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.

waitingfornochtli

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.

GW2: Accessible, Approachable – Which is More Important?

Stubborn has been musing about exclusivity and accessibility in WoW, and as usual, I end up seeing parallels in the game I’m currently playing.

He says:

I can pretty definitively say that… you’ll never please all the people, simply because of the players’ feelings about two mutually exclusive desires.  Every player either wants accessibility or exclusivity, and never the twain shall meet.

Those two polar opposites exist on an axis, sure, and people can exist towards the middle of the axis, but in the end, every player will prefer one of the following two options:

A game where everyone can participate in all activities
or
A game where merit earns you special opportunities

Sure, we can have deeper conversations and talk about points at which one opposite might be more important than the other, but in each player’s heart, one eventually trumps the other, and those feelings are what drives the whinefests associated with game changes.

Finding a good balance along this spectrum seems to be something that GW2 is also feeling its way towards with each episodic Living Story update.

Every few weeks, we sway back and forth between hard, difficult challenges with exclusive rewards and accessible content that can be done by most or all, with a veritable whinefest – or more charitably speaking, bountiful feedback – about that update’s activities.

At heart, I’m still a City of Heroes player. The original game was a magical collection of friendly, generous souls who formed a very strong community with a forums presence to match – folks thought nothing of throwing heaps of influence at random passing newbies to help them buy their next level’s upgrades, teams formed with little to nil picking and choosing of classes or levels (thanks to sidekicking and marvelous group synergies,) and the forums was filled with many helpful people writing guides on various effective ways to play each powerset, and relatively calm and rational discussion regarding the value of each class and the game’s various quirks.

That approachability and accessibility drew me and kept me playing.

Years passed, the developer helm changed hands and with the changing of the guard, there was also a noticeable change in design philosophy. Loot happened. Ways to upgrade one’s character to higher and higher tiers of power made hoarding money and items a lot more important. Rising power levels made the concept of “team” more redundant, and more about each individual and how fast missions that made money could be completed. The introduction of raids set a minimum gear level on participation, and even led to forced grouping for a while there.

You know what? In my opinion, the community went downhill fast.

The exclusivity gave rise to elitism. People got more insular and attacked any dissenters on the forums. A subset of players were all about the speedruns and played all group content that way, with beefed out characters that could pretty much solo the entire chain of missions. To heck with the team, and it came through loud and clear in their attitudes.

There is a reason why I choose not to play World of Warcraft.

The game leans too much over to the exclusivity side of the spectrum for my tastes by making raids the primary end-game activity.

To me, accessibility means inclusiveness.

I should not have to pick and choose and reject any person who is somehow “the wrong level” or “the wrong class” or “the wrong something” for a piece of content. I should not have to look upon any player as a potential impedance to my goals (consensual PvP excepted) and feel hostile towards them.

Players should not feel left out or blocked from progress due to a particular playstyle preference (eg. group or solo, easy fun or hard fun, liking a particular class, etc.) as this discouragement tends to lead to frustration and not wanting to play the game any longer, which whittles away at the community and game population.

And it should take a reasonable amount of time (and/or RL money) to reach an even max-level playing field. New (or poor) players should not be left behind in the dust by veterans who started the MMO at the dawn of time (or rich people with more money than sense) because that again leads to rejection of disadvantaged folk and gradual erosion of the playerbase.

So what about Guild Wars 2?

Well, I’m still playing it.

For the most part, GW2 remains a very accessible game.

Take leveling. There are multiple ways of gaining sufficient xp to reach 80 – the PvE open world (also known as hearts, DEs and map exploration, and/or mob genocide), WvW, dungeons, and of course, crafting.

Equipping yourself as you get to 80 also has multiple options – karma vendors, cultural stuff for coin, dungeon vendors, drops from mobs, crafting it yourself or, of course, the TP. One can pick between blues, greens, yellows or even orange, depending on how affluent one is feeling, and even blues will eventually get you through the content, though greens are the best compromise in terms of stats and affordability.

Once you get to 80, there are again multiple options for “max level” gear (here defined as the orange exotic baseline.) Karma vendors, drops, the TP, crafting, dungeons, WvW, pick your poison. If one finds themselves unable to afford this just yet, level 80 greens and yellows are sufficient to get by until one can work towards this goal.

Ascended items (or the max + 1 level) are meant as a medium term goal to work towards incremental improvement of a character. Again, there are multiple options, if more limited in nature. Laurels, or faithfully completing dailies, will yield an item after 25-40 days, depending on if one supplements them with badges of honor or not. Attending guild missions, which normally span a two week period, will yield an alternate means of nabbing accessories via commendations. Completing a fractal above level 10 will allow one to work towards rings, either via a lucky drop or patiently plodding through ten character-days’ worth of fractal dailies via pristine relics.

It is not unreasonable for even a new player starting from scratch today to reach a max level baseline which is functional and accepted by a majority in a month or two, or less.

And the beauty of GW2 is that they don’t even have to hurry to get there. (With some partial exceptions, there may be some discrimination in dungeons or WvW, and the erratic difficulty level that is the seasonal content of the Living Story may be occasionally frustrating.)

Dungeons are more of a mixed bag, though that’s probably partially the attitude of players who prefer the dungeon playstyle. There seems to be a competitive subset who enjoy speedruns and very specialized builds to eke out the very last scrap of optimal – picking and choosing the appropriate tools for the job and tweaking for efficiency is naturally part of the game for them. There also seems to be another group of players who strive to be like their idols but upon failing miserably to communicate or coordinate, turn on their party to assign blame and play the discriminate-without-understanding and kick-from-party games more than actual dungeon running.

It’s still possible to get into inclusive groups who don’t play in the fashion mentioned above, don’t mind spending a little extra time -and- successfully complete dungeons, so I’d classify them as moderately accessible.

WvW is, of course, one of the more accessible player activities to get into, though one can pick one’s level of dedication to the format through joining various guilds and the resultant community that forms on each server has an impact on how approachable or elitist a server “feels.”

If anything, it’s the Living Story updates that are the most schizophrenic.

One previously controversial update was the Mad King’s Clock Tower, that managed to produce unintended player hostility towards players on Norn and Charr characters.

With the Queen’s Jubilee, we have the Queen’s Gauntlet, which has produced conflict between those who want to farm Deadeye Dunwell for an accelerated gold/hour rate and others who are seeking to complete other achievements. Some players are openly being nasty to others in the hope that this will leave them with a personal arena to themselves for the maximum rate of gold earning.

The champions loot update, while pleasantly rewarding the task of defeating champions across the board, has yielded the unintended ember farm – a dynamic event which produces 20-30+ champions via scaling – whose successful cycling in 5-10 minute intervals is contingent on failing the timed event. This has suddenly produced conflict between those who want the event to succeed and those who want the event to fail, with resultant nastiness across map chat (from non-well-behaved parties of either side) can be more eye searing than the slideshow framerates.

The temptation was too great. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.
The temptation was too great. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

With some irony, I note that the Queen’s Gauntlet is not very accessible (in terms of skills/builds needed) and the ember farm more so (though there’s still calls for grouping and staff guardian preferences,) but both are yielding the same presumably undesired consequence.

An unpleasant community is not an approachable one.

Not being approachable turns people off from wanting to join in and participate in the first place.

And even if they do, thanks to dangling low hanging very desirable fruit, they’re not really enjoying the experience beyond self-centeredly staring at the shinies in their own pocket.

That focus on self tends to lead to exclusive and elitist atitudes – disregarding other people’s preferences or discarding them after using them for selfish purposes.

Which fucks up the community even further in an ever vicious cycle.

I think ArenaNet had the right idea early on in their iterative design process where they tried to make sure that all nearby players’ interests were in alignment with each other. Dynamic events were crafted so that whatever actions players took were working towards completion, and not griefable. Dynamic events are supposed to be completed for the best rewards.

Given a chance, players can and will attack each other. It takes design to create a friendly, cooperative experience where additional players are only welcomed, not looked upon with suspicion.

It’s my hope that future Living Story updates will give a lot more thought back towards their original manifesto. Enough with the individual or dissimilar goals trying to interact in the same space – save those for private instances. Craft us shared goals, provide opportunities for players to help each other, eliminate ways players can grief each other.

And give us back our social cooperative world.

GW2: Traditional Quests? Hell, No…

WoodenPotatoes makes an argument that Guild Wars 2 needs traditional quests to fill up a gap that dynamic events can’t cover, because the racial cities (and the world) somehow feel hollow.

Personally, I think he’s conflated two issues together and grasped at the old standby of traditional quests to attempt to solve it.

Point 1, which I heartily agree with, is that the racial cities are full of unexplored potential and as of right now, feel extremely empty and hollow.

When I too ran around to explore the Black Citadel, I kept coming across all manner of interesting locales and intriguing NPCs that I would have loved to hear say more than a few automatically scripted lines on interacting with them.

Coming across an NPC that said a few words of “fluff” that added to the lore was nice, if you’re the sort to actually read such things, but that’s about as good as it got, besides stumbling across the various merchants that sold different kinds of food and so on.

Sure, keep pacing. Maybe one day I'll get to join you in a gate defense holding off invaders from the Asura gates.
Sure, keep pacing. Maybe one day I’ll get to join you in a gate defense holding off invaders from the Asura gates. Too bad it’s not right now.

Point 2, is that he thinks this empty feeling can be solved by strewing a whole bunch of traditional quests across the landscape, alongside dynamic events.

I disagree most heartily.

Perhaps this is just semantics, or perhaps my most recent experience with “traditional quests” in SWTOR has left an extremely jaded taste in my mouth, but when I hear the word “traditional quests,” I imagine players running off alone by themselves on Fed-Ex errands moving things from one NPC to another, there and back again, just to get it ticked off a list and done with, preferably for xp or some other reward.

Being led around by the nose in Kass City on a traditional quest that was apparently meant to be an extended city tour did not actually serve to show me much of the city besides endless running along empty corridors, and all I could think of was that I wanted it DONE. Done and over with.

Now, of course we can argue that the map design of GW2 is a whole lot better than SWTOR in that there’s almost always something intriguing to see after just a couple of paces, and it wouldn’t ever devolve into endless jogging across barren landscape…

But to me, the entire design of a traditional quest is counter-productive to what GW2 is trying to achieve.

A traditional quest focuses you on the end reward, on the destination, not the journey. It’ll end up a race to swiftness as much as possible from NPC A to NPC B for the shiny. Repeat ad nauseam x how ever many alts you have, because of course, all of them want the shinies. That shiny is linked to the quest, see, so you can’t do another quest, you gotta do -this- quest.

A traditional quest is often done alone, by yourself. It wasn’t until later that all the fancy shared questing and shared item collection technology got shoehorned in, because folks suddenly realized that it was really stupid to have to kill 12 rats x 3 players when in a group so that everyone could get their proper share of rat intestines, while the guy who did it alone raced off blowing raspberries at the slowpokes who dared to be social.

No, no, you say, we will assume that we have learned from the past and all this technology will be implemented… but are you saying then that every player who wishes to do the quest together must first run to NPC A to pick up the quest? If you don’t have the quest in your quest log, then you can’t get the quest complete, even if someone in the area did it while you were standing nearby. That’s traditionally how it goes, no?

No, you scream at me, MMOs have solved that already. It’s called sharing quests. Any player who’s picked up the quest can share it with others in their group (or maybe even, in the area) with a press of the button. They don’t have to run to NPC A to start the quest. That’s old-fashioned.

Wait a sec, why do we even have to press the button to share the quest?

And suddenly we are in Warhammer Online and RIFT territory with public quests.

Add the question of why we have to physically form a group by ourselves (Warhammer) or click a button to join the group by yourself (Rift) and suddenly we are back to square one with Guild Wars 2’s dynamic events.

The beauty of the dynamic event system is that they are both solo and multiplayer friendly. If you’re alone, you can do it by yourself (assuming it’s not marked as a group, and even then a lvl 80 probably could) and anyone in the area can come by to help out – and they can only do so if they see those admittedly-immersion breaking orange marks on the minimap.

In truth, what you may possibly be irked with is the following:

a) Dynamic events feel very random and beyond one’s control to start.

A lot of the dynamic events are on some kind of timer, or linked in a not-so-obvious chain where a prior DE may have to be completed before the whole thing cycles again. To most players, the events just seem to pop up at random.

But they don’t have to be.

There are dynamic events that can be started by talking to an NPC, and they are often helpfully marked with a symbol over their heads and a conversation option with another symbol.

Here's a dynamic event that's started under player control.
Here’s a dynamic event that’s started under player control.

b) Dynamic event rewards feel all the same. Woohoo, xp, karma, 1 silver and however many copper pieces…

Maybe GW2 missed a beat here by not sending a thank you mail with a shiny item attached, so that it feels more traditional quest-like.

Alas, they were trying to think outside the box and offer players the option to choose their desired reward from pretty much anybody.

Talk to your karma vendors, people, there’s where your quest rewards are. Toys, equipment, and so on.

c) Dynamic events repeat too often and thus feel predictable and cyclic, and shortly thereafter, boring

Well, this I’ll give you partially, but the devs are human and can only make so many events at one time.

And we tend to only see the most obvious dynamic events run on repeat cycle because that’s the ones most people find.

Just today I did an extended Zho’Qafa Catacombs dynamic event chain that I’ve personally -never- seen before because so few people bother to find and run it. Straits of Devastation is somehow so oddly avoided an area. But it was extremely fun, with a number of champions along the chain. We had formed a group to go Final Rest hunting, and it seemed almost dungeon-like, where we were cooperating as a synergized team – boons, conditions and all, just in the open world where others could join up too.

It’s not really the fault of the dynamic event system per se, because it is also quite capable of sophisticated surprises. I wouldn’t dismiss the system just because the big event chains follow a predictable pattern.

Fer instance, a couple days ago, I was just waffling along on my lowbie Asura Guardian in Brisban Wildlands and I came across a chest next to a Veteran cave troll, flanked by two minion cave trolls. Recognize the setup?

The chest -was- on the right, along the wall. I've gone back twice now and haven't seen the chest again.
The chest -was- on the right, along the wall.

Kill veteran, pick up blue piece of loot from chest, right? Or if you’re sneaky, bypass veteran and grab loot from chest. But I’m a bloodythirsty sort, so I kite the cave trolls and kill them, feeling awesome and bounce over to the chest to grab my reward…

…and suddenly this slimy Skritt thief hops out of the chest, cackling madly and runs off with the loot. (Cue dynamic event popping up – stop Skritt thief from reaching destination)

Caught completely by surprise, I snap off my scepter’s immobilize, but it’s short lived and the skritt is off.

STOP, YOU THIEVING RAT, I want to yell, but that’s a waste of breath when my Asura is already huffing along on super short legs.

I didn’t have any swiftness skills swapped in at the time, and I fling myself after it with greatsword leap, trying to get in range for binding blade, but it’s a little too late, he’s got a head start and my guardian is slowed down by having aggroed all the mobs in between him and me.

The skritt does drop one piece of blue loot in the chase, but I fail that event, and now my Asura despises those little thieving buggers (he won’t even call ’em bookahs – those are for tall stupid people) even more now.

What was different about this dynamic event? Player-triggered, for one. Out of a goddamn chest, not by talking to an NPC like you’d expect.

As for the timer, well, I keep wanting to do it again and challenge the Skritt to a rematch. I’ve gone back twice now and haven’t found that chest again. Maybe there’s an in-between event I’m missing somewhere. Maybe it’s a long timer.

And Lost Shores proved that the dynamic event system is even capable of one-off events. (Though just because it’s capable of it, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea to do it.)

Well, maybe, someday I’ll get that scrawny Skritt…

You know what I think GW2 needs? To fill up those empty-feeling areas?

What those places need is -content- and -stories-.

We want to have stuff to do in the cities, aka content.

As for stories, well, even across the open world, some of the dynamic events may feel more generic than others – nameless bandits, centaurs, Inquest, Risen, whoever, just rushing to the slaughter.

But I remember Rhendak the Crazed pretty well, mostly because I keep joking he’d have to be crazy to sit all day underwater waiting for people to come by. I remember the ghosts in Barradin’s vault VERY well, because Ivor Trueshot kept pwning my lowbie and Horace still tears up my downleveled 80 and I recall them as people from Guild Wars 1. I even remember the Bane warband going on their regular ghost patrol, if only because they and my character share part of their surnames.

(I even remember that most useless group of almost-pacifist ogres that need their hand held with everything – even if I don’t remember their names.)

I think what we’d really like is to get to know some of the characters in the open world a little more. Learn their names. Hear their stories. Get involved in meaningful ways. Bring a little more personal story into the world story.

Ditto with all that potential in the racial cities. (I remember enjoying the public quests in Warhammer’s cities.)

But you don’t need traditional quests to do it. That’s a cop out. That’s the “I don’t have time to show you these stories, so I’ll just tell them to you in a big wall of text format” solution.

Based on the dynamic events already in game, add on what we’ve seen in end-of-beta events and the monthly updates, the dynamic event system is capable of filling those in just fine.

Given some time.