sweet spot is going to be a very dangerous opponent.
Shaman’s Rookery Jumping Puzzle
ArenaNet sent out a list of the “must sees” this weekend, and there were repeats of some thing I saw last time like the Shadow Behemoth or the Demongrub Pits, a jumping puzzle in southeast Queensdale. There were some brand new ones as well, which was nice to see. I feel ArenaNet is definitely in the content making mode.
The one I made sure to see was the Shaman’s Rookery, a jumping puzzle in the middle of the Wayfarer Foothills on the west side (just north of the jotun’s Ossenfold Shear). This was a real challenge. The list said to join a friend, but it was nearing the end of beta so I just went for it, fool that I was. Thankfully a random player showed up and together we bashed our heads time and time again at this puzzle.
The jumping part is rather easy. It is pretty obvious and not difficult to choose a path. There are two tricks to the puzzle. The first part is there are ledges where friendly ravens with evil red AoE circles flash around them when they land. If players walk near this small AoE circle they get knocked back, and usually knocked down off the ledge to the swarm of Shadow Skelk below. It takes some decent timing to run through. It isn’t impossible, just difficult. My mind had to be on the pattern, like any good platform puzzler. On this part alone I would say I got knocked down a good half-dozen times.
The other part are the raven, leopard, wolf, and bear shamans that want to knock players off American Gladiator style. They will assault players on narrow ledges, or double team players on big platforms. The necromancer and I worked together as a team (occasionally) with her minions and my blinds to take down the shamans. I got to the end first, but couldn’t beat the last two shamans on my own. I felt with her minions being sacrificed in the shaman’s faces she seemed to be having an easier time getting
through. The last two shamans were tough, and I was stupid. I figured they were chained mobs (they weren’t) so aggro’d both of them with an AoE. Then I stayed in shortbow (okay strategy), but their damage output was too great. I waited for the necromancer to finally join me as she was having a heck of the time with the small platforms with ravens at the end of the jumping portion.
She and I took the two final shamans down, one at a time, like champs. The gates to a small treasure chest opened up, and I received two decent items for all the time I spent. It definitely was not worth the time and effort in terms of treasure, but the feeling of beating the jumping puzzle was the best reward. I hope we get achievements for these because they are quite challenging.
Clearings in the Forest
The best part of the increased population was the increase in temporary group play. In another MMO, I likened this to wandering through a forest by myself, and then happening upon a clearing with a challenge and another player standing at the opposite edge of the clearing. We take down the challenge, and then head off on our own because this is the forest. It’s meant for mobility, not a
That was the brilliance of this weekend. There are so many stories that won’t ever see the light of video or text where players came together in purpose, and won the day with barely a nod. My favorite was taking down a champion ettin on the western edge of Queensdale to get a skill point. It is a pocket of level 10-11 enemies away from the normal leveling path. Players can get to the tunnel from the northern level 5 area or from the south. After rushing past two players fighting with the harpies guarding the southern path, I peered into the ettin infested cave.
There were three level 11 ettins against my level 10 thief. It would be a tough slog to get to the boss. I felt I could take down the mook ettins, but I would have to be careful. A charr engineer ran up beside me and peered in. He took a step or two behind me as if to say “you go first.” Fine. I fired off some poison and cripple short bow shots, and the engineer stayed behind me laying rifle fire. The first ettin was downed in ease.
Next came two ettins in a group. This time the engineer felt pretty comfortable, and leapt ahead in glorious rifle bursts while I stayed back placing as many condition tricks as I could think up. Two more ettins down with the champion left. We were feeling pretty confident of ourselves, and then an underleveled guardian leapt in from the north side! While we were coming from the south, she had been making her way from the north unknown to us until then. We had met at the boss at the same time. With three people, the ettin boss went down in a jiffy.
There were so many experiences like these where players were not made in to some invulnerable swarm. It took some level of cooperation and skill, and it felt great. These were the norm all weekend. It would be me and a handful of players taking down some challenge or event. We would disperse as easily as we disbanded.
I returned to the orchard for some apples later in the weekend. The masses had cleared through, and there was now a solid, continual population passing through the northwestern portion of Queensdale. There was that spider problem again, and I was level 13 or so with a shortbow, some utility skills, and some traits buffs. It would be quick and fun to chain AoE some spiders apart even automatically downkicked in level as I was. I liked getting karma. Another thief was in the large orchard doing about the same thing. The event led again to the spider queen boss, but this time it was just me and the other thief. Even overleveled it was a huge challenge.
I stayed in shortbow mode while the other thief drew aggro and tried to dance around the spider queen. At one point the other thief went down, and I had to cripple the queen to try and run to resurrect the downed thief. It was a tense moment. We were about halfway through the fight after quite a challenging amount of time when the cavalry started to arrive. By the end of it three more players had ran to join the fray, and they were such a welcome sight.
Even being such a low level event, it was the best event to end the weekend. We danced on the spider queen’s corpse and all departed. We had each made friends with one another even if we could not remember their names.