Playing As Intended, Nothing to See Here

Updating the blog is hard when there’s nothing new to say.

For the last week, I’ve been heavily playing two games as intended – the well-trodden routes that everyone should be familiar with.

I don’t think it’s terribly exciting to anyone else when you increment a level number, is it?

Path of Exile

Hype is super-ramping up for the Forsaken Masters release, and I’ve been playing the crud out of it as a result.

My ridiculously masochistic low-life dual-dagger first-build-ever summoner Shadow made it to level 65, on the back of a whole lot of Swan Song videos.

It’s at this point that I decided I was officially hitting the next ‘gear wall’ – there are a ton of things that I would love to five and six-link, assuming I have the gear, and assuming I even have the gems – which I don’t, since I’m staunchly anti-manual-trade (don’t try to change my mind – I didn’t use the trade channel in the old MUD I played, I didn’t trade for a thing in Spamadan in GW1, I hate text barter trading with people or bots, period. I’m still enjoying Path of Exile fine, and willing to pay more to increase stash size to play with my own self-found ruleset. Everybody wins, except the people who can’t tolerate someone they don’t know and will never meet – since I don’t group – playing less efficiently. Deal.)

This sounded like a good time to wait for the Forsaken Masters to see if they could help out on the less RNG gearing front, so I did.

In the meantime, it was time for a little easymode.

Obviously, not at all current-and-updated easy, because I’m busy noobing it up here, but a Geofri’s Baptism – a two-handed maul unique – dropped and was burning a hole in my stash.

And I was doing pretty well with a super-tanky molten strike / ground slamming Marauder  in hardcore mode previously, albeit -very slow and steady because hardcore mode = don’t die – so for casual fun, I made a new Marauder with a similar build in the standard league and dumped as much nice stuff as had accumulated in my stash onto him.

Guy whizzed past the levels in like 3 days.

Level 55 now and still climbing.

To the tune of Mythbusters videos mostly, since I’ve exhausted all the roleplay ones. (Anyone know any other entertaining roleplays in the vein of ItmeJP’s stuff or Will Wheaton’s Fiasco? They have to be watchable, not unedited – it’s boring as fuck to watch ordinary people um and ahh and hesitate for minutes attempting to tell a story.)

I did suffer a few deaths, the first and stupidest one due to getting chain stunned by a mass of bird-like rhoa (what is it with birds and stuns, GW2’s moas also daze…) and that was eventually fixed by picking up Unwavering Stance. It comes with the drawback of not being able to evade enemy attacks – but I figure I’m not gearing with any evasion to begin with, so whatever. 19% evasion or less seemed fine to trade off for not being stunned ever.

The Marauder side of the skill tree really looks a tide more organized to be newbie friendly than the Shadow side.

Went for all the life, and armor, and resistances and strength and two-handed maul damage stuff and seems to be working out fine.

Picked up the Resolute Technique keystone since Geofri’s Baptism couldn’t crit anyway, and one may as well experiment with consistent sustained damage on what is intended to be a more robust type of character.

It was around the 50s and entering Merciless difficulty that the gear wall started to make itself a little bit more felt – though in this case, it mostly means I have to stop playing braindead run-in hur-durr kill-everything and kite a bit more with groundslam, or use doorways and corners as chokepoints, or even *gasp* put a rejuvenation totem behind me to buff up my life regen and keep the hp reservoir full for long enough to wreck the onslaught.

I’m seriously playing with only 4 skills here. Groundslam AoEs everything in a cone, molten strike for single-target with collateral fire projectile damage, I picked up Warlord’s Mark as a curse since I got tired of the NPCs using it on me to such great effect and a little more leech couldn’t hurt, and rejuvenation totem for the times when a flask won’t cut it.

Groundslam all the things. They stun and pretty much sit in the cone.
Groundslam all the things. They stun and pretty much sit in the cone and die, with only a few managing to close in.
Molten strike spam with a rejuv totem sitting pretty.
Molten strike spam with a rejuv totem sitting pretty.

It… can be a little boring.

(It’s certainly a change from the tension and challenge of the noob Shadow, where it’s a mad juggle of summons in succession for long enough to dart in and out and hit things with daggers. Still, variable difficulty that one can pick at will by changing characters ain’t bad.)

I have Searing Bond slotted, mostly out of a morbid curiosity to see how high the dps goes as the gem levels. I generally don’t use it except when I’m just playing around. It looks like a totem-based Searing Bond Templar might be pretty fun, but apparently it’s also going to suffer a little dps nerf in the Forsaken Masters patch (aka less than 14 hours away) so we’ll see. Filed away for ‘play later, probably when no longer fashionable, because one is slow and late to everything.’

Geofri’s Baptism finally got replaced around level 53-54, with a very ordinary, but four-linked magic Dread Maul, crafted for physical damage increase.

A chance Ledge run for fun dropped a unique Dread Maul, which made me stop and stare, incredulous at how RNG -actually- dropped a weapon that fit the character I was playing at the time.

Naturally, once I id’ed it, it turns out that Murphy’s Law struck again.

voidhome

Decreased experience gain? Reduced item rarity? Is this thing for real?!

Some googling and research later, it turns out that opinions are mixed on this highly interesting unique.

On the plus side, folks were saying that this is a great farming weapon, when you don’t want to outlevel a map too quickly, and are going for currency. Instead of item rarity, put on item quantity and just hit things and watch stuff fall out of their pockets, essentially.

Someone else suggested that this was a good weapon to put on weapon swap – which made a lot of sense to me, since my second slot had been sitting empty for the past 50 levels – and that it was good for boss-killing, wail away until the last sliver of hp, then swap back to normal weapon for normal loot drops, and for bludgeoning one’s way past difficult levels for newbies when you’re only concerned about progressing through the locations and quests, rather than racking up xp or loot.

Which all seemed fairly logical, and what-the-hell, I had it, so let’s try it out.

The dps on this thing is CRAZY.

That 50% increased attack speed essentially doubles your dps, and the mana leech means you pretty much do not run out of mana. Gone was the regular needing-to-quaff-a-mana-flask-every-now-and-then.

I ran around the Ledge farming map like a lawnmower, holding down the ground slam button, giggling like a maniac.

Fun factor-wise, this thing gets a thumbs up from me.

Frankly, after thinking about it, if I’m killing things twice as quickly or faster, 44% reduction in experience gain simply means I’m gaining xp at about the usual pace. Ie. a necessary balance.

It turns out that between some other chance buffs on the items, I’m only at a -5% item rarity, so it’s not -horrible- horrible, I still pop rares now and then, but maybe less than previously. Anyway, the character wasn’t built for item farming as the main purpose – I don’t exactly own a surplus of Increased Item Rarity and Increased Item Quantity gems to begin with, so it’s not a major breaking point.

In a way, it’s kind of interesting that this sort of unique exists – where it isn’t a straight up across the board improvement – that forces you to think about tradeoffs.

I settled for putting it on secondary weapon swap.

If I could get by with normal experience and item rarity with my normal weapon, then everything’s good.

If I can’t, it’s nice to have a cheatmode weapon standing by, just in case.

Guild Wars 2

Over in wood-farming land, I faithfully farmed up Foxfire Clusters for seven days and sold a ton of them and made a lot of gold…

…before deciding today that I could no longer wait -another seven days – for the next stage of the time-limited backpack, and correspondingly spent a lot of gold.

Well, easy come, easy go.

Virtual currency is for spending and all that.

I guess I’ve discovered that my willpower limit is around a week.

I faithfully built the Cultivated Vine from scratch, producing a plant food of each type per day, and using all hoarded materials in the process.

There was a time when I was faithfully charging up Celestial quartz crystals, so there were 10 standing by and ready. I’d accumulated 100+ Sunstone Lumps, so no problems on that front either. I’d jumped into T6 Dry Top on the first day Dragon’s Reach Part 2 launched, and bought all the recipes and clay needed for the clay pot, etc.

Unfortunately, after the first stage was made, and I was left holding the next stage’s Pet Seed, I realized that I hadn’t -quite- planned long term enough, having staunchly tried to avoid reading the Dulfy guide for the backpack.

I did have 48 Foxfire clusters, ready for the Mist-Infused Clay Pot, and the next 7 days of Piquant Plant Food.

I didn’t have enough clay for another clay pot, and organized Dry Tops seemed to have dried up in favor of the Blix farm. Bah.

I didn’t have enough charged quartz crystals, I’d need another 3-4 days, AND I’d seen how much sunstone lumps were going for and converted everything I owned and offloaded it to make $$$ fast. I mean, what better time to make a serious profit on lowbie material hoarding?

I had 12 Pristine Fractal Relics standing by in the bank – turns out I actually do run more fractals than the few complaining that they’re ‘forced’ into the activity and scared of grouping, which is quite incredible considering I’ve only stepped in there twice or thrice in the last few months – and a crafted +5 infusion that had been taking up a bank slot since the Thaumanova Reactor fractal days.

And I really couldn’t deal with the thought of slowly waiting another seven days for freakin’ plant food before I got my hands on Mawdrey II. That’s seven days of bloodstone dust eating. (In return for crap greens, sure, but the prospect of freeing up inventory and bank slots is super appealing.)

So I talked myself into buying 7 of each type of plant food, a clay pot and a grow lamp.

I figure I should be able to sell off 7 plant food in the coming days, albeit at ever-decreasing prices, and only be short a couple gold when all is said and done. That’s seven days of not-obsessing over Mawdrey, and more potential earning power by being able to focus on other things.

The clay pot, one might as well eat as the cost of saving geodes for the next Ambrite weapon skin, assuming I ever find a T6 Dry Top again.

The grow lamp is the only one that kind of hurts a bit, but well, if I run around, mine nodes, and sell off all the watchwork sprockets and sunstone that pop out, it might offset the cost just a little. Anyway, spending 10-20 gold doesn’t sound that bad to speed up the whole process.

mawdrey

All that rationalization of spending later, it sure is a cutie.

I haven’t even decided on a character to put the vine on yet. Maybe I’ll check the sylvari necro later.

But it ate 150 Bloodstone Dust today, and I’m happy.

.

In other news, I haven’t done any of the Challenger Cliff Dry Top achievements, nor the hard mode Living Story achievements yet.

I just seem to be spacing out the content over time, given that it’s still going to be weeks before the feature patch, and months before the Living Story comes around again. Permanent content, ho.

I bit the bullet and did a few more PvP matches yesterday and today and picked up the last 9% on the Balthazar backpiece reward track.

(It was weird, I was on a big PvP kick for a while, and then I just sort of couldn’t muster up any enthusiasm for walking into a match and getting mauled. It’s funny how people give up and stack teams so quickly.

I braved Solo Queue for two matches, and turned up on the mauling side for once. That was nice, in terms of how we simply dominated the other side and stayed on point – though I couldn’t believe I managed to 1 vs 2 on home point and win, they must have been quite new – but I’m sure it was very much less enjoyable for the other team. So much so, one of them quit part way through, when the score was 250 vs 55 or so, and things only got worse for them from there.

Then I got impatient waiting for solo arena to pop, and went for the shameless hotjoin to speed up the daily. I ended up finishing the match and the daily with like 0.1% left on the backpiece track, so I had to sit through another match. Naturally, the randomly hotjoin server was already stacked, and I was desperate enough to join on the losing side for that smidgen of 191 rank points that would knock me over and earn me the backpiece.

That went as horrifically as expected – turned up on home to get ganged up on 3 on 1, went far since everyone appeared to be having fun executing the rest of my team on home and had a fun 1 vs 1 for about 20 seconds before another guy showed up, and then another. All not my team, of course. We started 1 man down, and were 3 vs 5 by the end. Only reason I stuck around was for the last teensy bit of blue bar to finish up the backpiece.

They really need to figure out more fun PvP gamemodes. Control point capture is only fun when both teams are communicating to their teammates and playing for points as intended.)

I pop by for the Triple Trouble wurm every day or two, jump by the odd world boss for a free rare and have ventured back into WvW for an hour or so each time (slow and steady so as not to burn out again.)

I still intend to get around to leveling the engineer and the elementalist and key-farming, though Path of Exile is sucking up my time and attention right now. (ALL ABOARD THE HYPE TRAIN, we’ve missed some of that adrenaline surge.)

I’ve not finished dress-up on the sylvari necro – still some dreamthistle skins worth a ton sitting in the bank, that I guess I’m just going to burn making him look pretty – and I think I’ve finally accumulated enough charged cores and lodestones since launch to make a Foefire weapon, but haven’t got around to checking that yet.

I dunno. I’m generally content and chugging along, with plenty of stuff on the to-do list.

I don’t get all the latest Reddit bruhaha about the Super Adventure Box, after what essentially amounts to a misreading of an amateur interview conducted by fans. “We can’t talk about that now” isn’t the same as “No, you’re not getting that ever” and doesn’t warrant collective hysteria or childish tantrums either.

All it means is that they don’t have the scope or schedule or resources to get around to it yet, or haven’t worked on it to a stage where it can be announced, and/or have to follow and respect Anet’s very draconian PR and community interaction policies (which sadly, make quite a bit of sense when you see the current example of how overblown some fans can get) and somewhat misguided and out-of-touch marketing department (given the prior track record of all their ad campaigns and marketing promotions. It’s sad when third-party Kongzhong does better marketing.)

Just take it for what it is, some clear statements about what’s being worked on, and what’s not yet being worked on and put on the back burner. Sheesh.

There are other games if you’re burning out of GW2. Take a freaking break. Go play Wildstar or Warlords of Draenor if that’s what’s calling you.

Come play Path of Exile if you want to be all excited with expansion hype. (It’s free too!)

Go muck around in Archeage and have fun – up until the point you get repeatedly mauled on multiple traderuns and lose everything and say ‘screw this’ I suppose.

Give the damn devs some time to build stuff, and come back and enjoy it when you’re ready.

And if you’re not willing to leave, this is the BEST time to start hoarding up materials in preparation for the -next- craftable thing they launch that’s going to skyrocket other raw materials in price.

It’s going to happen for sure. It’s just a matter of what.

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Path of Exile: Level 60, Forsaken Masters Ahoy!

When danger reared its ugly head, he bravely turned his tail and fled. Oh, brave Sir Robin!

News of the impending Forsaken Masters expansion has encouraged me to revisit Path of Exile.

Down time in GW2 helps (or rather ‘slow, not really doing much, no immediate goals’ time, since GW2 doesn’t go down for maintenance ever, and only becomes inaccessible when unforeseen technical problems crop up.)

I’m thrilled to share that my Shadow has made it to level 60.

You may or may not recall that he was previously bogged down at lvl 52, with a tendency to explode and lose a bar’s worth of experience every time a spellcaster looked at him funny. Or if he stood in melee range of something with a very big sword or hammer.

I don’t think they changed anything that affected me specifically during the few weeks that I was away from the game, but for some inexplicable reason, I felt like things seemed a little easier.

I suspect it was partly due to a subconscious change of strategy.

Playing XCOM made me realize that using corners and scenery to block attacks can still be valid in games that are not MMOs.

cornersummoning

So now, any time I feel like meleeing up-close-and-personal is not going to work, I find a handy corner.

Then I summon a stream of skeletons, which act as a passably decent wall of somewhat tanky mobs, and pop in a few raging spirits in between. (The raging spirits seem to attack for decent amounts, but are very squishy, so the skeleton distractions help.)

If all goes well, the enemy gets distracted and nickel-and-dimed to death by my mobs.

If it comes around the corner, I run screaming for another corner, quaffing heals like no tomorrow.

Ah, yes, retreat is now in my vocabulary.

I’m content to kite the things through multiple corridors of already-cleared rooms if I have to, throwing disposable skeletons in their wake to slow them down, while I work on raising slightly sturdier ghouls (which unfortunately require corpses and take a bit more prep time to summon.)

Watching DOTA 2 guide videos alerted me to the revelatory fact that getting behind your opponent allows for more time to get hits in.

Path of Exile, unfortunately, has major sync issues with skills that teleport you around the place. They’re just best not used. I used to have Whirling Blades on the bar as a get away quick mechanism, but the amount of jittery framerates and lag it can produce is just not really worth it to me any more.

What I do have, however, is Summon Skeletons, which places skeletons anywhere under your cursor.

I’ve taken to casting at least 2-4 skeletons BEHIND an enemy. This often has the welcome effect of distracting it and encouraging it to turn around to face them, offering up its vulnerable back for my stabbing. Worse case scenario, it doesn’t turn around and the skeletons get free hits in while I run around avoiding blasts and trying to stay alive.

Just watching pros juking others at DOTA 2 seems to have subconsciously affected my ability to dodge through mouse clicking, as if I’m either trying to emulate them, or I’ve suddenly realized that it’s actually possible to try and avoid attacks with a similar click-to-move control scheme.

The other part of it, I suspect,  is that old bugaboo of gear and levels.

As I started outleveling the maps, it got easier and easier. Less attacks hit through my evasive defence, I could use flasks that recovered more hp and mana, that sort of thing.

That mostly took a hefty helping of patience and plodding away.

I got more open to using the commonly-understood ‘standard’ farming maps to get some easier xp in. In Act 1, that’s places like the Ledge.

Ahh, happy ledge farming days. Thank you, Endless Ledge for teaching me this spot.
Ahh, happy ledge farming days. Thank you, Endless Ledge event races for teaching me this spot.

In Act 3, the early part before the City of Sarn, and then the Catacombs, and finally the Docks.

Before I went risky places to progress the story, I’d finish up the level I was halfway on, so that if I died, I wouldn’t be losing excessive amounts of xp.

Also, knowing that I could farm up that bar or two of lost xp quite quickly in these maps made deaths elsewhere feel a little less punishing and frustrating.

At the same time, all that farming gives decent amounts of loot to sift through.

Being voluntarily self-found (buying uniques off other players for a pittance feels like cheating to me and doesn’t really teach an understanding of the game, imo), that meant patiently sorting through junk, pulling out things that looked like they had potential, spending some currency to randomly roll up nice stats and get good linked slots.

It ends up being a fair amount of compromising, because it gets ridiculously expensive to get things optimally right.

This time, I followed the ‘understood wisdom’ again and prioritized resistances. Lots of them. Plus some +Life if at all possible.

Having 70% resistances to fire, lightning and ice went a long way towards mitigating the initial alpha strikes of the later maps’ mobs.

I could actually take 3-5 hits before exploding, which at least gives time to estimate the amount of damage coming in, and to quickly quaff a heal while hastily scrambling away out of range.

Some of my support gems had to be rearranged, or gone without, which was a little sad, but welp, can’t win them all.

In a way, it was interesting to be forced to experiment with new combinations of gems.

I tried putting Increases Minion Life on my skeletons, instead of my ghouls, and that didn’t seem to work very well at all with the way I normally play (with an entourage of 5 ghouls following me.) I swapped that back after a few close encounters.

I’d previously put Faster Attacks on my dagger attacks – having it on Venom Strike was nice, iirc. It wasn’t bad on Reave either. But then my slots changed and I couldn’t  fit it with either of those skills, and I went hunting for any other valid places to combine it.

Turns out, minion melee attacks can be buffed by Faster Attacks too. I only had a free slot for my Raging Spirits, but now they attack 33% more quickly, which seems to be working out fairly well for me too. (Like a permanent GW2 mesmer time warp on them, mwahaha.)

I got a few levels under my belt, then went through the rest of the Cruel Difficulty maps, marveling at the change of feel. Heck, I even managed to down Piety without dying, which is doubtless utterly standard for normal PoE players, but quite a feat for a noob like me.

Even the Dominus fight went well, all his preliminary attendant bosses were patiently kited one by one and dealt with patiently, with plenty of dodging around and kiting… right up to the final phase, anyway. When he went into his final form, and that damnable blood rain started, I looked at my xp bar, which was 3/4 of the way to the next level and sighed.

I knew I could just walk out and go farm up the rest of it before dealing with him again, but I was already -there- and committed. I also knew I didn’t have any chaos resistance worth speaking of, and that it would be even more farming and grinding to put together a semblance of stuff that worked.

But what the hell, right? If I got through to Merciless Difficulty, I suspected that I’d be able to get to the Ledge eventually, where a bountiful harvest of xp would await me.

So I repeated the same ignoble ‘feat’ of dying, reviving, teleporting, stabbing him a few times while letting all my summons get a few hits in, total party wiping, reviving, resummoning, re-entering, getting re-teleported to him and attacking and rinsing and repeating.

Whatever works.

I hear there’s builds that utilizes a skill gem called Cast on Death. Yep, literally you kamikaze bomb something. And some folks have managed to get it all optimally linked to the point of it being able to deal 1.6 million damage, one-shotting bosses.

Your standard easy-mode PvE MMO player fears death and set-backs a ton. Player death feels terrible, even before you throw in old time hardcore stuff like losing equipment and needing corpse retrievals, or losing tons of xp (or worse, levels) that have to be ground back up. That’s one of the reasons why FFA PvP full loot games are so scary to us.

My little experimental forays into games with the threat of loss attached are teaching me one thing that probably all Eve Online players know, or are forced to learn in a hurry.

Never bet or risk anything more than you’re willing and can afford to lose.

It takes a bit of learning on each game to feel out the limits on this.

A permadeath quickie game like Realm of the Mad God can risk a lot, but you can build a farming character up quite quickly in an hour or so, and figure out that it’s best to farm potions on a throwaway for your desired ‘main.’

A game like Path of Exile means figuring out how to quickly get back the xp you’re bound to lose at some point, and to try and keep risky attempts near the start of a level, while doing non-risky farming activities when you’re trying to get to the next level.

I’m still not really willing to risk my stuff on a game where other players can take things away from me, since that always sounds like a grind to build up lots of throwaway items to trundle around with and risk losing through no fault of my own, but for games where my deaths are either my fault or at worse, lag’s fault, I can deal with that.

Anyhow, I essentially ‘paid’ 3/4 of a level to defeat Dominus on Cruel Difficulty because I was too lazy and disinclined to pause and take a break.

And I was totally all right with that. I knew the cost going in, up front.

I got into Merciless Difficulty, celebrated a little, did some killing of random stuff,  died once or twice accidentally, then got into a groove and got back that 3/4 of a level. Ta da! Problem solved!

Now I’m back to being bogged down again in the early beginnings of Act 2, Merciless.

Whee.

At least I know what to do this time.

pisspoorresist

Behold, my glorious resistances on Merciless.

On Cruel, which imposes a global -20% to resistances, I was pulling 70%+ resist with my current gear.

My current gear on Merciless, with a global -60% to resistances, well…  UGH.

I admit to being a bit at my wit’s end on how I’m going to stack more, as I’m already relying on lucky rolls like my boots with 30%+ fire and cold resist mods.

I suspect that I may have to change things around to focusing on -one- resist, as and when each map needs it.

I more or less did that for cold resist when facing Merveil, and that -seemed- to work somewhat well.

I think the other possibility is bringing along a specific resist flask for the specific map, so that I can quaff that just before doing an important fight and dealing with a bad alpha strike. Resist flasks don’t really last for a long time though. UGH.

My gear is, of course, also woefully underleveled by this point, since I’ve hit level 60.

I suspect a patient farming pause is in order.

I’m hoping the Forsaken Masters update might help. Apparently, they will be introducing new NPCs that you can work towards building a sort of faction rep for, and that will unlock new crafting options like being able to add specifically chosen mods to items.

This sounds a hell of a lot more attractive than just randomly relying on RNG, though it will no doubt be quite expensive. We’ll see.

My hope is that they recognize that low-level players kind of need an in-between alternative to keep them occupied, and help them gear up at various level ranges,  if they don’t just buy uniques off various shop bots sitting around. Hopefully upgrading and crafting low level equipment will be possible and affordable, with these new systems, while still keeping the super-awesome high-level stuff as a golden carrot very hard to get to for those crazy enough to desire chasing them.

Naturally, the Forsaken Masters update is also going to come with a complete rework of the part of the skill tree that directly affects my most high-leveled character. Go figure.

Shadow and Witch areas are apparently going to be reworked. I do hope this doesn’t mean that my weird-ass summoner dual-wield dagger-stabby build is going to be invalidated or impossible to achieve, because I’m kind of fond of it.

On the bright side, I don’t think it’s possible for a reworked skill tree to get myself any worse off, being all noob and newb when I chose my options, so a free complete respec is going to be quite the gift horse.

The bad news is that it’s entirely possible for me to screw it up a second time, since I wouldn’t have the advantage of slowly leveling through the skill tree and figuring out how to work with what I chose.

Welp. I guess we’ll see. Worse case scenario is I adapt my strategies to whatever my new build becomes.

There’s also the last resort of throwing out the character, but I believe I’m a little more stubborn than that.

GW2: You Get No XP For Running Away

But you get tons from attempted genocide...

This isn’t a leveling guide per se.

I’m not teaching any shortcuts, efficient paths to circle around or profitable events or other things people do to SPEED their way through levels. That’s power-leveling. Such abnormal rates are best left to veterans to figure out for themselves when they want to level their alts (eg. via crafting and tomes of knowledge and alt-switching in dungeons and twinking out an alt, etc.)

This is an exploration of the set of questions that seem to pop up on Reddit or the official forums every so often from inexperienced or newbie players:

Why am I leveling so slowly?

Help! I’ve completed all the hearts and mapped the entire zone and I’m still not the correct level to go to the next zone! Or visit my personal story!

Versus my own personal leveling experience, both then (at launch) and now, where this problem simply doesn’t exist.

To sate my own curiosity, I thought I’d make an effort to track the source of where my XP was coming from, as I leveled an engineer in the Plains of Ashford from level 12 to 15 for fun.

(Yes, I could skip with an Experience Scroll, but I enjoy the experience of leveling and wandering through a map.)

Two things, first of all.

The NORMAL rate of experience in GW2 is a level an hour, give or take 15-30mins.

GW2 has a flat, not exponential, leveling curve. In theory, it takes just as long to go from level 11-12 as 78-79. (Though you’ll find in practice, it’s easier to rush through the later levels from accumulated power and ample sources of xp.)

If one is used to other games where you can hit level 10 in under an hour or something like that, it’s NOT going to happen in GW2 on your first character unless one adopts the more abnormal methods of leveling, and those won’t teach you anything about how the game or combat works, nor how to play your character and class well.

The next thing I’d advise is the value of prep time.

The following method of leveling presupposes that you will take the time every now and again to keep all your gear current and that you’ve experimented with the class you’re playing long enough to be familiar with various weapons and skills.

That you’ve developed a build and style of play that you’re comfortable with, where you can actually kill a normal mob in 5 seconds or less. (Give or take a few seconds.)

-Take- the time to learn how.

Why do I consider this so important?

Because if you CAN’T, your first impulse will be always to run away from mobs, in order not to get locked into an endless fight which takes forever, or where you might die and end up back at a waypoint.

You get no xp for running away.

You are not going to level up fast by avoiding fights and skipping everything. (Unless you just want to trade real money for gems, convert that into gold and craft your way to 80. All power to you, then.)

Here’s an actual example to demo what I do:

(Obviously, this is not the only way to level. It’s not the fastest method by far, it uses no special boosters and such, but I believe this is an -affordable- way of leveling normally and enjoying the process.)

Preparation: A leisurely 20-30 min, because I’m not hurrying to break any records, just showing how I do it in the course of normal play.

engi-preprep

Logging into my level 12 engineer alt reveals that her equipment has gotten a little outdated at level 6 and under, when she’s hit level 12.

Time to visit the nearby town of Smokestead and the trading post.

I set up a preliminary broad filter of level 8-12 Fine (blue) equipment to check which is the closest level range that has Power stats.

tp-browsing

(To save my mind and too much scrolling, I only look for one type of armor, in this case, boots.)

I sort by price and notice that they’re all in the affordable 1-3 silver range (which is good, I try not to buy overpriced stuff and would rather look for the dropped equipment level ranges which have ample supply).

The closest to my level, with Power stats, is 11. Perfect.

tp-specificsearch

We proceed to narrow down the search to level 11-12, and swap between all armor locations to buy the correct weight class of armor. Medium, in this case, for an engineer.

(TP improvements to actually search by appropriate armor weight class can’t come soon enough.)

We can also look for jewelery by searching for Trinkets. Again, buy whatever’s closest to your level that gives Power, assuming it’s affordable. (If it’s not, it’s also possible to trawl the wiki and look for karma vendors that sell Power jewelery that is closest in level, but eh, that’s too much effort for me, personally. I have a crafter, and tons of stockpiles, so I craft it if I don’t want to buy it.)

Yes, this presupposes that a newbie has enough money to buy decent gear.

The solution is to gather and SELL all the things, especially on the TP.

Buy all harvesting tools from the vendor and go around harvesting nodes as you level. As gear you can’t use falls into your inventory, TP it off. Don’t sell to a buy order already sitting there, set the price and wait.

In my little leveling experiment for this post, I sold off all the copper ore, green wood logs, blue and white drops, etc. at the lowest sell order, just to see what a newbie might receive, and earned 40 silver without real difficulty. This can pay for decent equipment from the TP, and I didn’t even check each piece of gear to see if someone was sneakily posting stuff for a couple silvers cheap to flip and turn a profit that way.

tp-runes

This next part is the closest to twinking as it gets.

The idea is that we want as much Power for our stats as possible. More Power, more dps, less time taken to kill a mob, more xp/time and you won’t be tempted to run around a mob rather than just cut your way through it.

Search for “Minor Rune of” and look for all the runes with +10 Power on the first rune application. We will buy one each of a different type – the cheap ones – and then stick ’em onto every armor slot we have. Once you can wear helm and shoulders, that makes +60 Power. Every little bit helps.

Search for “Minor Sigil of Bloodlust” and if it’s affordable, buy one for your weapon too. As you kill stuff, this builds up even more Power to kill things.

I used to like to put a minor sigil of speed on too, to give swiftness as we kill our way through mobs and make running around faster – but the price has shot up to 8 silver currently for whatever unknown reason. I don’t need to be fast THAT badly. Yes, I am cheap.

(At higher levels, one can move on to Major Runes and Sigils once one can put ’em on one’s gear.)

tp-purchases

We finish our prep with a nice and cheap way to get an XP bonus.

Cheap consumables. That also preferably help us to kill things.

One can look up the GW2 wiki for food that best matches your level range, and I’m a big fan of +Power on kill foods. This is less handy for endgame folks who want an always-on boost, rather than have to always have something dead first and keep killing things within 30 seconds to maintain the buff, but when leveling, this is very easily achieved as you go through lots of small mobs, rather than big reservoirs of hp or players who won’t cooperate and die within the time limit.

And yep, more Power the merrier.

Get a food. Get a wrench. The sharpening stone tends to be less useful for raw Power, but it is cheap as hell, and adds an extra xp bonus that one may as well have on.

adventureho

Buffed to the gills, we set out on our leveling adventure!

So here’s how this works:

  • Check the map, pick a direction, probably towards an uncompleted heart, point of interest (POI) or waypoint (WP).
  • Head that way with minimal reference to the map, killing ANY mob in your way, red or yellow.
  • If you see an event, go towards it and do it.
  • If there’s a gathering node in your minimap, go harvest it.
  • When you eventually arrive at your destination, complete it and pick a new direction.

(Have your adventure along the way. No, adventure does not mean running past everything, not looking at it! You only get XP for skipping in dungeons!)

For instance, in this real example, I walk out of Smokestead to stumble on an active Dynamic Event involving harpies and mortars. This yields 880xp for kills, and 375xp for the event completion.

Finishing it, I head to the nearest vista to grab it, killing everything along the way. 123xp from gathering, 346xp from killing, and 90xp for the actual vista.

I’m using a rifle on this engineer, having experimented previously and decided I can operate it without too much problems. Autoattacking from range 5 times tends to kill most normal mobs. I have an immobilize on skill 2 to stop them coming nearer. I can go into close range and shotgun blast with 3 when I need extra burst damage, and pound on skill 5 to jump and AoE damage wherever my mouse cursor points to. I tend to leave 4 untouched as I don’t need such a strong knockback in regular PvE play – it’s an option to remember that one has, to be used situationally. Further AoE damage comes from F2, the tool belt bonus from having a grenade kit equipped.

When I need even moar AoE, I swap into the grenade kit and spam all the things.

Elixir H seems decent enough as a heal, and provides valuable boons both in itself and in its tool belt skill. Utility goggles is a stun break, gives fury, and its tool belt skill applies vulnerability. (Moar damage, the merrier.)

Couldn’t care less if it’s meta or not at this stage, just mostly concerned that it can kill things and that one is comfortable using it. Plenty of time to experiment as we level up further.

Next, I head into Barradin’s Vault for the POI at the end. Thankfully, the ghosts have been completed, but I shoot my way through all the veteran oozes just the same, rather than run blindly past. 35xp from gathering a mushroom, 311xp for kills, 90xp for the POI.

Onward to the next vista, and then the next WP, stumbling into Badazar’s Champion along the way.

badazar

For fun, I decide to solo it.

See, this is what teaches you the limits of your class and pushes you to improve your play. Never assume that just because it says Group Event, that it can’t be done, especially in lower level zones where mobs tend to be simpler.

If you can’t solo it, there’s something you haven’t yet learned about GW2 combat – be it dodging, how to read animations, kiting at range, how your class works, etc.

It turns out, that Badazar’s Champion can be shot quite safely from range, with only one big attack that he will shoot at you. This is telegraphed by him drawing back his staff and then thrusting it out with a lightning bolt that zaps its way toward you. DODGE when he draws back his staff, and you’ll EVADE his lightning bolt quite handily.

Now, if you don’t have ready access to Vigor to regenerate back endurance, you will run out of endurance on the third attack. This is a perfect time to figure out what other class skills you have that can be used to absorb it. In this particular engineer’s case, I just toughed it out by throwing on a random boom (hopefully it turned out to be regen or protection) and healing it up with the heal skill. A guardian can “block” this, for example, and so on.

41xp for the dead champion (with a champion bag that yielded 1 silver 26 copper), and 396xp for the event completion.

On and on through the Plains of Ashford, from one waypoint or POI to another, doing all the events along the way, and massacring every mob within view.

On the whole, people don’t kill mobs very frequently, and this, I suspect, is where they are losing out on hefty chunks of xp.

Especially if the mob has been sitting untouched for a long time, in an out-of-the-way place, and has loads of bonus xp. Yes, killing them and hoovering up the xp is your reward for exploring off the beaten path.

excel-xp

The final result:

3 levels in 2h 45min, at a leisurely pace which included one merchant/TP break of 10-15+ minutes, sucking up my food time, plus me stopping every now and then to record numbers down on an Excel sheet.

45.1% of my XP came from killing things (both along the way – about 2/3 of it – and in events – about 1/3 of it.)

The event completion reward yielded 22.5% of the total XP gain.

Heart completion reward yielded 11.1% of total XP gain.

The other stuff, gathering, reviving NPCs, visiting vistas and WPs/POIs were much smaller contributions individually, but combined, make up the remaining 21.4%.

And I still haven’t even map completed all of Plains of Ashford yet. Or touched Personal Story. Or crafted. All of which are extra sources of xp.

 

Now I’m sure if someone else measured their XP rates using a different style of play – say,  race from heart to heart, doing the bare minimum, and covering a much wider map area, I daresay their proportion of XP from heart completion will be much higher.

But here’s the thing: folks are -complaining- that they’ve run out of map and places to go, that they’re leveling super slowly and getting their asses beat up by mobs their level or 1-2 higher (which are perfectly doable if you take the time to figure out what weapons skills are the most damaging and how you’re going to mitigate damage), and are getting told to go visit all the other starter zones like some twisted version of the Grand Tyrian Marathon or something.

You don’t HAVE to do it that way if you don’t want to.

ahhghosts

Moral of the story: You can, and should, be killing all the things.

If you’re not sure how, EXPERIMENT and ASK.

And you’ll handle your character a lot more confidently when you get to level 80, and hopefully, have some exciting adventures along the way.

GW2: World, not Levels

I’ve hit level 40 now.

Do I feel like I’m halfway through the game?

Hahahahahahahaha.

No.

Not in the slightest.

One thing I think all of us will have to remember in the coming days as more and more folks hit level 80 in under a month is that this is a Guild Wars game.

The original capped you at level 20 and you could probably hit that in under a week of normal play (or a day or two of more intense play, probably a couple hours if you were really trying, no doubt.)

Hitting the level cap does not signify the end of the game. Nor does it signify the beginning of the ‘real’ game.

More and more, I begin to think that levels are just a familiar crutch that gives players used to other MMOs the feeling that they are making progress, and serves as more or less a periodic jackpot style intermittent reward “ding” to tell the player  “Good job, have a cookie!”

I am given to understand, though I might be mistaken, that even after you hit the level cap of 80, you will still continue to get your level ding and earn skill points to eventually buy stuff that costs an exorbitant amount of skill points. Or something along those lines, so there’s always a goal to strive toward.

(Perhaps we will hit the point just like in Guild Wars 1 where I know my main character has gotten lots of levels and has plenty of skill points to buy stuff with, but I really couldn’t care less about them. The only thing some players kept asking for then in GW1 was an overall count for the sake of e-peen comparison, sort of a /played of 9000 hours over your 1932 hours, but a “ha, I’m total level 574 versus your total level 232,” I think.)

Anyway, Levels 32-38 flew by while messing around with World vs World vs World stuff, and after catching up with my personal story that I paused at level 30, I was level 40 in an eyeblink.

And also thrown into some confusion because the neat chain of hearts I was dutifully completing (and point of interest visiting and vista viewing) is now broken. I left off somewhere in Gendarran Fields doing level 30ish stuff and where the heck should I be going now?

This distance away from obediently following along like a WoW sheep from appropriately leveled zone to zone doing appropriately leveled quests has suddenly made things rather clear.

Guild Wars 2 is a world, and I can actually wander in it like one.

I don’t have to feel compelled to 100% complete every zone until I feel like it, because frankly, I’m 80% done with the Gendarran Fields zone and while OCD is screaming at me to just finish it up, the personal story in the level 20-40 range has pretty much flung me out of my comfort zone following one linear path and into way more zones than I can fathom 100% completing on my way to level 80.

I went to a snowy Norn zone, passing Hoelbrak along the way (Two zones to explore, count ’em, two!) I was sent for a stopover in the Gendarran Fields, where I already had a convenient waypoint. (10-20% left, not counting the crypt that I explored in beta but haven’t found folks to do it yet on live. Nor have I done the Loreclaw jumping puzzle in Plains of Ashford yet.) Then went to Divinity’s Reach via Lion’s Arch and ended up in the Fields of Ruin. (Three more zones, aieeeee.)

That’s three cities and two entire zones, both of which I have already sheepishly “outleveled” though of course, I can still wander in and play without bothering because of the unnoticeable downleveling.

If I try to complete each zone I was exposed to in order, I fear I’ll hit level 80 while still messing about in a level 40 zone…

I think it’s very smart and cunning design of the personal story. It starts out all linear and comfortable to hold your “used to traditional MMO” hand, then come the branching choices and before you know it, you’re traveling across half the countryside, flung into Lion’s Arch and other races’ cities and the world has broadened immensely to the point where one just stands stunned in Lion’s Arch wondering, what the heck I should do now? I could do… anything! Should I go here or there first? Should I just stay here and craft? Or go WvWvWing?

The Fields of Ruin and the city or town of Ebonhawke are particularly interesting for proactive NPCs that flag you down and ask for your help. Or maybe I’ve just started taking notice of them. (There was at least one such NPC in the Plains of Ashford too.) It’s too easy to run by, focused on what you’re doing in traditional MMO style and ignore all NPCs as unimportant background chatter. Then a “hey, over here, I need your help!” and an emoted beckon finally catches your attention, and if you deign to go up and talk to the NPC, you’ll trigger a Dynamic Event or find out where to go to find one. If you ran right by, well, yeah, no Dynamic Event for you.

It looks like ArenaNet is on to something here. The road to level 80 for any of your characters is not going to be the exact same thing twice – not unless you choose to repeat it. We’re all going to have at least a slightly different experience as we go through the game. Yes, there will still be commonalities and the same hearts and the more common DEs on repeat loop, and you can repeat the same DEs and visit the same reward chests daily if that floats your boat, but if you don’t want to, then well, don’t.

Go somewhere different. Wander. Gather. Craft. PvP. WvW. Do a dungeon. Follow your personal story. You’ll still get to level 80 in the end.

Personally, I am so spoiled for choice that I am almost paralyzed with indecision and end up playing inventory tetris trying to figure out what next.

ATITD: Next Goal, Four “Easy” Levels

Since Tale 3, A Tale in the Desert also sports a leveling system. Apparently the structure and guided objectives lent a sense of progress and retained players for far longer than they stuck around for a level-less system, so that was that, one more deathblow to a no-levels paradise some people may dream of.

One of the disadvantages of levels is also present in ATITD. You have to earn enough levels to “unlock” certain things (skills, machinery or activities) that you may want to use.

While there’s the social alternative as a s solution for some of it (there have been a few itinerant blacksmiths wandering around as level 0 peasants, they simply borrow/use someone else’s already constructed anvil and tools – which they would not be able to build), ultimately, it’s not terribly practical.

The good news is that though there are 70 maximum levels, past level 42, there is no more in-game significance (skills or technology or tests unlocked) to them. It’s sort of like Guild Wars’ Hall of Monuments – you can reach 50 points, but only 30 give you only any tangible benefit besides a cool title.

Furthermore, when you check the levels and skills pages of the wiki, levels which give any real practical benefit are the lower levels and top off around 29-32. At level 29, is the last level of Cooking (assuming you had any interest in that activity) and at level 32, Detonation, a technology which uses explosives to make gravel quickly in a detonation pit – but one can always make gravel without the risk of blowing oneself up by hitting stones with a sledgehammer.

Further extra stuff is nice to have, but not mission critical. (In Tale 4, I targeted level 28 for Silkworm Farming, but I note in Tale 5 and Tale 6, they have cut the requirement down to level 19, even easier to achieve.)

In a way, this is also good, because higher levels are also exponentially harder to achieve in ATITD. I believe only one person has ever reached the maximum level before a Telling ended.

Levels are gained as follows:

  • 1 for Citizenship
  • 1 for each of the seven Principles of the disciplines. (7)
  • 1 for each Test principle (49)
  • 1 for each Title prefix change (7) (Student of… through Oracle of…). Note that this does not mean one level per test passed.
  • 1 for each extra Oracleship you receive (6)

That’s essentially from easiest to hardest. Citizenship is the ATITD tutorial, basically. The first seven initiations (or principles of the disciplines – Architecture, Art & Music, Body, Harmony, Leadership, Thought and Worship) start out easy and get a little bit trickier.

Test Principles range in difficulty, but are the primary way to get levels. Doing Principles simply mean fulfilling a list of tasks that introduce you to the Test, and are usually a partial demonstration of what the Test is about. This qualifies you for a level.

For more challenged-inclined folks, they can aim to pass the Test itself. This usually involves significantly more effort, competition with others, and possibly long-term time investment. If they do pass the Test, and if the Test gives them a change of prefix title, then they get a level. If not, they just get the prestige and satisfaction of having passed it.

Title prefixes are changed by passing 1-7 Tests in a particular discipline. Passing all seven in one discipline means you become an Oracle of that discipline. Naturally, not easy.

And if you have an extra Oracleship, comes the final bonus levels. (I don’t even want to consider how much effort that would be.)

Fortunately, I have much lower aspirations. I will quite happily settle for around the lvl 29-32 mark eventually. Since I took a couple months off, my characters were lvl 16 and 18 respectively, and that’s still slightly too low to unlock several skills and techs and tests and I want.

Amidst the horde of panels indicating “yet-to-do” Principles, each of which is worth one level if I can conceivably complete them (and some are distinctly not easy to), I noted a few that were.

The Thought Principles of the Venery, the Pathmaker, and the Bijou (whose principles I had yet to get from the University in the screenshot below), along with the Harmony Principle of Reason.

The Discipline of Thought is all about minigame puzzles. Minigame puzzles that involve Thought (naturally) and that are player-created, player-solved and rated.

Like all good sandboxes, ATITD offers a number of different ways to get the same principle done. After all, what is the point of shoddy puzzles built by people who just want the level, and aren’t interested in making a good puzzle to pass the Test with?

So you can:

1) Build the puzzle, following the suggested principles list

and then a) Have 7 people do the puzzle and judge it, ie. give it a rating

or b) If you cannot wait or attract 7 people to have any interest in it, you could also tear it down

Naturally, tearing it down wastes the materials, and means you cannot pass the Test since you don’t have a puzzle any more, but if you’re looking for just the level off the Principles, it is an option – essentially “spending” or “paying” the materials cost without the aggravation of waiting for people’s judgments.

Or you can 2) Play and solve 3 recent winning puzzles.

These are Test passing puzzles that win weekly based on the best aggregated player rating. These are guaranteed to be at least somewhat good or hard puzzles, representative of what Egypt thinks is a “good” puzzle for that particular Test.

That second option is what I’m aiming for.

Because spending the time and materials to build these things is not particularly what I want to do, nor do I have present plans to pass any Thought Tests (I would have to build them later if I did). Take the Venery as an example:

That’s:

for the minimum size Venery with 7 lockboxes. Not as bad as a Raeli Oven, but still, quite a lot of gems to cut, and costly when you consider I’ll have to do it twice for my two characters. I’ll do it for a Test pass, but not for a level. And a level is what we’re aiming for here.

So a quick check of the ATITD System log for the last 28 days or so of Test Passes, a quick ctrl+F “Find” of the keywords Venery, Pathmaker and Bijou, and I had my target locations to trek to for the most recent winning puzzles.