GW2: Queen’s Gauntlet – Punishing vs Difficult

I’m sure everyone has already seen the Extra Credits’ video “When Difficult is Fun” that creates a distinction between games that are difficult and games that are punishing.

(In case you haven’t, I embed it here for your reference.)

We will be using “punishing” and “difficult” in that context in today’s discussion of the Queen’s Gauntlet activity that is part of the Queen’s Jubilee update.

Difficult Aspects

(Good, if you like that sort of thing)

  • Each boss has a mechanic or gimmick that is consistent and generally plays fair, so defeating them is mostly a matter of picking the right traits/build/gear/profession and playing the encounter long enough to learn their patterns. (One may, however, argue regarding the possibility of players not being able to afford the correct conjunction of characters and the secondary requirement of having sufficient arcade/action reflexes for certain fights. But I suppose for optional challenging content, such are the boundaries that are already laid out.)
  • Some of the bosses’ attacks are well-telegraphed. (Halmi Hammerfell, the first hammer boss, has a very clear hammer windup and frontal cleave, Dead Eye’s laser shot is decent if a zerg isn’t under you.)
  • The bosses are generally quite well-arranged to ramp up steadily in difficulty (tier 1 is fairly doable, tier 2 is more moderately taxing, etc. T3’s last boss spikes upward pretty hard though.)

Punishing Aspects

(Not so good, even if you masochistically persist past them)

  • Each iterative try is gated by a decent chunk of time – by the run back from a waypoint if someone isn’t standing by to rez you (cue money sink, don’t forget repairs), by waiting for one of six cages to be freed up, by needing to farm the group zerg event for tickets.
  • One shot kills for making a mistake – either tactically misreading the mechanics or just not being physically adept enough – lead promptly to the above repeated time-waster.
  • A few bosses are not sufficiently well-explained in their tips – leading to either trial and error or out-of-game reading to learn their mechanics. (I’m thinking of Salazan and Liandri in specific. “Lethal fire circle” produces an instinctual response to dodge out of dangerous looking circles, much like the rest of the game has taught us. This produces the feeling of a dev busy trolling players when one finally realizes that one does not, in fact, have to dodge out of the ring, in order to survive. As for Liadri, well, talk about ridiculously complex and requiring someone to spell it out in point form out-of-game.)
  • Some of the bosses’ attacks are NOT well-telegraphed, possibly due to small model size and/or camera angles in the dome. (Suriel the Blazing Light? She’s a female human, holding a book most of the time. How the hell are you supposed to see her Solar Flare attack? Someone told me she makes a cross with her hands or something. I’m at 1200 range, how the fuck would I be able to see that? I just used her pausing and staying still as a cue, mixed with lots of guesswork. As for Liadri’s AoE, it is obvious it is made to exactly blend in with the floor grating. Trololol, I think a dev would be saying.)
Seriously, look. The woman's less than an inch tall on my screen. How to see her animation?
Seriously, look. The woman’s less than an inch tall on my screen. How to clearly see her animation? While circling like a madman and trying to kite her into a hard-to-see dark patch and doing one’s best to not die. With 13k hp. I ended up hogging the patch more often than not and just being all heal-y guardian over the damage.
  • The zerg below can produce lag, visual culling or significant drops in framerates – which make reading animations and dodging in time extra-challenging, particularly to those with higher latency or playing on toasters.
With FPS like this, who needs enemies? It's probably a miracle I've gotten as far as I have,.
With FPS like this, who needs enemies? It’s probably a miracle I’ve gotten as far as I have.

Ambivalent but Interesting Enough to Note Aspects

  • The time limit creates an interesting juxtaposition between trying to balance survivability and damage. It serves to ensure the wait time for each individual encounter is not too long. But it would be much better if the time limit were actually clearly ticking down somewhere in the UI, similar to the Aetherblade instance, so players have a better sense of how long they have.

(And really, no one gives a shit if you fall down from the cage or not, no one in the zerg frankly gives a fuck, there’s a hundred and one dead guys dying arbitrarily from the “anti-zerg” mechanics, there’s so much visual chaos and culling going on, and everyone is really looking at the right side of their screen watching the loot to pour in to care about some stranger dying.)

  • Enabling spectators also leads to a curious juxtaposition of interests, On one hand, it could give rise to a small friendly community of players exchanging tips, sharing frustrations, cheering each other on and helping each other rez. I’ve seen one or two guilded parties occupy an arena this way, enjoying a group outing even if only one person is fighting at a time. On the other hand, for introverted soloists, some may not care for being spectated or find it embarrassing. Plus for self-centered loner types, they really don’t give a fuck either about some other guy’s fight, good or bad, they just want to find an -empty- arena to try -their- personal fight again ASAP.
  • That quick update development time? Yep, there’s a few bugs.
This cage had oozes that didn't go away. Liadri + oozes providing AoE healing = difficulty that breaks any measuring scale you use. Wasted ticket there. (Well, I had to try to see if the oozes would hit her. They didn't.) This guy is now finding out that the first boss with oozes ain't so fun either, I suppose.
This cage had oozes that didn’t go away. Liadri + oozes providing AoE healing = difficulty that breaks any measuring scale you use. Wasted ticket there. (Well, I had to try to see if the oozes would hit her. They didn’t.)
This guy is now finding out that the first boss with oozes ain’t so fun either, I suppose.

Personally, I don’t mind a hard fight or repeated tries at it. I appreciate that this has been sectioned off into its own minigame tab for achievements, which at least puts it into a different category in my mind, though this would be much nicer as permanent content so that one could come back to it at leisure, without worrying about queues or not being good enough or equipped enough at this point in time.

I’m not fond of the “farm this first in order to do what you really want” delaying mechanic, but because the group activity is so mindlessly rewarding, I am willing to forgive it.

In a sense, it serves to enforce a change of pace so that things do not get too frustrating. (But lowering iteration times would also minimize frustration and reduce the punishing aspect, while maintaining the difficulty of a solo fight as a challenge.)

I do wish however that the fights were instanced, I can’t shake the sense that I’m fighting at an extreme disadvantage between my toaster computer’s specs, my high latency due to geographic locations, plus throwing in a WvW-sized zerg arbitrarily underneath me at times. I barely break 20 FPS at the best of times, and have hovered around 10-12 at peak hours – which made attempts rather costly and eventually resulted in me just zerging and saving tickets for tries at more friendly off-peak timings.

I don’t know if I’m going to manage all the Queen’s Gauntlet achievements, but I’m still generally quite calm about the whole affair.

I think it helps that this was introduced at the start, meaning four weeks to work on it, rather than two. In a month, I find it realistic enough a goal to level and gear a specific character to 80 if one was really determined on getting through this, whereas two weeks would be a hectic rush. A number of people have also managed to conquer the last boss in a day or two, so it seems there will be sufficient time to spread specific gearing and trait strategies around.

And there have been hints that it is likely to return, possibly on a yearly basis – so it does not seem like this will be arbitrarily forever out of reach if not achieved this go around, which really helps the OCD.

Full disclosure: I’m currently still stuck on Liadri. Nearly all the bosses were done with a berserker guardian.

Except the penultimate boss of the Norn and Chomper, which gave me a majorly hard time on the guardian, which led to a rage-spending moment of buying my new level 80 necromancer (yes, in the past five days before patch, that’s another personal goal that got done, whee) shiny berserker gear, haphazardly traiting for life-leeching high damage minions and brute forcing my way past that encounter.

I would like to return with a later post with tips, but we’ll see. The framerate lag and necessity of farming tickets makes repeat tries for screenshots and the task of learning the encounter well enough to provide suggestions extremely challenging. I might just settle for copycatting a better player and lucking into achieving stuff once – which already sounds difficult enough to me.

CoH: WTB Clarity

Let’s play a game of compare and contrast!

Behavior Adjustment Facility (BAF) Trial – Some Praetorian Clockwork Elite-ish bosses with an air to ground rocket attack

Can anyone tell me where the AoE damage will be coming down in 2-3 seconds from now?

Rhetorical question, I suspect.

This picture is a little messier. Can you tell me where one should be wary of standing, in case some kind of cage forms?

Behavior Adjustment Facility (BAF) Trial – Nightstar’s sequestration warnings

In the above case, the mechanic gives you two chances and a long interval to react as well. The player’s name appears in a pop up “Player Name: First Sequestration Warning!”

Then “Second Sequestration Warning!” And if you haven’t moved out of range by then, then this happens:

You’re held. It says so in bright red. You can’t move. There’s awful red fencing everywhere on your screen, and it’s a really clear indication that you don’t want to have this keep happening, and you’ll do better next time when you see the warning circles come up. That’s a fair gimmick.

Now, how about this picture?

Magisterium (MAG) Trial – Tyrant’s Fist

I’m going to have to break this down for you. And probably this image is best expanded to digest properly…

From the Paragon Wiki’s still incomplete breakdown of the trial:

Hammer of Justice is another attack to watch out for due to the 60ft range PBAoE which does not display any warning and deals severe Smashing/Energy damage. Unlike Statesman’s version, Tyrant is able to use his in midair.

I’m going to guess this fist attack is what they’re referring to. I’m not entirely sure, it’s not as if he says “EAT MY HAMMER OF JUSTICE” before he does it.

What Tyrant does do, is raise his fist in the air. This fist raise appears to be mildly more vertical than his other fist raise which just does a normal attack on the tank. About 0.5 seconds later, his fist comes down, and that cracked ground effect shows up. At the same time, no delay, no nothing, everyone near him (apparently a 60ft range if we trust the wiki) eats an attack which does 1000-4000 hp damage, presumably depending on your resistances and your current level shift at the time.

That’s likely to one-shot anyone not a brute or a tank with high hp. So what cue are we supposed to look out for here? The damage extends beyond the cracked ground effect, so you can’t even use that as a judgement of where not to stand. I’m directly behind him and I still got demolished.

I guess everyone just needs to read the wiki and know exactly how large 60ft is in their heads.

And when do we back away from him anyhow? If we spend the whole trial 60ft away to avoid this attack, all melee is screwed. 0.5 seconds is not enough time to move when you see his fist raise – assuming that you aren’t locked in an attack animation to begin with.

I suppose we just need to count to 30 in our heads per fist attack and hope that’s the interval at which he attacks – assuming it’s not random.

Conclusion: Bad bad design

(I will get around to explaining why I have UI splashed across my entire screen when dealing with this trial, so hang tight.)

I will grant that Tyrant has two other gimmicks which skirt the edge of clarity fairness into ‘acceptable’ territory.

Tyrant, as an incarnation of Marcus Cole/Statesman, has a signature Zeus lightning style kind of attack. This is cued by a red letter splash warning: “The air around Tyrant crackles!”

1-2 seconds later, if you are within a radius of Tyrant approximately the size of the crater he spawns in, a lightning patch will be summoned at your feet – which steadily trickles in 100-200 hp damage per tick for a period of time. Paragon Wiki says 12 ticks, I’ve never bothered to stand in one long enough to count, cos I’ll be dead before all the ticks hit.

This applies to all players, so your screen sort of looks like this every 35 odd seconds. Don’t stand in any of the bright patches, kthxbai.

It’s moderately fair. 1-2 seconds is a pretty short time interval to react, given the preponderance of long rooting animations in CoH, but it is doable. And even if you don’t have time to completely dodge all the way, you can survive one or two ticks of the lightning patch with not too much harm, as long as you don’t get trapped in overlapping patches.

On the other paw, they -are- awfully bright and it’s not like the exact radius of the patch is demarcated clearly. People have crashed out when their graphics cards can no longer manage to draw the intense lightning strikes (or a memory leak of some kind, most often seen when playing for too long in big groups with too much particle effects.)

His other gimmick can be seen cued in the trial UI, and the bright yellowish-white cylindrical pillars of light (as contrasted with the bright purple-white jaggly pillars of light). Those are his Lights of the Well, and they can be taken down with a temporary power all players get when doing the trial, called the Quills of Jocas.

The trial UI indicates the Time until Light of the Well. When it ticks down to 0, all the Lights respawn. It’s about 38 seconds or thereabouts per interval. At least it is cued in the UI. This is fair.

In this way, the people assigned to managing the Lights can anticipate roughly when they will spawn, backing away from Tyrant maybe 3-5 seconds before they spawn, hit their Quills temp power and destroy the Lights quickly. Never mind that the players had to figure out how to use the Quills – it’s an AoE attack, standing near or in the pillar of light works, no need to target the Lights like previous temp powers used in another trial. The animation is a quill burst – players can figure it out from there.

Again, the number of Lights (Connections to the Well – why the different terminology, eh?) existing at any time are cued in the UI. This is fair. Bad design would be not indicating the number of Lights in the UI and forcing people to rotate their screens to keep track and count manually. This is a key gimmick, a key mechanic, it -should- be cued.

But guess what, it’s not ENTIRELY cued. The result of taking down all the lights is NOT indicated to everyone. It is supposed to level shift everyone in the league upwards 1 level per light destroyed. Level shifts are usually only indicated in one place in the normal CoH UI – by highlighting another player and checking their levels in the target window.

How do you see if you yourself are level shifted? You don’t glow or anything. You’d think someone might have thought about adding that as a visual indicator.

Or even, write BRIGHT BLUE LETTERS across players’ screens going “YOU HAVE SEVERED TYRANT’S CONNECTIONS TO THE WELL AND STOLEN HIS POWER” (it’s not like there isn’t prior use of this) or have Tyrant curse out loud, “How dare you take my power from me? You will still die!”

No, what you have to do, assuming you read forum boards and pay attention to this sort of thing, is click on your Powers button, then enable Combat Attributes. This brings up the advanced Combat Attributes in the middle of your window. Click on the +Base to expand and scroll down the long list:

Right at the bottom, you see those tiny words “Level Shift?”

Right-click on that. Select “Monitor Level Shift”. And your level shift will finally appear in smaller form in your Attribute Monitor window. Which for me, I smashed to the right of my screen real estate to keep an eye on.

With that up, one can -finally- keep track of one’s level shifting while in the Magisterium Trial fighting Tyrant.

That’s where you find out that the level shifting only appears to happen:

a) in between the short interval that the lights are taken down and the lights come up again

b) possibly when Tyrant’s favor of the well is 50% or less (that’s just my personal guess from observations made – it’s not like the UI explains what the favor of the well is for, besides the cryptic message “The Well will favor the stronger combatant” nor does it explain how exactly to affect Tyrant’s favor anywhere)

c) and only to maybe 16 people out of a 24 member max trial, possibly within a certain radius of Tyrant or Tyrant and/or the players may have to remain in the vicinity of an invisible mob that does the level shifting, no one really knows for effing sure

Should players really have to guess at why or why not this key mechanic is or isn’t working?

In one of my above screenshots, a leaguemate asks, “What does it mean your soul will be trapped if you die?”

That’s the message the cryptic UI reports. I have no clue what it means. Neither does anyone else, if the lack of explanation is any indicator. Does that mean if you die, you won’t be able to level shift for a while? Does that mean your avatar is thrown into some secret dungeon to fight their way out if you die? (Apparently not, though I’ve never hit the hospital button – willpower comes with a handy self-recharging rez. I could not have cherry picked a better self-sufficient class on these irritating trials.) Does that mean Tyrant regains health or gets better regen if people die near him? (Some people say yea, some say nay.)

We’re also supposed to “Keep Olympian Guards away from Tyrant.” I suppose that’s clear enough. But how near is near? And what does he do in conjunction with the Olympian Guards that we should be keeping him away from them? (My current theory is that he kills them to heal himself, but I don’t actually -know-. It’s not like you can see him do any animation with regards to them, nor is there any message. O_o)

Here’s a minor nitpick with the phase 2 Magisterium fight. We’re supposed to fight three Arch-Villains, Shadowhunter, Chimera, and Nega-Pendragon. All of them have a gimmick of some sort. One gets stronger if not fighting. One gets stronger and shields up as he continues fighting. One teleports all over the place, and also does a variant of “Marks For Death” that he uses to target a rain of arrows.

“Marks for Death” is a gimmick originally used by the Arch-Villain Maelstrom in the TPN Campus Trial.

As you fight him, a red target may appear above your head.

In case you are blinded by everything happening in your vicinity, because oh…I don’t know, particle effects, melee combat?

Helpfully, “Marked For Death” letters also appear on your buff/debuff status bar indicator, so you don’t have to squint at the sea of red targets to see if maybe one of those is above your head.

You have about 3-5 seconds to hop out of range, or get out of line of sight. Then this announcement happens:

Shortly after that, anyone still within range or LOS bites the dust. Note the many cues and set time interval to get away.

Now in the Magisterium trial, Chimera does this:

See the red targets? Ok. I’m targeted. I think. Note the lack of “Marked for Death” red letters in the status bar? What gives? You can do it in one trial, why not do it for the other?

So anyway, I know I am targeted because I can see the red target above my head, because I am not dumb. So I intuitively move away because the trial UI says “Chimera will rain arrows down upon marked targets!”

About 5-6 seconds later of cooling my heels, feeling uncomfortable because when I’m not in melee range, I’m not contributing, and feeling extremely dumb because no one else has moved away and nothing has happened, I realize that the trial UI is missing one very important cue. Just WHEN is this rain of arrows supposed to take place? You have timers for all sorts of things happening in trials, why did you forget this one?

So anyhow, feeling sheepish for trying to avoid a stacked rain of arrows, I move back in to join the others. THEN Chimera decides to shower down his rain of arrows, presumably one centered around each targeted player, and 7 out of 8 members of the team (including myself) fall over dead.

Right.

So much for partial cues.

You know, what really upsets me about this is the lack of consistency. It’s not like they don’t know how to do it. Look at the same trial UI for Shadow Hunter and Nega-Pendragon. Their gimmick is explained crystal clearly in words. “Shadow Hunter’s strength grows if out of combat!”- Translation: Keep him in combat. Ok, I understand that, let’s do it, done.

“Nega-Pendragon’s strength grows with each attack!” And they even bothered to show us his shielding come up, and his rage. (Though what use it serves, I’m not sure. It’s not like we can do very much about it besides pile on and kill as fast as possible, which we were already doing.)

For the record, I’ve managed the Magisterium trial successfully once. There were about 4 kinetics on the team, and everyone’s damage was buffed to gills. I was hovering at 200-400% damage bonus the entire trial. The lights came down very quickly, and we consistently level shifted for about 15-20 seconds. The length of time level shifted is critical to being able to do enough damage to Tyrant to defeat him, as his favor with the well appears to jump up as he loses health for whatever reason.

At all other times, and I think I’ve got 5 other attempts under my belt by now, the level shifts have not been consistently applied, due to some unknown reason. Lights either didn’t come down fast due to players not reacting fast enough – or there was some badly timed lowering of the lights (level shifts reset when the light timer ticks down to respawn) – or the level shifts are buggy and not working properly – I don’t know the actual reason, but there have been trials where my level shifts jump from 3 to 9 for 2 seconds, and then flicker back to 3, over and over. Two seconds is not a long enough interval to do any damage to Tyrant. And others where a level shift simply doesn’t happen at all.

This sort of guesswork can actually be mitigated with clear UI and in-trial explanations. We should not have to rely on wikis, and player spading, and player gossip/rumor/lectures in order to successfully understand what to do.

These two concepts are not the same thing: a fair and challenging trial, and one that is unfair in order to be challenging.

I think it’s pretty clear where my opinion stands on the current Magisterium trial.