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.