Path of Exile: Bragtoberfest Get-Together

Path of Exile played host to the second Bragtoberfest event that Eri kindly organized for us.

As per last week, it was good fun to meet and play with a whole host of other bloggers – Simcha, Jaedia, Syl, Doone and of course, Eri and Izlain.

Also, I had my eyes opened as to some aspects of a game that I rarely get to see – the multiplayer partying and group aspects, which I never really get the good fortune to see in detail, since that requires finding a group of people all interested in the same game and playing at the same timezones as me.

(Of course, 5am is not really sustainable for me either. One more meetup for TF2 next week and I’ll have to surrender in the name of getting normal sleep again.)

Path of Exile is interesting in that it allows up to 6 people to group.

That’s quite sizeable, with only the late and much-missed City of Heroes topping that at 8 (within my limited knowledge, anyway.)

There were, however, some more inconvenient aspects that made grouping a little less smooth than it could have been.

1) Are we in the same map? The same league?

The Twilight Strand is an initial introductory area that separates a new character from the first town.

While racers know that they can run through in a couple seconds past all the zombie mobs and beat on Hillock with a held down left mouse click and be in town in no time flat, the average individual encountering the map for the first time will want to actually play the game – that means hitting a few zombies, getting a level, opening some chests, and eventually meandering their way to Hillock and figuring out how to deal with him.

Each person completes this at a slightly different time and pace, making it a little tricky to meet up when everyone was still new and confused.

(Not to mention, our dear host Eri successfully joined the wrong league twice! Cue deletion and re-making of character. Twice.

Can’t blame ya though. Rampage league IS fun, and we should play more of that too. The more mobs you kill in a row, the more killstreak rewards of all shapes and size rain down from the skies, hence “Rampage.”

The good news about going standard league though was that I got to twink out my character later on, from my personal bank stash.)

Fortunately, someone hit on the good idea of creating a guild.

This was an effortless procedure.

Simply pressing S for “Social” and flipping to the Guild tab, allowed one to type in a guild name and voila, guild created. Once everyone’s assorted characters were invited, at least there was a shared communication channel for the future.

2) Where IS everybody anyway?!

Y’know, sometimes I don’t get games that start you off with the weirdest default settings ever.

Strife locks your camera down and refuses to let you scroll away from your character in the center. Path of Exile makes it all ridiculously dark and shadowy and doesn’t even give you a minimap to play with.

Seriously? What? Why? Are there really going to be people terribly confused if you offered them more vision?

Especially since these are UI options that can be set.

Our Path of Exile newcomers sounded very lost until I realized, courtesy of Syl griping to me about a missing minimap, that they didn’t have one.

It’s “Show Corner Map” in the UI tab of the Options… but really, you’d think this would be a helpful option to preset for newbies.

It took us a while to figure out how best to meet up. There seemed to be multiple instances of the town, and being that I’m not familiar with the whole grouping thing either (nor do I trade with anybody), I didn’t have offhand knowledge of how to hop instances until one met up in the right one.

We eventually did get ourselves over to the map after the town, The Coast, and there the whole party shebang sorted itself out quite nicely and naturally, with all the invited persons finding their way into the same map instance opened by the first person to enter, without any extra excessive effort on our part.

3) What do you get when you pour water onto six cats?

For a moment there, I could see why other games limit their team size to 3 or 4 people, because there were six individuals fanning out like a star, going their own separate directions. Some were chasing the next mob for xp, some were getting stuck by very deceptive ramps up and down and blocking walls, some were trying to chase after someone else, and pretty much nobody was following the same person.

It was, in fact, kind of funny.

This was not helped by Path of Exile’s limited design – in which one has the option to toggle on health bars over other party member’s heads, but lacks any option to actually tag anyone with a name tag like MMOs unless you hover over them and/or target them with your mouse.

Also, no handy party member arrows on your minimap if the party members are out of sight.

If you lose track of the party member indicators on the minimap screen, it’s going to take some detective work (possibly bringing up the larger map overlay) and communication (screaming “where the hell is everyone, someone give me a direction, no matter how vague, here!”) to find the party again.

The good news is that the Social screen at least showed the map each person in the guild or party was in, so I had it out fairly frequently, keeping an eye on everyone’s relative whereabouts.

The six souls eventually did find each other and the big zombie killing party started.

Zombie-raising too.

We had a whole bunch of witch classes with us, and not a few of them could resist the Raise Dead gem, so as zombies died from getting their faces smashed in, they got called up again into un-undeath and formed a friendly throng.

poe_muchzombies

Feeling very safe here with the friendly zombie army tanking for us.

We smashed through the Coast, did a circle around Tidal Island and walked over Hailrake like he didn’t exist, ran south-ish then north-ish through the Mud Flats (with folks losing each other through the more open map), got into the Fetid Pool and did a full clear of that map, as per the quest.

Sometime amid the Lower Submerged Passage and the Flooded Depths where the Deep Dweller lurked, it started to get late for our EU folks and most took their leave.

I’m curious to know how the lag / latency / ping times were for our EU bloggers, playing on the PoE NA server. Path of Exile is known to have some sync issues, which do cause some freezing or lag in some situations.

I was doing quite well despite 224 ms latency, with only a few instances of freezing for a second at worst, which was better than I’d feared. Perhaps no one owned one of the more infamous lag-causing skills just yet.

Izlain joined us after that, and the remainder of our cohort finished up with the Submerged Passage, headed over to The Ledge (where Doone and me had a little sorta-kinda-Endless Ledge party while waiting for the two slowpokes to catch up with their quests) and went through the rest of Act I.

We took on the new and improved Brutus in the Prison, with his groundslamming that was almost actually threatening rather than a cakewalk, and then Merveil, the crazy siren in her lair.

poe_muchtornadoes

Of course, it’s not so easy trying NOT to kill her while waiting for the last person to get into the room.

Merveil had lots of opportunity to show off her low hp emergency skills – summoning other mobs, summoning bosses, summoning a ridiculous number of tornadoes, etc.

All good though, it needed to feel a little bit challenging… even for a party.

Grouping-wise, the scaling felt pretty good so far. I was afraid of excessively hard or tanky mobs, but they still seemed to die fairly quick.

Rewards-wise, there did seem to be a somewhat increased quantity of items dropped, with more varied currency coming out of chests (orbs of transmutation, chance, even an orb of fusing and one or two alchemy orbs dropped.) Quality-wise, I’m not sure. There were one or two rares per boss or elite type mob, I think. Nothing too drastically out of the curve, but certainly not miserly either.

There was a comment from Izlain about the style of loot that was dropping. Very oldschool, in that everyone could see the loot dropped.

Apparently in Diablo 3, it’s all individual loot now. Which I gather is more like the old City of Heroes or a system like GW2, where each person gets their own private loot and can’t see or be tempted by anyone else’s.

From my quick perusal of PoE’s partying options, there are three kinds of distribution systems. Permanent allocation would have been the closest to the new style of loot drops, something like GW1, I suspect, where the loot that drops is permanently assigned to a person randomly.

Short allocation was the default, that I left it at for the most part. The loot is temporarily allocated to a player, who can pick it up before anyone else, and then after a while has passed, anyone else can grab it.

And of course, there’s free for all, which I swapped it to when it was just four folks left being friendly and rivalrous. (Then I spent most of my time plaguing Doone by ninja looting currency under his nose, with double the ping that he has. I’m sure he’s going to thrash me at Defence Grid for that!)

All in all, good fun.

I’d love to play more Path of Exile with folks. Especially in the higher levels, at the harder difficulties. (I have two characters stuck in the 60s that aren’t going anywhere! I can wait! And play alts!)

Just have to figure out those timezone matching blues.

GW2: Early Days in the Crown Pavilion

So refreshing, minus dome and zerg...

Funny story about Liadri.

Stayed up for the patch.

Patched.

Jumped almost headlong into Crown Pavilion…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No repair fee, from the prior patch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…then the weird shit started.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Went for a nap.

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

Got back into the Crown Pavilion.

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

Picked a cage away from the boss they were fighting.

Noted I was back to 20 FPS.

Killed Liadri on the second go.

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

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

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

sixgroup

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

The six bosses are fairly entertaining in their mechanics.

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

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

goldbossblitz

Welcome to the new champion bag farm.

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

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

Fair is fair.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everybody has viable options. Everybody wins.

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

Wildstar: Odds and Ends and Approaching the End of the Road

End of the line?

It gets better the further up in levels you go, they say.

Well, here’s the stuff I found neat on my journey from 15-21.

ws_grinder

Mah bike looks cool.

I hear it is possible to upgrade the look of mounts later with rear and front flairs, which I think is a great system for further customization along the self-expression and showing off prestige front, and of course, the endless collection of mounts is a captivating system for collectors.

ws_2handers

Mah sword looks cool.

The teen levels appear to be the home of some really neat two-handed sword designs. WTB similar stuff appearing in GW2, just less cartoony and more fantastical.

I also discovered that the warrior sword skills count as a spell cast and were only being performed on button up by default, rather than button down.

Which was probably inducing further delay into the stately swings, between my latency and tendency to press down on keys rather than release quickly.

ws_combatoptions

I heartily recommend going into Combat Options and selecting “Use Button Down instead of Press Twice” and “Hold to Continue Casting” (which should select all three options.)

This allows you to still see the telegraph indicators for range, but also simulates a kind of auto-casting by holding down the relevant key.

(When you’re 200-250ms behind, any kind of automatic casting that allows you to sneak in more attacks is welcome for maintaining dps so that you don’t look like you totally suck on damage charts.)

ws_shiphand

The Shiphand solo instances demonstrate yet again why storytelling is best conveyed via a solo one which you can traverse at your own pace, and not be spoiled by some other guy in your party having done it already rushing you through it.

I tried the Hycrest Insurrection Adventure at lvl 15, a 5 man instance which is apparently set at a more lax difficulty level for casual PUGing.

They were… okay, I guess.

It was hard for me to discern story once again in a group setting, since one is always more concerned with not falling behind from the group than being able to take the time to read stuff.

There was a vote option of multiple paths to pick and choose, similar to GW2 explorables, except the option came up three times in that one Adventure, leading to presumably more branching possibilities and ostensibly more variation.

I say ostensibly because while my first group was probably entirely new to it and the majority just ended up picking the first option every time, my subsequent group had someone who had been presumably playing since Closed Beta, because that someone matter of factly announced, “2-2-3 is the best xp” and guess what path we ended up doing, by unanimous vote.

There was a fair amount of varied mechanics in that one Adventure, from snipers that shot at you from range and you had to dodge *ahem* dash to avoid being knocked down, NPC citizens which you stayed near to put on a disguise and thus ‘stealth’ through certain parts without drawing aggro, a timed portion to stop a moving convoy by defeating all its guards (bit of a vertical fight, one had to jump up on two platforms of a slow moving vehicle, have one person pull a lever which opened a door for others to go through and plant a bomb, etc.)

Bosses were usually two-phase or more, with varied shapes of AoEs to dodge and could move around quite a bit.

ws_firerocks

And of course, the odd room full of fire and falling rocks to sprint and dodge your way through.

At the end of the Adventure, a little scoreboard screen comes up to show you how you did.

ws_advbronze

It’s a bit odd, I suppose, in that it’s neither here nor there. You can’t compare how other people in your party did, though I suppose add-ons for that will pop up like a bad penny later.

I’m not sure what staying alive means, beyond extreme cowardice and maybe the least damage taken, which seems a bit unfair to tanks. Certainly -I- wasn’t tanking, I was safe and sound DPS with high armor and an itchy trigger finger on the dodge key.

The first was a group that didn’t really have a clue what we were doing, the following was being shepherded by someone competent doing the tanking. Albeit, a ranged engineer tank, which added some variety to the well-established holy trinity.

ws_gold

A scoreboard does set up a bit of an inferiority complex though. You keep wondering, maybe my warrior isn’t an optimal choice to bring versus say a stalker with much faster rate of attacks or some ranged dps which can spray and pray more sustained damage while dodging.

No doubt, the speedruns will come in due time, and groups who can’t finish in like 15 minutes or less will be considered lousy.

Finally, at level 20, the first dungeon. Stormtalon’s Lair.

Shades of grawl shaman fractal all over again...
Shades of grawl shaman fractal all over again…

People keep singing the praises of Wildstar’s dungeons, for some reason. Oh yay, it’s hard, it’s challenging, the trash mobs are actually scary and a threat!

I feel like I must have missed some super easy dungeons in the interim. Maybe because I don’t play WoW.

It felt like a normal oldschool dungeon where you are expected in a hardcore fashion to spend hours in, in order to complete.

The group finder suggested to bracket 75min for the dungeon, and horror stories talk of 3+ hours and PUGs disintegrating on the first boss, with folks cheering on this level of ‘challenge’ as refreshing.

There were trash mobs. There appeared to be two main varieties of spawns. One spellcaster with two melee animal mobs that could generally be tanked-and-spanked.

ws_normaltrash

Group up, AoE ’em down. The Storm Watcher appeared to have some spells that caused AoE that needed to be either dodged, or a good group could use interrupts to stop this.

The other main type of trash mob spawn was a melee and spellcaster healer duo, a sentinel and shaman of some sort, linked together.

Naturally, PUGs will beeline for the nearest target, ie. the melee one, especially if you have a ranged tank engaging and backing away reflexively. Which then sets up the unending chain of letting the shaman freecast heals and keep Mr Melee up for an indefinite period of time until sheer force of dps burns through it – assuming your own healer hasn’t run out of mana *ahem* focus to support the tank first.

The trick, as some people explained, was to go for the shaman first and synchronize interrupts when it tries to heal. This is, of course, much easier said than done in a PUG without voice comms, but my first not-so-coordinated but seemingly fairly experienced PUG managed to pull it off maybe 75% of the time, while the second fail PUG did not. I was probably the only person with interrupts on that one, whereas the first PUG had two warriors (so 2 interrupts each, plus one more dps with one interrupt. Land 3 at any one time to get stuff done.)

Really -competent- tanks will manage to pull the melee to the spellcaster so that both are grouped up and can be burned down together. (Which I thought was basic competency for a tank, but apparently the people who queue up in a tank position in a group finder are extremely luck-of-the-draw.)

Our first PUG by the way struggled with a middling engineer tank with bruiser bot, who left after three wipes on the first boss, and was replaced by yet another engineer tank without bot who was plainly geared properly for his role and very very competent. The healer remarked on how much more easy it was to heal him, and this veteran of the dungeon explained all the mechanics and brought our newbie group through with only minimal wiping.

The first boss also had a reputation of being a PUG destroyer. (Sorta like Kholer, I guess. Except this one is unskippable.)

He involved three phases. First one was basic tank-and-spank, but he did a plus shaped AoE that needed to be dodged out of. (Or interrupts coordinated, I’m guessing.)

The second one involved him going invulnerable while the four adds that surrounded him went vulnerable. Pick the right one that the tank is also focusing on to burn down. Random people get marked with a bomb AoE that is centered on them. Dodge out of AoE, but pros apparently -move- the AoE to the mob first before dodging out so that it gets caught by the AoE and damaged. A randomly moving static discharge AoE that caused stun would start to plague people as more adds went down.

Last phase was tank-and-spank again, except this time there were a lot more randomly moving static discharge AoEs to avoid or be stunned, plus the boss would do a BIG AoE that covered most of the room except a few defined safe spots. Except since the AoE pattern is -probably- based on the tank’s position, the safe spots may not necessarily be in the same place if the tank wiggles around too much, and the tank does have to move to avoid the static discharge stuns, so it’s fairly reflex based in a PUG that hasn’t coordinated any set way to make his AoE predictable.

Combined with my latency, this generally meant that I got caught if I was a split second too slow, but fortunately it only hits for around 3k damage with knockdown, around 1/4 to 1/3 my health bar, and eventually healable by a healer when they get around to it.

However, it -is- possible to coordinate interrupts and disrupt his AoE entirely, as we discovered by sheer chance one AoE pattern. (Or rather, someone had spammed an interrupt and I saw the interrupt armor indicator at 1 and -hadn’t- spammed my interrupts prior to this, so I banged down on my keys and got the knockdown through. Which was fairly satisfying.

Though I admit that I wasn’t a god of interrupts at any other time as muscle memory hadn’t set in, nor was one used to reading all the cues necessary while trying to avoid AoEs in a fight one was seeing for the first time. I’m sure it’s learnable though.)

ws_secondboss

Ironically, one member in my second fail PUG said that the second boss was, he felt, the hardest boss. Well, my first PUG would beg to differ.

Our patient tank explained the mechanics to us. Phase 1: Tank-and-spank. Phase 2, he splits into three adds, burn ’em down. Then he knocks everyone back and we have to run through a gauntlet of tornadoes, reach him ASAP and interrupt.

Perhaps, as I said, we lucked out with two warriors in this PUG. Our leveling bar tends to have two interrupts and we’re very used to spamming kick to knockdown so that we can actually get some decent damage in with our one spammable power attack. We simply cannot level at a passable pace without having learned to use what Wildstar calls a Moment of Opportunity, which is extra damage when the mob is interrupted during a telegraph and goes purple for a time.

While the gauntlet was indeed somewhat annoying – I kinda felt I spent most of my time in the air while running forward at a snail’s pace, we could at least fling our ranged interrupt once we got semi-close and then spam our kick when finally in melee range. Thump, went the boss. Repeat this twice more, and then done.

More trash mobs of the same ilk. One miniboss with some more shaped AoE to dodge and interrupt.

ws_stormtalon

And finally, the last boss. Stormtalon. Who turns out to be sorta shaped like a dragon.

In the words of our esteemed tank. “Tank and spank to start, don’t stand in front of him, has a cleave. He’ll knock us back and stun, gotta break out and rush to him to interrupt. Lastly he’ll target a random member, making a safe zone around them. Rest of the room will be red, we gotta follow that person as they circle the boss. Lightning bolts will constantly target them.”

Which actually went pretty well and was downed in the first go, though two DPS bit it at the last phase, me included.

ws_whoops

Oh look, almost exactly 75 minutes.

Since the tank and healer survived, along with one melee dps, they got the other quarter or so of its health down and dead.

As for what killed me: the safe zone in phase 3 was centered around me and I was perhaps a little too anxious about keeping still enough to not accidentally kill -everyone- by running around like a headless chicken, and I must have inhaled some lightning circles by staying too still.

Would I be keen to repeat the fight and get better at dodging all that crazy AoE?

Yeah, I would.

Would I be keen to repeat the whole Group Finder experience and gamble on random PUGs on the offchance that I might eventually reach Stormtalon again to practice the fight?

Ummmm…

No.

I’m afraid not.

If I were someone with a regular North American time schedule, had a guild full of friendly regulars to play with, and often ran together with voice chat, such group dungeons would be PERFECT experiences for an established regular party of five.

But since my times are more of an irregular sort, I’m left PUGing it in various games.

My second Wildstar PUG ended up with another engineer tank who was plainly in pure assault gear as the healer simply couldn’t keep him up. He was as fragile as toilet paper.

When he died, I stayed up for just about as long by mere virtue of having heavy armor, a health bar and being able to dodge, although I was no tank at all either, due to not having any tank statted gear, nor any APM or skills slotted for tanking or threat holding. Basically, it was four DPS dying in sync with the healer also biting it somewhere in the middle.

And no, despite my pleading for -someone- to use and slot one interrupt so that I could use my two interrupts to apply knockdown (something I wanted to practice at getting better at), at no time whatsoever did the interrupt armor on any boss drop from 2, leaving my interrupts ineffectual.

Naturally, we wiped three times on the first boss and ended up standing around looking at each other, while the healer tried to explain to the tank that he needed the right gear to step into the tank role.

One DPS ran out of patience and dropped out of the party. We re-queued, and guess what, the engineer wordlessly insisted on the tank role again. With the same healer. When he actually could have taken the open DPS slot.

We stood around looking at each other again, while one more random DPS joined. Then the tank opened a vote kick on the healer.

“…”

Since this was the epitome of stupidity, I was driven to sufficient trolliness to reject the vote kick on the poor healer, and then I subsequently opened a vote kick on the tank.

(It’s not like I have a reputation to maintain in Wildstar. This is cross-server Open Beta and I don’t intend to be here for long.)

The tank quit the instance before the vote kick ran its course.

Of course, we then opened up the queue again, but since we were running in off-peak non-NA times, 10-15+ minutes passed with no tank stepping into the role and the party broke up shortly after.

The healer maintained that this state of affairs was NOT a result of the holy trinity but more due to “tanking being hard to learn” and thus no one wanting to be tanks.

Whereas I’m sitting in my chair thinking that if this is the usual state of PUGs in traditional holy trinity MMOs, it’s no wonder that tanks hide, take refuge and tank only in their guilds, and that there is really no need to put up with all the inherent pains of finding the ideal holy trinity group when I could LFG and get a PUG in under five minutes in GW2 because no perfect trinity is required.

You might ask, why didn’t I swap specs and try tanking?

No tank gear, for one.

Nor had I looked at that portion of the warrior tree and skills that involved holding threat yet. But mostly no tank gear in my bags.

(I do note that Wildstar loot looked interesting in that Adventure and Dungeon loot seemed to contain a lot of supportive stats – which makes a certain kind of sense, people who like to group should run their group content and get gear that is relevant and useful for their needs.)

People say that Wildstar dungeons are fun. And challenging.

It really makes me wonder about how and what they define a challenge.

Mechanics-wise, yeah, they’re complex and interesting. But learning how to perform them well seems to be much less of a challenge than assembling a properly prepared (read: gear and build) group together in the first place.

If one considers the random nature of the PUG as part of the challenge in a difficult dungeon, then I could also say that getting a precursor in GW2 is so fun-and-challenging because one is battling a most cruel RNG in the form of Zommoros’ Mystic Forge.

Personally, I’m left feeling less ‘challenged’ per se, and more helpless.

It’s the same sort of challenge as the Marionette. You could teach until your tongue turns blue and ultimately, your progress is still at the mercy of someone else not screwing up. It is RNG.

RNG you could skew in your favor by joining an organized community – a hardcore dungeon guild, or TTS marionette-running instances, fer example, but still RNG, rather than a challenge that one can defeat through one’s efforts.

Maybe I simply over-analyze these things too much.

I’d love to hear from someone who found Wildstar dungeons fun and exactly why they found it fun, for them.

Are they running with a regular group of friends, for one?

Which would imply they could learn and improve together over time, whereas PUGs are forever luck of the draw – you cannot count on running into the same people again.

Or perhaps this is just a foundational mindset difference in perspective.

I enjoy GW2 dungeons because my deaths are my fault. It’s always in my locus of control to not die or to break off and run and prevent a death by letting the mobs leash if the rest of my party has wiped. I might even be able to save the day and rez three dead people with my warbanner and turn the tides or solo the thing if I can perform the mechanics well.

In some cases in Wildstar, my deaths are my fault. I stuck around in the AoE and failed to perform the mechanic correctly. Looking forward to doing better on the next try and the prospect of improving is exciting, yes.

However, needing to rely on a tank or a healer to not suck, or dps to be actually competent, and waiting for the stars to align in the correct position so that one gets a good group are things that are not within my personal locus of control and are a complete buzzkill.

Nor can I turn any tides if I’m set up to be DPS, I traded off aggro generation or survivability. So if the tank screws up, or the healer screws up, I’m paste. I suppose eventually one could have a damage set of gear and a support set of gear in one’s bags, plus two sorts of specs, but that’s going to be way ahead in the future, rather than in the first dungeon.

In the meantime, we end up with a blame game where everyone points fingers and blames another party for not pulling their weight, causing the death of the group.

How this is fun and enjoyable, I”m not really sure.

It’s these sorts of foundational underpinnings that lead me to suspect that I’ll be done with Wildstar by the end of the week, if not sooner.

I don’t really need to play a game that breeds hostility and competitiveness and elitism, and that’s simply what the traditional MMO model does.

I do enjoy the combat system that Wildstar has chanced into creating though.

Maybe one day someone will make a subscription-free single-player or cooperative multiplayer game with the same underlying combat mechanics – fast frequently recharging dodge rolls and sprints and lots of telegraphs to dodge – I’ll be happy to play that.

GW2: The Nightmares Within the Tower

The calm before the toxic storm...

A sucking chest wound is Nature’s way of telling you to slow down.

Murphy’s Laws of Combat

No, really. Stop running. Start fighting!

Ok, so I did contribute about four blue skulls’ worth of zerker guardian trying to do the “I don’t need to run faster than those two Elites, I just need to run faster than YOU” thing, following the zergling impulse of go fast, rush past “trash” and trying to group up with those further ahead.

All of it on the death trap known as the third floor, where everybody but me seemed to -not- see the air canister “safe zones” and continued dashing ahead while I slowed down and was torn between trying to catch a breath and fight off a zerg-spawned worth of mobs by myself (not happening) or catching up with the panicked mob of players milling around lost and hallucinating while twisted clockwork spawned in, eager to take vengeance for all those prior failed invasions and trying to survive with blown cooldowns and not many more heals or blocks or invulnerable left (s’ not happening either.)

It took about that length of time to realize that every event was locking the doors and preventing forward progress via running, and that all those screaming over mapchat that this was too awfully hard were doing so because we players as a group were applying the absolutely wrong strategy to navigating the Tower of Nightmares.

Selfishness leads to a healthy chance at dying off by yourself. Teamwork gets you up. (Both up from downed and literally up to the top.)

I can see my house from here! Forgot my keys though...
I can see my house from here! Forgot my keys though…

At one point, I tried a group recruitment message and got a total of two people joining a party, which worked right up to the midway point where they decided to fall behind and jump into a nightmare chamber (cancel popup) while the immediate collective of individuals I was following was still pushing on.

I gave up with formal grouping after that, since it wasn’t any guarantee that the group would stick together. The public informal groups of whoever was in the vicinity did just fine. (For the record, that collective made it right to the top.)

Besides, killing everything gives you more chances to pop neat stuff. Like key parts, a recipe for an infinite krait tonic, and so on.

One day later, when I decided to have a change of pace and bring my zerker necro in, it felt like more people had figured this out and had started to spontaneously group up and kill stuff. (Or maybe they mistook all my minions for a zerg. Whatever works.)

I'd watch the dodge key there, if I were you.
I’d watch the dodge key there, if I were you.

I like the Tower.

I really do.

Ravious says GW1 players are comparing the Tower of Nightmares to the Underworld and Fissure of Woe instances of yore.

Really? I felt those instances were a lot harder and more time-consuming, possibly because I was trying to solo them with a not-at-all min-maxed loadout of heroes and had to take my slow and steady time with them. (One death means you’re out, when you’re the only player on the team.)

To me, this update feels like another do-over.

Lost Shores – Assault on the Karka Queen, as having listened to their players and not made it a one-time one-off affair, open-world and encouraging groups of 10-30 to work together instead of having 100-200 players corralled into the same dynamic event fighting lag as the enemy.

Sure, this means that occasionally groups of players who are a little less well-informed or well-versed with the ways of the tower will encounter a chaotic experience of mass deaths, but as Wyldkat, a Tarnished Coast resident, often likes to say, “Live and learn. Die, and learn faster.”

Have I mentioned how utterly awesome the instance scaling is?

Let me correct that, then.

Solo to five players!

I get to feel like a hero in my own story if I want to!

I get to group up and join other people if I want to!

I am deliriously happy that they took the trouble to make this work. Mostly the number of mobs in each chamber you encounter will spawn to a size that matches your party.

I like the small bits of storytelling that go on in each Nightmare instance too. And the randomized aspect of them keeps them -somewhat- novel.

I’ve caught character exchanges between Rox and Braham, Marjory and Kasmeer, Marjory and Braham, Rox and Kasmeer, Rox and Majory so far.

If you pay attention, you learn a little more about some of the characters (and have a good laugh at some others. Braham keeps hallucinating up his mom.)

Someone seems to have some abandonment and father issues.
Someone seems to have some abandonment and father issues.
Getting some 'origin' vibes for why she's a necro here.
Getting some ‘origin’ vibes for why she’s a necro here.

I like the little nods that they managed to slip in regarding the personal story and hope they manage more of it in future updates. (Depending on your race, you seem to get an encounter with your respective racial representative, and depending on your order… well, let’s say we’ve had a reunion of sorts with somebody. I need to bring in a character who is Order of Whispers soon.)

It’s made for a few interesting encounters.

Oi. We're both furry here. Watch that mouth of yours.
Oi. We’re both furry here. Watch that mouth of yours.

And later in this encounter, we fought a hallucination of Rytlock Brimstone and some Blood Legion summons to Scarlet’s accompanying leer: “Rytlock has a special file where he records all your mistakes. They’re adding up.”

Which was immensely immersive since both Rox and my charr are Blood Legion, and we know Rox has an inferiority complex where Rytlock is concerned. (Directed at my charr? Nah, can’t be. His self-esteem and relationship with Rytlock’s far too healthy for that.)

rarrrkillingrage

This little dig got through though. Rarrrrrgh. Must kill insolent leafy things.

Final cinematic cutscene sequence? Verrah nice. Aesthetically-speaking.

I like that they at least attempted to sum up all the threads and factions that Scarlet has been accumulating per update, even if thematically, it feels like she’s cobbling them together out of a junkheap of spare parts.

I did, in fact, kind of miss the Molten Alliance, and was glad to see them back in a small form, including ol’ molten berserker.

maybemorepeoplewillrecognizemytonicnow
Maybe more people will recognize my infinite tonic now when I bounce around in it. (Hey, it cost me quite a bit of gold, I gotta get my money’s worth.)

The difficulty level of the instances felt fine. I’ve soloed them (and the final instance) on a zerker guardian and a zerker necro. Got downed once or twice but managed to rally up from a weakened mob or an NPC came by to help rez.

I did a group version of the final instance to see how the dynamic scaling worked, and it also seemed to match perfectly.

We did make it extra hard on ourselves during the Molten Alliance portal phase because three people were like OMG, killz0rs all teh portals, we vill skip past zis trash, wat, u mean we don’t?! and one person had no clue how to kite the molten protector out of his fiery shield (it’s always the one with the aggro, right?) so we delivered unto ourselves the world’s biggest spawn of Molten Alliance, conveniently made invulnerable 75% of the time. That took ages to whittle down. We had lots of time on our hands trying to convince the one guy to move out of the fiery ring.

Despite that minor fiasco, we only had one person being downed near the start to rushing headlong into some toxic alliance, and while I was thinking that might have screwed up our final no-dying achievement chance, we managed to take down the champion hybrid with no downs, no deaths that I can recall and the achievement popped. So that was good.

Thus passes a god. Poor bugger.
Thus passes a god. Poor bugger. Never listen to Scarlet.

Speaking of achievements, let’s have another round of applause for the continuing saga of more sane numerical levels.

1 time, 3 times, 5 times, up to 10 and 15 only. No 25, 50, 100, 225! (DAMN that 225!)

All in all, good stuff.

I’ll be spending quite a bit of time in here, I think, just for the fun of it.

Zerging at 10 fps just to bring you this not very impressive picture. (One sec... *brings graphics settings down to not-asking-for-crash levels*)
Zerging at 10 fps just to bring you this not very impressive picture. (One sec… *brings graphics settings down to not-asking-for-crash-I-can-actually-move-without-slideshow levels*)

My only moderate worry is that if the crowds move off in time, like the Mad King’s Labyrinth, it might be impossible to get to the top at some point.

Still, I have noticed that the dynamic events probably do scale. We had a Veteran Spider Queen at one point, instead of a champion.

And during the free 5 captives from cocoons event, when it was just a ranger and me, we were only facing a veteran and two normal mobs per spawn. When the zerg came over, we started popping champions. (Hey, look, new champion farm, people!)

So I suspect that as long as two or three people work together and take it slow and steady, it is possible to eventually get all the way up even if the rest of the place is deserted. (Unlike certain halloween bosses I can think of.)

I suppose if we ever to get to such a stage of abandonment, that would be the time for coordinated groups to move in and treat the place like an extended dungeon.

On a crowded server, I suspect one can always find another one or two interested people.

(Though convincing them to stick together and not run off to follow their own agenda might be a mite more tricky. Oh well, that’s the open world aspect for you. Win some, lose some.)

Grouping and Soloing in Terraria Hardmode

Cowabunga!

Over on the Terraria end, hard-mode has been my drug of choice.

I find that I enjoy the challenge of facing something difficult and initially pwns your face off, but then steadily working out how to defeat it via better and creative tactics (and possibly incrementally better gear.)

The big BUT is that I can accept this quite easily in a singleplayer or small multiplayer game, but somehow the flow seeking for optimal challenge seems to break down in a big MMO.

One major difference that I can think of is that Terraria allows creativity of block placement and the ability to alter your scenery. You get to dig trap pits, walls and barriers to shield yourself, plot and plan and set up regeneration stations (<3 my honey pits) and the eventual reward of this industry is the capacity for “easy fun” when the mob progresses to the “on farm” phase, where you stand around, hold down a mouse button and cackle as things die and loot drops.

In a big MMO, progress is more measured by how good your gear gets, and how well your group/raid members play.

In Terraria, there is incrementally better gear as well, but progress on that front is generally a lot faster.

RNG chances of 0.5% – 1% are a LOT more palatable when you can go through one mob in under a few seconds and can generate hundreds of them in under an hour.

Contrast this with an MMO raid where you only get to test the favor of the RNG gods once a night for maybe twice a week at best and things start to get annoying very quickly.

Mobs in Terraria can be soloed. I’m not at the mercy of waiting for others to match my timings and praying they or their gear is up to the fight.

They’re also easier in a group, so there is still incentive to come together when everyone is online.

And of course, the most fun in Terraria arises from the creative collaboration. Taking the ideas of one person and then running with it, being inspired by and improving on it.

arena

The old new arena, you may recall, was a clean glitzy place marred only by the record of our untimely demise at the hands of Skeletron when we summoned him on a whim a little -too- close to the dawn.

Post-hardmode, one thing has pretty much led to another.

Our group ‘boss’ project has been the Pumpkin Moon event, a series of 15 waves to be fought during the space of night. Logically and rightfully, it’s a lot easier to push the waves when there’s more of us around than attempting to solo. (But you could always summon it solo and still try it out, so there’s no nasty restriction there.)

Eri and I once attempted the event as a duo, and got to something like Wave… 4? Memory fails. From there, we noticed the tendency of mobs to start falling into certain locations, like a lake bed, and the idea was born to start playing mechanic and wiring up traps to defeat the smaller mobs more easily. (Also conveniently getting all of us familiar with the new stuff to boot.)

Each person has built upon the ideas of the other, and our new arena is pretty danged lethal. (Note: Keep hands and feet and body away from machinery when spiky balls are in operation!)

newnewarena

The assorted junk at the center of the arena was also a collaborative effort. I stuck a honey pit and campfire (and later a heart crystal) there cos I loves me some stacked regen. I put a clock there too cos I hate shuffling around my accessories trying to check when night was coming via a GPS.

Eri set up teleporters for kiting bosses, and a bed spawn point, and a chest and other conveniences have popped on in.

I wanted to play with asphalt.

I had 999 pieces of gel to use up, and the thought of running places at double the speed was very appealing to my lazy soul. Especially for getting to the dungeon quickly to farm all the goodies inside.

What better to use it on than Eri’s already set-up highway?

Followin' the black brick road...
Followin’ the black brick road…

Of course, sometimes collaboration has a cost. It involves compromises.

The new and improved lethal trap corridor below our arena necessitated the removal of a scenic lake. Someone’s *cough* lazy draining methods have turned it into a somewhat boring rectangular underwater reservoir.

reservoirdeath
I see it also claimed the life of its builder. Hooray for turtles and their were-merfolk ability!

Of course, all this means is the ability to re-collaborate and re-improve on the design.

I’m still pondering what to do with the stored water. I recently worked out how to pump liquids with pumps and wires and am somewhat eager to play with it. Just need a good idea.

I installed a bit better lighting because turtles are still blind as a bat (need to farm my nice white light off dungeon mobs at some point), took the opportunity to redecorate my tunnel in the gaudy fashion of someone who really likes those crystal shards but has no real sense of what’s appropriate, and stuck in a new door for one more minor mob speedbump before they pop in to plague me in the midst of crafting stuff.

Oh, and I also repaved the new way up (the one that doesn’t involve flying head on into a hundred spiky balls) with asphalt, just because.

It makes a hilarious fun slide into the other pond on returning from the castle.

And the cost of the speedy new west highway?

pumpkintunnel

Someone’s pumpkin has a hole in it. A very straight worm drilled through it. That’s what a little bird told me. Yes.

Halloween’s over. Pumpkins rot, y’know?! (At least, partially.)

My creations tend to be more on the ugly but functional side of things. Especially for speeding up farming of items I want, but am too impatient to spend hours waiting for.

Terraria has been kind enough to allow increasing mob spawn rates by standing by a water candle and drinking a battle potion, so farming seems to be very much a part of the game.

I want the ability to summon Pirate Invasions, because they’re fun, and that requires a pirate map consumable that is used up per summon. You get a pirate map off a rare chance killing mobs in the Ocean biome. That involves walking to the edge of the map and lots of swimming, and I’ve already killed so many sharks in a prior search for a diving helmet that I could make shark’s fin soup if such an item existed in Terraria.

Solution? Enter the meteor farm. Placing 50 pieces of meteorite anywhere turns it into an artificial meteor biome, and in near end-game armor, a helpful leaf crystal acts like an autoturret that can one-shot the meteor heads that spawn to accompany the biome.

sunsandandmeteors

Ugly, but functional. And the wooden platform below catches most of the drops.

It also allows for more active participation when desired, because I can only AFK so long before getting trigger happy.

The other thing that I regularly amuse myself with is the artificial biome project.

I guess I just enjoy taming the wilderness by encasing it in easily accessible little bubbles that preserve its habitat for posterity. I don’t even mind the mobs that keep spawning from them, they make life fairly entertaining (though I do have a certain hatred for a giant fungi bulb that insists on throwing nasty spores in the air that whack an unaware person for 56 damage per spore.)

Home sweet artificial biomes. All trees finally growing.
Home sweet artificial biomes. All trees finally growing.

All attempts at preserving natural antlion populations are failing miserably. I think I need a longer desert.

All attempts at preserving the natural antlion populations are failing miserably. I think I need a longer desert.
Work has begun on an underground jungle, though so far, it's more of an underground fish farm.
Work has begun on an underground jungle, though so far, it’s more of an underground fish farm.