GW2: Candid Talk about the Candidate Trials

Ask and ye shall receive. Want an instance where you can both solo or group as you choose? Want variable difficulty levels that can be player adjusted?

The Candidate Trials are that miracle of game design. For that, the ArenaNet team responsible for building them gets major props and kudos and a big THANK YOU from me for bringing a brilliant theoretical ideal to fruition.

But wait, some of you may be screaming, it has -major- issues with scaling while in a full group! It is terrible! Awful! Tier 4 is so goddamn hard in a group, while others are managing it solo… *cries*

Errr, no.

I respectfully disagree.

The mobs do not have 500% more hp in a group over soloing, as some people might think. They are, however, level 81 as compared to level 80.

The larger a group size you go to, the more mobs turn up that are level 81. Add to that the fact that veterans spawn at a higher difficulty tier, and most importantly, the fact that some of the Aetherblade mobs throw WEAKNESS around (which immediately cuts group damage by a lot via glancing blows) and it creates the illusion that the mobs are a giant punching bag of hitpoints that you are flailing ineffectually on.

ArenaNet has created something very interesting and laudable in the Candidate Trials.

Difficulty level 1 is what the inclusive folk have asked for, for a very long time now. It is easy mode. Infantile mode. I heard that if you stand around and do nothing, the NPCs may actually successfully fight off the horde on their own. Presumably with some plunderers getting away and you only scoring a bronze and not getting any loot whatsoever. But what it enables is for everyone to participate in the story, small snippet that it is. You get to see a little bit of both Evon and Ellen Kiel’s character and it contributes to the election storyline somewhat.

Difficulty level 2 is like City of Heroes’ flood of minion mobs. You get a few more ordinary mobs than level 1. Tougher types of Aetherblade faction show up. (Strikers, oh how I hate thee still.) The grenadiers with the mortars spawn, introducing the mechanic of having to dodge the giant red circle of death and/or take out the operators. It’s a pretty fun but doable challenge solo, and given the fact that one achievement ends with this level, I suspect that’s where most soloists are expected to stop.

At difficulty level 3, veterans turn up. This, presumably, is meant for groups and for the really hardcore soloist to attempt. With each rising tier of difficulty, your buffer for mistakes go down (ie. the lower amount of treasure you begin with, and the amount of time you need to hold out is longer.)

It is also at level 3 where people begin to run into issues. Some cannot manage it solo. And even some groups find it difficult to get past. With some persistence and luck, it is possible for many to just -somehow- and unknowingly scrape by via the skin of their teeth, whereupon they run headlong into the brick wall of Tier 4 and begin howling their head off.

At difficulty level 4, it feels like everything goes to eleven. Stuff is HARD. They hurt. You get the distinct feeling that this level was meant for the super-hardcore – a well coordinated group that may pick and choose classes and builds, and be possibly on voice, with people fulfilling specific roles. At least, that’s probably the only kind of group that’s going to manage a gold success of 50 kills at this tier.

Which, in a sense, is great. Dungeons were made for this kind of coordinated group in mind, so I suppose ArenaNet knows that they have a subset of players that really dig this sort of hard challenge and always run in a coordinated guild group made out of specialized builds which they can discuss and tune for the occasion. It’s fantastic that the same content can also be tuned up to match that level of challenge desired.

Except, of course, one does wonder where these mythical groups are. Don’t ask me, I don’t have friends like that.

And all the groups I’ve run into that play with the same people on a regular schedule tend to be friends and family type of guilds, which are not exactly hardcore by any stretch of terminology – I mean, it’s really hard to tell your RL buddy or your relative that he or she sucks at getting out of the fire, doesn’t understand how to dodge or manage aggro and that their gear or build blows. You just… don’t. Tact and all that. So by and large, those groups tend to be a little weaker.

Maybe they do exist. I’m waiting for the first video to gleefully announce their total gold mastery of T4 in a group. I’m sure it’s bound to happen at some point.

A possibly unintended consequence of catering to both the ability to solo and play the same content in a group, combined with the ramp up in difficulty level, an achievement for merely completing it and obfuscation of potential rewards from each tier, is the effect it’s had on PUGs.

There’s less of them running at any given moment. And they are, on the whole, weaker because a number of stronger players have opted out to do the same content on their own.

There are a number of reasons for this. There’s the inherent inconvenience of group finding and group assembling and most of all, group coordination. Other players are not within your personal locus of control. The Aetherblade faction meanwhile is built to challenge groups of players to provide sufficient damage and support (or have we forgotten the lessons of the Aetherblade Retreat?) AND this particular instance also stresses the importance of the last member of GW2’s new trinity – Control.

I really have to applaud Anet for being very brilliant here. By putting a time limit on, and creating a spawn pattern of like, 3-4 plunderers from the same spawn before the complexity ramps up and produces two plunderers going simultaneously, control is rewarded over damage in most cases except pure berserker (and even then you have to be very quick on your feet if you’re doing it zerk style.)

This, by the way, is how I managed to solo Tier 4 after a number of attempts at the “kill all plunderers super fast” method and getting screwed up once a second plunderer started going.

It so happened I was on the warrior – so I turned off autoattack on the rifle and used skill 2 (cripple) and skill 5 (knockback) and utilized axe 3 (cripple), even swapping into the leg specialist trait once or twice, though I think the run which successfully completed with bronze didn’t use it. I swapped in bolas for immobilize, and Fear Me! for a fear. I was in berserker gear, but probably could and should have swapped to being tanky and doing less damage.

The goal: Waste the plunderers’ time. Ignore other mobs. Stay alive.

Crippled plunderer = more seconds ticking away. Once cripple wore off, Fear Me! with correct placement of self sent it fleeing back the way it came for a good distance. Immobilize. Cripple again once immob wore off. Knock back. Rinse and repeat. Curse when one accidentally killed it because berserk warrior is too nuts. Though being high damage does come in handy for the must-kill moments when the plunderer comes back loaded with gold and is almost going to make it to its spawn point. I’m sure there’s a balance to be found.

It takes some practice and things do get dicey when the second plunderer spawns (which occasionally makes one wonder if a friend would come in handy to post at the other spawn point) and there will be missed attempts at stopping both of them while trying not to die from veterans and mortars (lose aggro by running behind the rock, but you give up the opportunity to control the plunderers further) but you may eventually be able to scrape by with 500 treasure remaining as the time ticks down.

No “letting the first plunderer steal shit to ensure other stuff doesn’t spawn” glitch was used. (Which may or may not have been patched, according to rumors and reports.) Just lots of dodging and surviving while zeroing in on plunderers.

I did it with cookie cutter guardian later to demo proof of concept too. Hammer 3 (immob), hammer 4 (banish for the ultimate knock back) hammer 5 (ring of warding), scepter 3 (immob) are your friends. You could also use shield 5 for more knockback, but I pair focus with scepter on this guardian.
I did it with cookie cutter guardian later to demo proof of concept too. Hammer 3 (immob), hammer 4 (banish for the ultimate knock back) hammer 5 (ring of warding), scepter 3 (immob) are your friends. You could also use shield 5 for more knockback, but I pair focus with scepter on this guardian.

In my most ideal dreams, I would want a group with the following: two control/damage roles (eg. a warrior specced like I was, a thief with pulls and good damage, possibly a necro or a ranger with fears and knockbacks or a mesmer with pulls – I’m foggy about what they can or can’t do, I’m open to the possibility that all classes can do this) posted at the two spawn points of the plunderers. Their job – waste the plunderers’ time and only kill at the last second when the plunderers are nearly almost back with gold at their starting location. Take out the grenadiers with mortars when they spawn. Help each other if necessary and if a third plunderer shows up.

The remaining three would be damage/support group synergy, just like when one takes on the Aetherblade Retreat. Tons of condition clears and boons. Beat the crap out of the veteran mobs and other adds as they show up.

It’s only a theory at this stage, but I bet it would work.

Of course, the problem is convincing any group to go along with it, with good builds and good players. Is it going to happen in a PUG? Not bloody likely.

I joined a group for fun, after managing the achievements solo, and to re-confirm just how high the mob hp scaling went, because I’d kind of blacked out on my first few attempts in a group with the cookie cutter AH guardian. (The grenadiers by the mortars are way squishy btw, one berserk warrior takes them out, at the same speed as on a solo run. The normal mobs seem to have like 20-30% more hp, possibly from being level 81. The veterans, of course, require a group pounding on them to dent them.)

As you’d expect, we had one party member who had no concept of “control” and consistently decimated the plunderers despite the rest of the group suggesting we leave it alone with damage and only slow/pull/knockback until near the end of its route. Double dagger heartseeker spam thief, of course. One trick pony. (I’m sure there are much better thieves out there who know how to use scorpion wire, cripples and dazes when needed.) Then he or she attacked other mobs at random, drawing aggro onto the whole party and causing everyone’s attention to fritter into five different directions at once.

So we tried the “kill them all super quickly” route several times too, since y’know, THAT GUY. Which almost successfully worked, except two other party members tended to miss the gigantic red mortar circle and failed to dodge out of them for the fifteen seconds or so it took my warrior to rush over to the mortars and whack the grenadiers – resulting in downed players and others scrambling to rez them while getting beat on by multiple Aetherblade veterans – cue the massive condition pileup on everyone’s bars.

Condition clears? As a party, definitely not enough.

We never did get past Tier 3. Yep, 3. Not 4.

We end up with another weakest link kind of situation, where one bad player drags down the group. Is it any wonder why there are very few PUGs forming for this?

Finally, the rewards themselves are unclear and thus not tempting. There is rumored to be a chance at Aetherblade weapon skins for doing this candidate trial. Exactly what counts as success?

Is it better to score 50 kills and earn a gold on tier 2 by oneself? Certainly, you get four loot bags by doing so. The only thing that comes out of them tends to be broken lockpicks worth not much silver at all (compared to say, one of the PvP minigame rewards for mere participation.) You may get 2-6 heavy bags of booty. From very small sample sizes, there does seem to be a little less loot attempting tier 1 than say, tier 2, nor does magic find seem to have much of an effect. Very rarely, you may get a white, or a blue or a green. A pathetic one. And you get a decent amount of support tokens.

Is it better to scrape by with 10 kills or less on say, tier 3 or tier 4 and only get one or two bags at the end? So far, my solo trials have yielded much less lockpicks and heavy bags of booty (0-2), but Salvageable Aetherized Metal has dropped once or twice (possibly from a veteran kill.)

Do you get better rewards in a group? One would think it might logically be so, but so far, my failed attempts at tier 3 have yielded the same miserable amount of consolation lockpicks and bags of booty as doing it alone.

And frankly, even if you told me that there was a 100% chance of getting an Aetherized weapon skin drop from successfully getting 50+ kills in a group of 5 at Tier 4, I would seriously think twice about attempting it because the chance for failure and lots of wasted time (or less wasted time practising group coordination to get it down right) would be very high.

I’m sure we all know what the odds of that happening are, what with Anet’s love of 2% or less RNG.

Anyhow, since I don’t have any interest in this round of skins either, (hooray for me, though I did just spend 10 gold putting up buy orders for blue and green miniatures… everyone needs a vice, y’know?)  I’m not stressing about it.

I prefer to just enjoy the sheer fact that a variable difficulty challenge has been made, that can be done both solo or in a group, according to one’s preferences and bash the heck out of it for fun.

I like level 2. Its difficulty is just right for me.

So far, I’ve managed 60 on the mostly berserk axe/horn + rifle banner support warrior, though the average is more in the 51-55 range. My non-cookie cutter charrdian managed level 1 in magic find at about 44 kills, and went up to 51-54 in his berserker gear for both level 1 and 2. (Obviously, there is a bias towards berserker when you are soloing and want to score as many kills as possible. Surviving and delaying in a group may require different gear and builds – which may just account for why so many people find grouping so hard and solo to be much easier with the current dungeon meta being what it is.)

Who knows, I may eventually get brave enough to attempt level 3 and think/tweak my builds for the challenge. There’s a week or so to play with it anyway.

GW2: The Slimy Asura’s Guide to Southsun Survival

Basic information about the new GW2 minigame can be found at Dulfy’s.

Suggestions for Bookahs Trying to Survive:

1) Arm yourself well at the beginning. Make a grab for a weapon like the pistol or a pipe and see if you can get a free kill or two for a slight point lead at the start.

Demonstrating the head shot bow draw. This slimy fellow is also asking to get shot in the back... (see below.)
Demonstrating the head shot bow draw. This slimy fellow out in the open is also asking to get shot in the back… (see below for grand plan.)

2) Be aware of what the head shot animation looks like. Your options are: Dodge this with good timing, run out of range, use scenery to obstruct line of sight, or use bow 1 to interrupt them. Have eyes in the back of your head. Be paranoid. Suspect everybody of being out to get you. Look up, down, all around. Be wary of locations where people may be respawning during grace period too.

3) Make a beeline south for the rations from passiflora and stock up on as many as possible. Be aware that some may have a bomb trap already in-built and get ready to run off/dodge away if needed. Be aware of the normal places passiflora spawn and where suspicious lone flora are merely passiflora traps that will explode on proximity. Preferably be the first to get to them so you don’t have to worry about smarter players dumping a trap in the same place where real passiflora spawn.

4) If well stocked on rations, 5+ or more, enter hiding sequence. Find secluded place, preferably out of the way and high up so ghosts find it tougher to get to you and ruin your day, or in the water and only come to random spots of shore to heal up. Move as little as possible so that you do not run into any traps placed by ghosts. Stay super alert for the rumble of a karka being summoned and have a backup place to hide, preferably out of LOS of said karka.

5) If not well stocked, it’s going to come down to luck and good reflexes. Go hunting. Find someone, preferably with lots of rations, and do your best to kill them and loot their rations. Be aware that scavenging produces revenge motes, so if you’ve produced an angry ghost or two in your bid to survive, do try to lose them or at least not give them 10 motes to work with to kill you. You’re probably still screwed anyway. There’s only one survivor out of twenty.

But really, all surviving does is give you some temporary satisfaction, a splendid chest with a bit more support tokens and silver and a bad case of paranoia, suspicion and nerves. And frustration when you don’t survive (which is pretty good odds) and have garnered very little points because you were so focused on staying away from anything that might kill you.

(Unless you’re so awesome that you’re consistently winning – folks like you don’t need to read guides to outsmart the dumb competition anyway.)

No, where it’s really at, what MOST people want, is the “achievement get.”

Played games just take patience and time. Head shots, just scavenge arrows, keep spamming head shot and you’ll eventually get lucky. 2,500 points?! Will you not be an old cranky asura or an old dead bookah by that time?


Embrace the freedom that comes from giving up your splendid chest dreams now. You can still get the Desert Rose skin from normal chests. They drop like candy anyway if the TP price is anything to go by. I have two and I wasn’t even trying. And you can buy them with 200 fortune scraps, which also drop like candy from kite fortunes.

You will be playing a new game of maximizing your point score.

I assure you, it will be lots more fun than running your arse off and cowering in caves trying to hide, and then either haunting people as an angry ghost trying to get them killed or giving up and waiting in bored frustration for the game to end.

The Over-Arcing Grand Strategy for Point Domination

1) Use the grace period to score kills. Fuck rations. Eat them when low on health to keep yourself alive and deny other people the eventual loot. Grab a weapon, pound peoples’ heads in. 5 points per kill. Get a trap? Set it immediately and let someone trip it in the crowd. Who knows, he may be low on health and die from it, giving you 5 points. If not, 2 points.

Maybe keep the passiflora trap if you want to be cunning and dump it right on top of a real spawn, but you’re probably not going to survive the grace period either with this strat. Use it or lose it to someone else. Scavenge an arrow or two. Immediately turn around and off somebody. 1 point per hit, 5 if you get a kill. Preferably someone not looking at you and who is busy bending down to scavenge. Head shot if you can. Shoot a quick shot on people low on health from others also sniping.

2) You want to look like a total griefing asshat and make a few enemies who got shot in the back. If you do this well, you will look pretty scary and end up with a settlement to scavenge and trap by yourself (until an angry respawner makes their way back.) If you do die at this stage by accident or getting shot in the back yourself, you will look like a harmless idiot who may be just farming the head shot achievement and is absolutely no threat and a free kill to be attacked when opportunity arises. Win-win.

3) Do your best to stay in the vicinity of the Refugee Camp (where Kiel’s Outpost WP is on the real Southsun Cove map) where you start at, or the northeast most camp (Pride Point WP) because there will be a crazy amount of revenge motes from everyone shooting each other and scavenging here. You’ve a 50% chance of turning up here each time you die anyway – either on the Pride Point ship or in the Kiel outpost camp. (The other two places are at the bar on the southeast resort beach or the Under New Management jumping puzzle roof.)

4) The moment the grace period ends, DIE. Commit suicide. If you did your annoyance job properly, there should be a ton of people aiming a bow at you. It may help to be asura – people love to pick on the small obnoxious ones. Stay still and let them off you. Failing which, run into a trap (run around like a headless chicken with torment on and let hunger do its work too) or a karka.

5) If you did this right, you’ll be the first one dead, preferably in the middle of the camp where twenty people scavenged with their greedy little hands and where ten people probably had a bit of a scrum.

A modest haul. Mostly for screenshot demo purposes. There was a bit more behind me, and I've had even better ones when things go right.
A modest haul. Mostly for screenshot demo purposes. There was a bit more behind me, and I’ve had even better ones when things go really right.

6) Have a ghostly orgasm at the sight and pac-man up the revenge motes. Toss a karka up and vacuum up more. Just be careful not to create too much competition for the motes until you’ve grabbed mostly all of them.

7) Now that you’re a ghost, you are safe. No one can harm you. You do not need to keep looking over your shoulder. You can race around the island with skill 5 spam. You are free. You could do like the bookahs do, find a live one and kill them. But why kill your source of points? That orange dot is your new pet. Follow him, get a little bit ahead of him, and drop the teleport trap 1. If he is a nice, predictable person, he will be rushing ahead and tripping them, giving you 2 points per trap tripped. If he is more canny, then it gets a little bit harder and turns into a fun minigame of predict where he is going in order to score your 2 points. You’ve got 15 motes to use, anyway.

If he stays still, you have a number of options. If you’re really good at judging distances, it seems to be possible for the trap to be triggered by a stationary person if you manage to place the edge right on them. You could wait for them to move, wander off to find someone else more accomodating or just pac-man more points elsewhere, or spend 10 motes to summon a karka which will almost certainly make them move, if only a little, depending on how shrewd they are. Calling the karka pretty much totals your point-garnering ability and moves you back into the regular ghost-griefing territory of ordinary bookahs.

8) The grand plan may have to be altered on the fly as the situation dictates. If you end up respawning away from revenge mote central, you want to either get killed again before grace period ends or just grab a few more kills with whoever is around and go back to playing bookah style, especially if you luck into killing someone who harvested a ton of rations. A poor run like that may yield 30 points. Aim for a more achievable average run of 50 points, and if all goes well, it is very possible to be Top Scorer with upwards of 70-100+ points, You still won’t get the splendid chest, since yer dead, but you’ll have cut down on the number of repeat Southsun Survival trials to be done if you’re going for the achievement.

I'm not a survivor! (What?) But who needs "Final Survivor" to get a good score?
I’m not a survivor! (What?) But who needs “Final Survivor” to get a good score?

And now the tongue-out-of-cheek analysis:

I surprisingly find this game quite tolerable despite the FFA PvP nature of it and the built-in griefing-permitted design.

I suspect that it’s a combination of factors helping my acceptance along. One, the game fits the Survivor or Hunger Games-style stuff to a thematic T. Backstabbing, randomness, arbitrary unfairness, very temporary alliances, ruthlessness and drama are all part of this genre. It’s a Gnashblade game, it’s meant to be a selfish, conniving, one person wins at the expense of everyone else type of affair.

Two, the player does have some control over his or her fate, as long as they have good strategy and alert reflexes. The first few games, one will fall victim to some seemingly arbitrary happenings, but one eventually learns that game karka will spawn at camps as time wears on, rendering them inactive (to speed the game up and increase fatalities) so don’t linger too long at them, that player karka can be summoned if ghosts are given too many revenge motes through your actions and can reach you, and how to try to avoid traps (move erratically, jump up and off stuff in different directions, swim, climb up where ghosts find it hard to get to, etc.)

Three, the minigame creates opportunities for some hilarious short player-created narratives through emergence – there was the time another player and I duked it out with like one arrow flying between the both of us for the rations each of us was carrying. I had less rations and more arrows. I had to attack him. He dodged. He shot. I dodged. He ran out of arrows and I had one arrow remaining. Unfortunately I lost because I made the mistake of not canceling the head shot animation and he dodged it, then ran away. In retrospect, I should have just humped him until he got low and had to pause to eat rations or die.

Or the time I stalked a player in ghostly form as they swam across to the far shore (where the less known reef skelk are on the real map) and karka’ed them just as they presumably thought they had gotten away with it.

Or head-shotting another player who was trying to head shot another person. It’s a pretty frequent occurrence and have occasionally been victim to it myself.

There are just some tremendously good “LOL” moments to offset the pain of not being able to “win” this time, especially for those watching as a ghost. Cathartic, maybe.

Catharsis is having your pet karka area deny a camp and kill a few people. It comes with a guild tag, so everyone knows it's you.
Catharsis is having your pet karka area deny a camp and kill a few people. It comes with a guild tag, so everyone knows it’s yours.

(It’s also hard to take death and losing personally when you know 18 other people didn’t win either. And if there’s one person consistently winning, they may eventually make enough enemies to sabotage their future runs in true Survivor reality games fashion.)

And finally, the game and achievements do not place winning and being the last man standing on a pedestal for frustrated players to stare longingly at. Everyone participating gets to take back a support token, a green and some silver in the chest for their time spent playing this (as opposed to say, running CoF1 non-stop) so it is worth just having some fun with it. For whatever definitions of fun you prefer.

I did actually win two games by chance before I decided just to point-whore, so it is doable. I don’t have the ping (other people consistently beat me to the campfire supplies, and WvW supply camps, for that matter) or reflexes (mis-timing head shot dodges are the death of me) to do it consistently, but people in the right geographic location may.

I really like that there are multiple possible games-within-games to be played here. One can strive for a decent number of points per game, one can play with headshots and death match it out if they feel like it, one can just enjoy the sensation of griefing living players as a ghost (some people like the schadenfreude, I guess) or one can play the “proper” hunger survival game.

It’s sort of similar to Team Fortress in that sense. Yes, there’s an overall objective. But some people may just be enjoying their own personal sniper headshot game, or spy backstab game, or seeing how many people they and their sentries can gib and infuriate to the point of seeing players change class to spy and come as a group just to get past that nuisance of an engineer (guilty as charged.)

Giving more players the opportunity to feel like they are winners of their own personal little game makes the whole thing more popular, or at least, more well-received.