GW2: Prioritizing Things To Do, Post-Heart of Thorns

wyvernvsfrogs

We’re about two weeks into the Heart of Thorns expansion. I guess now’s a time as good as any to finally come up for air.

The 64-bit client has worked wonders for me as a stopgap measure to stave off memory leak crashes (at last, upgrading to Windows 7 and a new computer with 16GB of RAM has been rewarded.)

On average, it chomps about 3-3.5 GB of RAM just doing normal things and goes up to about 4-4.5GB consumed during insanely packed meta events where a hundred players are in the vicinity, all sporting their own combination of wardrobe and dyes and particle effects.

Bright side, it doesn’t crash (at least, not yet, *touches wood*)

(I stress tested it the other day by walking into the Svanir Shaman Frozen Maw daily with full default graphics and name tags on. I figure, if it doesn’t freeze up and die then, it’s probably okay.)

Thus I get to see more of Heart of Thorns on a graphical setting beyond potato.

halfabreacher

Granted, it’s rather hard to frame a screenshot sans UI when you’re worried about getting randomly gibbed by a Mordrem sniper, a punisher, or *urgh* a stalker.

One thing I’ve noticed is that I’ve become rather relaxed about goals in the expansion.

A seasonal cadence of two weeks/four weeks lent a level of stress that encouraged me to grind out all the rewards I wanted “before it went away.” There was a “limited-time” pressure that was sometimes obvious and sometimes subconscious, which made me more prone to frustration and impatience.

Faced with a deluge of possible rewards to buy and skins to collect, one would think that I’d be freaking out right about now, but knowing its permanence (assuming the HoT zones stay unchanged reward-wise as long as Dry Top and Silverwastes has existed is likely a safe bet), I’ve been looking on most of it as a long term goal. The slow chase will likely last me another year, if not two, and I’m okay with that.

If anything, I’ve been confronted by that age-old lateral progression bugaboo that we veterans keep advising newbies about: “Help! I’ve reached X threshold, and there are so many things to do! What should I be doing first?!”

My usual naggy refrain to these folks is that beyond a certain point (ie. get exotic armor as a baseline, strive towards Ascended trinkets and more,) we can’t really tell you what to do next because it all depends on what you value and want to prioritize.

Like story? Like dungeons? Like shiny skins? Like gold? They all head down different roads.

Similarly, I look at Heart of Thorns and I’m like, “Masteries? AP achievments? Raids (be it prep for the closed ones, or open world ones?) Gold + Relaxation? (So many nodes to hit, so much money players are willing to spend *twitches compulsively*) Shinies? (Like chase a HoT skin collection, a core Tyria legendary, a core Tyria precursor, or prep for a Maguuma legendary?) So many collections? Aaahhh collect all the things? *falls over dizzy like Skritt in Tarir*”

So I decided to put my money where my mouth is and prioritize my own shit:

  • New Stuff
  • Raids (while new)
  • Harvest Nodes
  • AP
  • Certain shiny objects
  • Gold
  • Masteries
  • Collect all the things
  • Raids (when they’ve gotten old)

This totally non-scientific list was mostly ordered by just choosing two things at random, eg. “Chase AP or Harvest Nodes to Relax” or “Chase AP or Gold?” and deciding which one I valued more, or which I’d pick if I could only do one thing that day.

It’s a little fuzzy around the edges, because technically, harvesting nodes is my main gold stream, but given the amount of gold I’m liable to invest into chasing AP or if the gold had to come from other sources like chasing events or doing dungeons, then certainly I’d choose to focus on easier AP goals first.

Yet if you were to ask me if I’d prefer harvesting nodes to chasing AP, I’d only have to look at my still undone Golden Badges in the Silverwastes to tell you that I’ve been hitting all the nodes first over something like that. Eventually I’ll buckle down and shove that priority up a tad, but as a general guideline, the above list works for me.

New stuff goes without saying for me. I was camped out in Tangled Depths over two weekends and quite a number of weeknights trying to bring down the Chak Gerents (all four of them.)

potatogerent

It may be potato graphics, but this reward chest has never looked shinier.

tdhole

The end result of succeeding the meta was mostly a great big hole blasted through to Dragon’s Stand, a couple of crystallized cache chests and a strongbox made accessible. Plus a piece of Mistward something that’s presumably used for making Mistward armor, when I get around to it. (Probably around the time I finally get around to making a Revenant.)

Once that succeeded once, it was like a great big load fell off my mind and I could start voluntarily choosing to ignore some raid sessions, knowing that more would be organized every day / every week. There would be time to accumulate the zone currency gradually. Now I could prioritize other things with my GW2 play time to catch up on other stuff.

Some of that involves getting more or less prepped for the impending *ugh* closed 10-man raids to hit GW2.

I’m still looking on that activity with a fair amount of dread – mostly because it’s hellish to try and match timezones and turn up at a regular schedule, plus there’s always that rejection feeling from an activity with such small number limits.

(Look at how guild missions have been complained about, when they inadvertently only reward 15 players, leaving the other… oh… 35 people who showed up feeling jipped? Or left repeating the same goddamn guild puzzle over and over until maybe most people get their reward, except a few that seem permanently glitched? Speaking of which, they really need to get around to fixing that. So bloody annoying. I was certainly never one who asked for them to make guild missions closed instances.)

Everyone’s also kinda dreading their reward scheme for raids – many because it seems like Anet’s reward adjustments feel like throwing darts at a dartboard while blindfolded, rather than following any sort of real plan.

Me, I’m bloody terrified that it’s going to be a one-way no-alternate-path “forcing” of players into their shiny new activity that they are so damn proud of and want to collect salty player tears on (What’s going on with that adversarial relationship anyway?)

Take the sudden account-binding of Nuhoch Hunting Stashes and fractal thingumies (I haven’t done fractals seriously post-expansion, I have no idea what’s been going on there.)

I had -thought- it was a clever way to provide players an alternate route to gaining currencies for activities they’d rather not prefer to engage in, while giving players who LIKE those activities an income stream from the players who hate it but want some of the rewards from that activity anyway. Meanwhile, the trade sinks gold via the TP. Win win, no?

No. Apparently, if you want Heart of Thorns zone currencies, you better just grit your teeth and grind events. Vice versa for fractals, though with all the bitterness coming from that front, it doesn’t exactly encourage me to do that activity until everything is given another look.

I don’t know.

My assumption is they’ll keep freaking iterating until they get it right, and we only need to wait until then, but damn, this iteration is SLOW.

In the meantime, I may as well do stuff that’s right in front of me, not get baited by a million and one design traps, and freak out only when there’s solid info to get grumpy about. (Like how I can’t actually prioritize a precursor rifle hunt because some poor bastard who wanted to do it first found out that bits of it were buggy and don’t work.)

One example of those things right in front of me is the revelation that I’m really most comfortable on my charr guardian as a main – I haven’t been playing any other character through Heart of Thorns for any long period of time – so I may as well take some small steps in getting him raid-ready. Like an Ascended greatsword and possibly a mace too – he already has an Ascended sword/focus and scepter/torch, but it’s been super-obvious that Heart of Thorns really really likes you to go AoE in certain scenarios… bottom line, guardian greatswords can do that and my nerfed (but pretty) Fiery Dragon Sword just can’t cut it.

I’ve a warrior and necromancer alt that also needs to be run through Heart of Thorns, and pushed towards raid-readiness, so that’s something to be doing too.

Considering that my warrior still hasn't finished the personal story, that's quite a bit of story chapters to go.
Considering that my warrior still hasn’t finished the personal story, that’s quite a bit of story chapters to go. It’s kinda nice to replay it all again, now that they’ve finally fixed the flow and put back the “greatest fear” arc, after leaving it broken for…how long?

Masteries, thankfully, I’ve knocked out most of the crucial ones, which leaves the nice-to-haves as a slow goal to work toward while doing other things.

Between that, attending open world raids, and maybe replaying the story for achievements, chasing mastery points and hero points for elite specs and harvesting all the things while the guild hall material demand is sending the economy into wild swings, I shouldn’t run out of still-viable things to do while waiting for fixes and iterations to the more egregious issues that have arisen, seemingly all over the game.

Looks like everyone, devs and players alike, will be quite busy until next year.

It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's Darkwing Tigercharr!
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s Darkwing Tigercharr! (God, I love the charr gliding animation. It’s like they’re pouncing on some mice below. Also, winged cats are awesome. Not very immersion-y, but eh, that boat sailed a long time ago. Still awesome.)
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2.5 Things City of Heroes Did Wrong

Ok, besides PvP. That's too easy a target. Here's the most amount of players in a CoH PvP zone ever. Attracted only by killing a dev in giant spider form.

As linked by J3w3l, Reports From the Field wrote a post on 7 Things They Felt City of Heroes Did Wrong.

Since I’m an idiot who can’t seem to figure out how their comments system works, and have a ton of CoH screenshots that are looking for an excuse to be shown off, I decided to do a blog post in reply instead.

I’m a little less picky.

I think they only got two or three things wrong.

Sadly, I think the biggest problem was a fundamental baked-in issue that the existing devs didn’t quite know how to solve.

Repetition

I’ll narrow this down further to non-varying spawn sizes in instanced tilesets that were reused over and over.

Because frankly, a lot of what we do in games is repetition, over and over, and we can still find repetition fun.

City of Heroes had no problems with replayability in terms of alts – the insane number of character slots, classes, powersets and customisation was unparalleled.

The main problem was that each alt had to level up by entering an endless set of corridors masquerading as missions, which were optimally filled by a spawn meant for an 8-person team, and every combat encounter pretty much looked like this:

2007-06-16 22:05:10

2 Bosses, a couple of Lts. and a whole bunch of minions.

Repeat encounter 14-40x depending on how many spawn points were set in that mission, and how big that map was.

Very soon, players figured out that the most efficient way to mow these things down was via AoE attacks.

To let AoE attacks hit as many as possible, get someone to group them up for you.

(Enter the ubiquitous AoE target limit – but still, hitting 10-16 is better than hitting one at a time. And cone attacks hit 5 but need them all neatly stacked up anyway.)

There were only two main ways to do this:

Option A) Herd to a Corner

A sturdy character, usually a tanker or a brute, or in a pinch a scrapper, would initiate, aggroing the spawn and dragging them all to a handy dandy nearby corner.

Once in position, everybody else opens up with whatever they’ve got.

Riffs on this include the more skilled defender or controller with debuffing options who could set up some debuff anchors, turning a nasty spawn’s alpha strike (ie. retarded AI’s initial response of firing a salvo of attacks at the first person to aggro them) into some wimps trying to beat you with feather pillows, which by default, makes anyone a sturdy person. Pull to corner as desired.

Option B) Corners, Schmorners, The Spawn is ALREADY Grouped Up

Well, it’s true, ain’t it? They spawn in a clump to begin with.

Tank runs into the center of the group, taunts by skill or combination of aggro generation powers. The group turns inward on the tank, voila, please be to kindly open up with pewpew now.

Riffs on this include those with control options – usually controllers, dominators or the odd defender who would just alpha strike the alpha strike with an “everybody freeze” power, nullifying the usual retaliation, and then the beating things up began.

There was rarely any tactical variety required, beyond the odd variation of dangerous target to be prioritized or controlled due to faction. Yes, Malta sappers suck. Literally. Draining all endurance from players tends to make powers crash and ineffectual. So hold ’em or kill ’em fast.

Others just tended to be annoying nuisances that took forever to kill. Carnival Master Illusionists summoned a bunch of annoying decoys, and phased out for 50% of the fight, making them a time-drain to even hit. Rikti Drones projected so much force field defence that you needed pretty high accuracy or to-hit to pierce through their shielding – but if you did have enough, they were pushovers.

But by and large, it was see clump of enemies, group clump of enemies, fireball (or insert choice flavor of attack here) clump of enemies. Debuff or control if you had the options to, and yes, everybody loves buffs, buff all the time plz thx bai!

AoE attacks, the best way to fry things.
AoE attacks, the best way to fry things.

Soloing, it tended to be even worse.

You were guaranteed three minions or one minion and one lieutenant. This was somehow scientifically determined by a lead game designer as the appropriate amount of challenge for any player or powerset.

Before long, you had your skill rotation down pat.

Repeat over and over as you carved your way through numerous spawns to the end of the mission.

Skip the mobs in favor of mission complete?

Well, you could… but the mobs were a big source of xp anyway. Would you prefer to go through 3 maps of unending spawns of enemies repeating the same skills in the same patterns, or would you prefer to race through 10+ maps ignoring all the enemies except that required for completing the mission to get the same amount of xp?

“……..”

Over time, I ended up street sweeping in order not to have to choose between either mindless option, forgoing the tasty mission complete xp in favor of actually feeling immersed into a world that had NPCs interacting with each other, spawns that varied in size and had to be approached differently, more space to move around and fly and tactically pick off enemies, and feeling like my actions actually had some impact on NPCs that needed rescuing or terrorizing depending on if I was playing a hero or a villain.

Not everyone was as motivated by immersion as I.

The achievement and rewards-driven folk eventually took things to their natural optimal efficiency point.

As Task Forces became more streamlined and rewarded better loot over regular missions, they became the go-to set of missions to run. As fast as possible. Gogogogo.

Imperious Task Force. Even the best TF can only be run so many times before getting old. Note endless spawns of Longbow in background.
Imperious Task Force. Even the best TF can only be run so many times before getting old. Note endless unvarying spawns of Longbow in background. (And yes, this is why one barely blinks an eye at particle effects in GW2. It’s a miracle we knew what all these things meant, with the powers customisation that allowed you to change the color of your powers.)

When Mission Architect released, of course the most popular missions would be the powerleveling xp farms with as many xp packages clumped together as possible, with the gimpiest powersets for doing the least damage to players possible.

farmmaps

And what did you do once you hit max level as fast as possible?

Either do it all over again with another alt, or go through the same set of missions at the end for… I dunno, kicks or something, or bitch and complain that there was nothing else to do and that the game was too repetitive and quit the game because you were done.

Each alt you went through, the chances were more likely that you’d eventually hit the more jaded last option at some point when you finally hit your repetition limit.

If only they could have varied the spawn sizes and positioning in each map more dynamically, I think it would have gone a LONG way towards ending the feeling of repetition.

But I suspect the mob distribution was sadly so baked-in that they couldn’t do anything about it without totally wrecking the game’s code.

The Incarnate System

Oh gods.

Words fail to convey my loathing for this system.

The solution the live team of CoH designers hit upon to prevent this burnout from repetition scenario from occuring was the ye olde raids system.

Vertical Progression. Ever Increasing Power at Max Level. Raids Involving Massed Numbers of Players. Forget Your Alts, You’ll Only Have Time to Build Up Phenomenal Levels of Cosmic Power on One or a Few Characters.

You know, City of Heroes launched at around the same time as World of Warcraft.

WHATEVER MADE THE DESIGNERS THINK THAT PLAYERS WHO CHOSE TO PLAY COH OVER WOW -=WANTED=- RAIDS?

Thanks, devs. I really wanted my game to look like WoW, raid frames, more UI than anything.
Thanks, devs. I really wanted my game to look like WoW, raid frames and more UI on my screen than anything else.

Wanted to be FORCED kicking and screaming into adopting and adapting to the system by virtue of exclusive loot/power that could ONLY be gotten by participating in this brand spanking new system that the designers were so proud of spending their time on?

Personally, I was attracted to the game initially because it didn’t have all of the above.

Because it had a nice friendly community that were inclusive and open to anyone teaming up with anyone, who even gave away scads of in-game money to newbies just to help them out and feel like a hero, a holy trinity flexible enough that no one had to wait around LF tank or LF healer unless they were really really picky, because I could make all the alts in my head that I wanted look and feel like how I wanted, because I had options to solo or group as I preferred.

When the game no longer felt like it was supporting this style of play and when all the brand new shiny content went a way I disliked (which has some lessons that GW2 might be well-advised to heed, given the histrionics I’ve been seeing in my comments from certain players who are perceiving the direction of the game changing in a way they dislike – though I still maintain one piece of content offering nonexclusive rewards is -different- from ALL the content in an update offering exclusive rewards that can be only obtained by playing a certain way…)

…I quit.

I canceled the sub I had been faithfully maintaining for six years, through a few minor burnout episodes that I knew would recover from taking a month or three’s break time, and quit supporting the game with cash.

I sat around watching the game lead their remaining players on from 2010 to 2012 from one piece of group content to another, grinding the same set of missions repetitively for incremental currency to build the next piece of ‘gear’ that would make their characters more powerful, and played another game instead.

Because my preferred playstyle had no viable options for obtaining the same reward.

Because the designers were so insecure in the fun level of their content that they felt they had to sneakily ‘encourage’ participation in their massed group content by making it the only non-absurd way to earn that level of power.

I only came back to check things out when the Dark Astoria zone released, making it -finally- viable for solo and small group players to start earning Incarnate levels of power.

And yeah, I chose to jump into a few raids then, because it was a -choice- on my part to see whether I found it fun (not really, beyond seeing what the fuss was about) and not because I had no other alternative.

Still, there’s a fundamental problem about vertical progression systems that only drag out the death knell.

You separate the playerbase.

You really do.

Those attracted by phenomenal levels of cosmic power and don’t mind clumping together into a group become one subset. Playing at a much higher level of power.

Why yes, I am an Incarnate. And I will take all of you Rikti on.
Why yes, I am an Inventions-kitted Incarnate. And I will take all of you Rikti on.

Those who ignore the content because they don’t like it and continue doing their own thing end up on an uneven playing field of merely ‘blue and green’ level of power compared to ‘purple and orange.’

How do you balance future content for these two different groups of players?

You don’t.

It becomes skewed to one group only.

Applying more and more pressure to the other group to conform and learn the stuff they’ve been ignoring, or they quit.

You better gamble that the group of players you’ve designed that content for is big enough to support your game via cold hard cash.

(Which is another interesting parallel to GW2 – though its fundamentals are different – exotics baseline, Ascended better, no more power increase or they’ll regret it – and the payment models are different. Who’s paying the most in either game? Casuals or hardcore, y’think?

Also, Wildstar is gambling that their hardcore base is big enough, and that their casuals will be content to be strung along with housing and some solo options.

WoW, you’d think, has managed to get by with producing endless series of tiered raids, though I do note that every expansion they keep changing things up, making things easier and easier to access and ‘catch up’, with different levels of difficulty to appeal to different groups, and generally playing a very good balancing act of continually laying treadmill track in front of their carrot-seeking audience.)

Loot / Inventions

The last factor is one I feel mixed about.

It could very well be that City of Heroes could have collapsed sooner without it.

Without loot, without Inventions, without something shiny to chase and look forward to building up and improving and giving room for theorycrafting of various intricate builds, we probably would have lost a great number of Achievement-oriented players who needed the shininess of a gear upgrade to wrap their minds around.

But catering for this group of players had some fundamental repercussions on how the community ‘feel’ changed over time.

In my opinion, a great deal of the friendly community aspect of City of Heroes was lost in the later years due to this focus on loot.

It used to be about fun. About kicking ass, taking names and looking good.
It used to be about fun. About kicking ass, taking names and looking good. Together.

Originally, City of Heroes was about getting together with a bunch of friends.

And everyone was a friend  and welcome on teams because everything scales up with more people, giving more xp rewards to everybody.

No one needed influence (in-game money) beyond those necessary for Single Origins, bought from vendors at a very cheap price compared to how much influence was being given out from missions. So level 50s had so much influence they didn’t know what to do with it, and ended up going back to Atlas Park and sugar-daddying newbies with it, running costume contests and lotteries and fun social stuff.

Once loot came in and an auction house, well, influence had value.

Better hoard it now. Some heroes we were, accumulating large wallet amounts that would then be spent on more upgrades for more power. We turned commercially-minded and mercantile.

Rikti Boss farm - earn large amount of tickets, buy loot.
Plus Mission Architect absurdity: Rikti Boss farm – earn large amount of tickets, buy loot. Yes, handy dandy NPC buffers standing by.

Let’s see, help a newbie or buy a Luck of the Gambler for more defence? We’ll take being godlike, thanks, the newbie can fend for itself. (Of course, not everyone did this, but by design, loot encourages selfishness and self-interest over selflessness.)

Suddenly it didn’t matter so much if the team was just having a good ol’ social time hobnobbing it up while fighting bad guys, but more about xp and loot earned/hour. Fast runs plz. We r wastin time. More missions complete, more chance for shiny loot drops.

And what was the loot for?

For making yourself powerful enough that you didn’t need a team to take on a spawn size set for 8 players.

Who needs a team when I have bots?
Who needs a team when I have obedient bots with better names?

Your ubercharged Inventions-kitted out player would feel free to run off and separate from the team and take on spawns by themselves. Why not? They weren’t punished by faceplanting. In fact, they were helping you clear the mission twice as fast!

They were soloing while ostensibly on a team.

(Which, eventually made teaming pointless to me, and drove me into soloing because I couldn’t stand associating with those players any longer.)

Eventually, an update sealed the deal by allowing any player to control the spawn sizes they wanted to fight by themselves.

Yes, this made farming easier.
Yes, this made farming easier.

And now, there was no more need for teams. Or for much of a community. Or getting to know your fellow player or bother to be nice to them.

Just set your spawn size to 8, and run your endless series of unvarying missions as quickly as possible to keep earning more influence and more loot drops and getting more powerful.

godlike

Farm it, in other words. Farm it to death and world’s end.

Or burnout from repetition.

Whichever came first.

GW2: Early Days in the Crown Pavilion

So refreshing, minus dome and zerg...

Funny story about Liadri.

Stayed up for the patch.

Patched.

Jumped almost headlong into Crown Pavilion…

…with one tiny stopover to experience the story instance first, because I’m a sucker for narrative and getting properly situated in game lore…

…with the initial fistful of Queen’s Gauntlet tickets, hoping to beat the queue which might naturally get distracted by the shiny skins, story instance, Labyrinthine Cliffs and wannabe boss zerging below.

Got a cage with one other person thinking the same thing.

Noted with immense pleasure the missing dome, so less constricting camera angles

(though I still managed some awkward ones on a sylvari necro later.)

The NPC medic, which revived you, so no waypoint fee and bloodboiling frustrated running back between tries

(though I still managed to pick a cage with a buggy asura medic which would sometimes not bother to revive – dang those snotty asura and their bookah prejudices)

No repair fee, from the prior patch.

BEAUTIFULLY clear orange AoE indicators, making it a lot clearer where Shadowfall was going to land, so the fight felt a lot fairer from the get go.

Jumped in the first time, thinking, man, I’m screwed, I didn’t read my own phase 1 guide from the last time, I’ve forgotten her patterns and where exactly to run, it’s going to take a while to figure out all over again.

Was shocked to make it to phase 2 running purely blind, based on reflexes alone, being in bad positions about 50% of the time (screaming my head off and relying on dodge invincibility frame or renewed focus to scrape by) and got her to about half her health before all my poor timing finally caught up with me and whittled me down out of health and endurance and cooldowns.

Huh. Felt a lot easier than last time, I thought.

Checked my FPS, which was holding at 20-24.

Gave it another two tries, which came fairly close, though I was starting to train myself to adopt the more optimal positioning in relation to the patterns again from old memories of yesteryear…

I had to exit the map to pick up more tickets saved from last year from the bank, and also swapped characters to a condi necro because I was curious as to how it would go.

…then the weird shit started.

Occasionally dying from Visions that didn’t even seem to be close at all.

One or two cases of what felt like extreme lag and dropped frames, causing the whole entourage of Liadris to turn up a lot closer than expected

(yes, taking into consideration her teleporting – the point was not even seeing her teleport, and the visions stuttered in like they were flicker-stepping in too)

Checked my FPS, and lo and behold, it was at 10-12.

The zerg was in my map, trying out the boss blitz.

Spent another 30 tickets or so ramming my head against the problem, lucking in one attempt that had her almost dead before something happened… unknown, the floor fell out, but the announcer had only spoken the first time running out line, there didn’t -seem- be a vision near me…

…I can only conclude that a vision perhaps spawned on top of me and I didn’t see it with my low FPS before being returned.

It was nearly 5am local time (or evening North American time) and I decided that each attempt was getting worse and worse.

Either possible sleep deprivation, the oncoming NA zerg thronging the Pavilion or both.

Went for a nap.

Woke up mid morning. (Had a day off today, so no work.)

Got back into the Crown Pavilion.

Noted that the zerg had died down to some 30-40 odd individuals in my particular map – generally wiping on a boss after having killed 2.

Picked a cage away from the boss they were fighting.

Noted I was back to 20 FPS.

Killed Liadri on the second go.

Then I joined TTS doing a 6 group version (10ish people per boss, simultaneous kill) of the boss blitz for the next two hours.

The selfish part of me that wants a clear gauntlet run is telling me to propagate the message that is being spread on Reddit.

Crown Pavilion isn’t a zerg farm fest anymore! No more Monty Haul loot! Oh noes. Don’t come in to zerg it up, it’s an awful waste of your time! You get no T6 mats. You get no XP, so it’s pointless bringing in your low levels. EOTM karma train is where it’s at! Please spare my toaster all those FPS drops! Kthxbai!

sixgroup

On the other hand, if you achieve this level of pretty – and I do seem to recall quite a number of people wanting interesting 10-man group boss fight content, and quite a few megaguilds or server communities who could field this number of players, not to mention the eventual wising up and learning of the playerbase:

The six bosses are fairly entertaining in their mechanics.

There’s enough people around to rez a downed player if individual mistakes happen, and a waypoint if things really go wrong.

It is quite doable to finish within the 7 minute time limit – though the issue is coordination and communication, of knowing when to stop DPS and start killing in sync when all groups are ready.

goldbossblitz

Welcome to the new champion bag farm.

Not inclusive of extra green stuff that I lost track of, after salvaging. And there might be a couple more festival tokens
Not inclusive of extra green stuff that I lost track of, after salvaging. I spent a bunch of tickets doing the gauntlet achievements. And there might be a couple more festival tokens from what I started with originally.

Honestly, I can’t fault this new turn of events.

Fair is fair.

There’s considerable amounts of solo content available with the update – Labyrinthine Cliffs is a solo explorer’s haven. Queen’s Gauntlet is a solo challenge-seeker’s refuge.

It’s even in the interests of those playing the Queen’s Gauntlet to NOT have the unwashed masses piling it up in a group of 50 under some unfortunate person’s cage.

A group of 10 underneath shouldn’t create as many issues.

It goes back to the original intent of the design, which -was- zerg splitting, with all the anti-zerg mechanics given to the mobs, except the zerg outsmarted the designers the first time around.

It’s nice to have a little playground for coordinated groups – and it’s temporary content, doesn’t give anything special that you can’t get elsewhere so no elitism issues…

…but hey, you get the fun of playing in a coordinated team, fighting not-too-hard but not-too-easy bosses, and can rack up a lot of festival tokens, gauntlet tickets and champion bags quite fast. Very fast, even. Together.

Folks who don’t want to or have the time to play together, there’s Frostgorge, Cursed Shore, EOTM to choo choo around for champion bags too. The only tradeoff is no festival tokens, and no chance at Festival Favors for the seasonal vanity stuff.

Soloists who want those Festival things, there’s Labyrinthine Cliffs to play at leisure (and small groups can do this too – I see mesmer portals being popular and casual guild events doing the half hour event pop ups as being -very- very fun and cooperative and friendly) and the Gauntlet – which is a lot less agonizing without said 50 man zerg under you.

Those who have a more competitive streak might be happier with Aspect Arena and Sanctum Sprint.

Everybody has viable options. Everybody wins.

(Except those hoping to spam 1 and get rich. Don’t worry. Anet will screw it up at some point and there will be another farm fest again.)

Not Merely Solo Quests in an MMO World

So, I got carried away with a wall-of-text comment reply and I’m -still- not done mulling on the issues brought up. Best to post this on my own blog, no doubt.

Spinks over at Spinksville expresses frustration over facing solo quests in an MMO world. It’s a bit of a rant that covers a number of game design topics and I just keep feeling that they’re not being properly broken down into their component bits to be examined properly. “Solo quests” is too general and may end up going down to the old and stale solo vs group debate road all over again.

Spinks conflates a number of issues into one, I think.

There’s having problems with:

Badly Designed, Unfair Challenges

That do not clue you in on the correct solution or offer good feedback towards this.

Or that are unfairly skewed towards a particular aspect of combat – eg. if you can’t dps this down within a certain time, you’re screwed. Fuck healers. Fuck tanks.

Or if you can’t heal this squishy escort NPC, you’re done for. Sorry, all classes without a heal. DPS moar and pray. Taunt it a second time, maybe.

This is especially bad in MMOs that aren’t designed for character classes to be flexible or re-specs to happen easily. If one is say, in RIFT or some such, one at least has the option of completely changing up one’s character to tune it to solve the challenge (though some would still complain that this is “forcing” them to play in a way that contravenes their preference. One could argue though, that proper mastery of a class means knowing how to play all its aspects.)

On the other hand, if the correct solution can be arrived at by reading the quest text, or by taking some time out to readjust one’s skill build (eg, in TSW or GW), or if there are multiple solutions to overcome the challenge that all classes have some access to, then that’s a lot more reasonable design in that any one player on any one character might possibly be expected to manage this.

Then there’s the challenge that doesn’t really offer any learning opportunities for the player. It’s really a time-gate. Grind this much repeatedly so that you can earn this set of gear with incrementally higher numbers that will now allow you to pass the challenge that you couldn’t manage before because the punching bag’s hitpoints are really that high.

I’m prejudiced, yes, I find this boring. But I suppose if you’re playing a game where nearly all the challenges are set out this way, then that’s how that particular game works. If you play it, you’ve accepted its premises. The challenge has to be consistent for that particular game.

Which leads us to…

The Bait And Switch

Seriously, stop this one. It’s dumb as fuck.

Here’s a trail of breadcrumbs on how to steadily progress with my game…

Now whoops, here comes something completely different, involving a diferent playstyle which may not be to your preference, WHAP, do it and enjoy!

The player is left blinking, going, hey, where’s the game I was enjoying before this blindsided me? Am I going to find more of the stuff I liked after finishing this weird shit, or do I face a future of this? Maybe I should be re-evaluating my future with -your- suddenly new and different game.

Don’t plunk a solo quest in the middle of a whole bunch of group quests. Don’t plunk a group quest (haha, fooled you, go spam LFG now!) in the middle of a solo quest sequence.

The ‘real’ game is raids. Now let’s spend the next five years trying to fast-forward raiders through the leveling game that they don’t appreciate going through to begin with.

Oh, the leveling through quest experience that you enjoy? You can still do it, but you’ll never be as strong or powerful as those playing ‘the real game’ and be forever looked down upon.

I have no idea what they’re trying to pull here. Give me a game where the PvPers get to PvP in peace with their separate progression and arenas, and the PvErs do PvE stuff, and everyone progresses in their own way, any day. For those who enjoy both, well, hooray, lateral progression paths! Do both!

Solo or Group Preferences

Are just that. A preference. Stop blaming soloists or groupies (or content designed for them) for all the ills of the earth.

It’s a false dichotomy anyway. Lots of people both solo and group. They do both solo quests and group up for dungeons and raids.

They may like doing one or the other more. That’s preference.

What we more often hate are that we have no alternatives. No options. Backed into a corner because -somebody- decided it would be a good idea to have this solo quest or group raid be completion-required-for-overall-progress or the only content drop in an update with a game-changing, playing field-unleveling shiny attached.

Forcing Players Into a Playstyle They Dislike (or Face Progress Blocked For Good)

No contest here. This is highly unpopular.

Make an “I-only-PvP” player PvE for gear just to be on an even playing field with their opponents, and the howling will be just as loud as forcing an” I-only-PvE” player into a PvP zone in order to get a shiny.

Making it a requirement for people who prefer to solo to group up for the best rewards and to see new content yields a whole bunch of very surly, possibly bad-at-working-in-a-group loners joining PUGs and everyone having a miserable time.

Just as making it a requirement for people who prefer to group all the time to separate and wait for each other to pass a certain solo threshold, “be-this-good-by-yourself-or-your-path-together-is-blocked” yields a very frustrated person who will wield the “M” is for multiplayer stance like a bludgeon.

Devs may still do it, as they may be aiming to lay a trail of breadcrumbs to lead players into trying out a certain activity, or they simply have no time to create alternatives or options but I’m sure they brace themselves for the complaint storm ahead.

Y’see, part of why this is so complicated is the large group of in-betweens who might be willing to do both. If tempted a certain way. And getting them to do both gives them variety. But I do think this should be “soft” encouragement and temptation, rather than “hard” roadblocks and forcing.

A cosmetic item with the same stats, but looking very much special and prestigious and unavailable elsewhere, is one idea. No one is forcing you to get it – in the sense that your playing field will still be level with or without it. Or a reward that can be gotten in a few places, so that players have at least a choice of the least onerous they would prefer. Or extra helpings of a shiny obtainable elsewhere or through other means, so that it’s most optimal to go for one path over another. (As long as it’s not ridiculously hard or lengthy to go the other route.)

Not being able to advance to next level, or get the next quest in the questline, or having no other means to get a reward with incrementally higher stats? Forcing. Bad. Prepare for tons of player protest.

Adjustable Difficulty Levels and/or In-Game Tutorials

Finally, we have the problem that I touched on in the comments but failed to resolve there.

What can we do with players who are not up to the challenge? That, for whatever reasons (some may be good ones – have a handicap, legally blind, ill, etc.), are not performing as hoped?

It’s harsh to have just one benchmark and say, “You must be this tall to pass. The end.”

That leads to elitism. (Though one might argue that in some games, both devs and players don’t give a shit whether they create an elitist community or not. It may even seem like their goal is to glorify the hardcore at the expense of everyone else.)

That leads to people failing to make the grade being miserable, pissed, frustrated, angry, feeling hopeless and all in all, ready to dump your game and move on to a more reasonable one. (Did you want their money or did you not care?)

I think the solution is obvious, but no doubt, hard to implement. Adjustable or scaling difficulty. With commensurate rewards, if you like.

The easiest difficulty is baby mode. Handhold them. Make it easy. Tutorial mode your special gimmicks. Just let players see the nice graphic models your artists spent so much time and hard work on, and maybe the story if there is one. Let any blocking progress be unlocked. That’s reward enough.

(I know I personally appreciated Super Adventure Box’s Infantile Mode before I graduated to jumping the normal course that most just started out with. Whee! Rainbows catch clumsy charr from falling and splattering to horrible doom! Except when charr chooses to keep leaping for sneaky hidden secret room of his own accord! Charr took 7 hours but finally got comfortable with it!)

The idea is to just get shaky players familiar with their surroundings and either content to be “done with it” or comfortable enough to move on to practising a slightly harder challenge now that they’ve managed to grasp a few necessary concepts (rather than learn how to juggle, pull, kite, fight, use strange skills,  heal stuff and not stand in fire all at the same time while getting beat on in completely unfamiliar surroundings that are a maze of twisty passages and getting yelled at by their supposed “teammates” or feeling pressured to succeed alone because someone else has finished and is waiting for them.)

Optional desirable shinies are to be attained at harder difficulty levels. Introduce the more advanced concepts. Bring in the more complex dance routines and gimmicks and so on. If they want them, then they must improve to the standards being demanded of them by the challenge.

But make the first progress-unblocker doable by all.

Because if you don’t, the player won’t have a reason to even play your game any longer.

GW2: Molten Weapons Facility – Analysis and Opinions

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.