Path of Exile: Once More, Unto the Breach

I seem to have found myself back in Wraeclast over the last few days.

News of Path of Exile’s impending Ascendancy expansion (in less than a week, Mar 4th) tempted me back into rolling up a character to check out the changes I’ve missed since I last played.

Basically, I missed the Awakening expansion, which landed sometime in July 2015, and I’m a little sad that I did.

Still, better late than never.

The Awakening was apparently versioned as Path of Exile 2.0, and I can see why.

Significant improvements have been made. That’s really saying something, given that I’d already enjoyed the game even before this.

The most obvious addition is the inclusion of Act 4, which adds new story, maps and bosses to the existing Acts 1-3.

What is not obvious, but extremely pleasant on play through, is how much effort Grinding Gear Games has put into smoothing out the leveling experience with this addition.

Previous criticism has been that difficulty in PoE felt very uneven and spiked in places – I even drew a fun graph once – you get used to it and learned to compensate. Well, now it feels like the line has gotten much smoother.

Not necessarily flatter as in easier difficulty, Act 4 bosses felt like soloable mini-raid bosses with various attack animations, the need to keep moving and circling, and even different phases and mechanics sometimes.

Just smoother, as in less sudden spikes, more of a gradual ramp up. There are more maps, since there’s an entire Act 4, so levels can be spread out into those new maps, and there’s less of a need to farm for 3-5 levels in a specific farm map before moving on. (There’s still the option to do so, of course, but you now have the option to just play through the game normally too.)

It feels good.

Considerable thought has also gone into making it easier for players less willing to sell and trade on a constant basis to obtain skill gems for different character builds, as you can now buy these from NPC vendors as you progress through the Acts.

“Just playing through the game” self-sufficiency now feels a little more playable as an option, between this and the ability to craft desired mods through vendor recipes or Forsaken Masters crafting. (Presumably this is playing at a much different level than those stuck deep in PoE’s endgame. Plenty of time for that once you hook players in the first place though.)

The UI has had some quality-of-life improvements. Small stuff, but again it feels good. An in-game clock, the ability to toggle on life and mana bars over your character’s head, the option for a smaller latency graph display next to the minimap, visible refill levels for life and mana, being able to see item level by holding down Alt, rather than having to pick up each item and type /itemlevel, on and on. Itty bitty seeming stuff, but with big impact.

What’s -really- huge is the introduction of deterministic lockstep mode, as a separate option from client predictive.

Desync was an old complaint that Path of Exile kept encountering, especially when using fast movement/teleport skills that would show the character on the player’s client in one position, while network latency meant the server still thought the character was in another position (usually surrounded by monsters, leading to death) and you’d only find out when both server and client had hashed out their little disagreement some split seconds later.

Some people didn’t like that, so now they’ve added an option (seriously, aren’t -options- such wonderful things) to force the client to sync with the server before showing you the move/action taken. With low latency to the server, this is apparently quite wonderful as it completely eliminates desync and delay is equal to the ping that you have to the server.

(Apparently, they also tried to tweak the netcode to improve the client predictive mode as well, so players who can’t use lockstep aren’t completely left out in the cold.)

What is amazingly wonderful (and a bit of a miracle, really) is that for once, Path of Exile is a game that actually has servers set in the country I’m staying in (though you have to type it in, as the Singapore server is apparently a lil sekrit option – probably piggybacking off the Garena servers.)

That means I can actually play with deterministic lockstep mode on… at 15ms or so.

(Also, no forced region-locking. I can actually use a GGG account, not a Garena one.)

State of affairs… unprecedented. *brain explodes*

Of course, it’s not all song and games. The Singapore server has a tendency now and then to hiccup and start jittery lag spiking for a night or two of complete unplayability, forcing me to switch to a US West Coast server at 190-200ms or so, but when it decides to play nice, it is awesome.

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What’s also awesome are the new art assets.

The map backgrounds just feel a touch crisper and slightly higher resolution than the old ones.

The mobs are nuts, in a good way.

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These crazy little totem things feel like they stepped right out of a twisted Miyazaki movie. They appear to be innocuous background scenery like mushrooms or corals, but as you approach, they seem to wake up, their eyes glow blue like stunted gray aliens, and then they shoot you with said blue energy bolts darting from their eyes.

(My response: Roast them in a field of fire. Hooray for fire traps.)

There’s also a boss fight in Act 4 (not my video) that made me laugh immediately as it reminded me of GW2 Sabetha’s rotating flamewall attack pretty durn quick, along with the same requisite strategy of running in a circle as close as possible to reduce the distance run.

I ended up toughing it out with healing flasks at Normal difficulty, since I was playing a tanky high-armor Marauder, and reaaally slowly killing her with fire traps (my secondary skill, since I couldn’t stay put long enough to use my primary killing skill of Incinerate – that spell just got completely countered by her mechanics) but I definitely think this fight is going to need preparation and thought at the higher Cruel and Merciless difficulty levels.

Apparently, Act 4 Merciless is intended to be an alternate challenge to PoE’s map endgame, and given how elaborate the bosses already felt in Act 4 Normal, I think that’s definitely going to be fulfilled intent at the highest difficulty.

I’m already laying in plans to get some kind of movement or dash skill before I do this fight on Cruel. Probably going to find out the hard way all the other stuff I’ll need to kill her.

Lore-wise, Act 4 also felt really good. Some really familiar historical names were brought into the picture, and the whole experience felt quite epic.

I wish I could go into more detail than the above, but the truth is that I play Path of Exile on a very shallow level, I’m no expert, I’d like to learn but it’s such an in-depth game that there’s always more to learn every time I play the durned thing.

The good news is that it’s still extremely enjoyable while not understanding half the things that’s going on under the hood, and it only gets better when you do understand that little smidgen more.

Unlike *cough* some other company I could mention, you get the feeling that Grinding Gear Games knows their game, knows their audience, and are focusing very strongly on that niche. They’re not trying to be the next MMO, the next first-person shooter, the next card game, the next raid game for funsies or introducing odd out-of-place features to catch a crowd that’s currently not into the game.

They’re making an awesome oldschool Diablo-like ARPG with mindblowing build options, challenging fights, RNG loot and map variety, and improving the heck out of it with each patch and expansion.

Come the Ascendancy expansion, I suspect it’s going to get even better still.

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GW2: Sabetha

Sabetha, on the other hand, terrifies me.

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Yep, this lone unassuming figure hides a fight of intense mental overload.

This encounter tears right through any pretense of contribution and reaches through the screen to challenge every single member of the ten person raid group. Every. Single. One.

The primary way it does this is to create a huge number of things to keep track of at once, in practically every corner of the screen, not to mention your skill bar at the bottom, and oh, the actual fast-paced action happening right this very instant in your center focus.

When you walk in new, it is massively overwhelming.

Even when you’re not new, it can still be pretty durned overwhelming.

It is up to each individual raid group to choose how and if they’re going to distribute specific areas of focus to different members, preferably in such a way that the person can cope with the number of things to manage on their plate.

Difficulty shoots through the roof if the raid pretty much just asks every member to keep track of it all.

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We deviate immediately from the holy trinity, as there is no tank for Sabetha.

It’s not her autoattacks you have to worry about. She never moves from the center of her platform, so there’s no mob positioning to bother with either.

One healer is brought along to cover mistakes, and everybody else is buff-dps or even-more-dps.

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The first thing you have to worry about: her Timed Bomb attacks.

A red “Timed Bomb” message pings up in your chat box, white “Timed Bomb” words slowly scroll across your screen as a big orange circle appears, with a quickly expanding darker orange circle inside. And yeah, there’s that graphical icon thing over your head too.

Once both circles meet, it explodes.

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It doesn’t deal that much damage to the target, but -wrecks- anyone else within.

So instead of everyone running away from this and losing dps, the target is expected to move the hell away from the group.

Someone discovered that she throws this on the person with the closest proximity to her. (Presumably to spoil everyone-stack-and-melee-mindlessly tactics.)

The tactic that has evolved is to ask a fairly sturdy person who is already meleeing anyway to stay in the closest proximity (aka usually stacked right on top of her), while everyone else stands at max melee range.

In other words, the PS warrior (berserker) that is likely to be coming along anyway as a might-stacking banner bot.

That’s *groan* usually going to be me, since I lack the mental capacity and finger adroitness to play more complex classes like elementalists or engineers, and gravitated to “Hi, I r warrior, I headbutt things and thump things with a great big sword” gameplay.

The amount of reaction time you get, with oceanic/SEA ping? Not terribly much.

You need to be anticipating it, and once you see the orange circle, you go, pronto. You can’t quite rely on helpful white words appearing in the center of your screen, it’ll be too late.

Instead, your best prompt is take your eyes off the action and sneak a peek at the chatbox to see if the red words are there, and the little hissing noise it makes (like one of those cartoon bomb fuses.)

Then you best be gone.

(You do still want to check because there are also plenty of other orange circles appearing from other attacks, and you’d be mucking up your job if you ran off on the wrong cue.)

Did we mention that the warrior skill rotation makes heavy intense use of the channeled Hundred Blades skill, which you -normally- want to let complete uninterrupted as the last strike does extra damage?

Moving interrupts this, and normally I’m trying to train myself to let it complete properly and not jitter around nervously (because my guardian main doesn’t have that issue, and any other dps class that uses the seaweed salad consumable -should- keep moving in order to get the 10% extra damage boost.)

But if you see the Timed Bomb, you gotta stop and go and give up that Hundred Blades. Easier said than done if you’ve tunnel visioned onto your skill rotation, or conversely gotten distracted keeping track of one of the many other things going on.

The only piece of good news is that greatsword 3 Whirlwind Attack is a pretty fast way of getting out and quickly moving from point A to point B.

Point B preferably being an area with no other players in it.

I’m still not picture-perfect at this, and tend to end up giving the one player away from the group a heart attack 50% of the time by spinning near them, while both of us screech to a halt and try to break off in opposite directions to avoid a collision.

What’s that one player doing?

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Well, they are worrying about what Sabetha does to the person at the -furthest- proximity from her.

Every seven seconds or so, she’s tossing these flaming fire fields in their direction. Standing in them burns. Duh. As in, applies nasty stacks of burning which add up and really hurt. The standard “Don’t stand in the fire, guys” that I presume (without any experience whatsoever) is part and parcel of many raids.

So they’re kiting these things away from the main group in a circle and doing damage at range to Sabetha too. Different groups assign different classes to this function – I’ve seen it done by a druid healer, as well as a condi necro. Presumably any ranged attacker whose player knows what they’re doing and won’t die works.

The rest of the raid isn’t given a free pass once these two mechanics are dealt with.

Every 30 seconds, in a pattern best laid out in Dulfy’s Sabetha guide, a cannon spawns on a higher platform that has to be dealt with, or else it will start firing a whole bunch of orange circles in a cone-shaped spread on that part of the platform.

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Not only do standing in these orange circles hurt, once the incoming cannon shots land (so the standard GW2 ‘avoid orange circles’ concept applies), but they actually deal damage to the platform itself, as measured by another bar.

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Once the platform health reaches zero, it collapses and the raid wipes.

So it is both a sort of soft timer (you can’t run around forever, the platform will wear away eventually) and an encouragement for raid groups to deal as efficiently with the cannon mechanic as desired. (There is a sort of hard mode achievement for leaving one cannon alive and managing to kill Sabetha too.)

How do you deal with the cannons?

Through a teamwork mechanic. Bandit sapper adds spawn every now and then, targeting somebody to throw a bomb to. Said person receives a green circle around them, and their special action key lights up with an icon.

Apparently they like to spawn in the direction opposite the target cannon and throw it to the person closest to them.

In some raid groups, you might find the person already kiting the fire fields will also take on some of the responsibility of being near the sapper and catching the bomb, but frankly, once a fight is in progress, it can be a bit of a random crapshoot. That person may not always be available or in position, and basically -anyone- might happen to be closest to a sapper and catch the bomb.

So -everybody- is expected to know what the hell to do with it, if they get it.

Basically, you run up close enough to the appropriate launchpad, and toss it with your special action key onto the person whose job it is to deal with the cannons in that direction.

Who should be also positioning themselves there at the same time. (They can’t be there too long beforehand, as it’s again dps loss, and they might also catch a fire field of instant death from being the furthest from Sabetha.)

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The green circle moves from you to them, the bomb flies over to them, and triggers the launch pad and they bounce up… and then glide over and land on the cannon platform to deal with said cannon.

sabetha10The view from the west cannon platform, sans cannon and sans Sabetha, in a cleared instance.

Then they get to glide back to join the fight, catching an updraft for a boost or to delay their landing if needed.

Why do they need to delay their landing?

Well, every so often, depending on how much health Sabetha is down to, THIS happens.

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She screams “Burn, Burn!” as your warning cue, and an arrow will appear, targeting a player (or a pet, for extra unpredictability.)

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Shortly after, a big wall of insta-kill flame sweeps around the arena a full 360 degrees in an anti-clockwise direction.

It’s basically a vertical plane of death. Players can’t glide over it, can’t dodge through it, can’t stand inside Sabetha, it hits ’em all.

Odd unlucky things have been known to happen with this arrow. Just today, it failed to appear on my screen, so I had no visual cue to react to and I just insta-died because I was busy standing inside Sabetha worrying about time bombs.

(I suppose a better player might have known when the time bombs were coming and when Sabetha was likely to output a flamewall, but I’m very much -not- well-versed with this lady.)

We’ve had the flame wall target a pair of people mid-bomb throw (much ouch – theoretically controllable if we were all super-pro players who knew when and how to hold back dps while this was ongoing, but in practice, more of a “welp, that was unlucky, wipe and restart.”)

And we’ve even had a glitch now and again with an invisible flamewall in once place, while showing up someplace else visually, thus disintegrating the unlucky individual or two who had no idea it was there. “Wipe and restart, yet again.”

It generally works ok, about 95% of the time, and fulfills the function of forcing all players to either react quickly and step to the left of the arrow, then shift just a little to the right as it finishes its sweep, and/or run around in a circle a few steps ahead of the impending wall of doom.

What it does rather successfully do is confound many players’ sense of direction after they’ve been spinning around in a circle, especially if they’re new, and/or keeping track of many other things at once.

Remember, actually knowing cardinal directions is important because if said player gets the bomb, they have to go to the correct cannon launchpad to throw it.

How exactly does each player figure out cardinal directions, and how quickly can they do this?

This is one of the major challenges of the Sabetha encounter, not so much a tank-dps-heals holy trinity encounter.

The player could use the minimap… but that involves taking one’s eyes off the fight and possibly getting smited by an AoE they didn’t see, and making sure their minimap  was fixed and doesn’t rotate as they turn.

After a considerable amount of confusion my first time at Sabetha, I tried to figure out if there was a more original Guild Wars 2 solution of using the visual environment itself as a cue, so my player focus didn’t have to be staring at the UI and distracted from the fight.

Partial success.

Most directions look the same on first glance, all gloomy and bandit tree fort.

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North is the easiest to recognize, as it has a bright red banner hanging as a visual cue.

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This is east. No particularly distinguishable landmarks, beyond the entrance to the platform on the left (northeast).

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This is south. My personal cue is the little greenish glimmer of the Ley Line Rift on the metal walkway. (On looking at it again now, it also has an entirely missing right pillar/netting thing.)

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And this is west. I guess, it, erm… has more tree leaves…

Turns out, I can barely remember or distinguish such teensy little details in the split seconds needed to find the correct platform and toss the bomb, especially when the whole world is lighting on fire and there’s orange circles everywhere.

Raid groups try to minimize the processing time on most members’ parts by asking the raid to stack on a person and pre-face the cannon direction that is upcoming.

Cannons go by a known S, W, N, E, then a S, N, W, E pattern and repeat. (Purposefully confusing pattern must be purposeful. Frankly, I lose track most of the time and rely on the designated raid caller to announce it.)

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Post-patch, raid groups have one more trick up their sleeves, having been given raid markers.

In our particular raid, a designated lieutenant marks out the current platform to be throwing to, and shifts it about as the pattern changes. This, I think, does help processing time for some people, loading most of the mental work to that one lieutenant.

I can easily see other raid groups using colors instead of cardinal directions, and going, “ok, throw to blue now!” or “throw to purple!”

Still, the lieutenant has to know how to orientate him or herself, and I was really relieved when I found a method that did work somewhat well for me, even without markers.

Basically, know where north is at all times. Look for the red banner. Kinda keep it in view most of the time, keep it in mind if one has to shift about.

Maybe it’s just how my brain works, but I realized that once I knew where north was, the other directions could then be easily derived from north. I am ever so slightly better at passing the bomb now, even if I do have a tendency to tunnel vision on swinging my sword and forget that bombs exist.

Different raid groups also designate different amounts of people to deal with cannons. You’d think four would make sense, one for each launch pad. But that relies on four people not screwing up.

Hearsay has it that some raids use one of those grey exploits where one player can deal with three cannons by clambering on tree branches and gliding and some such, presumably at the cost of said player not doing dps on Sabetha.

The raid group I killed Sabetha with initially tried four, which worked iffily, and has dropped to two people alternating cannons, who are very practiced at that role/function. Everyone still has to be on their toes to throw the bomb to them, though.

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Assuming the raid group has managed to cope with those main mechanics and drop Sabetha to the next magic health level, she switches out and brings her first flunky in, Kernan.

This bandit (apparently it’s a she? I have no idea, it’s not like I can actually see much mid-fight) does a thief-like pistol attack, a spreading cone that starts narrow and ends wide.

It’s a very GW2 solution to this problem. Ideally, you dodge through her and to her back, avoiding the whole frontal cleave. Less ideally, you sidestep or side-dodge away.

Of course, this tends to fuck up your sense of direction more.

Now that I’ve had a few more Sabetha fights under my belt, I’ve had the time to observe her animations and anticipate a little more her attack. She’ll lift her two pistols up and point them in the direction of the person she decided to target. So if she’s pointing at you, now’s the time to vamoose and not wait for the orange cones to appear!

In a fashion similar to Gorseval, the fight ramps up slightly with Heavy Bomb objects that spawn on the platform. They don’t hurt players, but take off chunks of the platform bar as they explode. So, yet another player is usually designated to “Kick” them off by hitting the F use key on them. Again, more of a unique GW2 thing.

Get past Kernan, and Sabetha reappears for round 2, rinse and repeat the whole shebang with Heavy Bombs in play (and Timed Bombs, and cannons, and fire fields and so on.)

(Oh yes, she reappears and does a flame wall WHILE Kernan is still alive with a sliver of hp left. So now your group has to deal with the flunky’s special mechanic and be trying to off them, while spinning around in a circle.)

Knuckles is the next flunky and we’re back to breakbar management again.

Fail to break the bar and he’ll launch the whole raid near him up into the air, and possibly off the platform.

Pre-arranged coordination of sufficient ccs is best as his bar comes up two or three times in relatively quick succession. “X goes first, followed by Y, and the rest of the group” or something similar.

Importance of control? Pretty decent. Enough to make it a contender.

Finish with Knuckles, dealing with Sabetha’s flamewall while Knuckles is still up, and the fight continues, now with -two- Timed Bombs. So at least two players have to be on the lookout and move them away from the group.

Karde is the final flunky and she has a flamethrower cone attack, dealt with in similar vein to the first flunky.

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She also spawns those turrets of bullet hell.

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Just like in Gorseval, one or two people are tasked with object clearing duty.

All out madness is released once Karde is down to a small amount of health remaining, Sabetha returns with her flame wall, Karde is still running riot with her flamethrower and turrets, and rocks fall from the sky.

No, really. Little orange circles spawn all over the platform, heralding bits of falling debris that will smash through your health bar if you’re still in the circle when they crash down on your head.

There’s fire everywhere from flamethrowers, flamewall, flame turrets, and -yes-, the cannons are still going and have to be dealt with, Karde has to die to cease -some- of this madness, and let’s not lose sight of the original goal, to off Sabetha before she enrages.

Oh yeah, don’t die.

That’s important too.

I get exhausted just describing it. 🙂

Proponents of the holy trinity might say, “Well, this is what you get when you don’t have clear cut tank/dps/heals roles.”

Truth is, for the most part, I think the Sabetha fight would be fun in a GW2 action-y way without the mental overload from the cardinal direction cannons.

Most of the mechanics used in the Sabetha fight are very GW2 specific ones – reading animations, movement, dodging, break bar, F’ing objects, avoiding orange circles, and test that sort of reflexes/action-based combat.

It adds up to a very different style of fight from the more predictable holy trinity style combat.

Layer attempting to keep track of the cannons on top, and that’s about the limit that my overtaxed brain can deal with.

I suppose, over time, with raiding being a team sport and all, that if one is able to trust that each raid group member can handle their own unique parts, my brain might be able to relax enough to stop worrying about keeping track of cannon directions and to just look for the raid marker, knowing that someone already handled that part of the equation.

Right now, my brain still likes to be in “Grok all of Sabetha” mode, and it’s really too much for one person to handle.

I suspect this reason is why different people just randomly up and die every now and then, early on in the phases, causing our raid leader to call for a wipe and reset. Again and again.

(I’m guilty of some of those. Sometimes it’s tunnel vision causing slow reaction. A few times it’s just wonky glitches or rubberbanding.)

Fortunately for my sense of self-esteem, all of the members of my current raid group are prone to human error, and have all taken turns slipping up. This does wonders for my innate insecurity and need to seem/feel competent in group content.

Unfortunately, this does add a certain level of frustration to a Sabetha fight, because one early death (which can be quite prone to happening in a group of ten people) means wiping and restarting over and over. A lot of the mechanics are insta-kill, so there’s no recourse for last minute rescue from one’s teammates, and who slipped up is super-obvious.

(This can be, of course, pretty dangerous a scenario for toxicity in the wrong group.)

In my usual explorer fashion though, I’ve found that a massive weight has slipped off my shoulders the instant I scored that first Sabetha kill.

That’s it. I’ve seen the content. There’s no more novelty taunting me.

I’m essentially done. Everything else is a bonus.

(Still need one more Sab kill where no one dies to get the Eternal title. Maybe some chievos. Continue to join raids to socialize, help others, tickle the achiever by accumulating kills slowly, but the pressure and stress has evaporated.)

GW2: A Really Long Treatise on Gorseval

It’s serendipitous that the topic of the holy trinity has come up in the blogosphere again.

I’ve been pondering over how to blog about GW2 raids without sounding like I’m a jilted grouch (because you’ve read too much of my cognitive dissonance between competing values already) or bragging elitist (by writing completion/accomplishment posts that interest no one – those that have already done it go “what took you so long, noob?” and those that haven’t get grouchier.)

Nor did I want to write raid guides (because there’s already coverage by others far more proficient than me, and who actually feel passionate about this type of content) or sound like I love this content so much that the devs are encouraged to spend more resources on creating more raids at the expense of everything else.

That would be a personal nightmare. I’m actually quite relieved to hear thirdhand from someone with a vested interests in raids (via presumably interactions with raid devs) that the management of Anet is terrified of having raids become the be-all and end-all of the game.

Kindly stay terrified. I suspect the game’s been hemorrhaging players post-expansion, between anecdotal responses via quitting GW2 blog posts and Reddit posts about how many guild members haven’t been logging in lately. WvW fix, then Living Story 3 soon, please.

Hell, revive dungeons, I think you’ve lost a lot of easy fun group content players with that, even if I don’t run in those circles much and don’t really give a damn either way, I’ve observed a number of my friendslist not logging on lately after interest in regular dungeoneering died.

Discussing the raids from a commentary standpoint though, and explaining in greater depth and nuance to a general audience how GW2’s combat system can deviate from a pure tank/heals/dps trinity and be equally or more compelling, I think I can do.

First things first, a disclaimer that I’m just telling things as it is, from my personal perspective and observation of my raid groups (mostly oceanic timezone, with one or two super-casual NA forays.)

Values, priorities and perspectives may differ from raid group to raid group, especially in different timezones or cross cultures, and at different skill levels.

More importantly, my telling it how it is does NOT imply that I personally agree with or like the design or the rules/boundaries/limitations set or any of the implicit behavior that it encourages. When in Rome, you do as the Romans do, especially when you want the Romans to succeed and reap the rewards with as little pain and inconvenience to oneself as possible.

Facts are facts. The boss died when we did this. The boss did not die (and we wiped) when we did that. Therefore we should do more of this, and less of that.

If “this” is not a desirable state of affairs, then developers have to act and adjust “this,” groups bitch a bit and then adapt to the current state of affairs and move on to the next best thing. That’s generally how it goes.

Since this is not a guide post, I’m going to start out of order and discuss my personal favorite mob of the trio.

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Gorseval.

Mind you, this is post-glider fix. I have never dared to attempt it before that, and I’m positive that consistent unpredictable glider failure (since my entire raid group is on the other side of the world) would have greatly colored my feelings about this fight.

As it happens, my only experience with Gorse is a fight where 9 out of 10 gliders work most of the time, with at most one or two unlucky people catching a spot of bad lag or not being skilful at glider control and thus falling out of the sky.

It turns out that I am the least grumpy when I feel a sense of autonomy about the fight, that it is within my/our skill and power and control to influence success.

A fight where -someone else- keeps dying or screwing up, forcing the whole group to voluntarily wipe because we know we can’t get past the enrage timer without said person, is a fight where I silently get grumpier and grumpier. (Keep this in mind when we get to my Sabetha post later on.)

I don’t blame, I know everyone’s human and makes mistakes. It’s just supremely frustrating emotionally to be doing everything right and then have to reset and restart because an oops happened by someone else. Success relying on ten people acting like machines of consistency doesn’t quite make sense or appeal to me. #justmethings

Anyway, fortunately, without the vagaries of glider inconsistencies, Gorseval is a fight that to me, feels the most like a traditional raid boss.

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For starters, he’s pretty big.

You get a small group of little people hacking away at a giant mountain of a monster feeling.

He also has a frontal cleave, so you get the traditional strategy where damage-dealers should be staying to his back or sides, while a tank faces him away and moves him about as needed.

This is where proponents of the holy trinity caper about and go “lol, see, you have tank/dps/heals, you now have a trinity in GW2, lololol.”

No one’s arguing that these functions – holding mob aggro, controling mob positioning, damage, damage mitigation, etc. – don’t exist in a non-holy trinity game. Non-holy trinity games offer considerably more flexibility and variation in roles though.

The GW2 tank is not necessarily a heavy armor wearer spamming taunt skills to gather sufficient threat to offset that generated by healers or dps.

Pretty much every class is capable of tanking, with the right build, and as long as they’re wearing gear that gives them a higher toughness than anyone else in the party. Control of mob aggro (specific to Spirit Vale’s Vale Guardian and Gorseval anyway) is a preset affair, where the whole raid group must play a part, opting to wear gear that has zero toughness, so as not to steal aggro from the agreed-upon tank.

Sneaking in with higher toughness is not possible as the boss will home in unerringly on said player, making it obvious to all that something is not right, and questions regarding the offending player’s toughness will be asked.

Fixing this becomes a joint give-and-take affair, either the player must remove or swap the gear with toughness, or the tank has to pile on more toughness to offset that. This ends up a minor social conundrum, due to possible difficulties in obtaining appropriate statted gear, depending on how casual either player is – different groups may opt to allow the offender to stay (if friends or known quantities) or replace them, some tanks may have more flexibility of gear swaps than others, and so on.

Once all the other players meet the established toughness baseline, the tank then puts on enough toughness gear he or she needs to survive (dependent on player skill, heals received, confidence, trial and error, etc.) and devotes the rest of their attention to surviving, proper mob positioning -and- damage, the more the merrier. Spamming taunt is non-essential (for this raid wing anyway.)

Of course, there can easily be a future set encounter where spamming controls like taunts and pulls are expected mechanics of the fight. The GW2 combat system allows for replication of the holy trinity, as well as breaking away from it, in other words. It’s that powerful. (So stop dissing it. Sheesh.)

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The boss is dragged to the side by a sacrificial volunteer, who then leaps off and respawns, so that the group can gather at one side to get ready before beginning.

Gorseval begins as you might expect, the tank approaches to aggro the mob.

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Gorseval will do an arm swipe (his frontal cleave attack), and then raise his arm for a stomp/smash attack that knocks back if it hits.

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This attack is avoidable using the GW2 mechanic of dodging and evading with an invulnerability frame. No tank can save a poor dps player from this, and heals are not strictly necessary as it does not do an extreme amount of damage.

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What it does do, is affect dps, as the player cannot attack for the seconds he or she is knocked down and recovering. Over time, a poorer player’s dps will drop in comparison to someone who can dodge consistently. As Gorseval utilizes some rather strict dps checks / has a tight enrage timer, this can affect group success if too many members’ dps is interrupted.

It can take a while to learn and get accustomed to the pattern, but over time, this attack is fairly predictable. Subconsciously or otherwise, you figure out that he will swipe, then smash at the beginning… then there’s a lull as he goes into his breakbar attack, and just as the tank begins pulling to the first updraft, Gorse will do his swipe, smash again.

But since his attacks can cycle a little non-consistently now and again, mostly, the cue you watch for is the one arm raise, then dodge.

This is in contrast to when he sort of half-raises both his arms, which heralds the start of his ground pounding breakbar attack.

In this attack, Gorseval teleports to the center of the arena and starts pounding around with both his arms. Black damaging goo will start spreading in a pattern.

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For the first times he does this, the center stays clear for several heartbeats before it fills up and begins covering the entire arena.  It is desirable to break it as fast as possible, or your raid takes damage from the goo, plus Gorseval heavily reflects damage during this phase (like a buffed retaliation), and it can add up to a wipe if left uncontrolled.

Here we enter the province of (arguably) control: the specifically “unique” breakbar management of GW2.

Depleting this second bar requires repeated hard cc in quick succession. The wiki lists a bunch of examples of such cc.

Revenant staff 5 and warrior headbutt is favored fairly often in my particular raid group for break bars. Gorseval, in particular, is vulnerable to engineer slick shoes, which apparently takes advantage of his larger hitbox to spread a larger oil slick effect, which in turn demolishes his break bar.

I suppose one could file this trick in the questionably grey spectrum between “skill” and “exploit.”

Like it or not, raid groups forever chasing the optimal will do it. Some to eke out the last bit of dps they need because they’re struggling. Some because they’re the natural spade explorer-of-systems types and will break these things by their very nature, or in their optimizing search for better, faster, harder.

Personally, I confess that it bothers me very little.

Across the lifespan of the game, we’ve seen little tricks like fiery greatsword rush into walls, pre-nerf ice bow on large hitboxes, linecasting, purposeful positioning to cleave double hitboxes on dragon “objects” and the triple trouble wurm, “faceblocking” husks at wurm (aka standing at a special spot while using an invulnerability skill, which prevents the creation of husks altogether, ie. a sort of extreme egg-reflecting), pre-using potent potions of elemental slaying so that they continue to last while inside the raid instance, burnzerker stacking of their Scorched Earth fire-field to overlap onto a boss’s hitbox so that burns ticked twice or thrice (RIP), swimming underwater to kill the mossman, standing on conveniently/badly placed tree branches to kill mossman, and the recent hilarity of the creative use of conveniently/badly placed adrenal mushrooms to recreate the GW1 minion master to bleedingly devastating effect… (hell, I want one before it’s fixed…)

Some tricks take a certain amount of skill to perform, some don’t; most involve a lot of out of the box / fourth wall breaking understanding of game mechanics to figure out such a thing is possible, and most produce rather OP results, which is why they’re used.

Generally, my thinking is, if what happens is not intended by the devs, and determined to be undesirable, they should and will get around to patching it out. If it’s deemed fine or too unimportant to fix, it’s left in and people keep using it, whatever it is.

Once fixed, people adapt and move on to the next best thing. On and on the cycle goes.

Anyhow, once Gorseval’s break bar is broken, by whichever means, a coordinated cc spike or one really good engineer player (mind you, not everyone can do it. It takes know how and practice,) he crashes to the ground and the group gets a few valuable seconds of dps in.

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It is also possible, in a no breakbar chak gerent fashion, to try a delayed breakbar strategy in order for more dps time. This does requires some strong healing to outheal the goop and retaliation damage though.

Healing in GW2 is currently the area where most groups have opted to stick closest to the holy trinity.

It’s not the combat system per se, there have been groups that have managed the Vale Guardian with tempest (elementalist) healers, a revenant healer in Ventari spec, a ten-man all-guardian kill where presumably at least one of the guardians was on heal coverage duty. Theorycrafting has suggested even thieves and necromancers with the right builds can output decent amounts of heals.

However, for a multitude of reasons, for now druid (ranger) healers seem the most popular.

Popular opinion holds that it’s the class most capable of producing a really high consistent output of directed (aka controllable and predictable) healing.

I also suspect that many ranger players, who probably went for the class because it offered the convenience of sitting back and plinking away at range at first glance, are closet healer players. They -like- the trinity healer playstyle. So given the option of fulfilling such a specialist role, many leapt at the chance. Contrast this to, say, thief classes whose players likely gravitated to the concept to do big damage and lots of it, and a willing specialist thief “healer” is much harder to come by, beyond bored already-on-farm groups open to experimentation.

The trinity healer concept is also easiest to grasp from an outsider standpoint, so the natural tendency for simplification becomes “We need a healer! Ok, who has a druid? Grab one from LFG if not.”

Strictly speaking, the pigeon-holing is not necessitated by the combat system. But players being players, they do gravitate to the option of least resistance and perceived most optimum.

I’m not 100% certain, but it seems that both the Vale Guardian and Gorseval produce auras that damage everybody for around 1000-1400 per pulse now and then. This steady trickle of damage encourages the use of at least one healer to offset it. They also help the tank stay upright, and top off the big damaging hits that players who are bad at dodging are likely to take (especially on squishy classes like elementalists or thieves.)

In a really pro group though, I’m not sure there’s a dedicated healer per se. I haven’t spent that much time analyzing this no updraft kill of Gorseval by the Snow Crows group, I just glanced through it for a couple minutes while constructing this post. From the druid’s POV, he’s dps’ing with a sword most of the time, and most of the members are making do with their self-heals and good positioning and dodging. Some members catch a protection boon now and then, and there seems to be a near constant source of regeneration being pulsed from someone, which I am not sure who exactly.

But you know why they take a druid? The druid also has one big advantage. It has buffs. Desirable boons. Frost spirit. Spotter. Grace of the land.

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An example of a buff bar that still leaves a little something to be desired.

(To be frank, I don’t yet know half of the icons on the second bar by heart. I know what warrior banners look like because I play warriors very often but the rest is fuzzy. We had some less experienced players as the mightbots on this particular run and somehow, through build, gear or playstyle, party members weren’t catching 25 stacks of might consistently.)

Here we leave the realm of pure holy trinity, and veer more toward the realm of City of Heroes, where proactive buffs were just as important as, and could even replace pure healers.

Where GW2 is concerned, offensive buffs are a must-have always-maintain affair. This stems from the raid designers balancing the raid based on supergroups that do care about maximizing all this support at all times. Without them, other raid groups tend to struggle to output sufficient dps to overcome the enrage timer.

So, 25 might stacks. Given to the primary dps’ers at a minimum. Fury to up critical chance. Quickness and alacrity to speed up attacks and reduce skill cooldowns. Specific class traits like Empower Allies from warriors and Spotter from rangers.

Defensive buffs like regeneration and protection are nice to haves. Protection, especially, preemptively cuts down the amount of group damage taken, relieving stress on the primary healer.

One thing I’ve noticed in my runs, anecdotally, groups who pay attention to appropriate group composition and distribution of boons end up heaps more successful than groups who do not.

A GW2 raid composition has a tendency to saves about 4-6 slots for buffers, 1 for healing. (Optimal raid compositions are still in experimental flux, but mostly for the purposes of min-maxing to fit in more dps, and hybridizing for even more dps, rather than making room for more pure tanks or healers.)

In my book, that makes buffing as important a function and probably -more- important than pure healing.

Might is the province of PS warriors-berserkers and revenant-heralds. Strictly speaking, these are not the only might generators out there. But again, there is a tendency toward cookie cutter simplicity, due to the ease of might generation with these two builds, and the relative simplicity of operating both of these classes.

Fury can be covered by a revenant, but lately, has been moving towards the province of the druid (since it is coming along anyway as a healer, so it may as well provide more buffs too.)

Quickness/Alacrity has mostly been the province of chronomancers. Since the patch that nerfed them somewhat, there have been hints that guardians may also have a slight inroad along this front, but the meta hasn’t really changed in that direction yet.

Guardians though have a place when protection is desired. Hammer guardian-dragonhunter dps has lately been talked up, and hammer guardians are one of the best at laying down a constant field of protection. Revenants too have the flexibility to output protection in lieu of guardians.

The raid group I’m in tends to utilize two PS warriors, one or two revenants, a druid and a chronomancer at a bare mininum before filling the rest of the slots with a tank, and extra classes as needed by the encounter (eg. condi classes for VG, good ranged dps for Gorseval, etc.)

All this can and is likely to change when the next raid wing launches. If, for example, an encounter regularly flips boons into conditions, the need for high condition cleanse and avoidance of boon production is likely to create demand for a whole different set of builds/classes. Necros might then be in really high demand for taking conditions from their allies and sending it back to the appropriate party, fer instance.

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Back to Gorseval. Once the break bar sequence is done, and he gets up and mobile again, the intended mechanic (if your group is not pro deeps) works like this.

The tank leads him over to one of the updrafts in the arena. There are four of them in the NW, NE, SW, SE cardinal directions (visible as the swirly things on the minimap.)

Simultaneously, a number of things have to happen. A wall needs to be broken to allow the raid to escape once Gorseval starts his World Eater attack. Loose spirits have to be killed or else Gorseval will consume them after his World Eater and be correspondingly buffed in power, increasing the damage he outputs.

Oh, and Gorseval still needs to be attacked constantly, or you’ll fail the upcoming dps check.

The overall strategy generally relies on some party members to pull (aka crowd control) souls toward Gorseval and the raid group, clumping them up, so that they can be aoe’d down or melee cleaved down at the same time while maintaining damage on Gorseval.

Melee cleaving should also be taking place on the wall, so that it comes down as well. In a pinch, if, say something goes wrong, folks get delayed by rezzing a downed person or whatever, it’s possible to focus everyone on the wall to get that down first too. On the fly target prioritization balance has to take place.

Condi necros have a decent niche here, as epidemic can spread conditions around to all the souls and be hitting Gorseval too. Their viper horror build which produces many itty bitty minions of bleeding goodness is currently making its rounds, courtesy of Reddit.

Generally, ranged AoE damage dealers are the popular pick. Staff elementalists are the current reigning champion, after burnzerkers fell off their perch of OPness.

Sometime around here, Gorseval does his swipe, then arm smash again, and then he starts his World Eater attack. A speading orange circle of doom indicates the time left until staying in the arena = instant death.

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As the updraft only lasts so long a time, a party member cannot panic and jump off first. He or she will drain the time on the updraft, leaving the rest of the raid to fall to their doom. Also, that’s lost dps time.

So the whole raid stays and dps methodically until the circles almost touch… whereupon everyone jumps off, takes flight with glider wings, gets uplifted by the updraft and then glides back down to Gorseval when his World Eater is done.

Pray no glider malfunctions occur.

If they do, that person insta-splats to the ground and the raid leader will often call for a voluntary wipe, because that one missing person is often crucial lost dps.

Ideally, the tank lands first, to one side of Gorseval, and everyone else lands on the other side. In practice, well, our group isn’t pro pro, so it’s more of a random cluster.

Around this time again, Gorse will do his swipe and arm smash yet again. One raid group I joined suggested it was best to stay aloft until he finishes this smash then land. Another raid group I joined was fine with just landing and starting the attack asap and dodging as appropriate. Each group’s mileage will differ. It’s mostly a tension between as much dps as possible and safety in not having people downed (dps loss when someone else – probably many someones – stop attacking to rez) or permanently dead (may as well wipe now.)

Then he segues back into his break bar ground-pounding sequence. Repeat previous solution.

Now comes the dps check. ~33% of his health bar must have fallen off throughout the entire sequence above, before he completes his next World Eater attack.

Basically, there are only so many updrafts to use, so you cannot use an updraft at this stage. He must be brought down to ~66% of his health bar and forcibly shoved into his next Charged Souls phase.

If sufficient damage is dealt, the message “Gorseval Beckons For Souls” appears, he goes invulnerable, and four Charged Souls appear at each NW, NE, SW and SE direction. These souls proceed to walk with a one-track mind, ignoring anything aggro or tank-related, towards Gorseval.

If one of them reaches Gorseval, he eats it, then does a World Eater attack that wipes the raid. The end.

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So. The other missing member from a tank-dps-heals trinity comes right back into play. Control. Specifically SOFT control. These guys ignore the hard cc that everyone is now used to throwing onto a break bar. They do not get knocked back, launched, pushed, pulled, stunned, dazed, the works.

You need cripples, chills, and most of all, immobilizes.

No neat tank, dps, healer lines here. It’s what your class and build has and can bring to the table. Depending on the raid group, strategies can range from splitting up the raid group equally to both slow and burn them down before they reach Gorseval, or assigning three individuals who know what they’re doing and have the required control to immobilize and slow the souls long enough while the rest of the raid zergs down one soul and then proceeds to deal with the rest in systematic fashion.

This is a point which can trip up newbies to the raid fairly often. As mentioned in a prior post, the first time I did Gorseval, I had some spectacular screwups of the “what am I supposed to do again?!” variety. Just today, I watched new members repeat the lil incident I had, in even more spectacular fail fashion (couldn’t even find the soul in the correct cardinal direction, then of course, spectacularly fail to slow it down, let alone hold it sufficiently.)

Importance of control? Very.

Once the four Charged Souls are dead, Gorseval becomes vulnerable again and the entire sequence repeats.

Arm swipe, arm smash, break bar. Drag to wall, arm swipe, arm smash, break wall, clear spirits. World Eater, jump and glide. Land, arm swipe, arm smash, break bar. DPS to the next magic health number.

Oh, but now you get the added complication of orbs of darkity-dark. (Okay, “Orbs of Spectral Darkness.”)

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These things pop up randomly all over like bad mushrooms and spread a growing aura of debuffing badness. If you wander into them, you catch stacks of this debuff. The more stacks on you, the more damage you take, the less damage you do. It’s all hits on overall dps.

To get rid of the debuff, an orb has to be killed, and then you walk over the yellow glowy mini-orb it leaves behind.

Usually, the ranged attacking elementalist(s) are given the additional role of cleaning up the area in the vicinity of the raid of said orbs. I dunno what you’d call this – there’s damage involved, and it’s also both a form of support and crowd control? It’s not tanking or healing, anyway.

So we rinse and repeat (with orbs) until that magic number we were talking about, which happens to be ~33% of the health bar.

Enter Charged Souls phase 2 (now with orbs.)

Once that’s done, the whole sequence repeats one more time (with orbs) and now, with an additional Ghostly Traps/Egg attack.

Gorseval arm swipes, arm smashes, and then he spits ghostly traps at every player. Orange circles appear under each player’s feet. Moving out of it / dodging out is critical.

Here we’re back to utilizing GW2’s unique movement/dodge mechanic again. No tank can save you. No healer can save you. Each player has to learn how to avoid it.

Fail to do so, and you’re entrapped in a ghostly egg which pulses damage on you. Similar to certain spider-egg attacks in open world GW2, others have to break you out by dealing damage to the egg (dps loss on Gorseval, remember!) and/or you should be spamming the new special action key in order to break free.

But really, try not to get caught in the first place…

(Our group isn’t 100% pro, as mentioned, so every so often, there are 1-4 eggs popping up while our raid leader grouses that everyone should really know better. Damned human frailty.)

Now if your raid’s composition and dps is really good, Gorseval should be dead by the end of this third sequence/updraft.

Maybe our group sucks, or because it’s mostly Oceanic and on the other side of the world, if Gorseval ain’t dead yet, there is a tiny amount of leeway to use the fourth updraft to buy a little more dps time.

It depends. Let us not forget that there is a hard enrage timer on Gorseval as well and it’s been ticking down too. Depending on the total amount of time left, the raid leader might decide to use the fourth updraft or just say, fuck it, dps the crap out of it and hope it dies (because there’s not enough time left to do the whole gliding shebang) or whatever.

Personal success rates have been iffy, but possible. As mentioned, when burnzerkers were a thing, there was apparently a great deal of cheesing the hell out of Gorseval. I only got in rather late on that, but did at least do one successful kill with some 3+ burnzerkers of mass destruction.

Post burnzerker readjustment, I did score at least one other successful kill PS warrior-ing (I fail to recall if it’s one or two kills, there was one extremely memorable clutch kill of Gorseval with one quarter of the raid dead and the remaining were downed as he went into enrage, and that has wiped out any memory of a “normal” kill.)

Why do I like Gorseval the most? (Insofar as I could be said to “like” a raid.)

Well, first of all, even though the phases sound really convoluted and elaborate on first reading, and I thought it would be really hard to absorb or learn in practice, Gorseval’s phases are very predictable and build on each other in an understandable, ramping up slightly pattern.

He’s big, thus his animations are easier to read, the encounter has more of that epic ‘raid’ feeling.

Group wipes are generally at predictable points and phases, so it feels easier to learn, you get a longer time to see full cycles of the same repeating pattern and absorb it, rather than randomly wipe and die because someone just screwed up right then. If you wipe at Gorseval, it’s usually a group failure to pass whatever checkpoint or milestone that was (or glider malfunction, but we won’t talk about that.)

If you manage phase 1, you can usually keep going past phase 1 until the group manages phase 2, and the same for phase 3. There’s very little backward progress because an individual just randomly screwed up in phase 1. The phases ramp up gradually, allowing for gradual learning, and never hit a point of insanity.

The dps check comes early – if your group can get past to the Charged Souls, the group theoretically has enough damage to kill him in time, as long as people don’t make too many mistakes. Success feels possible.

Second of all, the whole thing takes place pretty quickly in real time. He has a 7 minute timer. Full stop. (Do I personally think it’s a little too tight? Yeah. But it shows how compressed in time the phases are.)

It adds up to a very quick and actiony sequence that flows seamlessly from one into another, while not being super-complicated to the point of brain overload. Folks who like more strategically-paced combat might shudder at this, but I do personally like the quicker pace of action combat.

Lastly, I think the Gorseval fight showcases pretty much most of the aspects of the GW2 combat system. Yes, aggro exists. Yes, there is a tank, insofar as someone wearing a +4 infusion of toughness (not my group, a pro group) could be said to be tanking. The mob positioning is there. Sturdiness, not so much. Taunting and threat fighting over doing damage? Nope.

Yes, there can be a healer, again insofar as a druid in berserker gear and not doing that much healing per se (not my group again) could be said to be healing. Or if the group needs it to stay upright enough to deal sufficient group dps, there can be a greater focus towards healing power and a more specialist role.

Hell yes, you’re still going to have to read animations and dodge.

You’re still going to need buffs out the wazoo.

Oh, and you’d better understand all aspects of control, or you’ll be sorry.

And yeah, you need to do damage, but you’re probably already really really good at that, right?

Gee, I almost forgot, you need to be able to glide and have those masteries and what not. (By now, most HoT owners have them though.)

There’s a group split, there’s a group reforming, hell, there’s even zerging (that’s GW2 players for you. Circle strat for the win.)

It’s quite the showcase, really.

Is it maybe a bit too tightly tuned and unforgiving of groups who don’t max out every buff in existence, don’t have picture-perfect skill rotations and the ping to execute them and overly focused on maximizing dps, to the extent that it encourages dps meter-ing? Maaaybe.

But he is pretty fun to fight, -if- your raid composition was good to begin with, and man, a mini of him would look great underfoot.

Banished – The Minecraft Edition

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The past week’s singleplayer poison of choice has been the Banished modpack for Minecraft.

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In it, you take on the role of -the- dark mage responsible for tainting the world of the Hubris modpack (also by the same mod creator) who has now been banished to an entirely subterranean jail dimension.

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Not the most auspicious of beginnings.

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This jail dimension is one of its core strengths and unique features, utilizing the Caveworld mod to create a sprawling nested network of tunnels, caves and scarily deep ravines that also have their own separate biomes, so forest caves, swamp caves, plains caves, mesa caves of hardened clay, etc.

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Grass blocks and vines provide a slightly more varied cave experience than the standard vanilla Minecraft cave.

There’s even a hell cave biome made up of netherbrick (which you will need, since there’s no crossing over to the Nether when you’re jailed in Caveworld.)

Lycanites Mobs is used in conjunction to populate this subterranean world with a host of fairly terrifying entities (especially when encountered for the first time.)

Grues lurk in the dark making horrendous noises. Phantoms walk right through most walls, and are fairly impervious to ranged projectiles, so your only inkling that one is coming by to murderize you is its hoarse whispering chant of “kill kill kill…”

Chupacabras are certainly not rare legends here. And I’ll confess, the griefing capacity of certain augmented creepers has prompted at least one world ragequit and entire new world restart, plus a reinstall from AromaBackup.

The first was a case of getting blown up before even getting a bed set up and losing the bed and iterim chest contents while spawning somewhere else. The second was having some precious machines blown up while sitting at home base reading through one of the many magic mod books trying to figure out what to do next.

The only reason I haven’t turned off mob griefing yet is laziness looking for it in the configs. I do heartily recommend doing that if you hate mob griefing though.

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The good news, if you’re more of a “play as intended” type, is that you can build interdiction torches from the ProjectE mod when you’re a little more progressed through the early game – these things will push away hostile mobs within a 5 block radius.

Apparently, the mobs won’t go through obsidian either, so there is the option of sheathing your entire base in obsidian too. (That’s something I might get around to, way way in the future though.)

Banished’s other selling point is the strong focus on magic-related mods and its initial set up that establishes you as a dark mage front and center.

There aren’t a wealth of mod options, you mostly get Ars Magica 2, Aura Cascade, Botania, Thaumcraft 4, and ProjectE, so these are what you’ll have to learn to progress. But damn, all of these are hefty -deep- mods that will take a while to go through.

It ostensibly uses HQM, so there are some guided goals that will point you in various directions.

Honestly though, I’ve seen better written guidance/learning quests in modpacks like Regrowth, so don’t expect the Banished HQM book to hold your hand every step of the way.

It’s more sparse when it comes to coverage of the magic mods. You’ll be leafing through the actual mod books/manuals more often, and there are gaps where you’ll have to figure out for yourself what to do or how to best get a certain item. (Locating mushrooms come to mind, as well as trying to figure out how to get a bucket of milk.)

The HQM book is strongest in its initial setup quest:

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You start off with nearly nothing, and must conjure your first materials out of nothing but sheer willpower and the dark energy you harvest from killing a whole bunch of monsters (plus the handy dandy player focus and HQM book that actually enables this, of course.)

The basic idea is that killing various types of monsters completes a HQM quest, that you then claim a reward that boosts your Dark Power reputation.

Other HQM quests will let you turn in said Dark Power reputation, to obtain necessary items like saplings, seeds, eggs and so on.

Furthermore, turning in Dark Power reputation also allows you to unlock some pre-made spells from Ars Magica 2.

This gets you set up as a mage pretty quickly, as you can get a spell to Dig and mine blocks without a pickaxe, a Rock Blast that packs a larger punch than a bow and arrow, a Grow spell that acts like free bonemeal, and can Conjure Water out of thin air.

What isn’t really spelled out for you though (pun fully intended) is that these initial basic premade spells are mostly Touch range spells, so you have to be up close for most of them to work. This can lead to some perplexed spamming of things like Conjure Water, wondering what’s going on, and then inadvertently drenching yourself when your cursor gets close enough to you to work.

Later, you get other spells that can work in a beam fashion, or in a 3×3 panel or 3x3x3 cube, or as projectiles. (Hint: Magelight 2 is awesome, essentially free spammable torches that are shot in a projectile fashion.)

It’s nice that your spellbook can essentially replace more standard Minecraft tool use for most things, which changes things up from the more typical Tinker’s Construct tool focus.

The Silent’s Gems mod give the option for really supercharged tools to augment this foundation of self-powered sufficiency, built out of gems mined from the earth, and enabling the creation of Enchantment Tokens that let you pick and choose the desired enchantment, rather than relying on the RNG of vanilla Minecraft enchantment.

Again, what’s not explained is that the Fluffy Puff from this Silent’s Gem mod can actually be planted and grown to provide a source of string/wool/feathers. You’d have to figure it out for yourself, or hey, stumble across something like this post to learn about it.

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Yours truly has gotten a little more established a base now, after a week of slow and careful play.

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This is the Aura Cascade corner, which is quite technical/machine oriented, even if it has a magical theme.

I’m still working out the hows of the mod, but the basic principle is that the red squares are pumps that can shoot Aura energy upward to the grey node squares. Aura flows downhill, so they will fall back down to the lowest point, and generate Power while doing so. Relevant Aura Cascade machines use that Power in order to perform various functions.

Such as coloring sheep woold various colors, as well as combining/crafting new items via Vortex Infusion (the cyan altar-like thing.)

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The Botania chamber has been expanding somewhat over time, while I try vainly to figure out how to get more in-depth with the mod yet again. (This is maybe my third encounter with Botania and still haven’t learnt/progressed much with it.)

I want to make a more or less semi-automatic tree planting machine for mana, but the required Botania flowers require all sorts of other materials, most of which send me up another path entirely while trying to figure out how I’m going to get those things. (eg. Snow, cake, milk, unsoweiter.)

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My little underground experimental pasture, with what turned out to be a pretty bad decision to put an isolated mob spawning chamber next to it.

I veered completely off the HQM book for these guys. As of right now, I still have no idea if the HQM book provides a way to obtain passive mobs.

The original plan was to just dig a huge underground grass patch and see if natural spawning would take place.

Then I got immensely impatient, and while reading one badly documented mod webpage/website after another, figured out that the Philosopher’s Stone from ProjectE can fire a projectile charge that transmutates mobs (and it seems to consume redstone to do this. Possibly other fuel too, but since I don’t want to lose anything inadvertdently, I’ve just been keeping redstone in inventory.)

Enter about an hour of wandering around caves, trying to find a mob, and then changing it into a sheep, then trying to lead the damn sheep up cave slopes and shove it through a very narrow tunnel into my underground pasture…

That ended up more than a bit of a wash.

Then I had the bright idea of putting two modpacks together in possibly unanticipated ways…

Apparently, zapping Lycanite Mobs (aka mobs ProjectE doesn’t really recognize or know how to deal with) with a Philosopher’s Stone changes them either to a sheep or a slime. 50/50 ain’t bad.

Apparently, one can summon Lycanite Mob minions with a Summoning Staff…

The question then popped up… can I zap my own minion (which you can set on passive) with a Philosopher’s Stone?

The answer was: YES, YOU CAN.

So I ended up in my underground pasture, summoning my own minion mobs and changing them into sheep or slime.

You can then zap the sheep to randomly change them into all the other passive mobs. (Passive mobs => passive mobs, apparently.)

There were some casualties through this process. I changed a sheep into a wolf, which then promptly went after the -other- sheep and cows that were in said pasture. (Argh.)

I needed blaze rods, which can be dropped by a Lycanite mob called Cinders.

A previous base-ending (and backup reviving) incident suggested that a big enough fire would spontaneously spawn Cinder mobs.

So I set up a temporary Cinder spawning area in my dark room mob spawner with a 3×3 netherrack patch set on fire.

This worked great in terms of spontaneously summoning 3 Cinders in an enclosed area.

Unfortunately, they managed to fire projectiles through the same gap that I was using to kill them… and light ME on fire… which then spread to the livestock that was busy humping me in the pasture I was standing in while trying to snipe the Cinders to death…

There was roast chicken and cooked pork chop for dinner that day.

Also, a lot of panicked Conjure Water flooding of both rooms in an effort to both drown the Cinders and put myself out, while suddenly angry sheep (that were mad at me for setting them on fire, but still alive from my efforts to flood the room and heal them with spells) nipped at my sides.

I managed to leash them to fence posts temporarily while dealing with the immediate concern of Cinders spraying fire everywhere, but they refused to forget that I had been the source of their misery and I had to euthanize them later and start the sheep summoning process all over again.

Yeah. My advice: don’t do it how I did it.

Memo to self: New pasture / livestock holding chambers away from the mob spawner and clear grass patch area for weird experiments.

GW2: Heart of Thorns Day 2 Impressions

I’m gonna take a page from Bhagpuss and use disconnected bullet points, because it’s impossible to organize one’s thoughts and still have as much time as possible to play GW2 before all my day off time is used up and I have to get back to the workaday grind again.

  • Found the Falls in GW2! Had a serious lore gasm! Was running around telling everybody in the vicinity (ok, just one guy who would listen) that OMG it looks exactly like the Falls in GW1
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The Falls in Guild Wars 2

As proof, I submit exhibit A, your honor, a screenshot taken during my personal Wayfarer’s Reverie way back in 2012.

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Even the tree on top of the three waterfalls is there, and the color of that sun…

  • Day 2 was essentially sample-lots-of-meta-events day.

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I logged in to hear on Teamspeak that TTS NA was planning a trial run of the Dragon’s Stand meta-event.

Dragon’s Stand?! Wtf is that, was my first reaction. Turns out, it’s the very last fourth zone on the map. Which I have obviously not even been to yet. (Nor did I touch the third zone until late tonight.)

Fortunately, all those Teleport to Friend items from the third birthday present ended up proving themselves handy. We were advised to just grab one of those consumables, party up with a guildie and teleport to friend directly over, skipping through a great deal of unattractive running past Mordrem and dinosaurs.

Damn, the meta event is like Vinewrath, Triple Trouble (and possibly Marionette too) on steroids. You know all those people wishing madly that the devs would split up the zerg and have different groups running through different channels doing their own things and contributing to the overall map goal? Yep. Dragon’s Stand has it in spades.

My group had the south/east-most one, a whole set of chained events moving through various tunnels and corridors, involving in turn a fair amount of group splitting because we had to escort NPCs, prevent really nasty bosses from wrecking said NPC’s faces, and so on.

It ended in what is suspected to be a penultimate challenge before the real boss Boss – one chamber for each split zerg that required even further splitting to take down three objects simultaneously, and eventually I suspect, a small group will split off to keep the legendary champion causing chaos in the chamber from doing that. (Our first attempt pretty much had said champion wreaking serious havoc on one of the groups who was trying to take down said object.)

Said legendary champion has an invulnerability shield, which is only taken down when all three objects are destroyed.

Oh. And all three legendary champions have to be killed simultaneously.

Hahahahahahahaha… Talk about a serious coordination challenge.

I’m looking forward to further attempts though. This is going to be pretty meaty content for large-scale organized groups, something I was a little worried we were moving away from with impending raids.

I’m super keen for the day when everyone has learned roughly what to do and has all the masteries needed, and we get to see super-organized parties and groups and squads splitting up in perfect synchronisation to do their jobs and slide through the encounters smoothly.

The one criticism that I’m hearing so far is that some of these pre-events can take upwards of an hour or two to get through before the main event, so to speak. That’s quite a bit of time that not everyone may have to spare.

Not sure, maybe things will speed up as people figure out how to split up groups so that things don’t scale insanely and learn how to do each event efficiently. Waiting for NPC escorts to move though, tends to put a finite limit on the pacing. Swiftness can only make ’em run that fast.

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This Wyvern Patriarch encounter in Verdant Brink was nuts. A really good kind of nuts.

I didn’t manage to finish this one yet, as I was peacefully soloing my way through Maguuma masteries and decided to be an iconoclast and actually DEFEND one of the rally points during the night meta-event of Verdant Brink.

I know, I know, how dare I not act like 95% of the other players and be constitutionally incapable of staying in one place for a couple minutes for an event to start.

I basically defended for 20 minutes or so, leaving the rally point vicinity only to try and run Pact Supplies into the rally point to build it up and/or try and escort a nearby Pact Soldier carrying supplies in.

Eventually the choppers arrived to take folks to the canopy… where this guy was waiting at my particular rally point – Shrouded Ruins.

(There are apparently champion encounters for each rally point. Haven’t seen all of them. There’s a Legendary Wyvern that nearly everyone sees, as it’s on top of the central Pact Encampment waypoint.)

I was plinking away at it solo for a while, observing its attacks (mostly a really nasty cone AoE painted on the ground if you got close, and a projectile one that left a circular burning AoE on the ground if you stayed at range.)

A second guy turned up, he of the minion master kind, and we were tackling him for a while as a duo, when I looked at the time limit we had for remaining night time and the state of this legendary wyvern patriarch’s health bar and decided we kinda really needed a few more reinforcements.

So I called out on map chat for help and provided directions on how to get to said boss, and we managed to attract 3-4 more players with that…

…it was enough to take him down to 75% of his health, whereupon he cheerfully showed us his next phase.

He coated the entire rocky platform with burning flame, forcing us to jump off the platform and glide around, using updrafts to get back. On a lower level below, some adolescent wyverns popped up, that could be attacked, and there were wyvern eggs that had to be picked up.

The idea was that you had to jump off the platform, glide to said cavern, grab a wyvern egg, jump off and into an updraft, and be lifted over the wyvern patriarch, whereupon you would toss the wyvern egg at him to break his shield. Literally dive-bombing with gliders.

It was ridiculously fun. Only about 1-2 of us managed to figure out what to do (or had the requisite masteries) but we nearly got all of his shield off before we ran out of time. But that was a really good kind of nuts. Can’t wait to eventually find a group that can actually do it in sync. Would be hilarious, methinks.

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Another Verdant Brink champion fight of the very satisfying kind.

This particular one felt satisfying because it was just five PUGs, we were essentially strangers who had never met each other before, just happened to be defending the same rally point together, and we went up the chopper to see these two frog champions.

Someone had apparently done this fight before, and he took the time to type out some quick advice – mostly of the “this is a pretty hard fight” “someone with masteries needs to hop up the mushrooms to prevent one frog from healing in a fountain” “both need to die near simultaneously, so keep them low on health but don’t kill” variety.

Basically felt like a Vassar and Ralena sort of fight, two champions acting in tandem, one big fat Nuhoch frog doing stompy stuff and the thinner frog doing stealthy snipery stuff.

Both frogs’ bars had some words along the lines of “buffs/heals each other when in range” so I decided that it would probably be best to try and keep them separated as much as possible.

Turns out I have a rather crazy capacity to attract aggro with my scepter/torch (there’s some rumor that it’s the number of hits that might play an effect, and definitely I can output a really alarming amount of hits between smite, scepter auto and torch spamming, all critting in zerker so probably fairly good damage too), so I decided to just focus fire the big Nuhoch guy and pull him away to one side while the other four were duking it out with sniper frog guy.

I really really like fighting Nuhoch. They’re really big and kinda slow, so their tells are obvious enough for me to see, read and respond. It’s really satisfying to see him get ready to leap, and then roll away to the side just as the orange circle appears under me and he comes leaping over or belly flopping.

The other four got their frog to low (whereupon he promptly vanished, heading for the fountain presumably) and I saw them come over to mess around with Nuhoch guy. One guy ran off after the sniper frog in the fountain with mushrooms, and I decided to join him since I had the bouncing mushroom mastery, and the other three looked like they could manage the Nuhoch.

We hopped all the way up to the fountain, where we found thin sniper frog bathing and healing at an ungodly rate in the fountain, and I unleashed all the crowd control I had at my disposal in an attempt to interrupt him before he got to full.

(Fortunately, a little before this, I had swapped to Signet of Power (knockdown on activate) and Hammer of Wisdom (knockdown on command) while in Auric Basin because there were just way too many angry dinosaurs that needed breakbar damage. Add on an immobilize for DoT and I can normally juust take down a non-scaled breakbar while soloing,  and do a sizeable chunk or at least -contribute- to most breakbars in a group – assuming non insane scaling.)

Sniper frog had a tidy sliver of breakbar left, and luckily the other guy jumped the frog and did some manner of thiefy or revenant thing to him which took out the last bit of breakbar. That shorted out his healing, and he returned to the ground having healed up only half his health or so.

(Presumably if there were one or two people already stationed up there waiting for him, they could have returned him to the ground faster. We had to improvise, pretty much.)

The three on the ground had smacked the Nuhoch dead in the meantime, so it was just a matter of clean up on the other guy.

Before you knew it, a Froglicker achievement was had, and everyone was high-fiving each other for being awesome.

Impromptu five man fight. Really neat.

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Then there’s encounters of the not-so-neat kind.

Hahaha, the Legendary Wyvern…

I was a little spoiled. Besides the beta fights of this wyvern, where after much say chat coaxing, I managed to get enough revenants to hit one skill on their weapons in sync to net the wyvern -once-, my first fight of this guy on the live servers was with a TTS group where a considerable number of people actually know what an interrupt/crowd control is, and someone was yelling “break bar break bar” over Teamspeak every time the green bar showed up, so about halfway into the fight, the group had more or less managed to keep it relatively grounded (but still cutting it a bit close, because not everyone had specifically specced for it, I don’t think.)

In subsequent PUG maps where I just pop my head in, because I’m grinding masteries and the choppers show up… well, you can forget any hope of grounding this fellow, because the horde of 40-50 people are pewpewing uncontrollably at it and probably thinking that the wyvern sweeps are unavoidable, and the break bar is scaled up to the point of 2-3 people being unable to compensate for the lack of everyone else’s cc contribution.

I have more or less resigned myself to lots and lots of puke green lines of death in a PUG wyvern fight for now. I suppose eventually everyone will learn, but urgh, it’s painful right now.

There was one rather funny fight where I tried to type break bar instructions into say chat, and an Anet guy was there in the same fight, and he said ‘cc’ when the green bar came up… and both of us watched the entire group promptly fail to even take it down 75% of the way, because apparently no one was a) reading say chat, b) had cc on the bar and/or c) couldn’t get out of combat to switch.

After which, I crashed out of that map – one of the few times I haven’t minded an out of memory error – and logged back into another wyvern fight. Whose map group also equally failed to take down the break bar, but it was at least really low on health compared to the other map so the pain was minimized somewhat.

The latest technical problems seem to be said out-of-memory crashes.

I haven’t seen hide nor hair of them since I swapped to Windows 7 and 16GB of RAM in the new computer, but somehow they are back in the last few patches of GW2 – possibly a combination of some memory leaks, the amount of time I’m spending in-game and the number of different player models I keep bumping into while doing group content and it being forced to render all of them.

I’ve had to crank down graphics settings a bit – rumor mill suggests something to do with anti-aliasing, as well as lowering visible player models. I knocked off some shadows while I was there. Less crashing now, but still somewhat unpredictable.

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The last meta-event attempted was in Auric Basin, with the Octovines.

This is another rather intricate affair, with some really lengthy pre-event chains that have different groups splitting up to all four cardinal directions to help light up some pylons for extra magic armor.

The jury’s still out on whether these chains are necessary, or no, but for the first few attempts, I think the whole group wanted to maximize our chances. (Also, getting more people mastery xp and more of the map explored couldn’t hurt.)

It ends up in the city proper with four different groups performing different mechanics to weaken a shield and kill the Octovines. Simultaneously, mind you.

There’s some role differentiation. People with specific masteries can dress up in glowy armored suits and perform a tank/control/support role, doing their best to push some traps away from the main group and keep some big nasty dinosaurs stunned/controlled/out of the way.

The main group has to do their thing bombing down the Octovine shield with said different mechanics.

A particularly nice touch that we discovered was that there are interconnecting corridors within the city, so one group can run to another side’s aid if theirs is done and another side is having a bit of trouble.

I suspect the meta-event also rewards partial success, if only some Octovines go down. It’s just that no one had figured out where all the loot chests were located prior to this.

Celebratory group picture at the successful end.
Celebratory group picture at the successful end. (Note the cranked down player models on the periphery, had to lower settings since I initially crashed on first contact with a big group of players at one side.)

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  • In other news, the solo story continues…

(It’s pretty hard trying to find a screenshot absent of spoilers, but I think this one is ok. Hey, it shows that it’s not ALL green jungle out there.)