This weekend, I played The Ruined City of Arah in story mode. This is GW2′s final dungeon, where you and the reunited Destiny’s Edge fight Zhaitan itself. It is probably the worst instance I have ever run, second only to the collective, multi-hour pain of the City of Heroes Shadow Shard task forces that spanned entire zones. The two big problems I see are balance and boredom.
The fights are winnable, especially since the dead can run back to the fight (seems fair against the undead), but they seem balanced around an assumption of more experienced players. It is balanced for the state of the game a year or two from now, not how it is currently, which is reasonable except that we can expect some re-balancing over the next year or two anyway.
For example, the first boss includes a gear check. He has an area effect attack that hit my elementalist for 13,000, +/- 2%. My elementalist has 13,000 hit points. That 2% random variation really mattered, as did a few points of armor or toughness. The difference between being one-shot and two-shot is large unless the enemy attacks very quickly. (This one does, in fact, use that AE pretty quickly, and good luck dodging while downed.) Fully geared in exotics, I presume I could tank that lich without needing earth attunement.
I should note that these are balance issues considering that it is story mode not exploration mode. If exploration mode is the PvE endgame, story mode is the doorway to that, and the doorway cannot demand gear that is usually acquired by running dungeons in exploration mode. Oh who am I kidding, most people seem to acquire their exotics from the trading post, but someone must bootstrap into the dungeons.
The airship fight uses the other bit from that “balanced for” link, apparently assuming players who have completed it before. There are long pauses between fights, in which one might explain what is about to happen and what to do. (In a non-moving dungeon, you might just stand still and explain, but here the ship and your enemies fly at their own rates.) Once the fight is going, there is not enough time to type a sentence amidst the constant influx of attackers. Either you know in advance, everyone figures it out independently, or you suffer. (Voice chat would radically improve this experience for first-timers, but I was PUGging it. It is another problem to balance around out-of-game tools.)
I was not clear if those attacks were blockable. You get waves of damage and enemies on the deck of the ship. I had the sense that they could be blocked with proper use of the ship defenses, but if one person missed one block, the tide of pain began. I have little evidence for this perception, more of a metagame intuition. Again: everyone must either know going in or learn in less time than it take to type a sentence.
Assuming those attacks come in, we are back in a bit of a gear check. You can dodge, but the AEs are wider than the deck of the ship, sometimes larger than your dodge distance, and there are multiple and stacking. You may be standing in a good spot to start the dodge o’ doom, or maybe not. The waves with multiple exploding enemies were interesting: the first would one-shot you to downed, the second would knock you from downed to dead before the downed interface finished coming up. Again, in exotics or knowing the block/dodge pattern from the start, this is probably more survivable.
War is long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror.
The boredom side is that airship fight. When there are not massive waves crashing upon you, there is nothing. If you do not have an experienced player briefing you during those long pauses, they are just long pauses, but not long or safe enough for a beverage or bathroom break.
Using the airship weapons gives you two buttons, usually one because only shooting or blocking will be relevant for a phase. You do not aim the guns. You just hit 1 or 2.
For the big fight against Zhaitan, you just have the one button. Technically, you have three: aim left, aim right, and shoot. You click “aim right” once to point at Zhaitan, who does not move for the entire fight, at which point you click “shoot” when it refreshes. My teammates told me that used to be the entire fight; now there are waves of enemies for some people to fight while the others keep clicking “shoot.” That is it. That is the big boss fight for the entire game: non-mobile weapons being fired at a non-mobile target. It is an anticlimactic fish in a flying barrel.
Last night, I got to the last mission of the personal story. It is to kill Zhaitan. Not only is the worst dungeon required content for finishing the personal story, the personal story fails to recognize that you have already completed story mode and killed Zhaitan. This is a dramatically “bears bears bears” moment because the central quest line of the game fails to recognize that I have killed the name boss in question, which is definitely tracked on because I have achievement progress for doing so and received a polite letter about going back to Arah for exploration mode. One part of the user interface knows that I have killed Zhaitan, and another part is insisting that I go do so.
You are also told to get to the chopper in this mission. Literally. I have come to accept the occasional asuran mega-laser, I am iffy about the charr Mad Max tanks, but something just feels wrong about a fantasy helicopter … he said while flying on the airship, but that seems like a genre staple since Final Fantasy. The chopper does, however, lead to the best part of the dungeon: clearing three obelisks then fighting a Mouth of Zhaitan, which I found to be the most dynamic and entertaining boss fight of the dungeon.