Last night with a new higher coordination strategy my guild took down the first boss in the first wing of Guild Wars 2’s first raid. We did it with half of our team downed at the last 30 seconds or so before the Vale Guardian would get enraged. ArenaNet’s first foray into the realm of raiding is quite good for high difficulty, coordinated group content, and I feel if the winds of Guild Wars 2 shifted with Heart of Thorns, that wind has turned to gale force.
Vale Guardian Overview
The first boss has many pretty simple mechanics, and I have to say with the combination of these, ArenaNet has forged a very intense encounter. The main mechanics are (1) boss leashing, usually with a single high-toughness tank, (2) slowly moving pulse damage AoE’s (seekers), (3) teleport AoE’s, and (4) the circle of lightning wipe. In later phases there is also a (5) bullet-hell break bar and (6) pie-shaped floor-is-lava. Mid-phases occur as well where the boss splits to the three pieces of pie.
What ArenaNet gets really right is that builds matter. For the seekers, they can only really be knock backed. They aren’t adds in the kill sense. They are just floating balls of AoE damage, which can turn from a nuisance to death easily. So, it is usually required that a couple people be on “beater” duty to knock any swarthy seekers away from the DPS (damage-per-second) pile. All of the sudden bear bow knockback can be pretty good!
With mid-phases and the wipe circles, group builds also matter. Mid-phases require condition builds because one of the three split bosses can only be damaged with conditions. The split bosses can also only be killed by destroying their very resilient breakbar which requires stuns, knockdowns, and more knockbacks. The wipe circles usually occur away from the boss melee range so four people have to run in to the wipe circle before it wipes the group. Without a ranged weapon that can be a serious DPS loss.
Already this is quite different from the dungeon fare of stack might, stack self, and swing away.
Vale Guardian Review
The progression of the boss is very good. The first phase is pretty easy. The third phase (after the second phase of a boss split) isn’t so bad because only one piece of the tri-piece pie has a damaging floor. The final phase gets to breakneck speed as only piece of the pie is safe to stand on and there are extra seekers. On Friday night we were barely making it past the third phase. Last night we were hitting the third phase almost every time.
Each mechanic also gets some depth, which adds to the level of achievable player skill. For instance, the teleport AoE’s are easy enough to walk away from since they are about the size of a player and give a few seconds of warning. However, they can also be dodged, and skilled players can be less careful of finding that hard-to-judge safe spot where they can maintain DPS by simply dodging through all the scattered teleport AoE’s. The wipe circle also has some depth in that it will only appear in the pie pieces where players are standing. If players keep to one pie piece (which is what they should do), then it is much easier for the group of 4 to go stand in the wipe circle when it appears. However, if one unlucky soul gets teleported on to lava floor just as a wipe circle looks for a place to spawn… well, that’s a tough bit to pull through.
We were not the best group composition. We were definitely close, but I was a condition necro with all ascended Sinister gear except for exotic Sinister armor (since I was asked only last week to look into being a condition build). The groupthink appears to be that only condition engineers should be brought with their high potential for DPS. If nothing else I should have at least been in all ascended viper gear, right?
We also made many mistakes on the final run. Lots of players went downed. We weren’t knocking away seekers very well throughout the entire boss fight. Players weren’t being very careful of what pie they were standing in or watching for teleports in the final phase, which are just about a death sentence. There was definitely room for improvement. Yet, we won. Many pick-up-groups (PUGs) have beaten Vale Guardian. It’s “raid” hard, not really hard.
What I don’t like about the raids is the enrage timer. For the Vale Guardian there is an 8-minute timer. After 8 minutes the Vale Guardian gets 200% damage boost. So basically it can start one-shotting players with ease. Last night we weren’t really having trouble with that in part because we were largely composed of “meta”-capable builds such as revenants and what not. We kicked a PUG dragonhunter (ranged guardian) because the commander wanted a chronomancer (time-warping mesmer) to add more group DPS.
The timer compounds the pressure that already fairly exists. Yet, it also homogenizes the current groupthink towards “supported glass”-builds, which was acidicly prevalent in the time of Guild Wars 2 dungeons. We only wiped once due to enrage last night, and at that point it didn’t matter anyway because we were so scattered. The mechanics of the fight were good enough to keep us on our toes.
What I don’t like is that the timer presses group builds towards an edge. It doesn’t want to seem to allow builds where DPS is sacrificed for some survivability. I feel the raid could be a lot more fun if more players felt they could bring knockbacks or spread the healing out instead of DPS, DPS, DPS. Raids, I feel could be more fun, without that extra pressure. Groups can employ a wider range of builds instead of going towards that one.
Now, I fully agree that an enrage timer probably needs to exist. A group of 10 players in nomad gear, which is full tanky gear, grinding away at the boss for half an hour should probably not be feasible. Yet, I feel with only 8 minutes on the timer for this boss (I think the final wing boss has less?), it is too razor’s edge. ArenaNet had a beautiful chance to push a variety of builds, professions, and play, and I feel the timer undercuts that all.
This erodes the “play the player, not the class” philosophy that so many believe Guild Wars 2 to promote since the playerbase believes that certain classes are required. There are also classes that are deemed worthless. Thief is the main one it seems, but necros and rangers and even guardians appear lower in the pile. Is ArenaNet going to raise their “raid stock” somehow? They didn’t with necros and rangers throughout all of the dungeon age.
To be devil’s advocate, according to Dulfy the Vale Guardian has 22,000,000 HP. With the enrage timer and 1 minute per split phase that requires a per-player DPS of about 6,000 damage-per-second. As a sub-optimal condition necro, I’d say I was hitting 6,000 DPS pretty easily with some spiked up to 10k, and some hardcore raiders boast 20k+ DPS at spike, which when averaged out saves crucial seconds for the whole group.
So many mechanics affect DPS. For example, there are +10% attack speed mushrooms located at the three-pie piece pillars around the arena. Hitting those is a very nice DPS boost. Not being teleported is another huge DPS sustain. Not being downed another one. Knocking seekers away so they don’t affect players trying to DPS is a big one that we struggled with.
Yet, what I think this adds up to the player path of least resistance is that relying on internalized DPS (full DPS glass gear) is easier than relying on skill, therefore go DPS. I believe ArenaNet has likely created, for at least this first boss of the wing, an encounter that can be killed without full glass DPS players, but the skill required to do so is higher. The reliance on group cohesion is higher. It’s much easier for players to go full glass and pick up for other players mistakes.
Ultimately, Guild Wars 2’s raids are a serious boon to the game. I haven’t felt that small group struggle since perhaps getting to the Hall of Monuments in Guild Wars 1 so long ago. Guild Wars 2 had many similar moments of triumph, but it was a triumph of the herd led by a few commanders. With 10 players it becomes a lot less hive-like where a few dead drones are necessary.
I am hoping that as players get familiar with the raid mechanics, the community will open up a bit more to teach players wanting to try out raids. I think ArenaNet succeeded in making difficult group content, but I hope in the end the acidic, exclusive raider mentality doesn’t grow roots in my favorite MMO.
I am definitely looking forward to taking on boss 2 (Gorseval!) as well as running more guildies through the Vale Guardian.
p.s. If you haven’t read Jeromai’s thoughts, they are pretty good and thorough!