GW2: Fresh Off the Presses – GW2 Movement and Combat Guide

Maybe not that kind of movement...

Man, I am tired.

Regular visitors may notice a slight new change in my sidebar. It’s a little awkward, but I can’t figure out a better place to put it at the moment.

This massive undertaking was started two months ago, when I decided that beginners to GW2 (or even to MMOs) might appreciate a guide that explained the concepts of “kiting” and  “corrner-pulling.”

One thing led to another, there was just no end of concepts that seemed important to touch on, and it ballooned into a massive multiple-section outline.

I got about halfway through it, and then pretty much collapsed and wound down out of energy for a month of procrastination.

Finally lighting a fire in my behind was the thought that the Fiery Greatsword nerf was going to happen before I finished and invalidate entire references to FGS in multiple paragraphs.

No way, it’s got to be posted before the September patch, and then I’ll revise those sections later in the oh… umpteenth draft once it’s no more.

So for better or for worse, still rough around the edges, here it is:

The Beginner & Intermediate Player’s Guide to Movement and Combat in Guild Wars 2

If you find it useful, please feel free to share the link above, or the shortlink below:

GW2: Dry Top Analysis – The View From T4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just didn’t want to do it that way.

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

And I liked the options being offered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not useful -now.- But later?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s an INSANE amount of geodes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So it was down to camping the LFG tool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So… what happens when you do get in?

A cycle of events is performed at each quarter hour.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, everyone trundles over to the moa.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Zerging down Nochtli makes the event very easy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Nochtli, folks head to the colocal queen nearby.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The north mine is a very interesting event.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Extra Difficulty, Struggle With Controls or Concepts

The best way to empathize with complete newcomers to the MMO genre who are not so much concerned with high level concepts like ‘levels’ and ‘xp’ but are struggling with the more immediate concerns of “how do I move” and “how do I look around” and “why can’t I hit this thing that is hitting me, halp” is to put yourself into a similar situation.

Like trying a sports game, for example, only to find out that each NPC is separately modeled to have different areas of strengths and weaknesses.

I guess that’s why my attempt at one of the Madden games when I was in a mild fascination with American football phase failed rather miserably.

Mind you, I live in that majority of the world where football means kicking a round ball into a net at one end of the field. I did always find ‘soccer’ rather boring and individualistic, where the art of falling down and making it look like you’ve been fouled horribly was generally more exercised than teamwork. Watching the goalkeepers was the most interesting thing of the interminably long match of running up and down a field after a ball for hours as they at least had a role different from the other men on the field (Stop the ball, not kick the ball.)

So it was much more fascinating to discover that American football had teams with an intricate breakdown of many different roles – people who caught the ball, ran the ball, threw the ball, kicked the ball and those that didn’t even have the primary role of doing anything with the ball but blocked and interfered with people trying to do stuff with the ball.

It did, however, take some homework of reading the highly intricate rules online, slowly deciphering out scoring and everything else, before I could turn on the TV and not have a match be complete gobbledygook. I did eventually puzzle out enough to develop a casual fan’s appreciation of the game.

The PC game, though… Well.

Plays defeated me.

I could manage controlling one player on the easiest setting and bullrush my clumsy way through ten yards, more or less. Then all these complicated pages of the playbook would pop up with no explanations, Xs and Os and dotted lines and there would be a time limit to select one of them. Randomly picking plays and going ahead with whatever the hell I decided to do in the moment worked about as well as you might expect.

This month’s infuriating difficult game attempt is another go at Dark Souls.

I’m not much of a console player. A long time ago, my ISP had a free PS3 promotion if you contracted with them for 2 years, and well, one was -already- paying for internet monthly anyway. It was a well-timed promotion because Heavy Rain was a PS3 exclusive, and god, did I want to play that game badly. While haunting the local games store for a copy of Heavy Rain, I saw a decently priced copy of Dark Souls and decided, what the hell, let’s see what the difficulty hype was all about.

That very first attempt was pretty much a disaster.

First, there was the encounter with the Abyss Demon, armed only with a broken sword hilt. Yes, I am aware in retrospect that it is meant as a lesson in running away being the better part of valor. I can see the design now, what with the brightly illuminated doorway and all that.

At the time, I had bought into the hype that you could defeat anything, as long as you reacted properly. A dozen deaths feeling out its patterns later, I had indeed found the exit door, but dammit, I didn’t WANT to run away.

I’m doing 4 damage to this thing each hit! If I keep behind him, he doesn’t hurt me! Surely there must be some kind of masochistic achievement award for actually defeating this thing earlier!

Several more dozen deaths later, rubbing in the fact that I didn’t have much skill with the controls and that it was damned difficult to consistently stay behind this boss without getting clubbed into nonexistence, I was getting motion sick and very tired of stone textures.

With the bitter taste of defeat in my mouth, I finally ran away to continue the rest of the tutorial. Except that didn’t get very much further besides killing a few skeletons, and then running in circles, completely lost and unable to figure out how to get past a bunch of locked doors. I couldn’t even go back to play with the Abyss Demon again because a locked gate had slammed down behind me.

After the better part of half an hour or more, I may have finally googled for help, only to realize that I’d missed a new hole in the wall that had been knocked open by a round boulder rolling down some stairs. Good grief, was this a game I was going to have to play with a walkthrough constantly in hand?

Talked to NPC, unlocked door, killed more skeletons, killed Abyss Demon at properly intended time, zoned to next zone.

Where one was promptly greeted with arrows and flaming projectiles and proceeded to plummet to my death trying to dodge them.

I stopped that play session there, having had enough motion sickness and repeated deaths for the day. And never quite felt compelled enough to power up the PS3 specifically just to play it again.

Cycle forward in time to now.

I like to think that playing GW2 has given me a new appreciation for watching mob animation tells, trying to understand their combat patterns and practicing getting the timing right on appropriate button responses (like dodging or parrying, etc.)

I do also own a copy of Dark Souls on the PC, having picked it up for cheap during one Steam or bundle sale or another.

Perhaps it was time to give it another go.

The PC port of Dark Souls has received some criticism for being a rather lazy port. The default screen resolution isn’t great, all the in-game tutorial messages are hardcoded to still show you Xbox buttons rather than whatever controls you’re really using (which makes everything a fun guessing game of hmm, which key represents the green B or the yellow Y?) and the default mouselook camera is alarmingly wonky.

Best played with a gamepad, say the majority of forum commenters.

No problem, I have a very functional Logitech Dual Action gamepad that has stood me in good stead playing PC ports like Indigo Prophecy and various Japanese RPGs.

I gamely chop, run, spin, block my way through the first zone, slowly dredging up from the recesses of my memory all the moments I remembered from my first playthrough. I notice with some pleasure that my GW2 experience has given me better observational skills with regards to combat animations, but this increased observational prowess also applies to myself… and my failure to appropriately press the buttons my brain is telling me to tactically press.

Dodge now! Strike now! No, not -that- strike, the other one! Block. BLOCK! Not parry! Oi, what buttons are your fingers pressing?!

The struggle extends to navigating menus. Firstly, the default controller keybinds are not mapped intuitively to my particular gamepad. The instructions on screen say ‘press start’ or ‘press select’ to bring up some menu or other. I hammer away at my start and select keys, button 9 and 10, and nothing happens. Trial and error reveals that I have to press down on my right thumbstick to bring up the menu.

I’m used to PS3 controls where pressing the bottommost button selects and the rightmost button cancels. Except here, the rightmost button selects, and trial and error again reveals a different button cancels.

I flip open the keybind settings to see everything is mapped onto keyboard keys and doesn’t apply to the gamepad. Aaaargh.

Now, of course, I could slowly and patiently use the Logitech provided profiler to remap all my gamepad buttons to match whatever twisted configuration Dark Souls is using, and then tweak it again so that it feels more intuitive for me.

But it also occurs to me that I’m not that in tune with a controller either. While I can coordinate movements using the left thumbstick while controlling camera with the right thumbstick, they’re not as smooth as they could be with WASD and mouselook. Surely some of that lurching causes accidental hits that might be avoided, not to mention increases my motion sickness queasiness when the camera isn’t acting like I expect it to.

So I put down the gamepad and try it with mouse and keyboard.

Which actually has potential. I move better and more confidently.

Except the mouselook is jittery and I’d like to block with -this- mouse button but the in-game keybinds don’t seem to support that, and a dozen other key binding niggles interfere with any more enjoyment of the game and desire to progress.

On the bright side, players have come up with unofficial fixes for this poor PC port.

Except now I have to stop the game, figure out which fixes I want/need, download the fixes, apply them, test and troubleshoot problems and so on.

One fix, DSfix, fixes the poor screen resolution.

But oh, remember to turn off AA first or you’ll get a black screen. So I start the game, turn off AA, then stop the game. Then apply the fix.

Another fix, DSmfix, fixes the mouse camera issues for those who like to use mouse/keyboard controls. Note the M for mouse. Small, but crucial difference.

I start the game to test again, and while the screen resolution fix is working beautifully, the mouse fix doesn’t seem to have kicked in. Stop the game. More forums and readme.txts later, it turns out I have to edit an .ini file to have it included as well.

Start the game. Ahh, now the camera is moving at a more suitable speed for mouse look. And the mouse fix has also provided a nice customizable GUI for mouse keybinds and an intuitive default setting.

Except… I run dual monitors and my mouse is escaping from the Dark Souls full screen window when I look to the right. When I left click to attack, I end up alt-tabbing out to desktop, with rather fatal results in the now minimized window.

Wut. I try windowed mode, but the cursor still runs off and I have to keep moving it back to the left again. It’s almost playable already, but for this last little niggling detail! I gamely try to progress a little further in the game this way, but it’s distracting and throws me off. *sigh* Stop the game.

More forums searching and reading later, I finally find a fix that involves editing the dsfix.ini and enabling a ‘capture cursor’ setting.


Now I can finally start PLAYing the game, right?

I’m putzing around in the Undead Burg, finally feeling like all my deaths are at least fairly earned mistakes and experimenting with various tactics to deal with differently armed skeletons.

An invader has arrived in your realm!

Wut?!! Okay, I sort of had the impression that PvP was possible in this game if you were connected online (and there doesn’t seem to be any obvious way to shut off Dark Souls’ connection either) but I also had the impression that it would be LATER, not when one was in the second zone armed with starter gear.

I knew that I had one item of some kind in my inventory that had text along the lines of send an invader back to their realm, but it was the only one I had and hadn’t the foggiest idea of how to use.

So I just waited.

In strolls some burly guy outlined in red with the LARGEST FUCKING hammer I have ever seen, and probably all kitted out in ‘finished the game’ gear.


I just hold down block and wait for inevitable death.

It’s not like I really have anything to lose. I’d already been dying twice in a row repeatedly to second zone skeletons.

Guy gestures a few times, tries to say Hello.

I haven’t the heart to tell him that I don’t even know how to use the gesture menu. Just kill the noob and get it over with, eh?

He circles me, probably wondering if this is some kind of elaborate trap. Or maybe just laughing too hard to fight. Or taking pity on me. Whatever.

Eventually, he hits me twice with the hammer (hey, holding block prevented me from getting one shot!) and then casts some kind of massively pyroclastic spell that fills the whole screen in flames.

Well, it’s a change from getting stabbed to death by skeletons, I guess.

After getting shot in the back by various archers, then getting gibbed by the Taurus Demon, which solidifies the suspicion that I’m really going to have to play this game with heavy reference to a walkthrough, it occurs to me that I don’t even have the faintest clue what the enigmatic words “Reverse Hollowing” and “Kindle” mean when I sit down at a bonfire, and what does Humanity do anyway?

I quit and save the game, then start googling for a Dark Souls manual. I find some player tips and a wiki instead, which are likely more helpful.

It is then I actually learn that I managed to invite the invader in by having experimented with Reverse Hollowing once, which had the effect of making myself look human. Well, that was totally obvious.


I’ll be playing Dark Souls again. But not until I read several website’s worth of information, tips, advice and walkthroughs, I suspect.

I was really just expecting execution and reaction sort of difficulty, rather than all this homework.