GW2: Point of No Return and the Vinewrath: Thoughts from a Jaded Vet

I wish I knew what to say about Point of No Return. (Yes, there will be spoilers beyond this point.)

Bhagpuss and the Mystical Mesmer have covered the episode a lot more aptly than I can, so I’ll point you over to their coverage of the episode.

Truth is, my main reaction is less about stunning revelation, but more of an “about time, can we get to something good now, please?

Maybe I read too much Reddit, but I’ve been operating under the assumption/knowledge that sylvari were originally destined to be minions of Mordremoth for a long time now.

How much clearer did it need to be, especially with the holographic records of Scarlet nee Ceara taking a mindtwisting turn for the worse after “What Scarlet Saw” – a thorn root of Mordremoth winding up the Pale Tree attempting either to reclaim its champion or kill her for being wayward – and going completely batshit crazy attempting to reject both masters (and likely falling under the sway of Mordremoth the loonier she got, being that one of the Elder Dragon’s spheres is that of the Mind.)

Having already accepted the premise long ago, I found myself mostly more thrilled at seeing echoes of Guild Wars 1 back in my Living Story, walking in the footsteps of my ancient ancestors reliving the Ascension trials, fighting off one’s doppelganger, etc.

squee

(How a charr has an Elonian human ancestor, I’m not sure, but let’s just handwave it like the Hall of Monuments, eh? I inherited dat fiery dragon sword dead to rights and no one had better dispute that!)

The rest of the story was pretty ho-hum, just moving the plot along, nothing much to see here… Oh, I guess there was one tragedy.

muchsad

Victim of a dolyak hit-and-run.

Seriously, please check where your minis show up. Doesn’t this undergo testing? Maybe “emotional impact” is not one of the criteria on the checklist.

I have to give kudos for relatively bug-free this patch, anyway.

The fights themselves are decent.

I note with an amused smile that they again try to place stress on other concepts besides DPS all the things as quickly as possible.

For example, it is possible to kite or control mobs out of the circle representing the Throne of Pellentia, and if you do it early, you won’t get waves and waves of ever-so-annoying ghost mobs plus siege wurms, and instead merely need to play run-around-the-mulberry-bush-er-pillar with an Arcanist Echo.

This assumes, of course, that one is sturdy enough to deal with getting sniped at by a mob, plus able to control one’s rabid tendency to autoattack anything red.

(A total failure to organize in a pickup group, I might add, which I joined for the 8 minutes time achievement. The group sported two rangers and a mesmer, who were exceedingly on-the-ball with knockback skills, shoving all mobs out in under a couple seconds… who then absolutely failed to maintain this state of affairs by promptly killing them with autoattacks, causing new mobs to spawn in the circle. *sighs*)

bringit

The Shadow of the Dragon fight was moderately fun, with the added concept of ‘teaching how to recognize and coordinate with skills from allies’ along with the standard pattern recognition of mechanics.

If the GW2 forums are anything to go by, it seems the devs still have quite a lot of work ahead of them in training a certain subset of the population how to cope with fights like this.

I suspect most of them that are frustrated have simply missed a crucial concept that would aid in solving the fight.

  • Have a problem with smothering shadows? Solution: Pick up the divine fire by walking into it, and then land any bit of damage on the shadow. Shadow explodes, divine fire buff expires, need new divine fire buff to light flame.
  • Have a problem with getting interrupted by the dragon while lighting the flame? Solution: Look out for Braham’s sanctuary, which will apply stability, and light that spot. It will not protect against the upward rising dragon’s mouth, which will still launch upwards through stability, but it’ll stop getting interrupted by the dragon’s groping paw.
  • Have a problem with the plants? The plants are triggered by the tripvine in between them. Either go around them, or run through them in the direct center. Sometimes, it is easier to clean up the arena by just running through all four pairs of plants and making them explode, then one has more room to work with.
  • Have a problem with the shadowy tendrils? Beyond targeting the same vine as Marjory’s minions, which will help nom on them, ranged attacks are a lot less frustrating to land over trying to position melee attacks while trying to avoid vine knockback plus rocks. (Not that it can’t be done, I got my warrior through it with pure melee, cos lazy to swap weapons, but it’s a lot less annoying, imo.)

It happens. I remember misjudging the size of the explosion in one Living Story fight, which produced great perplexity in how exactly one was supposed to kite the exceedingly-slow moving mob to each prepped node in the time limit for the achievement… and some whining within partychat with friends… wherein it turned out that all one really had to do was AoE all the prepped nodes and voila, mob ded through massive explodey.

Bah. Sometimes you just overthink things, and sometimes the cues for the mechanics aren’t as clear as would be ideal. Happens.

Just as apparently nearly everyone was mistaken in propagating the “No AoE” notion at the Copper Husk, something I personally didn’t subscribe to either. I always thought that kiting the offshoots and poison away and exploding them away from the husk made a lot more sense, but required way too much organization and effort to achieve, so my personal solution was pretty much always to avoid the hell that was Copper and let the players there bicker and squabble and fail or succeed as they pleased. The difference between partial and total success just wasn’t worth getting upset over.

Getting back to the Shadow of the Dragon, I liked the inclusion of the challenge mote at the end, which made trying for achievements a lot less painful by only having to go through the lengthy dialogues once.

I got a decent amount of replay value with the achievements, especially since it took me a while to realize that diving straight for the divine fire in second phase often meant diving headlong into the path of the exploding rock column.

Took me a couple tries and a fair measure of repeating “patience” “patience” “LOOK around carefully and check the situation before you leap” to myself before I finally avoided all the rocks successfully.

The plant thing was also somewhat fun, because it changed up my priorities. ‘Spode all the plants first. Every time. Shadow going for a divine fire wall? Sorry, I’ll eat the setback, gotta make all the plants go boom first.

And finally, I guess the big unveil were the two cutscenes at the end of this Living Story.

For the purposes of building hype for their big PAX South announcement, I guess they succeeded. I’m mostly antsy for the announcement because the cutscenes mostly don’t indicate anything beyond “Pact tries to attack Mordremoth. Pact fails miserably. Something’s definitely up with the Sylvari. Soon(TM).”

Ok. Great. Future stuff.

That’s all very well, but what do I do -now-?

couldbeme

Grind, apparently.

Kill more Mordrem like my hero Rytlock with a fiery sword.

Like a good little player, I am obediently working on the Luminescent collection for lack of anything better to do – and also, because I really want that “Light in the Darkness” title for vanity’s sake, which is always a good motivator.

Thankfully, I hoarded a decent amount of each Mordrem part bag in the prior weeks (around 5-7 of each) and opening them got me most of the eyes and kidneys required.

Camping at the last two that I needed over the weekend -eventually- got me the parts I needed, though I managed to build 3 whole Thrasher bladders before getting an eye (yeesh.)

All I’m missing now is one more carapace chest box, one more headgear box that I could either buy or run another character through the Living Story, and one more Ascended thingummy that will need to be bought.

Mostly the chest box.

vinewrath

The Vinewrath has been a decent enough world boss, set at a level that most players appear to be able to manage (with the few below average exceptions getting pasted on the ground each fight.)

There are only a few crucial mechanics for people to remember, which makes it easier to communicate as well:

1. The Beekeeper / troll creates bees. Running into the center of the rings and out, will call aggro of some bees onto you. Lead these to the honeycomb to build it up.

Take cover behind the honeycomb when the troll runs in front of the Vinewrath.

Most people will already have positioned themselves there, which is all very well, but does sometimes attract troll adds to the area as well. Best to kill the troll adds if possible, so that insect swarms don’t stack and cause runaway damage.

If no one built the honeycomb, then well, it’s your fault for blindly autoattacking away and assuming someone else will do it!

2. The thrasher is fought like a normal thrasher, with plenty of reflects for its spinning-poison projectiles running along the floor phase. Keep distance if reflects are not up, so as to give yourself the best distance to strafe left and right to avoid the poison projectiles.

Pustules pop up and explode after some time if not killed. Destroying the pustule before that releases some spore clouds which give friendly player buffs (turning them pink.) The thrasher can also pick up this buff, so watch out.

When the thrasher runs in front of the Vinewrath, run towards it as well and take cover in the white cone in front of it. Feel free to keep attacking the thrasher in the meantime.

If you die in this fight, it’s absolutely your fault for not getting into the white cone yourself.

3. Dark Wing the terragriff, generally has standard terragriff-y attacks with some extra leap/pounce things. There are flowers that also spawn and need to be attacked/destroyed in order for them to open.

When Dark Wing runs in front of the Vinewrath, hop onto an opened flower for safety.

To be really sophisticated, make sure your opened flower is near the front so that you can keep attacking Dark Wing with ranged attacks. If you lack an opened flower nearby, it’s totally your fault for failing to ensure that one is opened before blindly autoattacking the terragriff!

The NPC escort of the carriers put a considerable amount of stress on control and support abilities as well.

Stealthing the carrier constantly can eventually put it out of combat, allowing it to regenerate up to full health.

There is also the standard water field elementalist and blasting to heal up the carrier as well.

I’ve been getting a considerable amount of mileage out of Healing Breeze (yes, it’s a guardian heal!) that can top up the carrier’s health ever so slightly, and Tome of Courage – the spamming of which can top up a decent amount of health, and if you’re in the right position to land a full heal with number 5, it can pump up a good half or more of the total carrier’s health bar.

In full zerker, too! I briefly considered switching to celestial or clerics, but decided that the healing was already sufficient in zerker, given the weak healing coefficients, and the inconvenience of switching gear to fight/kill things after supporting later.

PSA: If you’re doing nothing for the carrier, do not stand on it and suck up heals/support meant for it.

Nothing pisses off someone trying to save the carrier as dumb ass players in perfectly good condition being prioritized for ally support skills merely because the skills prioritize nearby players first.

The good news is that most of the time, the dumb ass players are either too scared of the oncoming Mordrem and are thus plinking from really really far away, or totally distracted by the clump of Mordrem elsewhere and have failed to notice the carrier trundling off away from them.

This provides gaps of opportunity for an enterprising guardian to be the only one near the carrier and sufficient time to charge up Tome of Courage 5 so that it’ll go off as the carrier is walking by.

There is generally enough time to swap back to a more functional heal for the boss fight, even if one’s elite is on cooldown.

As for control, it’s a knockback / interrupt / fearing players’ dream as there is plenty of opportunity to shunt oncoming Mordrem into the walls and away from a carrier’s plodding path.

(There is also plenty of opportunity for observers to groan at poor control skills… like knocking back a chasing Mordrem further ahead and into the path of the carrier that is desperately trying to get away from it.)

Generally and thankfully though, the fight is fairly resilient to the vagaries of a PUG matchup. If a lane fails (I’ve no idea how, frankly, but it does – presumably folks failed to distribute themselves equally), another lane can take over the champion that it was supposed to face and progress the fight from there.

Given the locked-in tunings, it’s actually quite easy to distribute oneselves fairly equally. Those at the amber troll boss before should go south and face the beekeeper, allowing for one more troll part with an extra extractor.

Those at blue and platinum’s thrasher should go mid and face the Vinewrath’s thrasher, for a chance at an extra thrasher part.

And those at indigo and gold/silver terragriffs should go face the Dark Wing for an extra terragriff part, with the husk people splitting themselves up among the three lanes.

(All these well laid plans go right out the window if a lane fails, of course, but meh, I guess people will learn in time. More often than not, the previous fort bosses are succeeding, so it’s just a matter of time before folks become comfortable with this fight too, I suspect.)

I can feel myself dropping quite easily into fairly jaded veteran mode already – so aggravating to see dead people lying around scaling up mobs, I always waypoint and run back and often get back faster than the dead people that are still chilling on the ground – so to combat the temptation to be snide out loud, I mostly just shrug, tell myself people will learn eventually (or not, preferably without me there) and look out for organized instances to join, and gamble with PUG instances  when I feel like gambling.

Fortunately, one more chest box has already dropped for me, so I just need to stick it out for one more lucky run. I figure there should be enough organized instances for long enough for that to happen. *crosses fingers and prays to RNGesus*

I did, however, encounter a nice newbie during today’s Vinewrath.

I got a whisper out of the blue from someone who just asked me, “So what are we supposed to do in this fight, what are we doing here?” during a Vinewrath lane defence.

I glanced through all my friends and follower lists, and nope, did not know this person before this. He was at least clever enough to send a random tell to someone to ask, even if he was too nervous to openly ask over say or map chat.

In 4 tells, I summarized the fight for him. Paraphrased: “For now, we’re defending the carrier to the vine wall.”

“If all goes well, we will face the Dark Wing terragriff. Fight like a normal terragriff, it charges and all that.”

“When it runs to the front of the Vinewrath, hop onto an open flower.”

“Flowers will spawn before that, and need to be opened by destroying them before that.”

Guess what. He didn’t die.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him make it to a flower for the first go. Fail to make it to a flower for the second time, taking a hit that took off 7/8s of his hp. Then the terragriff died.

Hooray. I trust learning has taken place.

tequsual

In the meantime, I’ll just be over here, puttering about, doing my usual things, grinding for one more box (I was right about dem boot boxes by the way, got 6 by now, good thing I didn’t fall for the temptation of buying them!), contemplating maybe gearing some alts in sinister and testing new builds, and waiting for the PAX South announcement.

Please, oh please, let there be news of a way to save/load builds… I’ll trade a good many things for that.

GW2: That Awkward Moment Where Story Meets the Open World

lonechallenge1

Of course I can!

I’m the Commander of the Pact, Slayer of Zhaitan!

*hypes self up for heroic, legendary, awesome solo battle*

This is the strangest definition of "alone" I have ever encountered.

This is the strangest definition of “alone” I have ever encountered. *turns down graphics in order to not lag*

Wut?

Wut? Not that I want to contradict you, Eir, but did you see the slavering horde the megaserver brought in?

Between all the bugs where a horde of players descend on a dynamic event that was never meant to cope with 40 players charging it at once and promptly breaking it for the next batch of players to come along…

Traffic jam in front of the stubbornly not blowing up gate.

Traffic jam in front of the stubbornly not blowing up gate. Anet person was helpfully crowd controlling by letting everyone know the team was aware and working on a fix, and suggesting either to find another map instance or leave the Living Story be for a while. Meta stuff like this cheerfully dropkicks you out of immersed-in-story mode.

…and the possibility of a landscape that’s forever going to look trashed like this so that players can continue their ‘permanent’ Living Story episodes…

I really liked golden Ascalon a lot better.

I really liked the golden Ascalonian plains a lot better than yet more dragon corruption. Can we get around to fixing the Kessex Hills tower yet?

… I think I’m leaning a lot more towards story staying in instances.

I’m sure there are ways to have a satisfactory batch of open world dynamic events – the scarlet twisted clockwork invasion, marionette and lion’s arch stuff comes to mind (possibly because there was tons of loot involved with the increased scaling of the event) but I’m not really feeling it in this third episode.

All it feels like is a bunch of unwanted interrupted breaks in between a story I’m trying to experience – somewhat like how the Personal Story keeps breaking off so that you need to go visit a bunch of hearts or get more levels.

GW2: Entanglement – First Impressions

Going to write this post without spoilers, and I suspect I will end up echoing Bhagpuss, dancing around in generalities and going “Blimey, Charlie!

Except my phrase veers more towards “Damn, that was satisfying.”

Not because I liked what happened in this episode, mind you – some bits veered towards the dangerously melodramatic – but because from a structural and design perspective, I think Arenanet has hit upon something promisingly good here.

We go back to Guild Wars 1 yet again, where each story mission one played through meant a development of the plotline. There were ups and downs and change happened.

You remembered them because you got to play through each and every episode, at your own pacing, rather than end up with gaps in the story because you couldn’t log on for that particular week or two.

Much of GW2’s first season reminded me of a family roadtrip where the players kept stridently asking “Are we there yet?”

A tiny bit of plot happened, a small part almost lost in a larger picture of frantic open world achievement and taking on whatever new mechanical developments there were (often in a zerg fashion), leaving players confused and perplexed by the one-liner plot, often summarized as “Something happened, and we still don’t know what’s going on,” then later, “Scarlet did it.”

Like an amateurish novel writer who thinks all the mystery would be lost if the readers actually knew what was going on, the writers played everything with cards close to their chest – hinting at something happening, but not saying much more than that. That led to plenty of unfounded speculation, some of which was much better than the simplistic linear plot actually taking place but not shown to anybody.

Some players might have wanted to know more but having to wait 2-4 weeks later (an understandable and reasonable length of time for the actual game experience and rewards earning part of temporary, seasonal content) for the -next- story snippet, generally made everybody stir-crazy in the process and having promptly forgotten what happened before by the time the next update rolled around.

For instance, some players are still trying to figure out why we’re suddenly such pals with the B-Iconics, or Destiny’s Edge 2.0 and how they’ve ended up calling our characters ‘boss.’

I drew a blank when first thinking about it too, but cudgeling the brain reminded me that I first met Marjory and Kasmeer to solve a Lion’s Arch mystery that involved an Aetherblade attack, meeting them at the Dead End Bar in Divinity’s Reach.

From there, we went on to fighting together in the Tower of Nightmares, taking on the Marionette, defending the city of Lion’s Arch from Scarlet and so on. One almost doesn’t remember it because one mostly only saw the NPCs in passing, in the open world, usually when the brain is busy focused on not-story but achieving something.

We go even further back with Rox and Braham, when they were refugees from Flame & Frost. We fought with them through the Molten Facility (some of us through several dozens of Molten Facilities, dat monocle drop! Beet soup was the best I ever got.)

I vaguely recall helping Rox with Tequatl, oddly trying to track down the beastie  with a footprint, though he usually came by on the hour every hour and has subsequently been taken apart repeatedly to the extent that everyone mostly remembers the Tequatl’s Hoard drop (or lack of it) as the most memorable incident of that update, and not the actual plot step.

We were there with the whole group through the Crown Pavilion and Queen’s Gauntlet events, preventing Queen’s Jennah’s assassination and fending off endless waves of invading Twisted Clockwork, we investigated the Fractals and the Edge of the Mists with some of them, and there were probably more things that I don’t remember offhand.

Each story step was so piecemeal and staggered, disconnected in theme and linked only tenuously by a mad sylvari, that it’s hard to absorb that it all really did happen.

In Season 2 of Guild Wars 2, I can confidently answer, “We may not be there yet, but we’re certainly -moving.-”

The sense of movement is evident in the storyline now.

Things happen. The plot is better structured and developed. There are going to be more obvious ups-and-downs akin to GW1. More “your character is important and the center of your universe” focused stuff, and not just “your character is one of a big faceless crowd in the open world.”

There’s a sense of movement with the opening up of a new part of Dry Top. Exploration is going forward.

Really digging the look of the new parts. Very canyon-like and rocky. If only I didn't explore most of it in a sandstorm.

Really digging the look of the new parts. Very canyon-like and rocky. If only I didn’t explore most of it in a sandstorm. Time to go back later.

NPCs are moving along with that – the very talkative and almost-annoying Priory NPCs have changed position and are now saying different story-and-lore related stuff.

NPCs in the town of Prosperity are reacting to the preponderance of massive vines that have suddenly grown up all around them. (That’s not a spoiler, I hope, that seems to be the most obvious part of what was going to happen in an episode titled “Entanglement.”)

Dry Top is now twice as big, with new things to do in the part we haven’t seen yet.

Presumably, we might be opening up more zones in the Maguuma jungle this way, over time, and I’m good with this.

Players will still be focused into a relatively small region at any one point in time. Folks that come later might miss some of that launch feel, but still have the option of working their way through the area by themselves at a more sedate, casual, solo pace. (Just don’t expect to unlock all of the zone’s Favor mechanic tiers by yourself. Higher tiers are definitely group content.)

The only negative I can think of is that we’re still missing a good transitional cutscene between episodes.

Between the Labyrinthine Cliffs and Episode 1: Gates of Maguuma, we know the Zephyrite ships exploded and crashed. We don’t actually see that happen in-game, but only as a teaser trailer outside the game. Our transition on entering the zone is just seeing the wreckage of the Zephyrite ships, but not what actually happened.

Between Episode 1: Gates of Maguuma and Episode 2: Entanglement, vines have suddenly grown up in a lot of places. If you follow developments on Reddit, or just paid attention to what was gradually changing around you, you might have caught sight of vines starting to tap on waypoints like they’re Mordremoth’s new snack to nom. But it still feels a tide abrupt to suddenly walk into Prosperity and go “WTF, when did this happen?”

entanglement2

An introductory cutscene on a clickable button in the Story Journal, or that plays on zone load just like in the Tower of Nightmares update, might mitigate some of that weird feeling of instantaneous change.

In general, the layered content feels just right.

For the casual, what they want is -story-. That’s best conveyed in a small instance, solo or grouping at one’s choice, with plenty of conversation.

For those interested in achievements, re-use the same content and get them to do more complicated things. Players who like meta stuff like achievements generally won’t mind a repeated grind of the same content (as long as they can skip the long-talky stuff) just to get their shiny gold star for doing whatever teacher wants.

The open world opens up further, creating a feeling of progress – and folks can choose at will to casually wander through, with GW2’s organic grouping design naturally creating allies out of the players near you, or take on the zone’s content at a higher, more organized level for faster shiny but non-essential rewards.

(If only we didn’t have to taxi in people one at a time – but perhaps that is part of the intent, to force -some- player interaction and self-organization . Though it mostly feels like a workaround.)

And boy, are the rewards shinier in this episode.

The skins are here. Tons of weapon skins.

Tier 4 and Tier 5 are where they unlock, and I’m hoping this gives more impetus for more players to work on the zone’s Favor mechanic.

I’m personally digging the look of the Ambrite weapons, something that hasn’t happened in a while since the Dreamthistle lot, and I suspect it’s going to take quite a long time to work one’s way through all the geodes.

I hope this means that Dry Top is going to be a well-traversed area, something like the next Frostgorge Sound champion train, regularly frequented by a group of level 80s who enjoy a slightly more sophisticated champion bag farm.

Time will tell, I guess. I’ll see how many I can unlock before the place loses critical mass. I’ll be happy with one or two, which I’m sure is doable within these two weeks, but collecting them all eventually would be cool!

The Gem Shop Ley Line weapons are also rather appealing visually. I like the idea of carrying a symbolic reminder of a very beautiful locale that got opened up this episode. They’ve got that blue fire guardian look to them. I might end up branching out some time for Black Lion Key farming, hoping to get lucky.

Of course, beyond actually obtaining one, another problem I face is an unwillingness to change weapon or theme on my main characters. My charr guardian is red and fire. My charr warrior is yellow and metal. My asura guardian is green/blue and holograms. My sylvari necro is green/black/white/gold and gothic. My norn thief is brown and natural leather.

I have no idea who I can put it on, even if I do get one. Will figure that out later, I suppose.

In the meantime, lots of stuff to do in this episode.