Blaugust Day 7: Playing Multiple Roles

It’s funny, but I feel like I have so many game-related things to do – games to play, games to grind in, games I haven’t played for a long time but would like to revisit, game videos to watch, beta games to beta – that I keep resenting the feeling of obligation to get a daily post out.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from a week of doing this, it’s that I much prefer a 2-3 day posting schedule so that I have some in-between time to reflect a bit more, chew on things and ponder, before I can build up enough excitement/motivation/intriguing revelation that I want to share in a blog post.

So I’m grabbing another writing prompt from Izlain today to get this post out:

Do you find it difficult to play a role outside of your typical class choices? This can be in an MMO, MOBA, single player RPG or any other game that uses class as a distinction for gameplay.

The short answer is, it depends.

I have a distinct class/role preference that I normally gravitate to first, in any game, especially when I’m just trying it out for the first time and want to play something within my comfort zone.

Specifically melee damage, sturdy/tanky, with preferably a side helping of support and/or control.

justguardianthings

A Brief Word on Role Definitions

The holy trinity of Tank/DPS/Heals is too ‘binary’ for me, in the sense that I dislike the co-dependency of the ‘pure’ holy trinity roles. I would definitely lean more towards the tank + DPS side of the spectrum, but just saying that loses the usefulness of drilling down into specifics.

I’m fonder of using the more modern damage/support/control/(utility) role definitions, or a more City of Heroes style definition of tank(aggro control)/tank(absorb alpha strike)/damage(ranged or melee)/defending(support+heals)/control/debuffs to break things down into broader functions.

On Wading into Combat and Being Supportive

guardianwallpaper

I gravitated to tanks quite early on, but if you asked me what I really enjoyed about tanking, it’s the following:

  • Being big and sturdy and leading the charge into combat
  • The sense of being able to control the battle from within the thick of things, to position enemies where you want them, to drag them to a corner or wherever (aggro control being a part of this)
  • Being able to thump things with a big badass weapon
  • Inspiring and supporting teammates from within the fray
  • Being able to take an immense amount of punishment and remain standing, outlasting the opponent and ending victorious

What I hated (and still do) about tanks:

  • The sense of being codependent on a healer to keep you upright, just being a big but squishy health bar reservoir to be kept topped off or blam, everybody dies
  • The feeling of obligation to know a dungeon well, in order to bring your little lost sheep (aka the rest of your party, who seem exceedingly content to be handheld through the experience instead of being equal partners) through safely, and to set a ‘good’ pace, for unfamiliar people whom you have no idea whether they like or hate your speed or lack thereof, and may be silently judging you
*pukes*
*pukes*

So generally, you’ll find me playing non-holy trinity games where everything comes with a side helping of damage so that you’re not helplessly waiting around for another person to ‘complete’ you, and looking for tough, high hp melee fighters that can apply control and/or offer defensive or offensive support.

On Spreading Out and Being Flexible

I enjoy variety and novelty and learning new things, and am a chronic altholic, so it is quite natural and easy for me to diversify roles. I just pick something that has most of the things I like, plus one or two switchups in role/function.

Ok, let’s do melee dps, but be squishy and stealthy instead!

stabbystabby

Or let’s do ranged damage, but be relatively sturdy and have a lot of support/control/buffing functions up our sleeve!

defendersareshiny

Or let’s be tanky, but in a ranged fashion, summoning lots of minions to do your tanking/damage for you and control/supporting from the back!

petskellies

Strangely enough in FPSes, I enjoy the sniper role a great deal, but rarely get to play it in a successful manner due to my ping and general lack of superb twitch aim.

So I have no real qualms about roles that involve sitting at the back and throwing vast amounts of damage and sniping or nuking things either.

pewpew

One hit kills, be it from melee or range? Yes, please.

suchstealthsniper

I enjoy the tactical and strategic aspect of waiting for the perfect moment and the payoff of the “BLAM, let the bodies hit the floor.”

Never knew what hit them...
Never knew what hit them…

Any roles that involve a great deal of fire-throwing? Absolutely, I have a little closet pyromaniac in me.

(I figured this out when I was playing fire tanks in City of Heroes where you get to burst into flame, /fire powers where you get to thump things with FIRE, fire blasters which throw great balls of fire and sheets of flame around, and fire/fire dominators which control things with the power of flame and smoke, summoning itty bitty demon imps made out of fire, and yes, deal damage by blowing things up with fire.)

coh_worldburn

The Role I Just Can’t Bring Myself to Play

There’s just one, the antithesis of my playstyle preferences, that I just cannot tolerate for long.

And that’s the -ranged- squishy pure support healer that is reliant on adopting groups and other players as their pets to tank and do damage.

AAAAAARGH.

Ranged is slightly discomfiting, but I can deal.

Squishy makes me feel useless if I keep dying.

What? I do damage like I’m waving a tissue paper around? Why am I even bothering to fight things then?

Whack-a-mole on health bars is not my idea of fun “combat,” since it’s more staring at the UI and less actively affecting the world…

https://disciplinaryaction.wordpress.com/2011/08/01/disciplinary-action-27-hell-is-an-eternity-healing-battlegrounds/
https://disciplinaryaction.wordpress.com/2011/08/01/disciplinary-action-27-hell-is-an-eternity-healing-battlegrounds/

… and are you serious, I have to rely on other people being competent and not braindead in order to make any headway? I can’t solo? Can I have some NPC bots to heal instead please? I think they’re likely to target faster and do more damage…

Yeah, well, even DOTA 2 ranged supports can output a very decent amount of damage with certain skills, which would make the rest of the somewhat thankless tasks slightly more worth it.

It’s just the ‘pure’ thing that I can’t stand.

I wouldn’t mind damage/healing at long range, though it’s a role I’m not likely to play often or favor first. At least you get to do -something- in between healing, and watch/affect the flow of battle from afar with good timing.

In a similar fashion, a sturdy tank that hits like a wet noodle and only focuses on aggro generation and control and is heavily dependent on a third party keeping them upright with a constant stream of heals is also equally boring to me.

I could probably play it, in the sense that the role functions are familiar and fairly second-nature. But I’d definitely begrudge it after some time.

Fortunately, there are a lot more games out there that have broken away from the holy trinity and realized that players can deal with multiple roles, applying the appropriate skill at the appropriate time, making combat both more interesting and complex, and also allowing for -anyone- to be the hero and come in and save the day with good gameplay (be it throwing a heal or revive, tossing a crowd control or doing damage at the time when that function is most called for.)

This post was brought to you by the letters B for Belghast and Blaugust, I for Izlain and “I keep forgetting to add this last line until I edit the post” and the number 7.

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Of Spectator Sports and Trinities

My television watching habits are supremely irregular.

That is, I don’t watch much TV at all.

All those crucial 45 minute blocks of time are spent gaming, rather than passively experiencing a story that goes absolutely nowhere except into yet-another-episodic-arc-designed-to-keep-you-glued-to-the-screen.

Nor am I a big sports fan.

Competition and me are not pals, having been bitten once too many times by an obsessive personality that would fixate too much on winning at all costs, if I gave it free reign. I’m mellower when I tell myself winning is not the goal, but having moment-to-moment fun is.

Still, there was a time when I was enraptured by the NFL and American football. It just seemed so much more complex and intricate than the football the rest of the world plays – lots more clear cut roles, different strategies every pass designed to get the ball the next 10 yards and beyond.

Until I took note of how many hours a night I was spending watching one game (3-4 easily) and how much gaming time I was losing out on as a result. Fell out of the habit shortly after.

It’s funny then that even I can get caught up in the zeitgeist of the moment. I just spent the last couple of midnights staying up till 3am to watch the semi-finals and finals of the FIFA World Cup.

Not as a rabid soccer or football fan, staunchly loyal to one team, but out of a pigheaded determination to discover an appreciation of a game that I mostly always viewed as “kicking a ball around a grass patch for 90 minutes and falling down with an agonized look on one’s face the moment the faintest contact is made, hoping for a favorable referee call.”

The internet helped.

Googled up “soccer strategies” and “why do people like football so much” and devoted some time to reading other people’s thoughts.

Apparently, it’s the continuous flow of action rather than the typical start and stop of American football that some find compelling, a constant adrenaline high for one and a half hours punctuated with more extreme buzzes whenever the ball gets close to the goal posts.

I’m somehow not wired that way. I don’t get adrenaline deliveries on cue, which may suggest a reason why competition isn’t that exciting for me. Instead, I enjoy watching the interlocked intricacies of each team member in American football performing their specialized role well, with the result that the football either gets passed or gets stopped, depending on which team outsmarted or outplayed the other.

Still…

…Surely, soccer has -some- strategies of this ilk? Just less obvious, perhaps?

More reading. More eye-glazing over various “formations” with hypenated player numbers. More beginner tips on how to appreciate soccer via watching how one player may outsmart another by looking in one direction while kicking in another, or using their body to block an opponent’s view of the ball, or players that criss-cross and cut in at various locations to become open for the ball and so on.

I guess there were -some- things that I could find vaguely interesting, after all.

So I watched the World Cup and admired Germany’s efficient teamwork and appreciated on a distant theoretical level why defensive football is so important by observing Brazil’s total defensive meltdown.

Still didn’t like the extreme boring nature of a super-defensive football game with zero goals scored in two hours (with extra time) – effective, I’ll grant you, but boring as heck to watch – and repeatedly rolled one’s eyes at the more unspoken sides of football – ie. sneakily damage your opponent as much as you can get away with, dramatically telegraph all contact in the hopes of a free kick or yellow/red cards, and apparently biased referees.

Seriously, if things are going to get that physical, then put on some padding and go to town like the Americans do.

It’s with some irony though that I find a parallel with MMOs and that I’m on the opposite side when it comes to computer gaming.

American football reminds me of the holy trinity.

Everyone has a specialized role, everyone works in unison and it’s beautiful when everything synchronizes.

Rest-of-the-world football is a non-holy trinity game. Perhaps, dare I say it,  even like GW2.

There’s one primary role everyone performs, do damage or get the ball as close you can to the goal/stop ball getting close to yours, while still paying attention to the team and working in sync with them and supporting them as needed. There may be different “classes” or “soccer positions” with some variants in playstyle. There’s probably more going on under the hood than is obvious to the casual observer.

Soccer is said to be one of the most unpredictable sports. A weaker team has a good chance of upsetting a stronger team because the scores are so low. If opportunities fall their way, and are capitalized on, that may be it for the more unlucky team.

Some find this a reason why soccer is so exciting to watch.

Me, I personally find it about as thrilling as trying to predict heads or tails on a coin toss, and just as pointless. I guess I prefer to watch a good team demonstrate -why- they’re a good team.

Strangely enough, I find unpredictability a bonus if you’re the one actually participating in the moment.

Because it’s suddenly you that can become the hero with a well-placed rez, or good dodging or even indulge in a star solo moment, by catching the right opportunities.

To me, soccer or GW2 is a tide more individualistic, whereas American football or a holy trinity game seems a bit more skewed towards subsuming the self to make a team work like clockwork.

Not really sure where I’m going with this, but I guess the moral of the story is that people like different things, which may differ again if they’re spectating or doing.

And that we can all learn to appreciate (if only at a theoretical distance) stuff we thought we didn’t like before, if we try to look for its redeeming features.

After the World Cup, I’ll be going on one more spectator sports binge.

The International is slated from July 18-21.

DOTA 2 and I have a curious relationship.

I was super-thrilled to win a beta key in one of Steam’s sales contests when it was in development. I installed it gleefully, remembering my very amateur DOTA games-with-real-life-friends, and tinkered around with a few bot games.

Then never quite got back to it again.

Every now and then, I log in, admiring its whole elaborate free-to-play structure of level unlocks, vanity costume skins that cost money, numerous beginner tutorials/build guidance/encyclopedias that are linked to community knowledgebases, on and on through an intricate ladder of intermediate to expert commitment.

Then I back out without having gained a single experience point.

Sorta like LOL, except LOL did seem a little simpler and I did get to around level 4 or so.

I want desperately to play them and learn how deep both rabbit holes go, but the truth is, I just can’t envision investing all that time into MOBAs.

A single match takes like 30-45 minutes or more. You have to play a lot of them to get familiar with the game. You have to play a number of heroes to get familiar with the heroes and gain some flexibility in what you can play. Getting skillful takes even longer.

It’s easier to just watch a couple hours’ worth of professional teams go at it, for a couple of days, and get the entertainment experience without having to personally grind your way up.

Maybe some day, I’ll give them another go, but not today.

Wildstar: First Impressions, It’s Bipolar

Cartoon spaceships. WoW. In space.

Yep, it’s WoW in space.

How can it NOT be, when this is the very first thing that hits you in the face when you open the Options with Esc?
How can it NOT be, when this is the very first thing that hits you in the face when you open the Options with Esc? Add-ons. Oi vey.

Perhaps more interestingly, it’s not JUST WoW in space.

It seems to actually blend quite a number of MMOs, having borrowed bits and pieces from each. (See how many other MMOs I name later in this post, fer instance.)

I actually quite enjoyed both the Exile and Dominion tutorial areas, for a start.

To understand this perspective, as opposed to the myriad number of whining compaints over the zone channel about how sucky the tutorial was (thank goodness the channel text is so small by default, hell is other people and they’re much easier to ignore when their words aren’t in your face,) you need to realize that I came into the Wildstar Open Beta completely unexposed to much of the prior hype beyond scanning the official website regarding classes and paths.

That is, I start like a total newbie would, and see how far the tutorial takes me.

And it took me right into the world and setting of Wildstar with fairly understated storytelling. No large walls of text, no extreme infodumps, but a lot of small things combined – visual theme, music, cutscenes, eavesdropped NPC speech, clickable signages, traditional quests, etc.

I played the Exiles tutorial first, which was probably wise, as it set the tone right away for what to expect. A space western that didn’t take itself very seriously. Full of explosions, excitement and rebel sound and fury. Pioneers and frontiersmen to this new planet of Nexus.

(Yes, I'm running on low res textures. Deal. I'm already impressed my seven year old toaster can run this at a -playable- level, as opposed to say... Landmark level.
(Yes, I’m running on low res textures. Deal. I’m already fairly pleased that my seven year old toaster can run this at a -playable- level, as opposed to say… Landmark level.)

Playing the Dominion tutorial was an interesting contrast, for sure.

The Star Wars echoes hit me there and then, and I grokked it, just like that.

Exiles are the free-spirited Rebels and Dominion are the Ebil Empire.

Long live ebil empires!
Long live all ebil empires! Hail the Emperor / Empress / Dark Lord of Indeterminate Gender!

Weirdly enough, though I belong to the rare nerd subset who aren’t at all taken with the Star Wars universe, I was quite willing to play along with Wildstar’s take on things.

(I think the difference is that Star Wars wants to be taken seriously, to be all angsty and drama-ridden, and it ends up reading like Twilight vampires – a saccharine adolescent fantasy – while Wildstar is plainly on a ‘Let’s be f–king outrageous for laughs’ roll.)

I picked up little dribbles of lore via the tutorial’s fairly good design, which you can see sneakily forces you to interact with NPC members of each species so that each race can be explained to you in game. The Temple and Imperial Musuem on the Dominion side also did a decent job sneaking in more bits of lore so you get an idea of where everything stands, so to speak.

The music of Wildstar is a giant plus in its favor.

It really sets the mood for each zone and map you wander into.

Obviously, all of the above is a matter of personal taste. If you think a game that isn’t grim-n-gritty realistic, and that unabashedly -enjoys- splashing around in bright comic colors and reveling in its comic+western+space themes is -awful-, you’re going to hate Wildstar with a vengeance.

If you’re okay with, or even laugh at being ordered around by a tiny furry space gremlin with a comic sadistic streak a mile wide and who talks a bit like Yoda but FOR MAD SCIENCE! to press buttons and accidentally incinerate, innervate and transform innocent NPCs into Creatures of Chaos in the name of bringing them back to the loving fold of the Ebil Empire, you can probably get along with Wildstar’s setting just fine.

(Oh yes, there’s themes of Warhammer 40k too, blending in right along there. You’ll know it when you get to the end of the Dominion tutorial.)

Personally, I rather liked it.

Hope that doesn't reveal too much
Hope that doesn’t reveal too much about me. Hissssss….

Out of the tutorial zone and into the more open world (insofar as that word stretches), it’s WoW all over again.

We all know the schtick by now, I’m sure. Even me that didn’t play WoW for long.

Zones are divided up by appropriate level quest hubs where you pick up a bunch of exclamation marks standing conveniently near the village/town (Wildstar addition: Settler buff stations) and then go to the nearby areas to kill and pick up and click on things as appropriate.

There will be the odd exclamation mark away from the quest hub and a little out of the way so that you can feel like you’ve found a side quest or two by somewhat wandering off the beaten track, and a bunch of clickable lore collectables that are reminiscent of Rift or EQ2.

There is some new innovation mixed in with the old in that you can contact certain quest NPCs with a communicator and call in your quests that way without having to go back to the NPC, which is the more modern and convenient take on things.

Confusing the issue though are some quest NPCs that -don’t- allow the option, so you’ll STILL have to jog your way back to those. (I wish Wildstar would make up its mind.)

Adding on to the new-and-improved WoW feeling is the addition of extra stuff to do.

Kill certain mobs or reach a certain area and a Challenge will pop up – asking you to accomplish something within a certain time limit. If you manage it, you get a random roll for some bonus loot.

Which I found rather fun, up until the point where I found the area denuded of mobs and unable to progress any further while my clock was running down, because there were five other players in the same area as me trying to do the same thing.

(Cue HEAD SLAM and heartfelt CURSE TO THE GODS for the stupid traditional MMO model of competitive nodes and competitive quest completion.)

Sometimes, it’s like Wildstar doesn’t quite know where it wants to be, having blended both old and new.

I make no apologies for running up to someone and ‘helping’ to take down their mob. Sorry, but I’m from a GW2 culture, it’s what we do.

I’ve had other people do the same to me and I’ve had mixed feelings about it.

See, the thing is, there’s no hard tagging as in older MMOs where the first to tag gets all the loot and xp. Hard tagging gives a second player no reason to help because they don’t get anything. So they run off and leave you to it.

XP appears to be automatically shared. Unfortunately, no, it’s not like GW2 where both parties get the full credit. I killed a Wildstar mob by myself for 45xp. I kill the same mob with someone else and get 20-30xp. The benefit though, is that the mob dies pretty durned quick with two people firing on it.

Then again, I’ve encountered the situation where some crazy level 15 player has decided to wander around in level 7 mob territory and singlehandedly shoots up everything from range, not letting anyone else get a hit in, effectively tagging everything by virtue of killing it dead.

Leading to a lot of foot-tapping while waiting for mobs to respawn and for this stupidly outleveled player to finish whatever he came to do and leave.

Yet, there are Public Events, and Soldier-started quests, and even the odd veteran or elite mob (at least, judging by their increase in hitpoint reservoir) or meant-for-group mob that seems to encourage just jumping into the action and helping each other attack. Because you do still kinda share quest credit completion if you manage to get tags in.

Wildstar is freaking bipolar, man.

It’ll be interesting to see what mob ettiquette winds up becoming once the player culture is more established… seems like it could go either way.

Speaking of extra stuff and Paths, I gave the Soldier, Explorer and Scientist ones a spin.

Explorer was pretty overwhelming when I got into the first zone and everything started opening up on my quest log. If you like jumping puzzles and wandering off the beaten path via following directional prompts in a quest log and climbing to high places, it’s not bad. It’s more like for Achiever-Explorers though.

(I didn’t mind the directional prompts for quests, by the by. The maps are so huge in that barren WoW fashion – ie, a cunning excuse to make the place feel big and take up more of your subscription time jogging across it – that it’s hard to determine which direction to go without it – and there’s nothing worth your while in most of the adjoining space as it’s all non-interactable background scenery or mobs.)

450 freaking meters. Of barren rock. At times like this, an on-call arrow by clicking the quest on the quest log is definitely welcome so that I'm not wasting my time wandering in circles.
400 freaking meters. Of barren rock and some random mobs. To jog ever so slowly to. Sprint notwithstanding. At times like this, an on-call arrow by clicking the quest on the quest log is definitely welcome so that I’m not wasting more of my time wandering in circles.

Scientist felt a lot more suited to the Bartle Explorer as there’s less obvious signposting. You get a little scanbot summon and keep your eyes peeled for the Scientist icon appearing on things, which you then scan to complete quests and trigger group buffs. The most fun thing I encountered playing the Scientist path was wandering into a large green teleporter-like object hoping it went someplace… and it did…

ws_eldanlab

Turns out it was a sekrit Eldan lab of some sort, with interactables that were triggerable with my scanbot, and a bit of a logic puzzle at the end (which I mostly solved via clicking very persistently until the right combination was reached, than through any real understanding.)

Got some speshul achievements out of it and a bit more story lore as to what was going on with the zone – like how a certain NPC faction we were fighting came to be. Which was neat, and did trigger all the right chords in lil ol’ Explorer me.

The Soldier path I found pretty fun too. As it opened up more combat opportunities.

(Yes, it did really explode into giant chunks of meat. Whether you laugh or groan at this will determine if you like Wildstar or not.)
(Yes, it did really explode into giant chunks of meat. Whether you laugh or groan at this will give you a good inkling if you like Wildstar’s atmosphere or not.)

Ah, combat.

To me, this makes or breaks whether I can stand to play certain MMOs.

If the combat isn’t enjoyable, I simply can not stay with it for long, since that tends to be the most common activity on repeat loop.

Wildstar combat reminded me of City of Heroes and Guild Wars 2, with a side helping of Rift or TSW AoE indicators and talent trees.

Which, if you know my MMO history, reflects fairly well on it.

I got City of Heroes vibes from the three classes I tried up to level 6-10 or so. The Warrior was like a tanker in pace. Heavy stately (some might even say, slow) attacks. Each blow ought to be placed for maximum effect, because you’ll be wasting a lot of animation time otherwise.

Oh, yeah. Surround me with mobs, I can take it!
Oh, yeah. Surround me with mobs, I can take it! Cleavecleavecleave. Cackle gleefully. (The joys of Soldier holdout quests.)

The Stalker brought with it echoes of both CoH’s stalker and scrapper class. Melee deeps, baby. With stealth! If you like fast melee animations and spamming buttons up in melee range, this is the class for you. It attacks at a much faster pace than the Warrior, but generally hits for a little less each blow (stealth backstabs excepted).

The Spellslinger reminded me of a CoH blaster. It had a ‘snipe’-alike that required some setup time and could wipe off a lot of hp from enemies, and then you cleaned up with some mobile pewpew.

Balance-wise, I dunno, it’s going to take some time for things to shake or settle on that front, I feel.

And it might go in a number of directions, from traditional specialized holy trinity to hybrid combinations, depending on what the true numbers turn out to be.

I kept seeing Medics plow through fields of mobs at a pace that my warrior could only dream of, ranged dps/heals has always been a fairly potent tank-mage combination. (Groups of defenders and corruptors in CoH were always very popular and successful, and easily kept apace with or were even better than specialized tanker/blaster/heal0r combinations.)

The Engineer looked to have some interesting robot pets and can apparently be a ranged tank (shades of City of Villain’s mastermind, anyone?)

Movement and positioning-wise, experience with GW2 stands you in very good stead in Wildstar.

I watched a fellow Warrior stand toe to toe with a couple of even-level mobs and get knocked around to half hp or less, and he had to use a consumable heal to recover and defeat them.

Then I waited for the same mobs to respawn and danced around their telegraphed AoE cleaves, interspersed a knockdown at the correct timing, and slaughtered them with barely a dent in my shields.

Oh, I -love- the interrupts in Wildstar. Watching the heavy telegraphing disappear with one well-timed interrupt (knockdown, stun, etc.) on a group of mobs, and following up with a synergy attack that does extra damage to knocked down mobs, is such a great feeling. It makes it really obvious that your cc just prevented a world of hurt and the tables have just turned. Making crowd control feel good has been always pretty hard to do in MMOs.

It does lack some of the elegance of GW2, in that there’s less of a focus on watching mob animations and tells (crucial in GW2) and more on watching colored indicators of crazy shapes and sizes on the ground. So you’re more always looking at the -floor- rather than at the mobs per se. (Granted, it’s not like you can see certain mobs in GW2 either once they get covered in particle effects.)

There’s still a bit of a bipolar feel to Wildstar combat-wise.

I keep wanting to know if it is possible for good movement and positioning to reward a skilled player with being able to solo content meant for groups. (I really would like such a possibility to be an option, with speed of group clears being the bonus encouragement for grouping.)

I tried it with a group quest marked for 2+ players. Some random named mob, Direclaw or some such. I ran in with my warrior and CIRCLE STRAFED the sh-t out of it. This actually -almost- defeated the AI, and I was getting the 6.8k hp down 100-120hp at a time, though I did catch some damage from unavoidable blows and some unexpected AoE and was frightened enough for my hp bar to pop a health consumable.

Unfortunately, I think I chose to pop the health consumable a little too early, when I was at half health and ended up wasting some extra hp I could have really used. I ended up dying with it having a -sliver- of hp left.

(Of course, after that, an extra player showed up while I was ghosting around dead and sulking. I watched him attempt to tank the mob solo with his bots and he didn’t seem like he was getting very far on that front, so I chose to splurge and spend half my accumulated currency to respawn right there and then to jump in and help. Then a third player showed up and the group mob got pwned.)

I suspect there will be a hard limit later on just how far this is possible, given how traditionally WoW Wildstar seems to be trying to cling on to. (Wouldn’t do for all the co-dependent players to start crying, y’know, that their precious specialized roles feel unwanted…) Which is sad, in my book.

On paper, there does seem to be room for hybrid roles. The APM tree, or whatever it’s called, is some kind of point buy system which separates out the Wildstar trinity into Assault, Support and Utility, and allows for hybrids between the three. But I suspect the theorycrafters will get to it sooner than later and develop their cookie cutters for best dps, best tanking, and best healing, and all that middle flexibility will be lost in the search for optimization. I mean, it’s really too much work otherwise for many other players to figure out, so the easiest path of least resistance will be to copy someone else’s builds, down the road.

The skill and build selection portion is interesting, in that it has shades of GW2 and TSW. Your skill loadout at any time is limited, and you’ve got more than enough skills to fill the bar. So pick and choose the ones that fit together best for the purposes you’re trying to achieve. You could go full assault, or full support, or some mix of the two, choose skills with interrupts, skills that build threat or those that don’t, skills that keep you mobile, etc.

ws_actionset

I had little to no issues pressing 1 repeatedly due to both CoH and GW2 prior training, where sometimes you don’t just want to rely on the preset autoattack and want to queue up your basic attack at a better interval. Mileage of folks more used to a less active system may vary.

And here’s where it gets bipolar yet again. It seems like a great combat system that brings in a lot of the innovations of the newer MMOs, that is going to be put to a very old and traditional use.

My admittedly limited take on the Wildstar endgame is that it is going to be PvP like WoW battlegrounds, 5-man dungeons and *wince* 20 and 40-man raids.

This in an age where even World of Warcraft is going flex in their raiding.

Are players going to innovate in their builds if you set them up with exponentially increasing gear and stats and scenarios that are likely going to challenge a very specialized holy trinity?

Or are they simply going to go back to what is familiar to them.

Truth is, I know I have no long-term future in Wildstar if they’re going to stick to a traditional MMO endgame.

I wouldn’t mind playing along with the leveling game to experience some of the stories and content, enjoy some of the combat along the way, but I’ll be damned if I have to put my fate in the hands of a tank or healer that I -hope- is competent enough, or have to wait for ages for a tank/healer duo to deign to pick up some disposable and interchangeable dps, or alarm clock raid for weeks on end because I’ll be letting down 19 or 39 other players if I don’t meet a schedule in order to progress, ever again.

Nor am I going to pay $15 like clockwork every month for a game that tries to take up as much of my time as possible around every turn.

Why should I, if I can play comparable games like Rift or TSW or LOTRO or whatever for free?

Sure, they say, if you’re hardcore enough and can earn enough gold, you can buy a month’s sub in game coin from other players willing to drop the cash for you. Which is all very well if you want to be hardcore enough, but I’d really rather not go the traditional WoW hardcore route, thanks. (I’d already be playing WoW for that, right? Cos being hardcore means keeping up with all those prior commitments and investments of time.)

So as a filthy casual, it’s unlikely I’ll can earn enough for a sub in-game just to feed a leveling urge.

If I ever found a month that I can devote tons of time to Wildstar, I might put down $15 for that month to just go on a leveling/story/combat spree for a while.

But I wouldn’t want sub time ticking down on me otherwise, feeling guilty that I can only play it irregularly or for limited periods a week (which in a sub game designed by nature to waste your time, may not be sufficient to get anywhere at a reasonable clip.)

As for buying the box at full price… well…

Let’s put it this way. If I wanted to commit fully to Wildstar and be that hardcore raider and PvPer and house owner and what-not, yeah, I think Wildstar is worth the box price AND the sub every month.

For just wanting to casually sample some stories while leveling and play with the combat system, I’m thinking more in the 50% off range, and hoping that the included 30 days is enough. Maybe a month or two more if one gets hooked, and less if it gets boring.

If it goes free to play at any point, hell yeah, I think it’ll be really worth it then.

Your guess is as good as mine as to how many of each player type there are and how many Wildstar is hoping to capture from each group.

I suspect Wildstar should gain a decent enough following akin to Rift or TSW to keep it going, more or less.

That there’ll be a LOT of three monthers falling off the title.

And that there’ll be quite a number of players like me who don’t think the game is that bad, but are unwilling to spend the time or money at present, and will sit on the sidelines waiting for the situation to get more attractive before considering jumping in.

In the meantime, the week-long Open Beta is a great opportunity to play free and make your own decision whether you’re ready for that MMO marriage to Wildstar.

I know -I’ll- be playing it for all its worth while it’s still free.

I mean, any MMO where you get to play one of these little critters
I mean, any MMO where you get to play one of these delightful little critters is worth spending some one-night-stands on, right? (The Chua and Draken race animations are pretty neat, by the by. I could double jump all day as a Chua and grin at the resulting tucked-into-a-ball roll on the ground. ALL FREAKIN’ DAY.)

GW2: Aetherblade Retreat Strategies

I take it you’ve read Dulfy’s guide for a basic overview.

We’re going to be talking team roles here for smoother, less agonizing runs.

Just to clarify here, this is not the ultimate strategy guide, follow or else kind of thing. I believe in multiple strategies working well and GW2 supports that. If you play with various guilds and preset dungeon groups, one will tend to find that these closed groups evolve their own set of strategies that work perfectly well. This is just to help those who are close to beating their head in after failing multiple PUGs and wondering if there is -any- rhyme or reason to this dungeon.

There is.

I mean, you could just run in all willy nilly and hope that everyone magically synergizes and all will be well. But judging by the amount of failure cases and party members bailing mid fight and GW2LFG posts that read “at such-and-such boss, need 1 or 2 or 3 more,” here’s what I’ve observed so far:

There’s basically “It” and “Not-It.”

That is, the person whom the mobs are focusing on is “it.” This person usually has the highest toughness of the group. You are the de facto tank. No matter what your class is. Stop screaming and learn how to play it well.

The other people who are “not-it,” that does not mean you can relax and leave “it” to scream and die. If “it” dies, another one will become “it.” And so on until all of you are dead. Your role is a damage-support hybrid.

I speak of support in a very broad sense. Broader than even the typical GW2 use. I don’t care if your version of support is killing the mobs very very fast in all berserker gear, but if you choose to do that, you better do it very well. Better yet is if you can slot some group condition removal or blinds/dazes/interrupts/controls or reflects at certain points in the dungeon, and/or ways to buff up the party and debuff the mobs with conditions, along with doing damage.

All of you will need to move well. Or at least, competently enough.

Aetherblade Trash Mobs

Generally not too big an issue. Taskmasters confuse, so if your group loves to put stuff on auto-attack, it’s a good mob to prioritize killing first, if you’re not just going to AoE ’em all down in tons of cleaves and blasts. Projectile reflection and absorption appear to help mitigate some of the damage from the ranged Aetherblade mobs too.

The pain happens in the spawns with Aetherblade Strikers in them. Their lightning channel is not a projectile. It WILL kill your tank unaided. Especially if two are on him/her, with everything else. Support support support. Offtank it or get a pet to, daze/stun them, blind the eff out of them, pull them, interrupt them, focus fire, whatever. It’s especially fun with a taskmaster in the mix as well, call targets if possible. Prioritize both of these, one after the other.

The Practice Room With Thumpers and Cannon Fire

If your team is awesome, you could really just charge into it all and sidestep the cannon aoe. It may be good practice for some people.

My random team here kindly demonstrates two possible ways to chokepoint the mobs and avoid the majority of cannon fire. I’m sure there’s more.

Just hanging in the corner and/or running under the bridge/staircase also works to LOS stuff, but cannon fire may hit.

cornersandchokepoints

Please learn the art of the corner pull if you do not know how. This means everyone gets out of sight, preferably in the same spot behind a corner, so that ranged mobs will walk towards you.

The tank, or just a ranged guy, range attacks the mobs and then trots back around the corner with everyone. The mobs will cheerfully follow and you can then pile on with melee and AoE. Just keep an eye open for cannon fire in case some person gets out of position accidentally. Corners and GW2 camera angles can lead to blind spots.

Mid Boss – Champion Frizz and Golems and Lasers, Oh My

Some groups may prefer to clean up all the adds before working on Frizz. Others may simply start off the lasers by lowering Frizz’s health to the requisite amount. Apparently the adds die from the lasers after a while. I’m not 100% sure on that last, but certainly after a while, they seem to die in all my groups – whether it’s from teammates killing them or not, dunno. Doesn’t really matter, imo.

Phase 1 – Low Lasers

Yes, you can jump on the crates and stay there and range.

All except IT, that is.

If the aggro-holding person remains rooted on a crate, what will happen is every time the laser spins around, the golem will get a shield buff and block attacks.

Yes, you can just autoattack your way through it and wait for the buff to fall and damage it intermittently between laser spins. It’ll work, but it’ll be annoying.

Ideally, de facto tank should be running in an anti-clockwise fashion, following the laser spin and kiting the golems away from the laser. Your role is not so much as to do damage, but to a) not die, b) try and dodge or stability, or just stay far away enough through potential pulls which may screw up your nice pattern.

This leaves the golems free of the shield buff, leading to faster dead golem. All the rest should be a) not dying, b) attacking unshielded golem.

Having been caught umpteen times in a laser just as it starts up, I decided to begin screenshotting start locations. I believe this is roughly where the low laser starts. Keep an eye out for the black beam/fence thing in the center, that's where the laser shoots from.
Having been caught umpteen times in a laser just as it starts up, I decided to begin screenshotting start locations. I believe this is roughly where the low laser starts. It could be random, not sure as yet. Anyhow, keep an eye out for the black beam/fence thing in the center, that’s where the laser shoots from. The entrance of the lab is roughly on the right side of this image.

Phase 2 – Laser Wall

Same idea here, except all the not-its cannot just camp out on a crate.

Run around the room. Don’t die to the laser wall. Shoot or melee golems. Don’t get in the way of their spin attack or their pull. Help “it” stay alive. Watch confusion and dat autoattacking.

I believe this is roughly the location of the laser wall start. Note how the appearance of the center column changes, it may be a good cue to look out for in the future. I normally never see that because I'm too fixated staring at the laz0r making sure I'm not running into it. Also note how the laser extends across the whole room in a straight line and rotates.
I believe this is roughly the location of the laser wall start. Note how the appearance of the center column changes, it may be a good cue to look out for in the future. I normally never see that because I’m too fixated staring at the laz0r making sure I’m not running into it.
Also note how the laser extends across the whole room in a straight line and rotates as one line, not clock hands.

Phase 3 – ALL OF TEH LAZ0RS

I want to point out something rather obvious that I personally never saw while I was running/screaming/dying as the tank. The lasers go in a straight line across the room.

That means you only have to keep an eye out for essentially two lasers and that sneaky low beam laser, well, if you see one side, you can roughly extrapolate where the other side is and how soon it is creeping up behind you. It is not two evil low laser beams acting like clock hands that sweep at random speeds out to get you and have to be madly jump-crated (which was my first impression of it.)

That also means that you can then evaluate whether you want to stay on the crate and let the low laser sweep by you, or hop off immediately on the safer side (the side where the low laser will move past), or if you have to jump to the risky side (the side a low laser will be approaching) and make a mad dash to a further away crate – the latter option in cases where say, the laser wall is about to squeeze you in if you jump to the safe side.

Ok? Same deal. Tank guy should be kiting the golems away from the lasers as best as possible. Should, anyhow. Focusing on not-dying is, frankly, I think the best thing to do in this phase. Try and get the laser pattern down, jump on crates and off them appropriately, keep as near the front as the laser beams will allow.

Everybody else. Also focus on not fucking dying (easier said than done, I know) and watching out for the shield buff to drop to unleash your attacks on the golem. When you are confused, do not attack yourself to death. Just look away from the damn golems and look at the lasers and stay alive.

The pull is a nuisance that gets in the way and will screw things up here and there. Stability helps, but you know, it will never be 100% uptime. Bad luck happens.

If “it” dies, role swap time! New “it” gets to be the tank and kiter! On and on until there were none. (Either way, no golems or no more players.)

Of course, if you are full of awesome, you might even be able to solo the golems.  But then, you wouldn’t be needing to read guides like this.

Final Boss – Horrik and Mai Trin

This is really a fight about aggro control and positioning.

Mai Trin bleeds if you stay in her melee range. That means, if your teammates plan on getting close, and even in the case where you don’t but want to prevent accidents, bring lots of group condition removal. My suggested help out time is when bleed stacks hit 10-12.

Tank person who is it. Your job is to be kiting Mai Trin. Possibly at range. At preferably just a little further away than her melee range. You want to be kiting her over the electrical blue AoEs that will pop up when Horrik shoots his stuff.

Not-its. You generally want to get as close to Mai Trin as possible as well, be it range or melee, so that if and when Horrik shoots his AoE and it happens to be a blue one, it’s easier for tank person to kite it over. As her shield stacks fall off to 6 or lower, she starts taking damage and it is possible if very very slow to lower her hp down, regardless of whether more shields pop off or no. If you want it faster, then you have to take more risks to getting the blue aoe to overlap on her.

Once conditions start landing on her, one can cripple or chill to slow down her movement over the blue aoe as well, or if you’re really sophisticated, you can play with taking off her 5 stacks of defiant and then dazing her over the aoe and so on.

One interesting spin-off role that a good “not-it” can play, that I’ve been evolving, is a way to control the damage done by Mai Trin’s shadowstepping. You are THE FURTHEST PERSON. Please make sure you can dodge and observe her animations. If you can block consistently (or leave mesmer clones to absorb the attack or whatever), even better.

See, what usually happens is that the “worst” or most nervous and/or squishiest or lowbie character in the group gets all twitchy and starts edging further and further away from the mess. Before you know it, BOOM, she shadowsteps into that person and eats him or her for lunch. Then now everyone has to drop everything and waste time rezzing, and when you rez, you risk becoming the furthest person and ZAP, another teleport happens and… well, it gets MESSY.

My theory is, what if we prearrange a good or at least, sturdy player to be that furthest person? Note, this cannot be it, or the tank. A not-it gets to step up.

Your job is to arrange yourself so that you are the furthest person at all times. You primarily watch out for her animations (which can be hard with all the particle effects flying) and do your best to dodge (forwards, seems best) when you see her do the characteristic finger point which means she’s going to come to you. If you manage to time it right, and the projectile hits during your dodge invincibility frame, you seem to actually block it and she doesn’t teleport at all. If it’s not timed right, well, at least you’re out of the way and won’t get too bled up when she comes over. Have condition removals for her bleed and cripple in event of accidents. She will then promptly go right back to IT. (Secondarily, you can do damage as well, of course.) If you have blocks on demand, this makes your life even easier.

Me experimenting with the idea in a PUG after our level 45 elementalist consistedly died to the point of being naked. I started out in axe/horn, not the greatest for actually doing any damage, but I was testing out the idea first. I later went closer and into rifle range as I got the hang of it. Also, the GWAMM tanking this was an engineer. There was another warrior and a guardian in the party.
Me experimenting with the idea in a PUG after our level 45 elementalist consistedly died to the point of being naked. I started out in axe/horn, not the greatest for actually doing any damage, but I was testing it out first and wanted condition removals. I later went closer and into rifle range as I got the hang of it.
Also, the GWAMM tanking this was an engineer. There was another warrior and a guardian in the party. Players, not classes.

As for the Cannon AoE phase, there’s two methods. If you are really sure that your entire group has nearly equal ping to yours and will be applying group swiftness and group healing, and can stay all nicely neatly balled up together, you can run around the perimeter together staying ahead of the AoE. It looks really really awesome if done correctly. What usually ends up happening, just as in WvW zergs, is that you don’t get a nice neat little ball, you get a train or a snake. Someone falls behind. This someone is promptly PWNED by all the aoes that have carpetbombed the place. Depending on your group, this may end up as multiple someones.

I have actually found it much safer in PUGs, where people could be from all over the world using computers of differing quality and framerates and certainly not on voicechat and used to stacking and moving as a ball together, to do the spread out and move as little as possible method.

What usually happens is a person in each corner and one in the center, more or less. Just move the distance necessary to a clear spot away from the aoes, and stay still until the next aoe is about to hit your position. Save your dodges for when there is no way out that you can just move to. Survival rate is usually 3 or higher, which is sufficient to rez safely during the next Mai Trin and Horrik phase.

It goes without saying that one should NOT BE REZZING while the place is being napalmed. Survive first, only save people if you think you see an opportunity and are awesome. If you die doing it, then well, leave them for later next time.

Rezzing strategy: Tank/It, you do your kiting thang. Other people rez. Other people must also be KEENLY aware of Mai Trin’s finger-pointing so that one can dodge or block if you become the furthest person while rezzing.

Really, all this does is waste shitloads of time. Don’t fucking die. And if you are not awesome, don’t fucking bring your squishy lowbie into this dungeon.

Please note that in all of this, I have not expressed ANY CLASS-ISM whatsoever. Stop fucking begging for guardians and warriors or heavies. Some of them may not be IT-specced. I have seen some awesome necromancers and engineers also kite and control Mai Trin perfectly well. I’m sure other professions can do it too, I bet a mesmer could as well, just haven’t seen it in play yet – except you know all the rest tend to love sitting in berserker gear.

All it requires are players to recognize the de facto role that their party needs and be flexible.

GW2: AR Groups from Dual Perspectives

Play an AH hammer guardian in a variant of Strife’s anchor build for too long, and you end up getting a very one sided view of dungeons.

You are always “the tank.” Mobs glue onto you. 6 pieces of Knight’s gear and melee proximity is all it usually takes.

(Failing which, I throw on my WvW soldier/clerics with soldier runes, which are nearly always guaranteed to exceed nearly anyone else’s toughness rating, at the expense of losing significant amounts of damage – I only consistently lost it once on an Arah 4 run where some guy had decided to wear Sentinel armor. And didn’t have great reaction times on kiting sparks. Now that was “fun.”)

Usually, I don’t mind. I’ve tanked before in other MMOs. And you know the saying, if you want something done right…

It just can get VERY wearying in a GW2 group if you don’t have sufficient support. And you grow bitter because you end up convinced that you are carrying a bunch of selfish damage builds by sheer herculean dint of protection-laying, self-healing, reflection, blocking effort until you go down, and bounce back up again because someone revived you, to do it all over again and go down again and up, and on and on.

If you do have sufficient support on the other hand, it is usually a cakewalk. Go in, buffed up to the gills, everyone AOEs and cleaves, voila, stuff falls over dead, everyone’s still sturdily standing after.

The problem with tanking is that it’s also hard to have sufficient leisure time to study any fight mechanics from an outside observer’s perspective, because you’re too busy trying not to fucking die.

Alt time.

I tried bringing in my spirit weapon guardian in berserker armor.

Well, the damage is a little higher by traiting in the new 50% damage spirit weapon trait, but I was rather miffed I had to give up the vigor on crit trait to do it (need all the endurance one can if one is squishy, y’know?)

The main problem I ran into is that everyone expects a guardian to tank, and if you sit around chilling your heels, they wait around for you too because they’re just as much wusses as you.

If one was lucky enough to run beside someone else who took responsibility for the aggro, it seemed to work decently well. Sword teleport into strikers and sic a hammer on them to keep them interrupted and the lightning channel disrupted. Spirit sword did aoe damage, spirit shield absorbs projectiles and weakens the group, etc.

The other issue was that you give up a shitton of survivability sitting around in berserker gear. The cannon phase was not great. One accidental misstep = death and disaster. And in a PUG, all it takes is one guy running around like a headless chicken to screw up your careful stepping pattern and screw you over.

I died consistently and just couldn’t shake off the feeling that this was making me look like a clueless noob in everyone else’s eyes. I also felt too much at the mercy of how the entire party was built. Random group is random. Berserker, imo, is really for more coordinated groups.

Money spending on alt time.

I’d built up to 36 gold in the last few days, and promptly spent 24 of it decking out my WvW warrior in a new dungeon/gear build.

There seemed to be very little consensus on appropriate warrior dungeon builds, especially since the traitlines just got shaken up recently, so I ended up designing it based on my objectives.

Evil Plan: Dump aggro. Stay alive.

Nagging Angel on Shoulder Reminder: Offer group support for the poor schmutz who ends up tanking.

There were a number of multiple goals behind this. As I said, I wanted to observe other people in the tank position to see what they did – learn their tricks and observe where they stood, etc. There was the vague hope that I would eventually luck into a party with a competent tank and maybe pick up the Personal Space achievement.

And I figure if I want to learn other dungeons eventually, it’s good to walk in as primarily dps over a tank position, where you know, everyone expects you to magically know what to do.

(Side benefit, pug groups where the guy who becomes “it” doesn’t know how to handle it become hilarious. You either watch them get better at their class, or we all wipe together over and over until mass ragequits happen.)

How did I achieve this?

Zero toughness. I didn’t want to go full berserker for reasons of personal survivability worry. So strange combination incoming – Valkyrie/Magi.

You see, I decided I was going to go axe/horn and rifle. I’d previously leveled with axe/axe and rifle and was the most familiar with those weapons. (Reserving the greatsword for my second warrior.)

Horn does fantastic condition removal when traited for it (converts to boon, even), and AR is full of highly annoying conditions for the whole group. Rifle is useful for single target damage on fights which require one to be ranged.

I also decided to play with banners, so I went a full 30 into Tactics with Inspiring Banners, Quick Breathing and Inspiring Battle Standard. Turns out if you run two banners like this, you can pulse and build up to around 30 seconds of regeneration on everyone. Quite crazy, really.

I am suddenly super melee buffbot, an interesting variant on the City of Heroes Defender which was ranged buff/debuff. On a sturdy group, the added power and precision banners should make stuff die extra quick. On less study groups, I can also switch to the healing power, toughness and vitality banners in the hope it helps them some. Running For Great Justice adds on extra fury and might for all.

Layering on healing signet helps me pulse regen heal and I have a hefty vitality hp reservoir to stay alive with. I suppose I could also add on another layer of regen with mango pies, but haven’t felt the need for it yet.

Alas, crafting the Valkyrie armor cost a 12 gold bomb (better than buying it off the TP for 18 gold, I suppose), and ruby orbs are slotted in all 12 locations to push oneself more toward the damage “expected” of warriors. Crit chance is not great, at 30%, but remember, fury pushes it up to 50%, and crit damage bonus is 80%. Won’t match a pure berserker, but imo, respectable enough.

What really blew up the bank was deciding to splurge and buy the three most expensive superior sigils to put on my berserker weapons for some 15 gold. The axe has a sigil of fire, and the horn has a bloodlust sigil. 250 power if I get to build up stacks pushes attack and damage higher. I’m not convinced the sigil of fire is that awesome as yet, but I’m keeping an eye on it. Worse come to the worse, there’s the black lion salvaging kit because the weapons ended up cheaply bought via WvW. The rifle sports a sigil of energy to help endurance for dodges since I have the fast hands trait as a side benefit of going 20 in Discpline anyhow.

It’s been a useful experiment in terms of group observation ability.

Everybody else pretty much becomes “it” as most are likely to have a shred of toughness somewhere.

If they don’t, then they are obviously running some variant of berserker and are very damage-focused, so it becomes the equivalent of an 8 blaster team in CoH. Nuke it all (preferably from ranged) or die trying.

I’ve been able to see necromancers step up and tank and kite. Even an engineer or two. In one hilarious group, the mesmer clones and ranger pets and Ellen Kiel were holding most of the aggro – though disaster hit when the one ranger with the pet holding the aggro didn’t know how to appropriately handle the golems before everybody died.

I learned a whole lot from those groups which I couldn’t see before while being the center of attention though.

And we will be discussing those strategies in the next post.