A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That

There's a land you promised us! Deliver us to the promised land...

As mentioned before, when I go quiet, it’s usually because things have settled into a comfortable happy rut. The same old games routine leaves nothing new to comment on.

MMO Population Blues

Wildstar seems to be undergoing its first month blues, what with one blogger announcing they’ve canceled their subscription and another commenting on how the online population appears to have dropped.

I don’t know, perhaps it’s disinterest and perhaps it’s just pragmatism, but I can’t really bring myself to be concerned one way or the other.

Guild numbers and roster counts don’t really mean anything, in my opinion, except to show that attrition always takes place over time.

In two years of GW2, I’ve seen my two main guilds bounce up and down in online players: offline members ratio and all it really says is how well each guild is doing in time – was there anyone actively recruiting, was the leadership active or did it go dormant, did anyone clean out the guild roster lately of people who lost interest in the game, etc.

They certainly didn’t reflect anything regarding overall game population numbers, considering that the best period of activity one had was when the other was almost dying, and vice versa.

The megaserver change that GW2 dropped on us is more sneaky in comparison.

I logged on today in Divinity’s Reach and consciously reveled in the fact that there were some 30-40 people running around just near the Trading Post and Bank area. “See,” I told myself, “GW2′s doing great! Look at how many people there are online!”

Then the more cynical part of my mind stopped me and said, “Ah, but don’t forget that this perception is due to the megaserver.”

Which is true and somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy, imo. Crowds beget crowds. Someone who needs a social atmosphere is inclined to stay logged on if he or she sees people around them. I’m sure Tarnished Coast would be able to pull up a similar kind of number without the megaserver, but we’d probably lose those players from less crowded servers who can’t transfer off.

As for Wildstar, welp, the only ones who knows the real numbers are the devs. So let’s see how they react in the days to come. What they do or don’t do will reveal just how important they regard keeping subs, creating new subs or selling CREDD, and what their strategy is in regards to the casual/hardcore divide and earning revenue.

I’ve decided I really don’t care that much either way about the typical MMOs any longer and am just watching all the various rants from the peanut gallery and chomping down on popcorn.

GW2

I don’t need a promised land made up of dreams and future MMO sandboxes.

I’m already THERE.

I’ve been there for close to two years now. It’s not PERFECT, but it’s been comfy enough to be a home.

If I didn’t have GW2, I’d find somewhere else to settle down. The next best thing.

Probably A Tale in the Desert. Or Guild Wars 1. (City of Heroes did fine for 4-5 years running before things became a little too static and too traditional for comfort.) Wherever.

Point is, there’s so many games on the market that if someone couldn’t find something to satisfy or suffice, then the problem is probably less with the game and more about how someone is in a more nomadic than settler frame of mind.

So what have I been doing on the Guild Wars 2 front?

A little bit of this, a little bit of that.

Dailies. My ritual gathering of nodes and iron ore because it’s fun.

A significant amount of Dry Top geode farming because I’m in love with the Ambrite weapons and it sort of has the meditative fun of a zerg-y champion train with more sophistication in the strats used for each event, without the utter boredom of a sequence that a bot could be programmed to perform.

Totally in love with this greatsword.

Totally in love with the Scorpiones greatsword.

Say hello to mah lil friend.

Say hello to mah lil friend.

I look forward to each recipe I get to ever so slowly buy.

I stalled out on Episode 2′s achievements due to the reputed bug in the Concordia instance and haven’t gotten around to moving beyond that. Perhaps later or when the next patch arrives. At least the stress is gone from it not being temporary content.

I poked around in the next part of the Dry Top area, since I more or less stumbled into it while hunting Lost Coins, and indulged the explorer part of me.

There's some really lovely landscapes in the next section...

There’s some really lovely landscapes in the next section…

I popped in on the Triple Trouble Wurm today, after a long time of not showing up because I got bored with the boss. Got lucky and managed to taxi in. Things went super smoothly and a kill was obtained. And you know what made me smile?

There was a little level 49 standing right in front of the Wurm chest, going “holy crap, I don’t know what just happened, I just got this game a week and a half ago, I was just here and people were saying get into Teamspeak…”‘

Then he put on his shiny new Wurm’s Bane title.

He had 449 AP.

I don’t begrudge him a thing.

This, my friends, is the beauty of Guild Wars 2 and open world raids.

It doesn’t matter that he wasn’t max level. That he didn’t have crazy gearscore or what have you. He didn’t have to spend a month or two ‘getting attuned’ or jumping hoops and matching schedules to get into a raid guild just to ‘earn’ the right to be there.

He’s never going to forget his first wurm kill.

He’s going to remember the rush of all the people around him. If he has the slightest interest, now or later on, he’ll recall the TTS guild website where he can sign up to be a member.

He’ll have one hell of a story to tell to anyone who asks how a level 49 character got his title.

(To a lesser extent, similar things can happen with guild missions. I joined my NA guild today for theirs, and for the guild challenge, the 20-25 of us DIS managed to gate crash CERN‘s Save Our Supplies disco party of 50+ and 10+ commander tags.

One lone unguilded wanderer walked by and did a double take, commenting on the size of the guild. All CERN, of course, ours is small. :) That’s one way to meet an active guild… though there’s always the trouble of seeing if they’re on the same server as you.)

DOTA 2

I got my sleep schedule twisted around a little trying to catch the International.

I faithfully caught the matches on the weekend live, then found myself getting sleepier and sleepier on the last two days and gave up, resolving to watch them later.

If anything, I have to commend Valve and the DOTA 2 crew for the sheer spectacle of the event. There’s big money involved, and no effort is spared to make it -feel- grand.

Seriously, watching DOTA 2 is a game in itself.

If you just pop on over to the website, you have the choice to watch every match with the main audio, or using the newbie stream.

The live video stream stalled a few times during the broadcast, which led me to experimenting with DOTA TV, aka watching the match from in-game itself.

It boggles the mind how intricate it all is.

dota2tournaments

There’s matches galore from what seems like a dozen tournaments.

Scroll down, find the International, and you can download replays of every single match. Not to mention, watch and set an option to automatically spectate live games.

dota2international

Inside the game, which had upwards of 200k clients spectating during one International game (presumably at least some of those were bots hoping to get lucky drops), you could pick from 4-5 audio streams in various languages.

The highlighted scroll is the newcomer's stream.

The highlighted scroll is the newcomer’s stream. Kinda nice that they made the effort to guide people like that.

The camera itself is configurable. Let the caster show you the action from his or her point of view. Or you yourself manually follow along whatever you wanted with your own free camera.

Or chase/follow a game from each player’s perspective, which is no doubt useful for learning how to play a certain hero by watching how the pros do it, or if you have a celebrity crush on a certain player or whatever…

Quite a few exciting games out of the International this time around. Pretty much every time a once-champion team got knocked out of the running was thrilling.

One of the best turnarounds was the second match between Cloud9 and VG (July 20, starts about half an hour into the stream) which rather nicely illustrates the ebb and flow of these snowballing DOTA games, where one team can start out pretty strong over the other team and by the end of the match, the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction.

I still keep wanting to play the actual game but always keep getting turned off by the reputed toxicity of MOBA players (aka a complete 180 from the GW2 community) as well as the amount of -time- it would take to learn enough to get past the gatekeeping layer of impatient ‘blame-others’ players.

Maybe if I wait long enough, the devs will figure out a way to manage the culture. I hear LOL has started outright banning toxic players.

Blaugust

In blogging news, Belghast is challenging bloggers to write a post every day for the month of August.

I’m kinda looking forward to the extra posts I’ll get to read from participants.

I’m probably not going to participate as I’ve more or less settled on a comfortable 1-3 day pace for myself, but it’s a good idea for those who haven’t yet tried the experiment of writing at a habitual pace.

When I first started blogging, I definitely made myself post once daily or every two days or so. It’s just a way to both make a commitment to yourself to post as well as get your blog out there to readers and search engines to pick you up.

(I have gotten slightly more lazy since then, and allowed 4-7 day lapses, but I do get antsy if I haven’t made any kind of post for a week or more and the self-nagging starts up until a post is made.)

Who knows, if the conversation picks up, I may find myself unable to resist getting a word in and posting more myself. :)

GW2: Entanglement – First Impressions

entanglement1

Going to write this post without spoilers, and I suspect I will end up echoing Bhagpuss, dancing around in generalities and going “Blimey, Charlie!

Except my phrase veers more towards “Damn, that was satisfying.”

Not because I liked what happened in this episode, mind you – some bits veered towards the dangerously melodramatic – but because from a structural and design perspective, I think Arenanet has hit upon something promisingly good here.

We go back to Guild Wars 1 yet again, where each story mission one played through meant a development of the plotline. There were ups and downs and change happened.

You remembered them because you got to play through each and every episode, at your own pacing, rather than end up with gaps in the story because you couldn’t log on for that particular week or two.

Much of GW2′s first season reminded me of a family roadtrip where the players kept stridently asking “Are we there yet?”

A tiny bit of plot happened, a small part almost lost in a larger picture of frantic open world achievement and taking on whatever new mechanical developments there were (often in a zerg fashion), leaving players confused and perplexed by the one-liner plot, often summarized as “Something happened, and we still don’t know what’s going on,” then later, “Scarlet did it.”

Like an amateurish novel writer who thinks all the mystery would be lost if the readers actually knew what was going on, the writers played everything with cards close to their chest – hinting at something happening, but not saying much more than that. That led to plenty of unfounded speculation, some of which was much better than the simplistic linear plot actually taking place but not shown to anybody.

Some players might have wanted to know more but having to wait 2-4 weeks later (an understandable and reasonable length of time for the actual game experience and rewards earning part of temporary, seasonal content) for the -next- story snippet, generally made everybody stir-crazy in the process and having promptly forgotten what happened before by the time the next update rolled around.

For instance, some players are still trying to figure out why we’re suddenly such pals with the B-Iconics, or Destiny’s Edge 2.0 and how they’ve ended up calling our characters ‘boss.’

I drew a blank when first thinking about it too, but cudgeling the brain reminded me that I first met Marjory and Kasmeer to solve a Lion’s Arch mystery that involved an Aetherblade attack, meeting them at the Dead End Bar in Divinity’s Reach.

From there, we went on to fighting together in the Tower of Nightmares, taking on the Marionette, defending the city of Lion’s Arch from Scarlet and so on. One almost doesn’t remember it because one mostly only saw the NPCs in passing, in the open world, usually when the brain is busy focused on not-story but achieving something.

We go even further back with Rox and Braham, when they were refugees from Flame & Frost. We fought with them through the Molten Facility (some of us through several dozens of Molten Facilities, dat monocle drop! Beet soup was the best I ever got.)

I vaguely recall helping Rox with Tequatl, oddly trying to track down the beastie  with a footprint, though he usually came by on the hour every hour and has subsequently been taken apart repeatedly to the extent that everyone mostly remembers the Tequatl’s Hoard drop (or lack of it) as the most memorable incident of that update, and not the actual plot step.

We were there with the whole group through the Crown Pavilion and Queen’s Gauntlet events, preventing Queen’s Jennah’s assassination and fending off endless waves of invading Twisted Clockwork, we investigated the Fractals and the Edge of the Mists with some of them, and there were probably more things that I don’t remember offhand.

Each story step was so piecemeal and staggered, disconnected in theme and linked only tenuously by a mad sylvari, that it’s hard to absorb that it all really did happen.

In Season 2 of Guild Wars 2, I can confidently answer, “We may not be there yet, but we’re certainly -moving.-”

The sense of movement is evident in the storyline now.

Things happen. The plot is better structured and developed. There are going to be more obvious ups-and-downs akin to GW1. More “your character is important and the center of your universe” focused stuff, and not just “your character is one of a big faceless crowd in the open world.”

There’s a sense of movement with the opening up of a new part of Dry Top. Exploration is going forward.

Really digging the look of the new parts. Very canyon-like and rocky. If only I didn't explore most of it in a sandstorm.

Really digging the look of the new parts. Very canyon-like and rocky. If only I didn’t explore most of it in a sandstorm. Time to go back later.

NPCs are moving along with that – the very talkative and almost-annoying Priory NPCs have changed position and are now saying different story-and-lore related stuff.

NPCs in the town of Prosperity are reacting to the preponderance of massive vines that have suddenly grown up all around them. (That’s not a spoiler, I hope, that seems to be the most obvious part of what was going to happen in an episode titled “Entanglement.”)

Dry Top is now twice as big, with new things to do in the part we haven’t seen yet.

Presumably, we might be opening up more zones in the Maguuma jungle this way, over time, and I’m good with this.

Players will still be focused into a relatively small region at any one point in time. Folks that come later might miss some of that launch feel, but still have the option of working their way through the area by themselves at a more sedate, casual, solo pace. (Just don’t expect to unlock all of the zone’s Favor mechanic tiers by yourself. Higher tiers are definitely group content.)

The only negative I can think of is that we’re still missing a good transitional cutscene between episodes.

Between the Labyrinthine Cliffs and Episode 1: Gates of Maguuma, we know the Zephyrite ships exploded and crashed. We don’t actually see that happen in-game, but only as a teaser trailer outside the game. Our transition on entering the zone is just seeing the wreckage of the Zephyrite ships, but not what actually happened.

Between Episode 1: Gates of Maguuma and Episode 2: Entanglement, vines have suddenly grown up in a lot of places. If you follow developments on Reddit, or just paid attention to what was gradually changing around you, you might have caught sight of vines starting to tap on waypoints like they’re Mordremoth’s new snack to nom. But it still feels a tide abrupt to suddenly walk into Prosperity and go “WTF, when did this happen?”

entanglement2

An introductory cutscene on a clickable button in the Story Journal, or that plays on zone load just like in the Tower of Nightmares update, might mitigate some of that weird feeling of instantaneous change.

In general, the layered content feels just right.

For the casual, what they want is -story-. That’s best conveyed in a small instance, solo or grouping at one’s choice, with plenty of conversation.

For those interested in achievements, re-use the same content and get them to do more complicated things. Players who like meta stuff like achievements generally won’t mind a repeated grind of the same content (as long as they can skip the long-talky stuff) just to get their shiny gold star for doing whatever teacher wants.

The open world opens up further, creating a feeling of progress – and folks can choose at will to casually wander through, with GW2′s organic grouping design naturally creating allies out of the players near you, or take on the zone’s content at a higher, more organized level for faster shiny but non-essential rewards.

(If only we didn’t have to taxi in people one at a time – but perhaps that is part of the intent, to force -some- player interaction and self-organization . Though it mostly feels like a workaround.)

And boy, are the rewards shinier in this episode.

The skins are here. Tons of weapon skins.

Tier 4 and Tier 5 are where they unlock, and I’m hoping this gives more impetus for more players to work on the zone’s Favor mechanic.

I’m personally digging the look of the Ambrite weapons, something that hasn’t happened in a while since the Dreamthistle lot, and I suspect it’s going to take quite a long time to work one’s way through all the geodes.

I hope this means that Dry Top is going to be a well-traversed area, something like the next Frostgorge Sound champion train, regularly frequented by a group of level 80s who enjoy a slightly more sophisticated champion bag farm.

Time will tell, I guess. I’ll see how many I can unlock before the place loses critical mass. I’ll be happy with one or two, which I’m sure is doable within these two weeks, but collecting them all eventually would be cool!

The Gem Shop Ley Line weapons are also rather appealing visually. I like the idea of carrying a symbolic reminder of a very beautiful locale that got opened up this episode. They’ve got that blue fire guardian look to them. I might end up branching out some time for Black Lion Key farming, hoping to get lucky.

Of course, beyond actually obtaining one, another problem I face is an unwillingness to change weapon or theme on my main characters. My charr guardian is red and fire. My charr warrior is yellow and metal. My asura guardian is green/blue and holograms. My sylvari necro is green/black/white/gold and gothic. My norn thief is brown and natural leather.

I have no idea who I can put it on, even if I do get one. Will figure that out later, I suppose.

In the meantime, lots of stuff to do in this episode.

GW2: Dry Top Analysis – The View From T4

Night time in Dry Top (taken within a peaceful instance, of course.)

Phew. It’s been a week of self-imposed OCD effort, but I think I can finally relax and play at a less obsessive pace now.

You see, for the first three days, the thing that caught my attention primarily was the story. The instances, which I happily played solo, and then replayed again for the ‘hardmode’ achievements.

(Used more in the context of GW1′s hardmode, as an extra optional challenge using the same assets, rather than them truly being hard – though the jumping puzzle ones in the second instance, Fallen Hopes, did have me ripping my hair out for an hour.

The bloody thing was aptly named. My hopes were dashed against the rocks repeatedly… like my body.

I was worried for a bit that the 2h achievement buff would run out, and ended up resorting to Dulfy and finding out that one could ‘cheat’ and stack time on the air crystals – which made it a little more doable than trying to trial-and-error jump step by step without crystal or guide help.)

Then I turned my attention to exploring Dry Top, its events, the Favor of the Zephyrites mechanic and its rewards.

My first response at seeing how much everything cost in geodes was stress, frustration and a sense of mounting helplessness.

Just HOW was I supposed to get 110 or 130 geodes for just -one- account bound cooking recipe, when the events I was doing seemed to give only 2-3 geodes per completion?

And that price assumes I can somehow find my way to a map instance where the merchants are Tier 4 at some point or another before interest dies out and the place loses the critical mass needed to ever push the map to T4.

Otherwise, the solo option is to slowly and steadily grind out geodes over hours and hours of Dry Top farming and then pay an additional gold penalty through the nose (I don’t run dungeons very frequently, I’m about 10-15 gold poorer daily than those that do) just to get ONE recipe.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that a solo alternative exists. It’s -doable- even if we’re talking about a long term effort on the scale of earning 25-35 laurels for a single piece of Ascended jewellery.

I just didn’t want to do it that way.

Too slow, not immediately gratifying enough, and I freely admit to a completionist impulse that will try to ‘complete’ anything that I think is vaguely within my reach.

And I liked the options being offered.

I have a bevy of alts all at 400 or 500 crafting just so that I have the option to craft whatever I want without being forced to rely on other people or the trading post. I like collecting cooking recipes. I like the option of being able to look up GW2 food in the wiki, scanning to see what stats would suit me in a particular situation and cooking it up on the spot if needed.

I’m not like most players, who settle on one build, one or two consumables and thus find it more convenient to just buy the relevant stuff from the TP without bothering about crafting ever. If I run into a situation like the Queen’s Gauntlet, I want my dodge food and I’ll cook it, rather than pay the temporarily inflated prices from the sudden demand. If I suddenly need lifesteal food, or increased damage while moving food, or whatever weird demands the Living Story throws at us, I’ll cook the small portions I need.

Toughness, Healing, Vitality gear is a bit more interesting. When I see those stats, I immediately think of ‘bunker’ and possibly aggro holding, though I’ve yet to personally test whether it’s possible to hold aggro with it given the lack of damage a pure THV user would face. I think ‘very tanky.’

At the moment, I surely wouldn’t replace my zerker gear for it, because no situations I encounter call for such stats yet.

But personally, and this is just a personal opinion based on a hunch rather than anything founded in evidence or data, I think many players are blinded by the current zerker meta and do not see the potential of the healing power stat. Which admittedly scales badly on a number of skills, but less badly on others – which can be quite significant when all taken together, a rolling selfless daring guardian with high healing power can do a very surprising amount of healing, fer instance, plus additional oomph if he pops his book.

At any time, Arenanet can shift the meta if they want to, by adjusting a few numbers here and there, maybe improving the scaling of healing power even further, or whatever.

It’s not useful -now.- But later?

Anet is known to read the pulse of their community very well, even if they don’t immediately respond and the changes in-game are very gradual, like a big oil tanker trying to turn. People complained about zergs, and now we have slowly and steadily attempts at zerg-breaking and spreading out players while trying to encourage them to self-organize into smaller non-zerg groups, with varying degrees of success. I don’t believe they enjoy the present ‘damage uber alles’ unity over their damage/control/support trinity that was originally posited, though I doubt they’ll react so fast and heavily handedly to force things back into a super boring holy trinity of tank + dps + maybe heals either.

But I would not be surprised to find optional achievements coming down the road that relies on someone having the option to become very tanky and healery, for example, (no one can complain if the stuff is permanent and can be replayed at any time when they have the right stats for it) though I certainly hope that a more convenient build saving and gear wardrobe solution comes in first – I’m running out of invisible bag slots trying to maintain 3-4 sets of stats for each character.

Because of this belief, I want Nomad stats. Just like I collected Zealot stats. It’s a long term investment, and I might be wrong, but I’ll go for it anyway, to have the option one day if need arises. I’ve always liked being tanky anyway.

I probably won’t and can’t bother with Ventari’s, because Ascended is so much more expensive, and seems to have a certain demanded niche for WvW commanders and select WvW builds, whom are all willing to pay a lot higher premiums than I can, but we’ll see.

Role-wise, I prefer PPH a lot more anyway, do damage AND heal/support, over TPP, do damage AND tank, or THV, tank AND heal/support.

There’s also always the option of mix-and-matching, but so far, I haven’t bothered to think that deeply and theorycraft to that level yet. Zerking works in the open world and in dungeons so far, we will stick close to the meta… until the meta changes. As all metas eventually do. (Which many forget.)

Long story short: I want to buy everything that the Zephyrite merchants offer.

That’s an INSANE amount of geodes!

Thing is, now that I know that’s my goal, I’m willing to see what other viable options I have to get there.

If it means grouping and playing in an organized fashion for more rewards, I can do that, since it’s not the -only- thing I’m being forced to do in order to get any geodes at all, it’s me being drawn by greed and convenience to put up temporarily with little annoyances I might not like otherwise.

The big question was: How am I going to find said organized group?

I tried my ol’ stopgap, lurking in the TTS teamspeak, but was somewhat disappointed to see a lot more interest for repeated Teq and Wurm runs (now that the timers have become more flexible) than a 24/7 organized Dry Top.

That’s all very well, TTS was meant to take on big world bosses after all, not be a collective place to do every single organized group activity possible, so it’s the leaders’ prerogatives to lead and schedule what they want. I can join them as and when I have an interest in running those world bosses.

With that, I found myself back at the level of an ordinary non-networked solo player, feeling somewhat helpless and at a loss to affect the world around them.

The good news, such that it is, is that I’ve been noticing something interesting going on with the megaserver selection in the Dry Top map.

I don’t know if it’s due to just an increased player interest leading to more players visiting, thus letting the megaserver sort players like how it’s -supposed- to work, but I kept encountering A LOT more familiar Tarnished Coast guild names. Hell, I kept seeing a few of my -own- guild members running around, something that almost never happens otherwise. (Perhaps because I’m nearly always in that map, and when they visit, they get shunted into the same map that I’m camping out in.)

So since there actually seemed to be a bit more of a server community in existence, I tried a bit of communication, if not leadership. I kept posting non-obvious information to the map, from the Reddit Dry Top T4 timers thread, to alert the map to the existence of events going on at specific times and hoping that people would respond somewhat. (I don’t blue dorito, sorry, I just can’t deal with that level of cat-herding aggravation.)

Which worked up to a very limited point. People seemed to stir themselves slightly as they saw the Favor level climbing tiers, and that effort managed to push the map to a more or less respectable 3, though it certainly was never as organized as a ‘proper’ T4 map and thus T4 was always out of reach from the get go.

That seemed to depress people after one attempt and people more or less stopped trying.

See, the bad news about the megaserver and Dry Top in particular is that people come to the map for different purposes. Many are just casually chasing their story missions, a few more are after very specific achievements or buried chest hunting, leaving insufficient people interested and committed enough to pushing the Favor mechanic up to a high tier.

Nor is what you’re supposed to do very obvious. Where are people supposed to go? When? What’s in it for them if they get to T4? Are these recipes all there is?

Plus a conflict of interests. Maybe I’m not interested in any of those recipes on offer at the vendor, and just want a fancy spectacles or scarf instead, and would rather spend my sandstorm time hunting for buried chests?

So the first obstacle, if you’re interested in a T4 Dry Top, is to get yourself onto a map where 80-90% of the people have the same objective in mind. Achieving a T4 Dry Top.

We’re down to exclusion by effort again. A lot of non-obsessive casuals will not even think or bother or realize that such a possibility exists, nor will they have means or times to get there.

Pre-megaserver, I suspect certain server communities were successful because people who were interested -knew- that there were certain crowded servers that they could specifically guest to, if they were interested in completing something. With a few simple button clicks, there they were, in the correct map (or at least trying to bang their heads against and taxi in, if it was full) full of people committed to achieving the same thing. Over time, as people exited and others entered, one would keep stacking the map with people committed to achieving that one goal.

Post-megaserver, we -still- have to do the same thing, but with more effort. Left all alone, bereft of no network interested in doing a T4 Dry Top, it’s very easy to just throw your hands in the air and give it up as unobtainable. Subtract one more player who might have been interested once.

Me, I was a little more desperate. I tried guesting. Maybe Blackgate would have more power-leveler-y achiever minded people. Yep, the Dry Top tier here was one higher than in my home map, but still not T4. Maybe Sea of Sorrows, since I was playing at Oceanic times? Nope, no go.

I would have loved to try to hop over to Jade Quarry or Yak’s Bend or -somewhere- else beyond that, but I was out of guest passes for the day. Dammit.

So it was down to camping the LFG tool.

Which is a really sad case of refreshing over and over, hoping to see a kind person offer a taxi to a T4 Dry Top, or conversely posting that you’re looking for one and hoping someone will pull you in.

The good news is that since this seems to be the -only- means of getting a T4 Dry Top for a lot of people, a small amount do seem to be willing to reciprocate and set up a taxi chain, especially when the map starts running dry as people leave and they’re desperate to get more new blood in to refresh the map.

From there, you start building a network all over again, if only a light ‘spy network’ of friending names you keep seeing turn up at the same times – so that you can see when they’re in Dry Top and roughly estimate if there’s a T4 Dry Top going.

Is this painful? Yeah. More than a little. It’s a lot easier to just log into a Teamspeak and see a bunch of names in a channel labeled with the appropriate activity and then ask for a taxi into the map. It might be a lot more ideal if the map ips and instances were more transparent, and people could just queue once to join maps with others that shared a particular organized group interest/objective, rather than break your mouse button trying to taxi into a map.

Of course, the only drawback to simplifying stuff like this is that by making it so complicated, only the truly obsessive and dedicated are willing to jump through all the hoops and self-select themselves into the same map. That generally leads to a slightly more intelligent level of play than the average map and a better than average chance of success. I don’t know if we’d end up inflicting failure on ourselves by letting more not-very-committed players easily join up, hoping to ‘leech’ as some might term it, by giving below-average amounts of effort.

Dunno. I guess it’s up to Anet to figure out and players to adapt.

Though I do hope we never adapt to the point of outright exclusivity based on gear or stats or class, or easily kicking people who don’t meet whatever particular requirements some other random player had in mind.

I’ll settle for the sneakier exclusivity based on effort. Want in? Make the effort to find the way in. That at least suggests the player has a decent amount of resourcefulness and smarts, and is committed to completing the same goal at the same time.

So… what happens when you do get in?

A cycle of events is performed at each quarter hour.

First up at :00, 15 and :30, tendril, race and moa.

The tendril event is the sneaky less-obvious event, which does scale up and become harder if more people congregate to it, so the design imposes some player self-interest in keeping in quiet and unannounced. Usually, I get there to see either I’m alone or upwards to 7-8 other players, which is still more or less manageable if everyone’s on the same page.

That is, to kill all the smaller roots before the big main veteran root.

This yields the bonus. If the main root is killed before that, it will bury itself and replace an existing smaller root. Surprise surprise, you get to kill it all over again, and this time, no more bonus.

The “bonus” by the by, is an interesting mechanic. It’s the ol’ partial reward thing again, reinforcing full rewards if you play the way Arenanet hopes you’ll figure out how to play, and giving you a consolation prize if you don’t – except put in a much more palatable form of “you get a bonus” if you manage this.

The concept being tested here is the ability to target select, dodge red circles, as well as listen/communicate to others.

Almost always, there will be one or two people who will try to go for the mob with the big orange swords over its head. Almost always, I have to quickly type out ‘kill the small ones first for the bonus’ and amazingly, almost always, they actually respond by target switching and killing the adds. (Amazing, I know. Such is the quality of players who have chosen to come to a T4 map. It’s not that they’re dumb, they just weren’t informed or aware of the mechanics yet.)

The trick, of course, is that the big root will throw a whole bunch of heavy damage poison projectiles at you if you stay at range (which you often are, when killing the small ones.) So now you have to stay mobile while killing – which imposes a bit more of a dps pause for melee users unless they can kite well in movement, and balances the playing field for ranged users outputting more sustained damage.

And you can also demonstrate knowledge and mastery of projectile absorption by using skills to soak the projectiles – though projectile reflects are more iffy as the veteran root can easily kill itself with two good reflected bursts of its own attacks.

The most obvious event in Dry Top.

The most obvious event in Dry Top, and correspondingly most crowded and played.

The race to get zephyrite crystals before the Inquest do is the more obvious event, sitting right next to a waypoint and a more well-traveled area next to “town.”

This is interesting because it places a decent amount of stress on crowd control.

Yes, if you zerg the event and try to burst down all the Inquest before they get anywhere, that is also a form of crowd control. But if a champion or elite Inquest happens to pick up a crystal, grabbing a boulder or using a skill for a knockdown to force them to drop the crystal is a lot easier than trying to work through all their hp before they run off.

And a brief immobilize can also sometimes help to hold one for long enough to be bursted down.

Being able to throw crystals also leads to the possibility of setting up a pass-the-parcel chain for them, but that never happens in practice. It’s already pretty good if people realize that they can aim their crystal properly and throw it right into the basket. (Hint: set up fast cast ground targeting and hold down skill 2 while moving your mouse and position it properly ON the basket.)

Concept test: Being able to use ground targeting to aim at a precise spot. You can see all the people choosing to run to the basket and press F failing this.

Finally, everyone trundles over to the moa.

The strategy has evolved so that everyone can get at least two event completions in these five minutes, though a really fast and savvy player can tag all three. (If enough smart people are at the race though, they’ll finish before the tendril people can get there.)

The moa, as some have praised enthusiastically, is a very very obvious concept test of hard cc.

See that orange bar on the UI? That's when you interrupt.

See that orange bar on the UI? That’s when you interrupt.

If there isn’t at least a few players in your group that have the ability to do a stun, daze, knockdown, knockback or pull consistently, and are able to pay enough attention to the UI to see the bar that announces when the moa is going to run off and respond in time…

…well, the moa is going to do a roadrunner on you – you can imagine it going “BEEP BEEP” in a taunting fashion as it runs off and heals to full health.

The zerg solution, of course, is to bring as many players to it as possible, in the hopes that at least a -few- players will have the right class and skills up to perform this.

This one frustrates me a little more, mostly because I’m a bit more helpless when I run as my sword/focus scepter/torch zerk guardian. I generally have to rely on someone else to perform the mechanic well. I suppose I -could- switch to greatsword and see if the pull works, but I’m just not really built for interrupts. I do, however, quickly swap out “Stand Your Ground” for “Signet of Power” which has a knockdown and can be fired off in an emergency. It’s a long cooldown and can’t consistently fire every phase it runs, but there has been twice or thrice now that my slow interrupt is the only one that is fired and saved the event that way.

An offhand pistol thief with skill 4 works wonders though, along with other more cc heavy classes that actually know how to use their cc.

At :05, :20 and :35, it’s Serene, Froggy, South Mine and Queen.

Everybody nearly always skips Serene, for obvious reasons. Slow ass escort, up in a really inaccessible place with bad jumping puzzle memories. It’s soloable or small groupable, if a lone person finds themselves up there and feels like helping, but probably not.

From the moa, it’s easiest to branch off to Nochtli, the froggy in question.

Some self-sacrificing individuals do head over to the south mine, apparently, to free the zephyrites and so on. Maybe. I don’t know. I generally don’t follow that route.

waitingfornochtli

Zerging down Nochtli makes the event very easy.

Concept-wise though, Nochtli is a fun test for solo or a small group.

It has a lot of quick direction changing cone atttacks that will knockback, so circling around to the back of your opponent is tested.

It has a period of invulnerability plus small orange circles to not stand in.

That period often telegraphs the next phase which most people have trouble with – the big orange circle where Nochtli jumps up into the air and comes down, knocking everybody off.

In theory, the intended way to do this is to time jumps carefully. That’s what the big red orange arrow pointing up is supposed to indicate. I freely confess I totally DID NOT get that message until I saw someone else attempting to time jumps.

Anyway, timing jumps is a latency bugaboo. I suppose it’s something for fun I might try when Dry Top empties out more and see if I can get the timing down, but I simply DO NOT trust jumping.

There are, of course, other options. The guardian option is to enjoy stability. Lots of it. Stand your ground and Hallowed ground, timed just as the red circle phase starts, will get you through the first two such incidents with no problems. The third is a little trickier if nothing’s recharged yet, though stand your ground might have, and there’s always coordinating with another guardian (which was how I got the achievement first time around, three of us happened to be there, and two of us were guardians.)

Blinding powder on thieves is also supremely effective, I hear, as it just pulses blind constantly and will cause all its jumps to miss -everybody- rather than only saving a select five using stability.

As a zerg, everybody just fires off all this stuff at once to stack blinds and stablity and combined damage plus a time warp bonus turns the hylek into froggy mincemeat.

Not that we’re arguing, we need the bonus favor for the zone mechanic.

From Nochtli, folks head to the colocal queen nearby.

Yeah, I play zerg events with crappy graphics. So happy the Living Story Season 2 isn't -all- zerg only.

Yeah, I play zerg events with crappy graphics. So happy the Living Story Season 2 isn’t -all- zerg only.

If someone grabs the old colocal tooth quickly, before too many players get within range, this apparently affects the hp scaling somewhat and makes it easier to burn down. Or so someone said once. Given how freaky wurm scaling was, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some bugs like this happening under the hood still.

Regardless of how much health the colocal queen happens to have on any one go, it’s a zerg it down till dies affair, with generally a bunch of people going down with every pounce and charge/rush. Unless, and this is just a suspicion, there’s someone tanky in melee that happens to pull aggro and manages to hold it in place and survive the pouncing.

There have been a few times where the colocal queen sat in place for a ton of people to burn down without harm, and while it isn’t obvious, I suspect there was a Soldier or Knight or Cleric armored guardian or warrior soaking up damage sitting in place right along next to it. Just a hunch though.

I do know if I happen to draw aggro – and for some unknown reason, I can draw a phenomenal amount of aggro when scepter/torching on my zerk guardian (is the dps THAT high?), I end up in a mad dodging scramble up and down ledges, testing my dodging sideways ability to its absolute limits, losing a chunk of health every time I screw up, and eventually dropping after I screw up and/or run out of endurance. Sometimes people rez me, sometimes I just waypoint and come back. Such is zerker life.

(The day they make a fight less close to a convenient waypoint though… that’s going to be more of a pain. I forsee a lot of whining and complaining before any adaptation stats-wise.)

Once the colocal queen is down, many folks will rush off to the south mine to see if they can get a tag in on that event if it’s still going. Often it tends to fail if no one else has been working on it in the meantime.

At :10 and :25, it’s the north mine and basket events.

Me, I’m usually on my way from colocal queen to the basket, because it’s best to be in place before the time hits, as one technician grabbing supplies from a basket and running off into a portal means the end of the bonus.

This is a very strange event, because of the scaling. If more people show up, this event gets a lot harder. It’s in everyone’s interest that as few people show up as possible, which usually means only the most savvy show up and leaves everyone else dead ignorant that this event even exists.

Soloed or duo’ed, this is quite easy. Technicians are just normal mobs, there is only one basket to concentrate on, burn down the technicans, burn down other nearby mobs, and the Inquest morale bar will drop very quickly and finish up, with the bonus.

As five or more show up, two more baskets will float down on parachutes, one near to the original basket and one on the top rock shelf. (There is a ramp up that the technicians will run up.)

I've taken to camping here because almost no one else does. I've seen one person up here before when I was down there once. And once, another person joined me. Countable on one hand.

I’ve taken to camping here because almost no one else does. I’ve seen one person up here before when I was down there once. And once, another person joined me. Countable on one hand.

From observation, it is super-easy for players to miss a technician grabbing a crystal from one of these other baskets and losing the bonus that way.

I’ve personally taken to camping up on the rock shelf and singlehandedly stopping technicians from reaching the top basket, and sniping down below at the original basket to help – which sometimes works, but I can’t do -anything- about the last basket, and sometimes still have to watch helplessly as a technician out of my range scampers off with players below missing it.

Looking down to snipe the original basket spawn. Turn around every now and then to make sure a technician isn't on the way up.

Looking down to snipe the original basket spawn. Turn around every now and then to make sure a technician isn’t on the way up.

Concept-wise: This is a cc and target prioritization test.

I use a scepter. I can immobilize a technician before they even reach a basket and it’ll die or be very close to dying by the time it gets there. If someone has a knockback or pull, they can yank the technician off the basket. Prioritizing technicians and killing them off yields a bonus. Killing the closest red Inquest thing may work on the bar, but lose the bonus as the sneaky little technician gits run off into their portals.

The north mine is a very interesting event.

Folks tend to zerg it, mostly because the alternative nightmare is a zerg at the baskets, and that doesn’t sound very fun at all.

Also, as a zerg, there is more damage that can be focused on killing the appearing ambushing Inquest quickly, plus the off chance that an elementalist capable of using water fields actually exists within the horde.

You see, and it took me a while to realize this, the Zephyrites you need to escort out are crippled. Anything with a condition on it, will not regenerate by itself when out of combat. Effectively, these guys will not heal up unless -players- heal them up.

Since healing power and healing skills are so derided, almost no one in the zerg is capable of healing, except a WvW elementalist that can use water fields and people who blast in them. Or the odd guardian who actually realizes this and switches to things like the book heal – though we’re still talking fairly pathetic heal numbers while in zerk gear.

This usually results in a lot of players running around like headless chickens, trying to kill Inquest faster than they can damage the Zephyrites, accidentally leading Inquest into doing area of attacks while a Zephyrite is cowering nearby, running by soaking up 5-player limit heals meant for the Zephyrites, and a lot of dead Zephyrite bodies, failed bonuses and failed events.

Unless, of course, the zerg is big enough to do a lot of lethal damage to any Inquest mobs that show their faces and happens to contain a few maniacal water field healers. MORE PEOPLE TO NORTH MINE PLZ.

Concept tested: Protection and careful NPC escort, healing actually being useful. Cheerfully being failed at least 50% of the time.

Despite that though, it’s possible to hit T4 as long as the whole cycle is repeated and there are more successes with bonuses than the odd failure here and there, and will almost always hit T3.

This post is getting way too long, so I’ll leave off discussing the special stuff that comes out during the sandstorm. Mostly they’re reward events, zerg and burn with a few simple mechanics, meant for collecting 8 or 10 geodes per event for reaching T3 or T4.

I did think it was rather interesting to see the pre-sandstorm events sneakily test various control and support concepts that are not very stressed in ordinary everyday PvE.

I think this is only the beginning, and the tip of an as-yet unexplored iceberg.