GW2: Finding Something Else to Do (Origins of Madness update)

Raids give me that "played like a puppet" feeling...

Thanks to the two new bosses added in the latest GW2 update, I no longer loathe raids with extreme prejudice.

I have now reached a state of indifference.

I guess that’s progress.

See, one of my most major issues with the concept of raids was exclusivity.

I’m just philosophically opposed to the idea that some players get automatically rejected due to whatever they’re wearing because it’s a convenient shortcut to judge player ability, or the simple capacity of a character that has sufficient stats to meet the challenge.

Nor am I terribly keen on the idea of separating oneself from players that are playing poorly on average because it’s easier and more rewarding to be elitist and isolate oneselves, than to lead, coordinate and teach. (Though I recognize that it is a reality of life, and periodically tempting, especially when you can’t take repeating yourself any longer.)

In the case of Guild Wars 2’s new approach to raid bosses, aka more challenging world bosses that require a significant amount of coordination and organization to succeed, it’s been comparatively more inclusive, mostly because individual groups of people can’t control 100% who shows up in a zone.

One can still attempt more coordination and organization by joining and following along with an organized group, such as various server groups, or megaguilds. TTS, for example, is the primary NA example. I’m aware of AARM doing weekly Tequatls on Tarnished Coast these days. Unsoweiter.

The fact that it is not at all possible to reject players out of hand skews GW2 raid bosses significantly towards a more philosophically palatable direction for me. (As opposed to say, the propensity of some people to get kick happy with their party in certain dungeons.)

My other pet peeve about raid bosses is regarding the clarity of mechanics and gimmicks of whatever it is one is to do.

I ranted about this in City of Heroes, which was rather inconsistent about this in its Incarnate Trials, whereas the few I encountered in RIFT were distinctly clearer to me.

mines

So far, the Guild Wars 2 indicators resemble RIFT a lot more. This I like.

The first champion in the marionette fight also has a rather elegant indicator for facing, which is handy since the goal is to hit it from behind.

What I’m not liking is the speed at which these are appearing and disappearing. Between my slow framerate and latency, there doesn’t seem to be sufficient reaction time sometimes to dodge. Presumably as one learns the encounters more, one might possibly be able to use animation cues to get a few more valuable split seconds but well… it’s been a little hit or miss at times.

Some of my other issues regarding raids are unfortunately still not resolved.

There’s the waiting.

I’m making significantly more progress on my browser games in the other screen, and my audio CD digitization project since there’s a good half hour between each wurm or marionette attempt.

Standing around in a game doing nothing annoys me.

Well, I -could- jump around waypoints catching energy probes, but then that would make commanders trying to physically count people and get organized sad.

Catch-22.

Since I can’t be arsed to even conceive of leading such a cat-herding endeavor, my most meaningful contribution during the waiting phase is to be an obedient charr and stand on the blue dorito.

There’s the suffering involved with matching schedules and timezones.

Living in a not-so-popular geographical area means making compromises with one’s day and mealtimes to match the more populous NA and Oceanic times, during which there’s more people, more organization and thus a higher chance of success.

This is, of course, insolvable without migrating, but it does wear down on my personal level of interest for raids, especially over time. I haven’t attended a single Tequatl for weeks, there just seemed to be better things I could be doing with that two hours.

And there’s that old bugaboo of needing to rely on other people to perform well while not being able to help them much at all.

Yes, I understand that is somewhat the point (or a major component) of raids.

That it is somewhat like a sports team where people need to practice together, learn how to work with each other in tandem, trust and rely on each other, etc.

A situation set up so that more complex societal behavior can be exercised, such as leadership, organization, division of roles, teamwork, good sportsmanship, yadda yadda.

(Naturally, where one has the opportunity to demonstrate positive behavior, one ALSO runs very easily into the opposite toxic and negative examples, fueled by immaturity and ingrained habit of certain game cultures. But y’know, tradeoffs, can’t have one without the other.)

Call me a hermit, a misanthrope or a control freak, it’s just not a preference. 80% of the time, I’d much rather be challenging myself or relying on me, period.

I actually find the mechanics of the marionette champions rather interesting and look forward to learning more with each time I enter. Except there’s all the in-between that just feels like time-wasting.

And there’s that omnipresent situation where four platforms manage to finish and the last has unfortunately encountered some kind of problem. It’s a bit of a letdown when you feel you’ve played the best you could, and victory (or even partial success) is taken out of your hands because somebody else screwed up somewhere. Locus of control? None.

Perhaps one could keep repeating the strategies over mapchat and just patiently wait until everyone learns them. Perhaps some really creative leadership and organization could fill a separate overflow with more hardcore players and better communication.

Perhaps an individual might just indulge in blame and name-calling because they can’t do anything else besides spew abuse at others to make themselves feel better. (Protip: Shit-talking to ‘motivate’ only works on a certain subset of the population. Everyone else thinks they’d rather not have a victory confirm your behavioral hypothesis that toxicity results in a win.)

But really, for most people, the only thing left to do within one’s locus of control is shrug, feel disappointed and try again another time.

Which again, personally, is not something I’m playing a game for. Life already throws sufficient repeat disappointments one’s way, y’know?

Of course, the other 20% of the time, I can deal.

I’m quite enjoying the coordination and strategies involved in working out and learning the jungle wurm fight with TTS. (Save for all that time-wasting between attempts, egads!)

I like that different skills and builds have been stressed this time around – such as condition builds for the husks, and good running, jumping, speed-boosting abilities.

It’s just… that I’m somewhat puzzled at myself, that I’m not feeling as compelled as I used to be.

Sometimes, I look at the clock, and think, hmm, in the same hour, I could give the wurm or marionette another go, or I could cook myself a nice meal and have a proper sit-down feast, or I could watch something on the telly…

And I choose the latter options instead. (Hell, I’ve been tempted by the thought of giving Dragon Age Origins another go, or playing Skyrim again.)

It’s like I’m suddenly in no hurry to experience the content.

Was it just the three week break from GW2 that gave me a certain distance?

Is it just because I suspect it’s going to take a few days anyway for the general population to learn the fights, for information to filter down and so on, before the bosses will become more enjoyable like Teq on farm? (I certainly didn’t enjoy the first few days of Teq, super-stressed out trying to squeeze into the main server, wiping repeatedly, AFKing for indeterminate periods of time, etc. World firsts mean absolutely nothing to me.)

Is it just a personal disinterest in raids in general?

Who knows.

I do still harbor a slight worry that I need to catch the marionette fight at the sweet spot intersection between too many people -trying- to do it but not knowing how, and no one interested in doing it ever (like a successful Scarlet invasion – anyone actually manage that recently?) Being tied to the Living Story, it may be a two week thing.

The wurm is less stressful, since TTS is both organized and inclusive. One will get all the boss achievements there in the end.

Well, whatever the case, it’s… something else to do.

When one feels like it.

While it’s new and shiny.

For now.

P.S. Opinions on the story aspect of the update are a little better. Nice instance, more in-game storytelling, even if the bit with Kasmeer and her father sounded like clumsy exposition. I haven’t seen Scarlet’s lair yet, but looking forward to discovering it slowly.

One immediately gets the unsupported hunch that players might just end up with another cutthroat politics vote where it turns out Scarlet has a grand design to defeat the dragons and wanted to be a good guy after all (with Taimi and Braham and whoever else may be on her side) while Rox wants her dead because Rytlock said so.

Or maybe not. As a player, I’d probably let Primordius burn Divinity’s Reach and Lion’s Arch in order to see Scarlet dead. I suspect I’m not the only one.

GW2: The Nightmares Within the Tower

The calm before the toxic storm...

A sucking chest wound is Nature’s way of telling you to slow down.

Murphy’s Laws of Combat

No, really. Stop running. Start fighting!

Ok, so I did contribute about four blue skulls’ worth of zerker guardian trying to do the “I don’t need to run faster than those two Elites, I just need to run faster than YOU” thing, following the zergling impulse of go fast, rush past “trash” and trying to group up with those further ahead.

All of it on the death trap known as the third floor, where everybody but me seemed to -not- see the air canister “safe zones” and continued dashing ahead while I slowed down and was torn between trying to catch a breath and fight off a zerg-spawned worth of mobs by myself (not happening) or catching up with the panicked mob of players milling around lost and hallucinating while twisted clockwork spawned in, eager to take vengeance for all those prior failed invasions and trying to survive with blown cooldowns and not many more heals or blocks or invulnerable left (s’ not happening either.)

It took about that length of time to realize that every event was locking the doors and preventing forward progress via running, and that all those screaming over mapchat that this was too awfully hard were doing so because we players as a group were applying the absolutely wrong strategy to navigating the Tower of Nightmares.

Selfishness leads to a healthy chance at dying off by yourself. Teamwork gets you up. (Both up from downed and literally up to the top.)

I can see my house from here! Forgot my keys though...
I can see my house from here! Forgot my keys though…

At one point, I tried a group recruitment message and got a total of two people joining a party, which worked right up to the midway point where they decided to fall behind and jump into a nightmare chamber (cancel popup) while the immediate collective of individuals I was following was still pushing on.

I gave up with formal grouping after that, since it wasn’t any guarantee that the group would stick together. The public informal groups of whoever was in the vicinity did just fine. (For the record, that collective made it right to the top.)

Besides, killing everything gives you more chances to pop neat stuff. Like key parts, a recipe for an infinite krait tonic, and so on.

One day later, when I decided to have a change of pace and bring my zerker necro in, it felt like more people had figured this out and had started to spontaneously group up and kill stuff. (Or maybe they mistook all my minions for a zerg. Whatever works.)

I'd watch the dodge key there, if I were you.
I’d watch the dodge key there, if I were you.

I like the Tower.

I really do.

Ravious says GW1 players are comparing the Tower of Nightmares to the Underworld and Fissure of Woe instances of yore.

Really? I felt those instances were a lot harder and more time-consuming, possibly because I was trying to solo them with a not-at-all min-maxed loadout of heroes and had to take my slow and steady time with them. (One death means you’re out, when you’re the only player on the team.)

To me, this update feels like another do-over.

Lost Shores – Assault on the Karka Queen, as having listened to their players and not made it a one-time one-off affair, open-world and encouraging groups of 10-30 to work together instead of having 100-200 players corralled into the same dynamic event fighting lag as the enemy.

Sure, this means that occasionally groups of players who are a little less well-informed or well-versed with the ways of the tower will encounter a chaotic experience of mass deaths, but as Wyldkat, a Tarnished Coast resident, often likes to say, “Live and learn. Die, and learn faster.”

Have I mentioned how utterly awesome the instance scaling is?

Let me correct that, then.

Solo to five players!

I get to feel like a hero in my own story if I want to!

I get to group up and join other people if I want to!

I am deliriously happy that they took the trouble to make this work. Mostly the number of mobs in each chamber you encounter will spawn to a size that matches your party.

I like the small bits of storytelling that go on in each Nightmare instance too. And the randomized aspect of them keeps them -somewhat- novel.

I’ve caught character exchanges between Rox and Braham, Marjory and Kasmeer, Marjory and Braham, Rox and Kasmeer, Rox and Majory so far.

If you pay attention, you learn a little more about some of the characters (and have a good laugh at some others. Braham keeps hallucinating up his mom.)

Someone seems to have some abandonment and father issues.
Someone seems to have some abandonment and father issues.
Getting some 'origin' vibes for why she's a necro here.
Getting some ‘origin’ vibes for why she’s a necro here.

I like the little nods that they managed to slip in regarding the personal story and hope they manage more of it in future updates. (Depending on your race, you seem to get an encounter with your respective racial representative, and depending on your order… well, let’s say we’ve had a reunion of sorts with somebody. I need to bring in a character who is Order of Whispers soon.)

It’s made for a few interesting encounters.

Oi. We're both furry here. Watch that mouth of yours.
Oi. We’re both furry here. Watch that mouth of yours.

And later in this encounter, we fought a hallucination of Rytlock Brimstone and some Blood Legion summons to Scarlet’s accompanying leer: “Rytlock has a special file where he records all your mistakes. They’re adding up.”

Which was immensely immersive since both Rox and my charr are Blood Legion, and we know Rox has an inferiority complex where Rytlock is concerned. (Directed at my charr? Nah, can’t be. His self-esteem and relationship with Rytlock’s far too healthy for that.)

rarrrkillingrage

This little dig got through though. Rarrrrrgh. Must kill insolent leafy things.

Final cinematic cutscene sequence? Verrah nice. Aesthetically-speaking.

I like that they at least attempted to sum up all the threads and factions that Scarlet has been accumulating per update, even if thematically, it feels like she’s cobbling them together out of a junkheap of spare parts.

I did, in fact, kind of miss the Molten Alliance, and was glad to see them back in a small form, including ol’ molten berserker.

maybemorepeoplewillrecognizemytonicnow
Maybe more people will recognize my infinite tonic now when I bounce around in it. (Hey, it cost me quite a bit of gold, I gotta get my money’s worth.)

The difficulty level of the instances felt fine. I’ve soloed them (and the final instance) on a zerker guardian and a zerker necro. Got downed once or twice but managed to rally up from a weakened mob or an NPC came by to help rez.

I did a group version of the final instance to see how the dynamic scaling worked, and it also seemed to match perfectly.

We did make it extra hard on ourselves during the Molten Alliance portal phase because three people were like OMG, killz0rs all teh portals, we vill skip past zis trash, wat, u mean we don’t?! and one person had no clue how to kite the molten protector out of his fiery shield (it’s always the one with the aggro, right?) so we delivered unto ourselves the world’s biggest spawn of Molten Alliance, conveniently made invulnerable 75% of the time. That took ages to whittle down. We had lots of time on our hands trying to convince the one guy to move out of the fiery ring.

Despite that minor fiasco, we only had one person being downed near the start to rushing headlong into some toxic alliance, and while I was thinking that might have screwed up our final no-dying achievement chance, we managed to take down the champion hybrid with no downs, no deaths that I can recall and the achievement popped. So that was good.

Thus passes a god. Poor bugger.
Thus passes a god. Poor bugger. Never listen to Scarlet.

Speaking of achievements, let’s have another round of applause for the continuing saga of more sane numerical levels.

1 time, 3 times, 5 times, up to 10 and 15 only. No 25, 50, 100, 225! (DAMN that 225!)

All in all, good stuff.

I’ll be spending quite a bit of time in here, I think, just for the fun of it.

Zerging at 10 fps just to bring you this not very impressive picture. (One sec... *brings graphics settings down to not-asking-for-crash levels*)
Zerging at 10 fps just to bring you this not very impressive picture. (One sec… *brings graphics settings down to not-asking-for-crash-I-can-actually-move-without-slideshow levels*)

My only moderate worry is that if the crowds move off in time, like the Mad King’s Labyrinth, it might be impossible to get to the top at some point.

Still, I have noticed that the dynamic events probably do scale. We had a Veteran Spider Queen at one point, instead of a champion.

And during the free 5 captives from cocoons event, when it was just a ranger and me, we were only facing a veteran and two normal mobs per spawn. When the zerg came over, we started popping champions. (Hey, look, new champion farm, people!)

So I suspect that as long as two or three people work together and take it slow and steady, it is possible to eventually get all the way up even if the rest of the place is deserted. (Unlike certain halloween bosses I can think of.)

I suppose if we ever to get to such a stage of abandonment, that would be the time for coordinated groups to move in and treat the place like an extended dungeon.

On a crowded server, I suspect one can always find another one or two interested people.

(Though convincing them to stick together and not run off to follow their own agenda might be a mite more tricky. Oh well, that’s the open world aspect for you. Win some, lose some.)

GW2: Queen’s Gauntlet – Punishing vs Difficult

I’m sure everyone has already seen the Extra Credits’ video “When Difficult is Fun” that creates a distinction between games that are difficult and games that are punishing.

(In case you haven’t, I embed it here for your reference.)

We will be using “punishing” and “difficult” in that context in today’s discussion of the Queen’s Gauntlet activity that is part of the Queen’s Jubilee update.

Difficult Aspects

(Good, if you like that sort of thing)

  • Each boss has a mechanic or gimmick that is consistent and generally plays fair, so defeating them is mostly a matter of picking the right traits/build/gear/profession and playing the encounter long enough to learn their patterns. (One may, however, argue regarding the possibility of players not being able to afford the correct conjunction of characters and the secondary requirement of having sufficient arcade/action reflexes for certain fights. But I suppose for optional challenging content, such are the boundaries that are already laid out.)
  • Some of the bosses’ attacks are well-telegraphed. (Halmi Hammerfell, the first hammer boss, has a very clear hammer windup and frontal cleave, Dead Eye’s laser shot is decent if a zerg isn’t under you.)
  • The bosses are generally quite well-arranged to ramp up steadily in difficulty (tier 1 is fairly doable, tier 2 is more moderately taxing, etc. T3’s last boss spikes upward pretty hard though.)

Punishing Aspects

(Not so good, even if you masochistically persist past them)

  • Each iterative try is gated by a decent chunk of time – by the run back from a waypoint if someone isn’t standing by to rez you (cue money sink, don’t forget repairs), by waiting for one of six cages to be freed up, by needing to farm the group zerg event for tickets.
  • One shot kills for making a mistake – either tactically misreading the mechanics or just not being physically adept enough – lead promptly to the above repeated time-waster.
  • A few bosses are not sufficiently well-explained in their tips – leading to either trial and error or out-of-game reading to learn their mechanics. (I’m thinking of Salazan and Liandri in specific. “Lethal fire circle” produces an instinctual response to dodge out of dangerous looking circles, much like the rest of the game has taught us. This produces the feeling of a dev busy trolling players when one finally realizes that one does not, in fact, have to dodge out of the ring, in order to survive. As for Liadri, well, talk about ridiculously complex and requiring someone to spell it out in point form out-of-game.)
  • Some of the bosses’ attacks are NOT well-telegraphed, possibly due to small model size and/or camera angles in the dome. (Suriel the Blazing Light? She’s a female human, holding a book most of the time. How the hell are you supposed to see her Solar Flare attack? Someone told me she makes a cross with her hands or something. I’m at 1200 range, how the fuck would I be able to see that? I just used her pausing and staying still as a cue, mixed with lots of guesswork. As for Liadri’s AoE, it is obvious it is made to exactly blend in with the floor grating. Trololol, I think a dev would be saying.)
Seriously, look. The woman's less than an inch tall on my screen. How to see her animation?
Seriously, look. The woman’s less than an inch tall on my screen. How to clearly see her animation? While circling like a madman and trying to kite her into a hard-to-see dark patch and doing one’s best to not die. With 13k hp. I ended up hogging the patch more often than not and just being all heal-y guardian over the damage.
  • The zerg below can produce lag, visual culling or significant drops in framerates – which make reading animations and dodging in time extra-challenging, particularly to those with higher latency or playing on toasters.
With FPS like this, who needs enemies? It's probably a miracle I've gotten as far as I have,.
With FPS like this, who needs enemies? It’s probably a miracle I’ve gotten as far as I have.

Ambivalent but Interesting Enough to Note Aspects

  • The time limit creates an interesting juxtaposition between trying to balance survivability and damage. It serves to ensure the wait time for each individual encounter is not too long. But it would be much better if the time limit were actually clearly ticking down somewhere in the UI, similar to the Aetherblade instance, so players have a better sense of how long they have.

(And really, no one gives a shit if you fall down from the cage or not, no one in the zerg frankly gives a fuck, there’s a hundred and one dead guys dying arbitrarily from the “anti-zerg” mechanics, there’s so much visual chaos and culling going on, and everyone is really looking at the right side of their screen watching the loot to pour in to care about some stranger dying.)

  • Enabling spectators also leads to a curious juxtaposition of interests, On one hand, it could give rise to a small friendly community of players exchanging tips, sharing frustrations, cheering each other on and helping each other rez. I’ve seen one or two guilded parties occupy an arena this way, enjoying a group outing even if only one person is fighting at a time. On the other hand, for introverted soloists, some may not care for being spectated or find it embarrassing. Plus for self-centered loner types, they really don’t give a fuck either about some other guy’s fight, good or bad, they just want to find an -empty- arena to try -their- personal fight again ASAP.
  • That quick update development time? Yep, there’s a few bugs.
This cage had oozes that didn't go away. Liadri + oozes providing AoE healing = difficulty that breaks any measuring scale you use. Wasted ticket there. (Well, I had to try to see if the oozes would hit her. They didn't.) This guy is now finding out that the first boss with oozes ain't so fun either, I suppose.
This cage had oozes that didn’t go away. Liadri + oozes providing AoE healing = difficulty that breaks any measuring scale you use. Wasted ticket there. (Well, I had to try to see if the oozes would hit her. They didn’t.)
This guy is now finding out that the first boss with oozes ain’t so fun either, I suppose.

Personally, I don’t mind a hard fight or repeated tries at it. I appreciate that this has been sectioned off into its own minigame tab for achievements, which at least puts it into a different category in my mind, though this would be much nicer as permanent content so that one could come back to it at leisure, without worrying about queues or not being good enough or equipped enough at this point in time.

I’m not fond of the “farm this first in order to do what you really want” delaying mechanic, but because the group activity is so mindlessly rewarding, I am willing to forgive it.

In a sense, it serves to enforce a change of pace so that things do not get too frustrating. (But lowering iteration times would also minimize frustration and reduce the punishing aspect, while maintaining the difficulty of a solo fight as a challenge.)

I do wish however that the fights were instanced, I can’t shake the sense that I’m fighting at an extreme disadvantage between my toaster computer’s specs, my high latency due to geographic locations, plus throwing in a WvW-sized zerg arbitrarily underneath me at times. I barely break 20 FPS at the best of times, and have hovered around 10-12 at peak hours – which made attempts rather costly and eventually resulted in me just zerging and saving tickets for tries at more friendly off-peak timings.

I don’t know if I’m going to manage all the Queen’s Gauntlet achievements, but I’m still generally quite calm about the whole affair.

I think it helps that this was introduced at the start, meaning four weeks to work on it, rather than two. In a month, I find it realistic enough a goal to level and gear a specific character to 80 if one was really determined on getting through this, whereas two weeks would be a hectic rush. A number of people have also managed to conquer the last boss in a day or two, so it seems there will be sufficient time to spread specific gearing and trait strategies around.

And there have been hints that it is likely to return, possibly on a yearly basis – so it does not seem like this will be arbitrarily forever out of reach if not achieved this go around, which really helps the OCD.

Full disclosure: I’m currently still stuck on Liadri. Nearly all the bosses were done with a berserker guardian.

Except the penultimate boss of the Norn and Chomper, which gave me a majorly hard time on the guardian, which led to a rage-spending moment of buying my new level 80 necromancer (yes, in the past five days before patch, that’s another personal goal that got done, whee) shiny berserker gear, haphazardly traiting for life-leeching high damage minions and brute forcing my way past that encounter.

I would like to return with a later post with tips, but we’ll see. The framerate lag and necessity of farming tickets makes repeat tries for screenshots and the task of learning the encounter well enough to provide suggestions extremely challenging. I might just settle for copycatting a better player and lucking into achieving stuff once – which already sounds difficult enough to me.

GW2: Candidate Trials Redux – Berserk Guardian Edition

As mentioned in a prior post, I’d been having a good time with T2 “on farm” with the warrior, who is a hybrid mix of axe berserker and banner/horn support.

A couple days ago, I decided to use some of the “free” 400 gems from the achievement chest to buy a doubled support buff and dump in my support tokens. (One at a freaking time, which led to a hasty rebinding of my mouse wheel – thank you Razer profile management – to left click. Lots of left click.)

407 more clicks to go...
407 more clicks to go…

After I finished, I noted there was still 15 minutes left on the buff and decided to log off the character to save the time for the next round of support token dumping. Er, voting. Whatever.

Except that I had outsmarted myself in my miserliness since I had used the buff on my farming warrior.

Sheesh.

Well, it was way past time to upgrade spikey charr again.

I open world PvE with him a lot, in magic find gear even, and while playing with spirit weapons is fun during the actual combat portion, I couldn’t help but notice that I ended up swapping in Retreat! and Save Yourselves! in between battles simply to get from place to place at a decent clip.

Trying to fit in all the spirit weapon traits also meant I was giving up a decent amount of sword-related and survival/might buff traits too.

Plus, my original fiery dragon sword was reskinned from the cheapest exotic sword I could afford at the time of my first 80 (a mystic forged Rusttooth – yeah, power, vitality, condition damage. Hem.) The focus had equally scatter shot stats and cheap sigils.

And I may have been more than a little drunk when I put four major sigils of divinity on my berserker armor as an experimental stopgap for more expensive superior sigils of divinity. In the cold hard light of relooking at a past decision and numerically adding stuff up, I was getting +20 to all stats, which is a mere blip to performance, most likely, barely noticeable.

Definitely way past time to upgrade.

Ruby orbs went on all six slots of the berserker armor. Berserker trinkets. Used badges of honor to buy new berserker weapons – sword/focus, scepter/shield.

The biggest expenditure, as usual, was the superior sigil of fire and superior sigil of bloodlust on the sword and focus respectively. I’ve gotten fond of the fire sigil after enjoying it on the warrior, but I believe it is possible to do without. It just makes farming mass numbers of mobs a little easier. The bloodlust sigil should be a priority to anyone wanting to solo this with high damage though. 250 power makes quite a difference.

I went cheaper on the ranged weapon, superior sigil of air on the scepter and superior sigil of accuracy for the shield to increase overall crit chance.

New traits:

zerkguardian

Zeal 10: II – Fiery Wrath

Radiance 30: VI – Blind Exposure, X – Powerful Blades, XI – Right Hand Strength

Honor 20: II – Superior Aria, VIII – Empowering Might

Virtues 10: I – Unscathed Contender

Now, I do not claim that this is a good build for WvW, dungeons, or indeed anything group at all. With some 13k hp, you’ll probably fall over whenever something big sneezes that you failed to notice.

What this does do, is output a surprisingly good amount of damage when soloing, while having a decent amount of active defence tools for surviving long enough to burst stuff down. Spamming F1 is bread and butter. It sets stuff on fire (see all the increased damage done to stuff on fire and affected by conditions), makes them vulnerable and blinds them. You have two more blinds in sword 2 and focus 4 to be timed well. Focus 5 is an emergency 3 hit block.

Standard slot skills are Signet of Resolve for a condition clear and a big burst emergency heal. Hold the Line and Save Yourselves to keep layering protection and regeneration, F3 Virtue of Courage may also help protection-wise. Retreat for placing on aegis (see unscathed contender) and for swiftness when traveling, moving, kiting. In cases of major emergency, fire off F2 and F3 and renewed focus then fire virtues once more, but you’re probably in trouble by that point.

This performs on par with my warrior in T2 – which is admittedly not as berserk as pure berserker warriors – but really, 60 odd kills is fine for farming.

Over-achieving...
Over-achieving…

I switch Retreat for Smite Condition, which helps to deal a bit more damage and deal with the very minor conditions the Aetherblades apply at Tier 2 of the candidate trials. To address the speed issue, I use Bowl of Sage and Asparagus Salad, which has a 50% chance to give swiftness on kill and supposedly more damage when moving. If you’re feeling richer than me, you could use the seaweed salad version, but I think it’s overkill.

You could also use plenty of other food, like stuff that gives more power or might on kill, or lifesteal on crit, but I like being swift and maneuverable for this horde mode affair.

The recommendation is also to use Potent or Powerful Potions of Outlaw Slaying for a little extra oomph. (I’m not 100% positive that the Aetherblade faction classifies as bandits or outlaws, but it can’t hurt.)

T2 tactics are pretty much kill everything that appears as fast as possible. Punch F1 whenever, let sword autoattack for 2k+ damage each swing, only use sword 3 for a burst/projectile absorb when you know stuff will stand still. You have the option of chasing down plunderers with a swiftness-boosted sword, or quickly switching to scepter and immobilize/smite and autoattack, which will also pound it for 2k-ish damage a hit and kill it relatively fast.

Things to watch out for:

Aetherblade Strikers – can deal a lot of damage with their lightning channel, has a shield that will daze you if you hit it while the shield is up

What not to do. Ideally, wait for icon to flash off first.
What not to do. Ideally, wait for icon to flash off first.

You do not want to be dazed. It cuts your dps. Wait for the shield to drop, then attack. Hit something else while you’re waiting. But do not forget them or they’ll give you a bad time as the spawn keeps adding up. Prioritize them about the same as plunderers, to be dropped very quickly.

Aetherblade Thumpers – mace wielders, with a highly annoying protective shield that acts like a renewed focus invulnerable.

Getting a taste of one's own medicine. Grrr.
Getting a taste of one’s own medicine. Grrr.

Same thing. Attacking them when their shield is up is a waste of dps that can be spent downing a grenadier in the same few swings. They also seem to be a touch sturdier than the other mobs. They are melee, so they can be kited and ignored till the field is clear of more important targets.

Aetherblade Thugs – highly annoying immobilize from range, hammer knockdown in melee

circlethugs

These guys will screw you up by setting you up as an unmoving target for other mobs to beat on, and tangle you up when trying to get at a plunderer. Smite condition (or focus 4 or flashing blade teleport if desperate) to deal with the immobilize. Circle strafing in melee (ie. run around it in a tight circle while still in range to hit it with your sword) will generally put you out of range of their very slow to windup hammer knockdown attack, while still taking them down.

Red mortar circle – DODGE. RUN AWAY. DON’T STAY IN THERE. ROCKETS INCOMING. In berserk gear especially, you do not want to tank a single mortar shell.

redcirclebad

You can supposedly reflect the mortars as they are projectiles, but I’ve found it easier to just get out of the circle and either continue hitting the mobs around the vicinity, or ambling over to pound the grenadier’s head in. Taking out the operator should shut off the mortar unless something bugs.

Swashbucklers bleed and grenadiers have grenades that chill and apply vulnerability and such depending on the tier. They die fairly easily so you want to be targeting them with extreme prejudice to keep the spawn sizes manageable anyway.

How about T4 though?

The new post-patch T4 was stumping me for a bit, but the two day break from anything achievement-obsessed seems to have done wonders for my gameplay.

I would first of all watch Liefbread’s video of a solo T4 with a berserker thief.

When you are done gnashing your teeth with jealousy over two-hit plunderer kills, a 1200 range pull to yank plunderers further away from aggro zones, and an on-call long duration stealth to break aggro if accidents happen, you can rejoin me in pondering how to get a guardian T4 capable.

The goal, if you will notice in the video, is to kill the plunderers very quickly and very near to their spawn points so that the other veteran mobs react as little as possible. If you kill them fast enough so that their treasure-tossing animation doesn’t complete, the treasure counter does not go down. Break aggro the moment the vets do take notice of you.

The good news is that with the above berserk build, a scepter guardian can take down plunderers solo pretty quickly also, just maybe 1-3 seconds longer than the thief does. (You may want to do a T2 to build 25 stacks of bloodlust first too.)

The bad news is that a guardian has no pull except binding blade (and it’s only 600 range and it’s AoE, yanking a vet with a plunderer would become fairly ugly in short order.)

This means your window of opportunity for killing plunderers is quite a bit smaller, and you risk aggroing stuff a lot more easily than the thief.

While lamenting the lack of anything trap-related (like I saw a ranger and a necro do with their traps/marks) and scrutinizing my skills, this little beauty suddenly came into focus for me. Shrapnel Mine. It can be laid on in advance, it cripples and even does a bit of bleed to help out.

Sure enough, using this got me past post-patch T4.

This is almost as far forward as you want to get. (Maybe a bit more to the right and forward to hit the right plunderer when needed.)
This is almost as far forward as you want to get. (Maybe a bit more to the right and forward to hit the right plunderer when needed.) You will get aggro from anything in the middle, run to the back, behind the rock, to break this.

The idea of the trap is that it trains you to anticipate each plunderer spawn. 5 will spawn from the left side first. The first plunderer on the right side shows up at around 5 minutes 30 seconds. As each plunderer spawns, they trigger the trap and that’s your cue to immobilize them, then smash down smite and autoattack them to death. Don’t bother with shield skills or anything, just let scepter machine gun them down before they can finish their animation.

Later, once you start missing the plunderer spawn because it gets so hectic, the mine can also be used to slow down the laden plunderer’s approach to its spawn point – just make sure you get the correct spawn point. A bit of memory work here, they will return to the same point they spawned from.

You may have to let the right-most plunderer go a couple of times. It’s easier to intercept both the left and middle plunderers without aggroing all and sundry.

This is about the range you want to be for the rightmost plunderer. You will aggro anything in the middle, so break aggro whenever possible to let vets wander to the end first.
This is about the range you want to be for the rightmost plunderer. You will aggro anything in the middle, so break aggro whenever possible to let vets wander to the end first.

To get the right plunderer when things are not so chaotic, approach from the middle and only go close enough to immob the plunderer on the spawn point, just a little before the exact place where it will start treasure tossing. This minimizes the aggro risk.

When you aggro, and you will, kill the plunderer if you can in a few seconds without dying, let it go if you can’t, then drop everything and run behind the rock and a bit further if you need to.

Break aggro behind rock. Retreat further back to the south tip of the land if they chase. If you didn't hit them by accident, they shouldn't.
Break aggro behind rock. Retreat further back to the south tip of the land if they chase. If you didn’t hit them by accident, they shouldn’t.

This is when I usually fire Save Yourselves for extra swiftness to break aggro and some protection/regeneration to survive. Since we’re not aiming to actually kill much of anything in T4, switching Smite Condition for Contemplation of Purity may also help to convert the thick layer of conditions that arrive once you attract aggro and keep you alive long enough to run away.

Oh, come on, you scream. Does this mean that only Charr guardians get to manage this?

The real issue, I note, is preventing those sneaky plunderers from dashing off into the big morass of veterans where you dare not attack them, and also preventing them from reaching the point where they throw the treasure for long enough to do damage to them.

One scepter immobilize only goes so far. But I suddenly noticed that a guardian DOES have a second utility immobilize in Signet of Wrath – no weapons need be switched, you want the constant range autoattack damage as your bread-and-butter plunderer killer. It has a slight activation time to get used to, but it’s a handy 3s of immobilize that comes in handy when you’ve already used scepter 3 and when things are hectic with 2 or 3 plunderers in play.

With some patience and practice juggling plunderer spawns and killing them fast enough that they can’t toss their treasure, you too, can manage T4 post-patch.

The double immobilize version.
The double immobilize version.

How about T3?

Well, T3 is sort of a mix of T2 and T4.

You can generally start like T2 and kill stuff in the center. With the amount of damage you output, you can take down a Veteran Grenadier in fairly short order. Things get dicey once the mortar starts firing and the lone Veteran shows up. That Veteran with a gun is a major bane of my existence. It confuses. I hate confuse. Don’t we all? Do anything, including try to remove a condition, and you get hit for ugly amounts of damage.

vetcharging

It is safest to address this one from long range. It actually has a long telegraphed animation where it will pause and charge up its gun. Then it fires a projectile that does the confusing. You could maybe experiment with reflects or projectile absorbs. Or you could try to dodge – count off 2-3 seconds then dodge. I haven’t got the timing quite down pat, but it -is- dodgable and prevents the annoying confuse.

vetdodge

The problem tends to be that it always shows up at the same time as the mortars and a bunch of other spawns so a lot of things are wrestling for your attention and stuff can go wrong in fairly short order. Once you start to lose control of all the spawns, it’s time to break aggro and do like T4 for the remaining time.

I still fail this one with some regularity, mostly because taking risks to defeat more mobs means that plunderers get to sneak by unnoticed and nasty stuff shoots you in the back. But it’s doable.

Zero Aetherblade weapons and counting, by the way.

GW2: Candid Talk about the Candidate Trials

Ask and ye shall receive. Want an instance where you can both solo or group as you choose? Want variable difficulty levels that can be player adjusted?

The Candidate Trials are that miracle of game design. For that, the ArenaNet team responsible for building them gets major props and kudos and a big THANK YOU from me for bringing a brilliant theoretical ideal to fruition.

But wait, some of you may be screaming, it has -major- issues with scaling while in a full group! It is terrible! Awful! Tier 4 is so goddamn hard in a group, while others are managing it solo… *cries*

Errr, no.

I respectfully disagree.

The mobs do not have 500% more hp in a group over soloing, as some people might think. They are, however, level 81 as compared to level 80.

The larger a group size you go to, the more mobs turn up that are level 81. Add to that the fact that veterans spawn at a higher difficulty tier, and most importantly, the fact that some of the Aetherblade mobs throw WEAKNESS around (which immediately cuts group damage by a lot via glancing blows) and it creates the illusion that the mobs are a giant punching bag of hitpoints that you are flailing ineffectually on.

ArenaNet has created something very interesting and laudable in the Candidate Trials.

Difficulty level 1 is what the inclusive folk have asked for, for a very long time now. It is easy mode. Infantile mode. I heard that if you stand around and do nothing, the NPCs may actually successfully fight off the horde on their own. Presumably with some plunderers getting away and you only scoring a bronze and not getting any loot whatsoever. But what it enables is for everyone to participate in the story, small snippet that it is. You get to see a little bit of both Evon and Ellen Kiel’s character and it contributes to the election storyline somewhat.

Difficulty level 2 is like City of Heroes’ flood of minion mobs. You get a few more ordinary mobs than level 1. Tougher types of Aetherblade faction show up. (Strikers, oh how I hate thee still.) The grenadiers with the mortars spawn, introducing the mechanic of having to dodge the giant red circle of death and/or take out the operators. It’s a pretty fun but doable challenge solo, and given the fact that one achievement ends with this level, I suspect that’s where most soloists are expected to stop.

At difficulty level 3, veterans turn up. This, presumably, is meant for groups and for the really hardcore soloist to attempt. With each rising tier of difficulty, your buffer for mistakes go down (ie. the lower amount of treasure you begin with, and the amount of time you need to hold out is longer.)

It is also at level 3 where people begin to run into issues. Some cannot manage it solo. And even some groups find it difficult to get past. With some persistence and luck, it is possible for many to just -somehow- and unknowingly scrape by via the skin of their teeth, whereupon they run headlong into the brick wall of Tier 4 and begin howling their head off.

At difficulty level 4, it feels like everything goes to eleven. Stuff is HARD. They hurt. You get the distinct feeling that this level was meant for the super-hardcore – a well coordinated group that may pick and choose classes and builds, and be possibly on voice, with people fulfilling specific roles. At least, that’s probably the only kind of group that’s going to manage a gold success of 50 kills at this tier.

Which, in a sense, is great. Dungeons were made for this kind of coordinated group in mind, so I suppose ArenaNet knows that they have a subset of players that really dig this sort of hard challenge and always run in a coordinated guild group made out of specialized builds which they can discuss and tune for the occasion. It’s fantastic that the same content can also be tuned up to match that level of challenge desired.

Except, of course, one does wonder where these mythical groups are. Don’t ask me, I don’t have friends like that.

And all the groups I’ve run into that play with the same people on a regular schedule tend to be friends and family type of guilds, which are not exactly hardcore by any stretch of terminology – I mean, it’s really hard to tell your RL buddy or your relative that he or she sucks at getting out of the fire, doesn’t understand how to dodge or manage aggro and that their gear or build blows. You just… don’t. Tact and all that. So by and large, those groups tend to be a little weaker.

Maybe they do exist. I’m waiting for the first video to gleefully announce their total gold mastery of T4 in a group. I’m sure it’s bound to happen at some point.

A possibly unintended consequence of catering to both the ability to solo and play the same content in a group, combined with the ramp up in difficulty level, an achievement for merely completing it and obfuscation of potential rewards from each tier, is the effect it’s had on PUGs.

There’s less of them running at any given moment. And they are, on the whole, weaker because a number of stronger players have opted out to do the same content on their own.

There are a number of reasons for this. There’s the inherent inconvenience of group finding and group assembling and most of all, group coordination. Other players are not within your personal locus of control. The Aetherblade faction meanwhile is built to challenge groups of players to provide sufficient damage and support (or have we forgotten the lessons of the Aetherblade Retreat?) AND this particular instance also stresses the importance of the last member of GW2’s new trinity – Control.

I really have to applaud Anet for being very brilliant here. By putting a time limit on, and creating a spawn pattern of like, 3-4 plunderers from the same spawn before the complexity ramps up and produces two plunderers going simultaneously, control is rewarded over damage in most cases except pure berserker (and even then you have to be very quick on your feet if you’re doing it zerk style.)

This, by the way, is how I managed to solo Tier 4 after a number of attempts at the “kill all plunderers super fast” method and getting screwed up once a second plunderer started going.

It so happened I was on the warrior – so I turned off autoattack on the rifle and used skill 2 (cripple) and skill 5 (knockback) and utilized axe 3 (cripple), even swapping into the leg specialist trait once or twice, though I think the run which successfully completed with bronze didn’t use it. I swapped in bolas for immobilize, and Fear Me! for a fear. I was in berserker gear, but probably could and should have swapped to being tanky and doing less damage.

The goal: Waste the plunderers’ time. Ignore other mobs. Stay alive.

Crippled plunderer = more seconds ticking away. Once cripple wore off, Fear Me! with correct placement of self sent it fleeing back the way it came for a good distance. Immobilize. Cripple again once immob wore off. Knock back. Rinse and repeat. Curse when one accidentally killed it because berserk warrior is too nuts. Though being high damage does come in handy for the must-kill moments when the plunderer comes back loaded with gold and is almost going to make it to its spawn point. I’m sure there’s a balance to be found.

It takes some practice and things do get dicey when the second plunderer spawns (which occasionally makes one wonder if a friend would come in handy to post at the other spawn point) and there will be missed attempts at stopping both of them while trying not to die from veterans and mortars (lose aggro by running behind the rock, but you give up the opportunity to control the plunderers further) but you may eventually be able to scrape by with 500 treasure remaining as the time ticks down.

No “letting the first plunderer steal shit to ensure other stuff doesn’t spawn” glitch was used. (Which may or may not have been patched, according to rumors and reports.) Just lots of dodging and surviving while zeroing in on plunderers.

I did it with cookie cutter guardian later to demo proof of concept too. Hammer 3 (immob), hammer 4 (banish for the ultimate knock back) hammer 5 (ring of warding), scepter 3 (immob) are your friends. You could also use shield 5 for more knockback, but I pair focus with scepter on this guardian.
I did it with cookie cutter guardian later to demo proof of concept too. Hammer 3 (immob), hammer 4 (banish for the ultimate knock back) hammer 5 (ring of warding), scepter 3 (immob) are your friends. You could also use shield 5 for more knockback, but I pair focus with scepter on this guardian.

In my most ideal dreams, I would want a group with the following: two control/damage roles (eg. a warrior specced like I was, a thief with pulls and good damage, possibly a necro or a ranger with fears and knockbacks or a mesmer with pulls – I’m foggy about what they can or can’t do, I’m open to the possibility that all classes can do this) posted at the two spawn points of the plunderers. Their job – waste the plunderers’ time and only kill at the last second when the plunderers are nearly almost back with gold at their starting location. Take out the grenadiers with mortars when they spawn. Help each other if necessary and if a third plunderer shows up.

The remaining three would be damage/support group synergy, just like when one takes on the Aetherblade Retreat. Tons of condition clears and boons. Beat the crap out of the veteran mobs and other adds as they show up.

It’s only a theory at this stage, but I bet it would work.

Of course, the problem is convincing any group to go along with it, with good builds and good players. Is it going to happen in a PUG? Not bloody likely.

I joined a group for fun, after managing the achievements solo, and to re-confirm just how high the mob hp scaling went, because I’d kind of blacked out on my first few attempts in a group with the cookie cutter AH guardian. (The grenadiers by the mortars are way squishy btw, one berserk warrior takes them out, at the same speed as on a solo run. The normal mobs seem to have like 20-30% more hp, possibly from being level 81. The veterans, of course, require a group pounding on them to dent them.)

As you’d expect, we had one party member who had no concept of “control” and consistently decimated the plunderers despite the rest of the group suggesting we leave it alone with damage and only slow/pull/knockback until near the end of its route. Double dagger heartseeker spam thief, of course. One trick pony. (I’m sure there are much better thieves out there who know how to use scorpion wire, cripples and dazes when needed.) Then he or she attacked other mobs at random, drawing aggro onto the whole party and causing everyone’s attention to fritter into five different directions at once.

So we tried the “kill them all super quickly” route several times too, since y’know, THAT GUY. Which almost successfully worked, except two other party members tended to miss the gigantic red mortar circle and failed to dodge out of them for the fifteen seconds or so it took my warrior to rush over to the mortars and whack the grenadiers – resulting in downed players and others scrambling to rez them while getting beat on by multiple Aetherblade veterans – cue the massive condition pileup on everyone’s bars.

Condition clears? As a party, definitely not enough.

We never did get past Tier 3. Yep, 3. Not 4.

We end up with another weakest link kind of situation, where one bad player drags down the group. Is it any wonder why there are very few PUGs forming for this?

Finally, the rewards themselves are unclear and thus not tempting. There is rumored to be a chance at Aetherblade weapon skins for doing this candidate trial. Exactly what counts as success?

Is it better to score 50 kills and earn a gold on tier 2 by oneself? Certainly, you get four loot bags by doing so. The only thing that comes out of them tends to be broken lockpicks worth not much silver at all (compared to say, one of the PvP minigame rewards for mere participation.) You may get 2-6 heavy bags of booty. From very small sample sizes, there does seem to be a little less loot attempting tier 1 than say, tier 2, nor does magic find seem to have much of an effect. Very rarely, you may get a white, or a blue or a green. A pathetic one. And you get a decent amount of support tokens.

Is it better to scrape by with 10 kills or less on say, tier 3 or tier 4 and only get one or two bags at the end? So far, my solo trials have yielded much less lockpicks and heavy bags of booty (0-2), but Salvageable Aetherized Metal has dropped once or twice (possibly from a veteran kill.)

Do you get better rewards in a group? One would think it might logically be so, but so far, my failed attempts at tier 3 have yielded the same miserable amount of consolation lockpicks and bags of booty as doing it alone.

And frankly, even if you told me that there was a 100% chance of getting an Aetherized weapon skin drop from successfully getting 50+ kills in a group of 5 at Tier 4, I would seriously think twice about attempting it because the chance for failure and lots of wasted time (or less wasted time practising group coordination to get it down right) would be very high.

I’m sure we all know what the odds of that happening are, what with Anet’s love of 2% or less RNG.

Anyhow, since I don’t have any interest in this round of skins either, (hooray for me, though I did just spend 10 gold putting up buy orders for blue and green miniatures… everyone needs a vice, y’know?)  I’m not stressing about it.

I prefer to just enjoy the sheer fact that a variable difficulty challenge has been made, that can be done both solo or in a group, according to one’s preferences and bash the heck out of it for fun.

I like level 2. Its difficulty is just right for me.

So far, I’ve managed 60 on the mostly berserk axe/horn + rifle banner support warrior, though the average is more in the 51-55 range. My non-cookie cutter charrdian managed level 1 in magic find at about 44 kills, and went up to 51-54 in his berserker gear for both level 1 and 2. (Obviously, there is a bias towards berserker when you are soloing and want to score as many kills as possible. Surviving and delaying in a group may require different gear and builds – which may just account for why so many people find grouping so hard and solo to be much easier with the current dungeon meta being what it is.)

Who knows, I may eventually get brave enough to attempt level 3 and think/tweak my builds for the challenge. There’s a week or so to play with it anyway.