GW2: Fractals of Silence and Skill (Or Lack Thereof)

FoOoooO, quaggan is gift-wrapped!

I’m hoping to mark the end of my fractal journey for the time being by this week or the next.

At the start of September, I was fractal level 25ish with 26 AR (after goodness knows how many years) and not terribly motivated to go any further.

Eh, some gold, some fractal relics, lots of blues and greens, the odd yellow or orange, pretty much everything to be salvaged since most of the stats that turn up in fractals – Magi, Cavalier, Soldier – are odd, to say the least. Plus Ascended rings that take up slot space (I am constitutionally incapable of throwing -anything- away in an MMO) and the rare rare chance that something pretty might drop.

Oh, and the same content ad nauseam, alongside questionable PUGs – since I lack that mythical beast known as a stable, organized group within my timezone who can deal with my schedule (or lack of it.)

For the hell of it, in a similar vein to my self-imposed “collect all the Scientific skins” challenge, I decided to try to get to fractals 50 before the expansion hit, with its vaunted fractals revamp that would both make the leveling curve easier and slope it upward ever higher to 100.

After all, it is both satisfying to be able to say “been there, done that” as well as be among that rare opposite breed of player who can play the so-called ‘most difficult’ content in GW2 and yet not be an eager raid fanatic.

We’re a few days away from the end of September now, and I’m officially at fractal level 45 tonight.

It’s a little bit trickier to rise further in levels via LFG PUG, given the number of highly aggravating mistlock instabilities that make it daunting to open an instance at one’s current level.

Essentially, I’m sitting around waiting on the largesse of someone else who has already reached fractal level 50 to start their group and jump in… assuming they haven’t already hit their quota of PS warriors and are busily demanding eles and guardians, or conversely, in a more haphazardly not-at-all meta compliant group, hoping that the party won’t give up and fragment from one or two players just up and quitting the group one fractal in, because they didn’t like the chaos/inexperience on display or took umbrage at the ranger or necro in the party or something.

In any case, it’s been an eye-opening experience.

If there’s two things I’ve learned from my fractal journey, it’s these:

  1. Other people are not super-skillful gods of competency. There’s no need to be deathly afraid of them, or conversely, looking like a right idiot in front of them.
  2. I am not a super-skillful god of competency. There is always more I can be learning and improving on incrementally, as long as I keep an open mind, stay observant as to what’s still lacking, and am patient with myself.

Where 1) is concerned, I’ve feel like I’ve seen it all at this point.

I’ve seen people fall off the Uncategorized fractal simply from mistimed jumps, not a harpy knockback; fail miserably at running wisps in the Swamp (guilty); get smashed by Jade Maw tentacles or fall over consistently from failing to pick up crystals; completely fail at either kiting Mai Trin or managing the cannon phase without panicking like a headless chicken; mess up on really idealistic plans to output sufficient dps to take down Molten Berserker, Grawl Shaman or Subject Six in one go; splatter all over the Thaumanova fractal trying to manage the heat room or shield room; totally screw up the dredge fractal buttons or kiting the last boss from lack of communication, unsoweiter.

What might rather surprise those who haven’t been there is the capacity of practically all of these groups to pick themselves up (even if they have to peel themselves off the floor multiple times after a total party wipe or log out to repair and return) and -eventually- complete the fractal.

The only kind of fractal group I’ve seen fail is the kind where one person gives up and leaves in silence, followed by one or two more… at which point I’m left staring at one or two more people left in my party and think “fuck it, I don’t want to organize this” and leave wordlessly as well.

That’s generally a failure to communicate, pretty much.

It seems to be the oddly damning sin of most PUGs – silence.

Everybody barely says anything and just kinda hopes that everyone knows what they’re doing. If carnage results, then a slightly better group will start to produce one sentence communication, and a bad group just ups and disappears right there.

On this front, the higher level fractal produces better odds that more people generally know what they’re doing, more or less, though there are a few difficult encounters that can start to reveal flaws in that assumption – most memorably in the Snowblind fractal, where certain groups end up throwing one’s bodies over and over at the elemental source while total party wiping the instant someone accidentally aggros one too many ice elementals while 40-60% of the group either doesn’t know what to do about them or decides they will keep pewpewing the elemental source instead.

Granted, the way that encounter is set up, it becomes almost quite impossible to have a lengthy discussion because you’re either getting chill debuffed, chased by really nasty Svanir, constantly knocked down by the elemental source once you run out of stability, struggling to light the fire before the debuff kills everybody, desperately trying to roll out of one-hit KO ice elemental shards, and so on.

(Yes, there are a few safe zones where one can stand in the fire’s warmth and not aggro anything and swap skills, but really, if your team lacks teamwork and communication to begin with, d’ya really think they can manage that?)

Compare and contrast this with the fractal level 10 I attempted one day, mostly in the hopes of getting a quick daily speedily done, where it became rather obvious that the somewhat cute and somewhat pathetic guardian in our party, who only had 740+ AP, was an inexperienced newbie with no AR worth speaking of.

Not merely because he kept falling off every last Cliffside obstacle – entirely likely that he’d never seen the wind blowing statues or the little exploding knockback thingmajigs before – but also due to his tendency to instantly melt in 4-5 ticks when an agony pulse hit while the other four people remained upright and untouched.

He said nothing about being new, or indeed, anything at all, possibly due to the fear of being kicked for his inexperience or noobness.

It did, however, leave me feeling somewhat uncomfortable and uncertain how best to help.

The group kind of just “selfishly” ran to each stage of the fractal and sat there waiting for the straggler(s) to catch up, though the two who seemed to have the most clue (ie. me and another person, probably the one who started the party) took care/charge of the hammer and we did, more or less, wait for the guy to finally catch up before progressing on to the next stage.

Everything in silence.

Granted, it is hard to know just -how- to help. It’s not like I could portal him past anything, he has to press keys in the proper sequence and timing in order to get past the obstacle, the only thing I could do is either give him swiftness or cure his conditions (not useful in this situation) and/or advise him to take his time getting the timing down and/or suggest swapping in a skill with stability.

As for the AR problem, well, it’s blatantly an artificial stat barrier meant to produce vertical progression grind (one reason why I never bothered much with fractals before this either.)

With something as ‘meta’ as this, it’s really hard to know just what to say or do. It ultimately boils down on each player to have done their research beforehand, figured out just exactly how much AR they need before stepping into the ‘correct’ level fractal, which is, objectively a -weird- expectation that a player would have scrutinized the wiki and/or stepped into the fractal portal to have this all explained to them via NPC beforehand… especially when you think the first way a player is likely to encounter the fractals is via a LFG party, especially when a daily tells them to do a level 1-10 fractal. (Granted, the guy was optimistic jumping straight away into level 10.)

Anyhow, the discomfort was mostly mitigated by the fact that fractals 10 is really quite easy, so we just brute forced our way through most of it and ‘carried’ the slightly more clueless individuals through. Only way they’ll learn in the end, via experiencing it, right?

Which segues me to point 2), in that as the fractal levels rise, the failure of others to ‘carry’ me, or cover for my own lack of mastery, has essentially forced me into getting better.

(Mostly through encountering a really disastrous situation, and post-fractal, asking myself what I could have done to not contribute to that.)

After sneaking by many many fractals without really learning the jumps in the Swamp by either not running the wisp. or helping only with the closest ones and brute-forcing most of them, somewhere in the 30s, I decided it was time to solo roll a Swamp fractal and practice some of the wisp runs under the tutelage of ample referencing of gw2dungeons.net.

I’m happy to report that I can actually take on the spider one now without triggering a million baby spiders (by virtue of *duh* jumping on the rocks without eggs nearby) and can deal with all the near ones with full confidence, having memorized a reliable jump path that will work even if the nearest gates are closed.

(Previously, one just used to run and pray that one got lucky.)

The far ones are still tricky, mostly due to my continual inability to distinguish traps from ground (bulky charr is bulky and clumsy) and tendency to run right into the mossman or fail the jumps, but well, there’s always room for more practice later.

I’ve at least memorized the far northwestern one, whose path seems somewhat easy and clear cut, even if my practical implementation leaves something to be desired in between trying to dodge one-hit-kill skelk, traps and getting tangled in-combat and failing jumps as a result.

The one real take-home from actually attempting some of these runs is that I’ve realized it behooves me – if not actually running – to amble on by to support the person running far with swiftness and condition clears and so on, rather than sit like a lump of lard at the logs and hope for others to magically reach the stumps with the wisps without my help.

Ditto the heat room in the Thaumanova fractal. Most of the time, someone much better practiced at it volunteers to take it on and I see neither sight nor sound of the encounter.

In one particularly memorable fractal group, it turned out that -none- of us knew how to do the heat room very well at all. Since it was an over-40s group, doing it was compulsory.

Rather fortunately, I had previously scanned through that fractal on gw2dungeons.net to learn a few tips for just how it might be possible for my class to manage it (not to mention, what the hell it was all about and how the mechanisms worked) and suggested to the group that we may as well collect and use all the cooling rods first, before attempting it as the final thing.

This was done, and all of us had ample time and opportunity to actually -practice- the room (for once) since the whole group decided to throw themselves at it in the hopes that -somebody- would make it.

After my share of failed theory and implementation, I eventually hit on a personal working combination of stacking swiftness through warhorn and banner, Bull’s Rush (thank you, gw2dungeons.net), Rampage’s number 3 rush, falling over and hitting 4 to regain a bit of health while waiting for vengeance 3, hitting that and powering through the rest of the way, amidst double dodging, spamming 1 and generally cursing Asian latency when it comes to needing to physically spam a button.

While I’m still not going to be the first to volunteer to solo that darned room, I no longer feel completely helpless regarding it. If no one else can do it better, I can at least give it a shot and probably get by.

If anything, I think my fractals journey has suggested that it’s unrealistic to get uptight about ‘the perfect run.’

Is it nice if it happens? Yes. I’ve had super-smooth runs where everyone knows how to use ice bows and strips defiance for near absolutely frozen statues, the dps is phenomenal, and the whole fractals sequence is over in 40 minutes or thereabouts. Countable on one hand though.

I’ve had just as many runs or more where mistakes happen, people screw up somewhere, and no one says anything, just picks people up or peels themselves off the floor, and the team completes regardless.

And I’ve had the odd completely baffling run when there are 3 elementalists and myself in the party and we can only reach about 15 might stacks maximum because not a single elementalist even lays out a fire field for me to blast or use a banner in, let alone appears to know how to stack blasts for might… or conjures an ice bow, and I’m *cough* guiltily not strictly 100% meta compliant either because *cough* have you SEEN the price of those runes of Strength, and was using the then-cheap Pack runes as a not-great substitute… except now they’re not exactly cheap either, leaving me at an impasse where runes are concerned. To leave in or replace? (WHEN OH WHEN CAN WE SWAP RUNES LIKE IN PVP, SHEESH.)

Still completed, despite me being disturbed to the point of re-scrutinizing my runes to figure out what was going on, and having a serious rethink re: whether I really should put in Strength runes some day and/or reviewing my food choices to see if something else can make up for that. The thought of using up food worth 40-100+ silver per PUG run is somewhat cringe-worthy though. (I think, where I’m concerned, there are practical limits beyond the holy grail of theoretical optimisation some folks say we should be seeking.)

I think I’ve learned that the unpredictability of a fractals run can be fairly interesting and enjoyable, if looked upon with an open mindset, and preferably more staggered out to every few days or once a week after this mad rush to 50 ends.

I’ve come to the realization that many many people running fractals are absolutely where I am – still in the process of learning to get better – and so there is very little reason to feel inferior or afraid – what’s the worst that can happen, really? The party disintegrates or you get kicked by some strangers whom you’ll never see again. A bit of time wasted. Group up with the next band of strangers that comes along and have a fresh start. Try not to repeat the same mistakes of the past.

Eventually, progress gets made.

I don’t know, I find it quite hard to wrap my mind around this associated concept of “prestige” and “showing off one’s skill in an arrogant manner” that some people relate to ‘difficult content.’

My interpretation of most skillful performances tends to be that heaps of patience and lots of practice went on behind the scenes, and what we see on display is persistence finally paying off.

If anything, I should think going through the difficult learning and mastery process would make one more humble.

Imo, the loudest braggarts, quick to find fault with others, are often not the most skilled.

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GW2: Chronomancer Contemplations

It’s at times like this when I truly fail to understand those who claim the lack of a holy trinity means a lack of depth to combat.

On the contrary, it may very well be that it complicates combat up to the point where people crave a certain simplicity because they don’t even want to consider the nuances involved.

I’m not a good mesmer. Hell, I haven’t gotten my mesmer beyond level 50 or so. In three years, I haven’t even -looked- closely at the mesmer traitlines to consider any potential synergies because I simply haven’t had the time or inclination to learn this class.

Reading about the elite Chronomancer specialization that mesmers are about to get with the offhand shield weapon inflicts a level of hurt so deep my brain turned to mush the first few times I read the page – sorta like trying to read academic papers – and it’s only subsided slowly on more careful and slow reading in an attempt to wrap my mind around the concepts being described.

No depth?

Come on.

First up, we have a new buff effect called Alacrity. This is going to differ from Quickness in that quickness affects attack speeds (as in how fast you attack, aka your animations speeding up) whereas alacrity affects recharge speeds (as in how fast your skills/attacks come off cooldown.)

Implications? When quickness is on you, you generally want to just swing your sword as fast as possible, ie. spam your best fast damaging attacks at super speed for the most dps.

Alacrity, on the other hand, will bring back longer cooldown skills faster, which is a different kind of dangerous. Stuff like wells or various elite skills (entangle, moa, etc.) will come back faster, which may throw off opponents expecting to take advantage of a certain recharge time in between casts.

There is also the potential for coordinated parties with one or two chronomancer mesmers maintaining alacrity to speed up recharges of other classes with certain support skills – eg. projectile reflection/absorb skills and so on. Could be we might see fights and encounters where damage pulses at such a rate that we’d need reflection with more uptime, or quicker recharging strong heals to withstand it.

Maintaining alacrity is likely to be a minigame in itself, maintaining a certain cadence of skill casts to keep the buff going.

In a way, it kind of reminds me of the GW1 paragon, where I struggled at the beginning while figuring out how to maintain certain shouts or chants so that the effects would synergize and produce something even more desirable, and only later managed to, more or less, keep a rhythm going and all buffs maintained. For a time, anyway, before falling out of cadence or sync again. (Luckily, NPC heroes don’t care if you screw up during the learning process.)

Chronomancer skills are apparently also going to have a ‘duality’ flavor to them. One effect on allies, another effect on enemies.

This immediately makes them super-flexible, but also turns their ‘depth’ into a yawning chasm. Do you use the skill to buff your allies? Do you use the skill instead to affect your enemies? If you do one, it may be on cooldown when you want to use it for the other. Maybe you’re awesome and can pick out the most optimal timing to do -both- with one skill shot.

One skill. So many possibilities. No right answer as to precisely when that optimal timing might be. Just you, your read on the situation, and your decision. (Let’s see a skill rotation macro do that for you…)

Hell, the example skill given, Tides of Time, just blew my mind on reading the paragraph.

It produces a wall, that moves, and absorbs projectiles.

(We already have many situations where we want a projectile reflect or absorb to protect us from damage.)

Its shape is not ye olde usual rectangle, line, circle or cone… but instead it’s going to boomerang, from its caster and back again.

And the caster can move while casting this.

Immediately, one can see that a number of varied shapes can be created from this.

If the caster stands still, you’re going to get a rectangle, more or less, in which the skill will cross over twice.

If the caster moves to the side, you’re going to get a more or less triangular wedge or V shape, where you might have an area where the skill will overlap twice, or a larger area where the skill will only touch on once.

If the caster goes and does something even more mind-blowing like blink or teleport elsewhere while this skill is ricocheting around (and we know mesmers can do that), they might be able to create something like a doubled in size rectangular area where the skill crosses over once, or some variant of the V shape mentioned above.

Oh, did we mention that the skill -also- buffs any allies which are touched by the moving wall with quickness? Everybody loves quickness already with time warp. Now the chronomancer can choose to bestow it on allies that aren’t clustered in the circular area that time warp forces you to collapse into.

Time warp, being an AoE, can only affect 5 players with quickness. It’s still left to be seen, but given existing examples of wall skills like the necromancer’s spectral wall or the mesmer’s wall-based stealth invis – where players essentially cross over and leave the effectively-hits-only-5 area, thus allowing other players to affected… it is possible that one might be able to gift quickness to more than 5 players at one time. (Mind blown yet?)

Oh, oh… but ALSO, the very same skill will affect any enemies that touch the wall with a -stun-.

You know, that oh-so-favorite weapon of any initial WvW engagement where commanders beg elementalists for their static fields, stunning any idiot who runs into the big obvious electrical circle?

Well, the field is not going to be so kind as to just sit there now if a chronomancer fires it. It’s going to charge right into you like a Risen abomination. (And then ricochet right back, to add insult to injury.)

I think we already mentioned somewhere above that the shape of this skill effect being entirely up to the individual skill and choosing of the chronomancer who unleashes it, yeah?

Defences? Beyond ye olde stability and dodging, I can see that an important counter is likely going to be disrupting the cadence of the chronomancer in some way. Interrupts, knockbacks, pushes, pulls.

If you yank away or cc the chronomancer while his stuff is in mid-bounce, that’s going to change the shape of his skill from something he wanted to something potentially a little less effective (and hopefully induce a longer recharge because he missed absorbing the return cycle of his skill.)

I dunno about you but my brain has essentially splattered itself all over the inside of my skull trying to encompass the possibilities contained in this ONE skill.

(And I haven’t even tried to consider synergies with other skills yet…)

Timing is going to be a big thing for chronomancers. Likely very much intentionally so.

Another skill they’re going to have is timed wells.

As in, AoE stuff they can lay on the floor, and we’ll see a skill effect tick down, and one can choose to be in or out of that area as one’s desires and reflexes can handle.

Allies are going to want to jump into certain wells for cool buffs when it explodes, and enemies are going to want to GTFO, in a fashion rather similar to how our PvE enemies highlight their hard hitting attacks and we need to then roll out or move away from the target area. A skill-based counter, in other words, which should indeed have an interesting effect on those who haven’t yet mastered the art of dodging.

But but, who says we have to stop at the newbie level? Mesmers mess with players’ minds, remember? On a more meta level, it’s likely that the well skill will be placed, not primarily for the damaging effects of the timed explosion landing, but to actually force the GTFO. To make players scatter or leave an area (such as a control point), or to cost them a dodge doing so, opening them up for a worst sequence of things yet to come. Or they could sit there and eat the explosion.

Catch 22. Rock in a hard place and all that. Goddamn mesmer mindgames.

(And I’m sure all those distracting clones aren’t going away while all this crap is going on either. Or if they do go away, it’s probably because they shattered onto you. Ouch.)

And the last nuclear explosion in my head? They’re going to get a new F5 skill. Continuum Split/Shift.

A more ridiculously powerful necromancer spectral walk, which not only saves the -position- of the player when the skill begins, but the entire -state.-

Hitpoints, endurance, skill cooldowns, the works.

So…. they could start with 100% hp, continuum split, run around like a kamikaze warrior letting their hp get eaten away and continuum shift, pow, they’re back to where they were, with full hp, having absorbed a great many damaging skills from enemies that are now on cooldown, while they have essentially just stepped back into the fight, completely fresh.

*brain asplodes*

Oh, they could also have cast all their skills in a crazy lethal spike, and -then- hit the reset button to potentially do it again if there’s something still left standing after that.

*kablooey goes the top part of my head*

Or just a choice skill twice – like an elite skill twice.

Or they could just use it as a tactical reposition like the many pre-existing blinks, shadowsteps and spectral walk variants…

…including over a really tall cliff, just like a necromancer might blow a kiss and scram.

(Guess that’s where the romance comes in, for both necros and chronos…)

Seriously, I’m not even planning on playing a mesmer or a chronomancer, but my head already hurts just trying to get a handle on what might possibly come one’s way once the true mesmer experts get their hands on their elite specialization.

No depth indeed. *mutters, grumbles, stomps off and tries to hide in a dark corner away from purple butterflies and ticking clock hands*