GW2: Molten Weapons Facility – Analysis and Opinions

Controlled flight, this isn't. And this is the jetpack we're hoping to get?

Now that the “on principle” philosophical argument about “forced” grouping is out of the way, let’s get down to some of the nuts and bolts of the dungeon design itself:

Bottom line is, I’m still heavily playing repeated instances of the dungeon, which suggests that a whole bunch of things -did- go right.

The crux of it is that I decided I really like the look of the Molten Firestorm and Molten Berserker bosses, and -choose- to keep striving for a lucky miniature drop and/or a tonic recipe that I can slooowly build up the mats for later.

Philosophically, I much prefer a token system over RNG drops (mostly because my luck sucks – see Venom precursor, and I keep getting turnip soup most of the time) but I respect that RNG has its uses and it’s a sneaky way to keep experienced people continually playing the dungeon for the time period because they are either unlucky, or are very lucky and want more drops to sell.

I am also able to tolerate the dungeon and most groups quite well because of the design which strives to prevent as much rushing past as possible. I like to fight everything. I’m playing an MMO to fight stuff and have a good time, not skip past everything to the end reward. (Which, I am aware, puts me at odds with a good many habitual dungeon speedrun farmers out there.)

I greatly appreciate the enforced pauses, because it gives a better sense of pace, allows new people to appreciate more of the story and NPC interactions, lets one switch out utilities as needed before the group members with ADD have rushed into the next set of mobs, and even, horror of horrors – gives people time to type sentences in party chat and interact socially.

I’ve had some hilarious groups with Tarnished Coast servermates – being TC’ers, I figure they must be used to RP weirdoes and have indulged in very shallow roleplay by speaking like a snarky, snotty Asura (which is never hard to do) and adding color commentary to NPC lines.

I really do. They are sexy sexy ears.

I really do. They are sexy sexy ears.

The best bit is the no-real-consequence atmospheric epilogue, which is a tremendously good time to just let one’s hair down and have a little fun after successfully beating the bosses and making people laugh or keeping them entertained. (I hope, anyway.)

epilogue1

(last bit while running around in little asura circles of panic)

epilogue2

(while aflame)

epilogue3

Of course we did.

And then there was the party with the engineer who insisted he did NOT have an elixir B drinking problem:

epilogueb1

I try to leave the bookahs to burn every run, but they keep following...

I try to leave the bookahs to burn every run, but they keep following…

Alas, enjoyable groups where -someone- else talks and helps to keep the immersion and entertainment going with wisecracks are few and far between (which is why I’ve immortalized the fun I had in the screenies above.)

In groups where I see no one talking, or don’t seem like they’d be open to a bit of fun, I just shut up and be a good little silent robot cranking out one’s path to the shinies. (Or running vainly with short legs trying to catch up with the speed freaks.)

Which sometimes leads to horrendous messes. I gotta give kudos to ArenaNet’s design team for creating stuff which challenges the group to cooperate well together. Too many times, I see a player rush ahead and accidentally aggro a whole load of Molten Alliance mobs – which leads to a great chaotic frenzy of jumping around, dodging, healing, buff-throwing, seeing folks get downed, trying to rez them up, etc. Disagreements on whether to kill the Molten Brawler or the Molten Gunner first are also another cause of extreme chaos. Fortunately, the difficulty is not too insane, so strong group-focused builds will more or less keep the team upright.

I confess to preferring something neater, where no one’s hp bar ever moves into the danger zone. I feel like something’s gone wrong if someone falls over into the downed state, let alone, dead. Maybe it’s just a carry over from tanky days in City of Heroes. I relish the rare groups which, by chance or by cookie cutter build, are well synergized to the point where buffs are flying all over and no one is in real danger of dying.

And then there was this fantastic party: a lvl 80 mesmer, me, a lvl 68 elementalist, a lvl 35 guardian, a lvl 35 thief. The non-80s had 1k-2k achievement points and I was wondering if this was going to be another fiasco. It wasn’t.

You know why? All the players were great playing their classes, and the three lowbies appeared to know each other and were used to fighting together. The group also had the patience to recognize and wait the mere 5 seconds for me to wordlessly corner pull and separate out Gunner and Brawler spawns, so that we tended to only fight one at a time, with the other stuff all stacked up neatly on the corner where the mesmer could unleash all his stuff and everyone just unloaded. The only time one or two of them fell over was during the last boss fight (and were promptly rezzed), though they were all masterful at movement and dodging… I still think non-80s are working with considerably less buffer and I have to give them kudos for being very very good. Neat, super smooth, no deaths, a few downs.

And there are groups like this, where apparently pulling means shooting shit to death while backing away slowly in a straight line.

Lamenting the lost art of pulling properly

Lamenting the lost art of pulling properly

I’m a hammer/staff guardian, I don’t have any range worth speaking of, if you don’t warn me in advance to switch to scepter.

Of course, the nice thing I really appreciate about ArenaNet’s trinity is that there are many ways to achieve the same goal. You -could- focus fire them down from range if your party was built that way. I’ve seen other guardians charge in and use greatsword’s binding blade to great grouping/clumping effect with less time than scenery pulling. Some classes use a whole bunch of pets/minions to split aggro.

And yes, you can just rush it all pell mell using your own bodies to split aggro, relying on shouts, banners and other buffs to keep you upright, with or without a focus target, with varying degrees of messiness depending on how everyone’s build is set up. Whatever works. The variance at least keeps it lively.

The ambush at the start is a nice touch story-wise. I try not to ruin it when I know someone is new in the party, but more and more, you see the couldn’t-care-less people just stand by where they spawn. A repeat group is, of course, another matter.

tunnel

I enjoy the enforced delay in the tunnel here. You see all the ADD folks humping the coals and getting burned. There’s built in time to buff up for each encounter, you can’t skip past it, and if you haven’t mined the nodes, you can usually get it mined and catch up with the people who wouldn’t wait at all if not for the big fat drill in the way.

The random spawn of Champion Ooze, Champion Troll or Champion Ember in the hall beyond is an interesting touch. I’ve seen the most chaos tends to occur when the Ember is in play.

The hidden orichalcum ore was a fun mini-puzzle to figure out the very first time. It gets problematic later on with a group with split priorities here though. Impatient people don’t wait. They turn left, rush through the steam vents and are dashing through the corridor to trigger the weapons test, while the new ones who want the ore are still being guided through the path and the cutscene no doubt triggers at a confusing time for them, ruining the narrative effect completely. At least someone who’s seen it before has just enough time to dash through the spiders, mine their ore, and get out.

If the NPCs make it there with the impatient people, you get thrown into a disorienting loadscreen teleport and end up in the weapons test with no pre-warning whatsoever.

overlooking

That said, I again appreciate the length of path here when done properly, with party in sync, and traveling with NPCs. There’s a sense of drama as you move down the rocks, and crucial valuable time to type information for people who haven’t done it before.

weaponstest

The weapons test encounter is truly excellent though. There was a fun sense of panic when first experiencing and learning what all the stages consisted of, and also fun inherent in figuring out the solution(s) and mastering them. I appreciate that there are multiple solutions, not just one thing that -must- be done.

My screenshot is poor quality, I know, but you can sort of make out the nimble people moving around. I like to hold out near the core, where there is a safe area most of the time, and use a ton of stability to negate the knockdown (barely anyone else recognizes hallowed ground when I use it though – you can stand in it too, folks!) and heal through any accidental damage (it’s a guardian thing, and I’m not very nimble so it works well.) I only move when it comes to the fire circles everywhere stage, and again, it’s nice there are multiple areas of safety to identify on the fly.

There are one or two guys hiding in the absolute corner, which no one is really sure whether it was intended or no, but you know some players, if they find a glitch, they’ll glitch it. And then demand stridently that everyone else glitches it in the exact same way with them.

My evolved preference is to sit where I am, where the molten protector spawns, because Hammer 4 (Banish) has a wind up time. Playing dredge golf and launching it out of the way before it can get its invulnerable fire shield up is SO satisfying. If I hide in the corner, it’s hard to get back in position in time. I believe other classes also have pulls and knockbacks that they can use to play with it. And worse come to the worse, people can also wait for the fire shield to drop. Multiple solutions. I like.

supercooled

The supercooled section is all right. Again, multiple solutions. You could scream BANZAI and charge in like a number of groups do, with debuff on and everything, and just soldier your way on through, taking your chances on whether you fall over based on the builds of your party. Some rush the coolant boxes. Some will have one or two high damage people take them down. Some pull back to no-debuff areas. I’m a big fan of utilizing corners to pull. It’s so sad it’s such a lost art though. When the stars and toughness attributes of the party align to give me the innate aggro, I love to do it and watch the ranged mobs come rushing up to regain line of sight.

The “Kill Brawler or Kill Gunner” first debate goes on. It seems to be evolving towards get brawler, then gunner. Either way works, in my opinion, but it’s really whether the party uses focus targets and follows them. You can negate the brawler’s shockwaves with jumping, dodging, and I liberally apply stability (others can provide regen.) But the waves do seem quite deadly to squishies who can’t jump or dodge well. He’s melee, so he’s usually ends up closer to the party and everyone using target nearest has a tendency to go for him too, so you may as well burn him down first, that kinda thing.

Other people like to block the ranged mobs’ projectiles with reflects. Which I’ve tried, but when only two people are using the wall, and everyone has rushed out in front of it because the gunner has jumped backward, you end up either joining them to thwap the gunner or hanging with the wall feeling forlorn. The gunner’s projectiles are also easier to avoid at range, though I did hear someone say it does the most damage at maximum range too. And there’s the just-suck-it-up-and-heal-it-up guardian method which I often end up doing because I’m clumsy and lack finesse and it’s really quite hard to see where those projectiles are coming from, when you’re short and are in melee range.

prisoners

Prisoner section. I like that there’s a little pause here again. Utility skill switching time if needed. Insert wisecrack about not wishing mining on your worst enemy. (But I have a shiny molten pick!)

This is where the speed freak people also tend to get a little caged up stir crazy. I’ve seen one of them jump past the gate above using the spiky rocks to the right. Which promptly ended up with him getting aggro from everything beyond while the rest of us looked on from behind the closed gate. *chuckle* We got over in time to get his downed body up. Then another one who tried the same thing, but ended up falling into the lava below. *snicker*

Probably an unintended glitch, but I’m not looking forward to the day when the majority of the party learns this, and insists everyone do it, and/or laughs at falling people dropping into the lava below. (You know it’ll happen, right?)

Yeah, so the rest of this section is an extended debate between the party on which Molten Alliance mobs to kill first, some parties which work smoothly together, and others that don’t, while the NPCs do their thing freeing prisoners and stuff. (And watching Frostbite fall over, a lot. Noooooo, poor baby devourer…)

Some people feel it’s too long, I personally don’t have an opinion either way. I’ve seen it go super smooth and fast with a good group. I’ve seen it go pear-shaped and be very drawn out and messy.

protectors

The protector schtick is interesting. I like that you can kite the protector out of the shield, which gives parties without pulls or launches a perfectly viable option to take them down. (You’ll be amazed at how many people fail to notice the shield and continue flailing away though.) And there’s always waiting for the shield to drop when all else fails.

The orichalcum ore and mechanical crusher ore trap is hilarious. I think everyone gets caught by it once when it’s their first time.

bestgateever

This gate. It is the best gate ever. I am a big big fan of this gate. Besides giving people the time to marvel up and down at the size of the structure, and take screenshots if they want to, it serves the ULTRA IMPORTANT PURPOSE of giving people enough time to type the question of “which boss are we killing first?”

Communication. Oh, thank god there is something in the design that helps it along. It’s interesting, and probably a big compliment to the team who designed the final boss encounter, that three days in, there’s still no real consensus on which boss “must” go down first.

(Or rather, in each team you end up, there’s normally a few guys convinced with high passion that so-and-so is easier, and that one needs to go down because they’ve always done it that way. And so you go along with them and help their self-fulfilling prophecy along. Oh, I am so going to hell for that. :P)

I’ve done it all ways now, and they’re all possible. There’s go all out burn on firestorm. There’s go all out burn on berserker. There’s take the time to swap targets and remove the enrage stacks from either of them. There’s assign one or two people to do the enrage stack stripping, or the people self-assign themselves.

The only way that isn’t so cool is to all stack up inside berserker to avoid the waves. Fortunately, only one group I’ve gotten into has wanted/demanded people do that. I hope it doesn’t evolve to only that before day 10.

It’s a lot more fun to do it the proper ways – because again, there are multiple solutions. I simply cannot jump in time with the shockwaves. I don’t know if it’s instance lag, or ping, or what, but it just doesn’t work. You jump it on your screen, but eat the damage anyway. But dodging works, and I often dodge forwards to close the distance to berserker to hit him. And stability/soak damage covers up most accidents, though there can be a run of bad luck when you just eat a shockwave, get knocked back and down into a big pool of fire that firestorm has thrown, which pwns you. As for the flame circle attack, turning the camera 180 degrees and running like a coward far far away works best for me. Other people jump or dodge or whatever, I just don’t like the risk. Whatever works.

And then the denouement, after the grand chest of mostly turnip soup recipes (and the odd beet soup one), there’s a bit of quiet time to catch one’s breath, load up on explosives, before the big bang and harmless but highly dramatic and cheesy fun (or is that the other way around) escape sequence. Which, as I’ve mentioned at the top, is a nice social space time to actually have time to talk before everyone quits out the instance.

elevatortrap

I see some ArenaNet person agrees with the Natural Selection folks that being stuck in an elevator is a kind of ‘social together’ experience.

The TL:DR conclusion?

I generally like it. I’m still playing it. Even if I’m running a cookie cutter build to give more leeway for mistakes and the weird chaos that can happen in PUGs. (Huge repair bills and multiple deaths make me very grumpy. So much easier to do my best preventing that from happening to me with an AH guardian.)

And I probably won’t stop until a majority of my groups sour to the point of being elitist and speed freaky. I don’t know how long that will take.

I think the devs did their best to prevent/slow that down from happening and achieved that respectably well, though I’m a cynic and am convinced it’ll happen at some point.

The burning question’s still up on whether it’ll happen before the dungeon disappears.

GW2: Fixing the Fractures

At the moment, it's ugly as sin, but there's always hope for tomorrow...

I still can’t stop thinking about fractals.

But rather, it’s nagging me at a deeper theoretical level.

Design is so important to a game. It’s so easy to nudge players into behaving one way or another, and inadvertently, I fear Guild Wars 2 has let players slip back into some of their older, negative gaming habits with how effectively current day fractals are -fracturing- the community.

Everyone knows the gathering node example by now. If two players are set up in competition for that one resource, very quickly, people start cursing that other bastard for ‘stealing’ ‘their’ node.

If it’s a shared node, then there’s less of a rush and time pressure, and opens out the option for the two players to cooperate on their way to the node, and harvest it together, both benefitting.

Of course, in practice even in Guild Wars 2, we see a certain subset of players having created their own personal version of rush and time pressure (get as many nodes as possible in a short period of time) and acting selfishly as a result. These would be the ones that ignore the mobs on the way, either using you to fight for them or assuming everyone is equally in a hurry and will run past, grab their nodes and go.

Depending on your expectations of their behavior, you might either get upset by their actions, or just aim a muttered curse in your thoughts in their direction, or shrug and ignore them because you like killing the mobs anyway. Or you may quickly change and adapt and follow their example, snatch the node and head off yourself. Or maybe you and they were on the same page from the beginning and both snatched and went without a moment’s thought that other players might play differently.

Complete unity is impossible. A well-populated MMO naturally contains different groupings of players with differing priorities. It’s quite natural that they will gravitate to those that share their own interests. What is important in the game’s design though is to try not to shove them at each other and force them to accept one group or the other’s playstyle because that’s just asking for a headlong confrontation complete with screaming, yelling and kicking in-game and across all manner of internet channels and bad blood across both divides. (Unless that result is what is desirable for the game for whatever reason.)

Ideally, you might want the different players to still come in contact with each other from time to time and find reason to work together or tolerate each other if the sum contribution is still valuable. GW2 was striving towards this in its world events, where pretty much any body is welcome, an extra hand, to do damage or rez or support, even if some levels are better than others, some builds are better than others and so on.

WvW also still relies on a sizeable militia body as well as organised groups, (if only because no one server can field sufficient organized group numbers 24/7 and maintain that for long),  even if differing values and strategies and opinions and the flood of adrenaline and competition can occasionally lead to some dramatic implosions or fractures in a community.  This generally results in fairly controlled, mostly mature behavior even through numerous disagreements from a majority of players, if only because overall unity is still the only way to get somewhere. But you can see some of the hidden, negative behaviors shine through when the situation breaks down – griefers, forum trolling, exploiters, back seat commanders, commanders turning on each other, individuals fleeing to save themselves, the works.

Failing which, another alternative is to separate out and leave the different players with differing priorities hobnobbing in their separate circles, achieving success in their own way and having little reason to quarrel with each other.

In retrospect, it seems Guild Wars 1 used this route quite considerably. PvPers did their own thing – make a PvP character, get all the skills already unlocked for your meta building contentment and eventually the devs did separate out PvE and PvP skills from affecting each other (there may have been some screaming in the meantime, I’m not sure, I wasn’t paying attention back then.)

For PvE, they included heroes and henchmen, and a very shallow level and stat cap. You know what this did? It immediately allowed all the soloists to segregate themselves and -still- feel like they were making successful progress in their own staggered time. You might race through all the missions in a week or two, I might take a month or more to get there. Doesn’t matter, we all got there in the end, and me being slower does not have to affect you because I would never join your group, my heroes would do just fine.

Of course, the drawback was that this left out the sociable groupers to quite an extent, who complained that it felt too lonely, the lobby instancing made it less ‘world-like’ and couldn’t find groups easily. However, the partial solution for them matched their nature – they could find a good guild, whom they might socialize with, group and play with and progress that way with others. No one’s solved the guild matching problem just yet, though.

World of Warcraft is perhaps another interesting study. There’s the obvious achievement focused hardcore raiders, whom are all found at the max level plateau, happily chugging through their vertical progression ladder of tiered raids and item levels. And, though I’m lumping them very generally here, there are more casual-oriented players who spend most of their time in the leveling game, socializing and what not. What is their unique focus? Chris Whiteside mentioned it in the GW2 AMA and I thought it very intriguing. Collection. They collect stables of alts of various races and classes, god-knows-how many cute pets, mounts, achievements, costumes, etc.

The real fanatics, of course, do both.

All kidding aside, to me, it seems they generally do operate in their own little spheres, content to ignore each others’ playstyles. However, it is contingent on the WoW casuals having cheerfully accepted that they will never ever reach the level of perceived ‘progress’ as the raiders. Any discontentment along that front and you can get quite the war.

And it does seem these days that Blizzard has had to stagger things out along a casual to hardcore spectrum or continuum in order to try and make everyone happy, rather than carry on with the bait and switch leveling/raid divide. The drawback in their system? People getting tired or jaded and burning out from running an endless treadmill of vertical progression.

Guild Wars 2 has an exceptionally tricky puzzle in their hands now. Both the Clock Tower and the fractals have demonstrated just how violent the uproar can become when one inadvertently forms and highlights divides in the playerbase (even along arbitrary lines, hello, character SIZE as a discriminating factor? Wow), and how reflexively negative behavior aimed at others can result.

Which is completely counter to the overall goal of having players cooperating and working with each other in relative unity, even if they do have to segregate out now and then into their little ghettos to hang with others of their kind.

We’ll have to leave it in the devs’ hands to see what they will do next.

If it were up to me though?

The first thing that comes to mind is to try and diminish the immediate divides. Fractal levels are way too fractured, and players are only receiving progression benefit from players of their specific level tier (or higher, if they would deign to come down to join the hoi polloi, which rarely occurs.)

The pool of players that can offer each other benefits has to expand a lot more rapidly, including making it easier for cross-server groups or guildmates of currently different fractal levels to play with each other, and indeed, for players to find and draw from the totality of the pool (aka LFG spam is not the most ideal of group finding methods.)

They’ve already said they will be including opportunities to obtain Ascended gear through other activities. Which should help to keep the separate groups happy doing their own thing.

What now concerns me is that the divides have already happened. This will leave scars in the psyche of the playerbase. We might already have gotten meaner, more elitist, less trusting, more selfish.

We’ve already seen most of the world abandoned, except for Cursed Shore and Frostgorge Sound, little comfort zone areas of the farmers – despite tweaks that have made other zones decently viable to run level 80s about in. The profusion of things to do at any one time also separates people – harvest nodes, chase world completion, WvW, PvP, jumping puzzle, umpteen dungeons including an infinite one now, farm DEs for loot, farm DEs for karma, farm mobs for crafting items, I’m sure there’s more I’ve missed in my casual run-on sentence list.

What I’d really like to see ArenaNet focus on in the next few months, or even in the long-term (because realistically, companies can’t react that fast) is to try and reiterate a sense of unity in the playerbase. Make us value cooperation and coming together again, if only for a little while.

I know it sounds very cheesy-Treahearne heal-the-scars-of-the-land at the moment. And lord knows I don’t want another one-off lagfest of epic proportions.

But I’d like to be able to run with a group of 10-20 out in the world again, taking down world bosses, running through mini-dungeons, falling and being helped through jumping puzzles, loling and laughing in a friendly manner with each other, cracking jokes and bonding with each other.

Hell, even a costume brawl. Or revive an interest in Keg Brawl. New mini-game activities of a nonserious non-end-of-the-world omg-the-dragons-are-here nature.

Get a guild, you say? I got one, thanks. And we -do- do this sort of thing in WvW, which has helped quite a bit with my recent morale problems.

But why dump the sole load and responsibility on individual guild leaders and officers and players? Design for the feature and give us players a hand here. Throw us already premade into random groups of 10 or 20 into not-too-difficult fun instances. Help us laugh and have fun with each other, not resort to blamethrowing and shit slinging for whatever twisted behaviorial reason. The dragons are always fun to take down together, but it’s notable that players have had to resort to an out-of-game dragon timer in order to congregate en masse. Guilds might benefit from more tools and features to get their members working together and hanging out together in one place. Hell, if you can solve the age-old problem of player matching with suitable guilds, that would be a design miracle and be ripped off by all future MMOs just like the uber-customizable character creator.

Here’s hoping to good things coming for Wintersday. Toys. Toys equate to casual fun, right? How could they possibly screw this one up?

GW2: Underwater Done Right

Overheard on map chat: "Seeing all this tuna makes me hungry."

I could spend the better part of my days in GW2 submerged under the sea. It’s like a dream come true for me.

A little historical background to help you understand where I’m coming from. That MUD I used to play, the equivalent of first MMO ever?

It had a fairly unique fantasy race for player characters, the sea-elves.

Call it chance, fate, destiny, whatever, the character I ended up using to make a big name for myself on the MUD was a female sea-elven cleric. She ended up leading the Guild of Clerics for a time, and was heavily involved with roleplaying with a bunch of other sea-elves in a certain golden age.

Along with several other players, we co-created a lot of sea-elven lore and history and even language, based a little off D&D, but putting our unique spin on things (since in D&D, sea-elves tended to be primitive naked warriors, and our MUD allowed for sea-elven clerics and mages, so presumably, our race was a lot more sophisticated than that.)

I also co-built a racial hometown with a fellow sea-elven player, which in those days, involved a lot of text to describe each “room.”

Suffice to say, I spent a lot of time thinking about being underwater, looking at undersea and ocean pictures of both the real and fantastical variety, and trying to put that into words.

It’s a little ironic that now I’m making the cat spend so much time underwater. But he’s a weird cat that uses magic and likes rats, so I guess it’s par for the course for him.

One of the things that always struck me was how different each undersea landscape could look, and how sea-elves would doubtless use varied things as landmarks and have their own subtle set of descriptors to describe in detail things that we generalize together and call it coral, or seaweed.

More than a decade later, Guild Wars 2 has brought that aesthetic into a fully realized 3D world. You have no idea how deliriously happy I am.

(I’ve spent so long reading every scrap of underwater fantasy resource I could get my hands on, most of them D&D based. It’s a world that deserves so much exploration. And in the real world, it’s like our last unexplored frontier, so there’s so much fantastic potential to be imagined up there. It’s like the Moon and Mars before people really got there to see it was just a lot of rocks.)

Again, words fail me. I could say awesome, spectacular, fantastic and keep repeating it, but it’s probably easier to just show you what I mean.

Ok, I cheated, this is a end of beta weekend pic. Everyone turned into Branded, and if you went underwater, you became a Branded fish. Focus on the shallow water, dirt and sand, if you can.

I’m sure we’ve all seen the lake and river bottoms by now. They’re fairly normal, what we expect from going underwater, that sort of thing (if underwater had that many barracudas and drakes and sharks, that is.)

I’m a big fan of the seagrass. The oh so pretty seagrass.

The sea bottoms are deeper and sandy and full of crabs and that kind of stuff. So far, so good, it’s a bit like what Rift did, if I recall correctly. Possibly WoW too.

Then you plunge into the arctic ocean of Frostgorge Sound and your breath is taken away by how DEEP it gets.

No doubt, it doesn’t hold a candle to the real thing, but it’s the comparative effect. Divinity’s Reach is not as big as a real city, but for an MMO, it’s certainly huge on that relative scale. And the ocean floor is quite a ways away. You have to actually swim downwards a bit and feel the light quality changing and you hit the dimmer rocky bottom to see undersea wurms making their home there. Ick.

I love the depth. It makes it feel so real, that there’s a underwater world on par with the land one, full of mountains and gorges that you can swim through.

The most cavernous dark depths seem to be reserved for the krait-infested waters, full of decaying ship wrecks.

The verticality is very thrilling.

Light at the top and dark below, and closed in on both sides. Awesome underwater canyon effect.

And guess what, because everyone and their mother hates going underwater, and never attacks yellow mobs that don’t aggro on them, this is what you can reap from an arctic jellyfish (with an xp booster I threw on for the hell out of it, it came out of one of those chests the personal story key unlocked.)

Me, I love underwater combat. I like the three dimensions fighting, it makes it feel different from the usual landlocked combat we’ve always had in MMOs. I’m already used to flight and fighting aerial stuff in City of Heroes, so underwater is pretty much a slower version of that in a liquid-feeling medium. Perhaps some don’t like that slowness, but I’m ok with it, I’ve spent too long a time imagining how sea-elves fought, and it adds a bit of strategy to the positioning.

(There’s an underwater boss at the end of the Font of Rhand mini-dungeon, and pretty much the moment he throws a fireball at you, you have to be swimming out of the way, so that you don’t regret it 3 seconds later when the water boils around you. It’s a little too late then to think “ouch” and -start- swimming away.)

Then there’s the people who think underwater combat is slow in the sense that it takes a long time to down mobs and the bosses. Yeah, because everyone is using a RANGED option.

Guild Wars 2 is truly revolutionary in the sense that they made melee combat higher damage over ranged combat (in general.) Typical MMOs allow the cloth wearing spellcasters to sit comfortably at the far end of the room raining down death, while the plate armored warriors just spend their time plinking away doing nothing significant in terms of damage, but all in terms of keeping the mob facing away from the clothies.

It makes a lot more sense that melee combat involves higher risk – you’re going near a mob that can whack you back – and thus, higher reward in terms of damage dealt. Bursty close combat. Meanwhile those sitting at comparatively more safety far away can do sustained moderate dps. Control and support abilities are everybody’s responsibility.

Underwater combat works in the same way. As a Guardian, I have an option of a spear and a trident.

The trident is a long ranged weapon that fires a chain of light that bounces off mobs and allies, damaging mobs and healing allies. It doesn’t do terribly fantastic damage, it does some, but it’s primarily a long ranged support weapon. I use it when I want to remain at range, when I see allies meleeing near an underwater mob (so that it’ll bounce off the mob and heal them some) and ironically, I use it up close for myself when I want to out-tank a mob and dps it down uber slowly. (The light bounces off the mob and into me, healing me, so I sit there facetanking it for a while. Ordinary mob, mind you, not bosses, those are un-tankable. It’s my secondary killing option when using a spear does too much damage to me.)

The spear is the close range option. It’s pretty much the equivalent of melee, except they were kind enough to give some range on the thing so it’s not too aggravating fighting in three dimensions and trying to position just right. I’m a Guild Wars 1 paragon player, so I’m very used to spear chucking at mid range. It’s what to use to deal loads of damage fast. I use it for most normal underwater mobs, and the odd boss or two if I see the opportunity to get up close without getting whacked too hard. It actually has a retreat option (spear wall) that I don’t use often enough, so there’s still a long way to go on mastering this weapon.

I haven’t looked at the other classes (or Professions, if you’re a stickler for nomenclature) much, but it strikes me that most of them have a spear as the close range high damage option. The only two exceptions are the engineer and the elementalist, and as far as I understand it, an engie with grenades and bombs underwater is a beast, and elementalists have high damage ranged spells as an option all the time anyway.

If everyone chooses to use their long range support or control weapons to nickle and dime an underwater boss beastie down, then yeah, it’ll go slower than usual. But on the other hand, it’ll also go a lot safer and more supported/controlled and it’ll still go down in the end. Being used to tanks and outlasting a mob by carving away at it really slowly, I can’t see anything wrong with that strategy either. Want it to go faster cos you’re impatient? Then take some risks and get up close.

And some days, the mob comes close to you. (My beta weekend lowbie engineer with a harpoon gun who would much rather it didn’t.)

Back in my MUD days, we made ourselves Five Kingdoms of the sea-elves – Coral, Pearl, Gold, Obsidian and Ice. From what I remember, the Coral Kingdom was the ruling political entity with a Queen on the throne and the cosmopolitan one, Pearl was a secondary shadow of Coral, a farming region and noted for its pearl products, and Gold was a kingdom of merchants and wealth-obsessed folk.

Obsidian and Ice were the most unique. The Obsidian Kingdom was a city of spellcasters, who raised up towers by causing undersea lava vents to erupt and cool in the ocean to form spires of black volcanic glass. The Ice Kingdom was the most seemingly primitive of the lot, known for warriors and hunters up in the arctic regions, but maintained a culture of ice shapers and city crafters who carved their homes and beautiful architecture right out of glacial ice.

I always used to imagine at least one city carved right out of an iceberg, both below and above sea-level, and sea-elves being able to enter from both directions.

Kodan sanctuaries come pretty close. Not entirely, of course. There’s a lot more man-made architecture (that looks flavored by an eastern Factions vibe) and sails on these kodan city vessels, and there’s obviously less of an elven aesthetic. But the general idea is pretty thrilling enough.

And here’s a super-mini-version of what I imagine the Obsidian Kingdom must look like. Lava and black rock.

Then there are the kelp forests. The beautiful towering kelp forests.

And the bioluminescent lights.

Finally, one of my favorite poems is Edgar Allan Poe’s The City in the Sea.

All I can say is, wait until you get to Orr. I won’t spoil it for you here.