I ran the new path in the Twlight Arbor dungeon last night successfully with more or less a pick-up-group. I say more or less because Mrs. Ravious and a friend who plays Guild Wars 2 casually came along with two completely random strangers. Mrs. Ravious does not spend much time at all in dungeons, and my friend who has some dungeon experience exclaimed that this was possibly the hardest dungeon experience he’s ever had. Our winning combination was a necromancer (me), a ranger, an engineer, a guardian, and a thief.
The Coordinated 80
The first thing to note about the Aetherpath is that it is level 80 content. Twilight Arbor is a level 50 story dungeon with two other explorable paths at level 55. The Aetherpath is much more difficult at least in part because it does require a decently geared level 80. I am not talking ascended, but players that intend to hit the Aetherpath should have a “build” complete with prefixes, runes, and jewels.
The other piece of the difficulty is in coordination. Almost every bit of the dungeon requires some coordination especially with the boss fights. It is not enough that players understand the mechanics because there are still roles involved. It is doable with a random group, but that group has to be prepared to face content requiring a specific plan of attack. Somehow my group gelled last night, but I am honestly not sure how.
Thankfully right after the first trash pass (non-boss content) there is a group check. Players must split up somehow and lead two glass-jaw oozes down a fiery path before lava elementals attempt to blot the ooze. Some players (I’ve heard it done with one) have to aggro the lava elementals while two players smear themselves with goo pheromones to lead the ooze down the path to the finish line within 10 seconds of each other. Did I mention that the ooze is hostile to players? It hits really hard and can succumb quite quickly to errant area-of-effect skills. If your group cannot rebalance skills and roles to beat this encounter then the Aetherpath is effectively barred.
Before I get to the juicier boss encounters, I want to mention the so-called trash encounters. Trash is colloquially known as the smattering of enemies between bosses that are haphazardly thrown in to slow down players between boss fights. In MMO terms it’s about as revered as grinding or pay-2-win. While trash is still the shortest description I have for non-boss encounters, ArenaNet has done a really good job making each trash encounter worthwhile and challenging in a different aspect.
For example, the first trash encounters are exercises in pulling and roaming mob management. This short phase culminates with some horrible spiders that bite players to turn them to stone for too many seconds. The next room starts with an exercise in pulling but quickly switches to dealing with angry jungle wurms. The trash encounters are so varied and in some parts deadly exciting that it feels part of the whole dungeon challenge. It does not feel like trash filler that should be skipped to get to the good parts.
There is also another puzzle room, which I quite enjoy. Players are faced with a tetris-block style electricity panels that run along the ground, and they have to get to various platforms scattered around the room without getting hit by a moving panel. It’s great because it’s doable by any group with minimal coordination, but to do it fast and without death it requires skill. I like that. Bad players can struggle through it. Good players can dance through it.
Gaggle of Bosses
Much like the first puzzle, the first boss is another player bar to the rest of the dungeon. Rather there are two bosses, and Scarlet notes she likes making weird combinations. One boss is an asura in a Molten Alliance armor suit (Sparki) that sprays fire everywhere, and the other is a norn that sprays poison puddles around (Slick). The twist of the encounter is that the poison puddles have to be eaten by an enemy ooze that runs around chasing players that randomly get the ooze pheromone. If the poison puddles stick around then the whole room starts applying a damage-over-time debuff to players. The first puzzle’s teachings are directly applicable to this boss fight.
The fight isn’t that hard, but everybody needs to be on board with the group tactics. We took down Sparki first because she does more damage and has less health. Killing her enrages Slick who then starts putting down puddles with increased rapidity. This creates somewhat of a controlled DPS race. Players can either concentrate on removing puddles, a Sisyphean task, or damage that norn down quick.
It actually takes a bit of both, but we found pushing the norn to a wall lessens the spread of puddles, but it also keeps a very damaging ooze much closer. I feel doing this next time will be that much easier now that we’ve cracked the puzzle. Still full group coordination is required. If one person gets chicken and accidentally pulls the ooze too far away from the group, the puddles and damage can stack up quickly.
The instance kind of ramps down in difficulty a bit after Sparki and Slick. Even with the second boss, things aren’t too difficult. It’s mostly learning about how the hologram army explodes when killed and that explosion can harm mostly invulnerable things. The second boss while active and interesting doesn’t seem to have much to do with the rest of the dungeon. It’s good, but different from most of the dungeon, which just seems to build.
The final boss is not that hard once a groove has been found. It’s a huge clockwork-infused nightmare tree that grows an invulnerability shield. Wouldn’t you know? Handy nearby hologram soldiers are just waiting to come explode on the boss and make sure that the shield never hits 30. If it hits 30, he enrages and basically kills off the group, which can be recovered from with some difficulty. Again someone needs to be on hologram duty, but the rest is stay within melee range and stay behind its frontal stomps. Two or three hologram explosions hitting the freak tree with burn phases in between should take care of it.
What I really like is how ArenaNet is doing the meta-achievements for this Living World bi-week. The only achievement in the Living World category is the meta-achievement which can be filled by 10 achievements from the daily category and the Aetherpath category. Rather than fret over completing difficult achievements within 2 weeks, players have to complete 10 achievements out of many some of which are incredibly easy (Talk to Caithe) while some are pretty hard (don’t get electrocuted). It’s easiest to get the meta-achievement through at least attempting the Aetherpath, but some achievements can be done outside of dungeons (killing Aetherblades) or in other dungeons (Catacombs). I like that. It takes a lot of pressure off of smashing the permanent new path while still putting some Living World focus on it.