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*
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.
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.