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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Victim of a dolyak hit-and-run.

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

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

The fights themselves are decent.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ok. Great. Future stuff.

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


Grind, apparently.

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

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

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

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

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

Mostly the chest box.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guess what. He didn’t die.

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

Hooray. I trust learning has taken place.


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

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

GW2: Dry Top Analysis – The View From T4

Night time in Dry Top (taken within a peaceful instance, of course.)

Phew. It’s been a week of self-imposed OCD effort, but I think I can finally relax and play at a less obsessive pace now.

You see, for the first three days, the thing that caught my attention primarily was the story. The instances, which I happily played solo, and then replayed again for the ‘hardmode’ achievements.

(Used more in the context of GW1’s hardmode, as an extra optional challenge using the same assets, rather than them truly being hard – though the jumping puzzle ones in the second instance, Fallen Hopes, did have me ripping my hair out for an hour.

The bloody thing was aptly named. My hopes were dashed against the rocks repeatedly… like my body.

I was worried for a bit that the 2h achievement buff would run out, and ended up resorting to Dulfy and finding out that one could ‘cheat’ and stack time on the air crystals – which made it a little more doable than trying to trial-and-error jump step by step without crystal or guide help.)

Then I turned my attention to exploring Dry Top, its events, the Favor of the Zephyrites mechanic and its rewards.

My first response at seeing how much everything cost in geodes was stress, frustration and a sense of mounting helplessness.

Just HOW was I supposed to get 110 or 130 geodes for just -one- account bound cooking recipe, when the events I was doing seemed to give only 2-3 geodes per completion?

And that price assumes I can somehow find my way to a map instance where the merchants are Tier 4 at some point or another before interest dies out and the place loses the critical mass needed to ever push the map to T4.

Otherwise, the solo option is to slowly and steadily grind out geodes over hours and hours of Dry Top farming and then pay an additional gold penalty through the nose (I don’t run dungeons very frequently, I’m about 10-15 gold poorer daily than those that do) just to get ONE recipe.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that a solo alternative exists. It’s -doable- even if we’re talking about a long term effort on the scale of earning 25-35 laurels for a single piece of Ascended jewellery.

I just didn’t want to do it that way.

Too slow, not immediately gratifying enough, and I freely admit to a completionist impulse that will try to ‘complete’ anything that I think is vaguely within my reach.

And I liked the options being offered.

I have a bevy of alts all at 400 or 500 crafting just so that I have the option to craft whatever I want without being forced to rely on other people or the trading post. I like collecting cooking recipes. I like the option of being able to look up GW2 food in the wiki, scanning to see what stats would suit me in a particular situation and cooking it up on the spot if needed.

I’m not like most players, who settle on one build, one or two consumables and thus find it more convenient to just buy the relevant stuff from the TP without bothering about crafting ever. If I run into a situation like the Queen’s Gauntlet, I want my dodge food and I’ll cook it, rather than pay the temporarily inflated prices from the sudden demand. If I suddenly need lifesteal food, or increased damage while moving food, or whatever weird demands the Living Story throws at us, I’ll cook the small portions I need.

Toughness, Healing, Vitality gear is a bit more interesting. When I see those stats, I immediately think of ‘bunker’ and possibly aggro holding, though I’ve yet to personally test whether it’s possible to hold aggro with it given the lack of damage a pure THV user would face. I think ‘very tanky.’

At the moment, I surely wouldn’t replace my zerker gear for it, because no situations I encounter call for such stats yet.

But personally, and this is just a personal opinion based on a hunch rather than anything founded in evidence or data, I think many players are blinded by the current zerker meta and do not see the potential of the healing power stat. Which admittedly scales badly on a number of skills, but less badly on others – which can be quite significant when all taken together, a rolling selfless daring guardian with high healing power can do a very surprising amount of healing, fer instance, plus additional oomph if he pops his book.

At any time, Arenanet can shift the meta if they want to, by adjusting a few numbers here and there, maybe improving the scaling of healing power even further, or whatever.

It’s not useful -now.- But later?

Anet is known to read the pulse of their community very well, even if they don’t immediately respond and the changes in-game are very gradual, like a big oil tanker trying to turn. People complained about zergs, and now we have slowly and steadily attempts at zerg-breaking and spreading out players while trying to encourage them to self-organize into smaller non-zerg groups, with varying degrees of success. I don’t believe they enjoy the present ‘damage uber alles’ unity over their damage/control/support trinity that was originally posited, though I doubt they’ll react so fast and heavily handedly to force things back into a super boring holy trinity of tank + dps + maybe heals either.

But I would not be surprised to find optional achievements coming down the road that relies on someone having the option to become very tanky and healery, for example, (no one can complain if the stuff is permanent and can be replayed at any time when they have the right stats for it) though I certainly hope that a more convenient build saving and gear wardrobe solution comes in first – I’m running out of invisible bag slots trying to maintain 3-4 sets of stats for each character.

Because of this belief, I want Nomad stats. Just like I collected Zealot stats. It’s a long term investment, and I might be wrong, but I’ll go for it anyway, to have the option one day if need arises. I’ve always liked being tanky anyway.

I probably won’t and can’t bother with Ventari’s, because Ascended is so much more expensive, and seems to have a certain demanded niche for WvW commanders and select WvW builds, whom are all willing to pay a lot higher premiums than I can, but we’ll see.

Role-wise, I prefer PPH a lot more anyway, do damage AND heal/support, over TPP, do damage AND tank, or THV, tank AND heal/support.

There’s also always the option of mix-and-matching, but so far, I haven’t bothered to think that deeply and theorycraft to that level yet. Zerking works in the open world and in dungeons so far, we will stick close to the meta… until the meta changes. As all metas eventually do. (Which many forget.)

Long story short: I want to buy everything that the Zephyrite merchants offer.

That’s an INSANE amount of geodes!

Thing is, now that I know that’s my goal, I’m willing to see what other viable options I have to get there.

If it means grouping and playing in an organized fashion for more rewards, I can do that, since it’s not the -only- thing I’m being forced to do in order to get any geodes at all, it’s me being drawn by greed and convenience to put up temporarily with little annoyances I might not like otherwise.

The big question was: How am I going to find said organized group?

I tried my ol’ stopgap, lurking in the TTS teamspeak, but was somewhat disappointed to see a lot more interest for repeated Teq and Wurm runs (now that the timers have become more flexible) than a 24/7 organized Dry Top.

That’s all very well, TTS was meant to take on big world bosses after all, not be a collective place to do every single organized group activity possible, so it’s the leaders’ prerogatives to lead and schedule what they want. I can join them as and when I have an interest in running those world bosses.

With that, I found myself back at the level of an ordinary non-networked solo player, feeling somewhat helpless and at a loss to affect the world around them.

The good news, such that it is, is that I’ve been noticing something interesting going on with the megaserver selection in the Dry Top map.

I don’t know if it’s due to just an increased player interest leading to more players visiting, thus letting the megaserver sort players like how it’s -supposed- to work, but I kept encountering A LOT more familiar Tarnished Coast guild names. Hell, I kept seeing a few of my -own- guild members running around, something that almost never happens otherwise. (Perhaps because I’m nearly always in that map, and when they visit, they get shunted into the same map that I’m camping out in.)

So since there actually seemed to be a bit more of a server community in existence, I tried a bit of communication, if not leadership. I kept posting non-obvious information to the map, from the Reddit Dry Top T4 timers thread, to alert the map to the existence of events going on at specific times and hoping that people would respond somewhat. (I don’t blue dorito, sorry, I just can’t deal with that level of cat-herding aggravation.)

Which worked up to a very limited point. People seemed to stir themselves slightly as they saw the Favor level climbing tiers, and that effort managed to push the map to a more or less respectable 3, though it certainly was never as organized as a ‘proper’ T4 map and thus T4 was always out of reach from the get go.

That seemed to depress people after one attempt and people more or less stopped trying.

See, the bad news about the megaserver and Dry Top in particular is that people come to the map for different purposes. Many are just casually chasing their story missions, a few more are after very specific achievements or buried chest hunting, leaving insufficient people interested and committed enough to pushing the Favor mechanic up to a high tier.

Nor is what you’re supposed to do very obvious. Where are people supposed to go? When? What’s in it for them if they get to T4? Are these recipes all there is?

Plus a conflict of interests. Maybe I’m not interested in any of those recipes on offer at the vendor, and just want a fancy spectacles or scarf instead, and would rather spend my sandstorm time hunting for buried chests?

So the first obstacle, if you’re interested in a T4 Dry Top, is to get yourself onto a map where 80-90% of the people have the same objective in mind. Achieving a T4 Dry Top.

We’re down to exclusion by effort again. A lot of non-obsessive casuals will not even think or bother or realize that such a possibility exists, nor will they have means or times to get there.

Pre-megaserver, I suspect certain server communities were successful because people who were interested -knew- that there were certain crowded servers that they could specifically guest to, if they were interested in completing something. With a few simple button clicks, there they were, in the correct map (or at least trying to bang their heads against and taxi in, if it was full) full of people committed to achieving the same thing. Over time, as people exited and others entered, one would keep stacking the map with people committed to achieving that one goal.

Post-megaserver, we -still- have to do the same thing, but with more effort. Left all alone, bereft of no network interested in doing a T4 Dry Top, it’s very easy to just throw your hands in the air and give it up as unobtainable. Subtract one more player who might have been interested once.

Me, I was a little more desperate. I tried guesting. Maybe Blackgate would have more power-leveler-y achiever minded people. Yep, the Dry Top tier here was one higher than in my home map, but still not T4. Maybe Sea of Sorrows, since I was playing at Oceanic times? Nope, no go.

I would have loved to try to hop over to Jade Quarry or Yak’s Bend or -somewhere- else beyond that, but I was out of guest passes for the day. Dammit.

So it was down to camping the LFG tool.

Which is a really sad case of refreshing over and over, hoping to see a kind person offer a taxi to a T4 Dry Top, or conversely posting that you’re looking for one and hoping someone will pull you in.

The good news is that since this seems to be the -only- means of getting a T4 Dry Top for a lot of people, a small amount do seem to be willing to reciprocate and set up a taxi chain, especially when the map starts running dry as people leave and they’re desperate to get more new blood in to refresh the map.

From there, you start building a network all over again, if only a light ‘spy network’ of friending names you keep seeing turn up at the same times – so that you can see when they’re in Dry Top and roughly estimate if there’s a T4 Dry Top going.

Is this painful? Yeah. More than a little. It’s a lot easier to just log into a Teamspeak and see a bunch of names in a channel labeled with the appropriate activity and then ask for a taxi into the map. It might be a lot more ideal if the map ips and instances were more transparent, and people could just queue once to join maps with others that shared a particular organized group interest/objective, rather than break your mouse button trying to taxi into a map.

Of course, the only drawback to simplifying stuff like this is that by making it so complicated, only the truly obsessive and dedicated are willing to jump through all the hoops and self-select themselves into the same map. That generally leads to a slightly more intelligent level of play than the average map and a better than average chance of success. I don’t know if we’d end up inflicting failure on ourselves by letting more not-very-committed players easily join up, hoping to ‘leech’ as some might term it, by giving below-average amounts of effort.

Dunno. I guess it’s up to Anet to figure out and players to adapt.

Though I do hope we never adapt to the point of outright exclusivity based on gear or stats or class, or easily kicking people who don’t meet whatever particular requirements some other random player had in mind.

I’ll settle for the sneakier exclusivity based on effort. Want in? Make the effort to find the way in. That at least suggests the player has a decent amount of resourcefulness and smarts, and is committed to completing the same goal at the same time.

So… what happens when you do get in?

A cycle of events is performed at each quarter hour.

First up at :00, 15 and :30, tendril, race and moa.

The tendril event is the sneaky less-obvious event, which does scale up and become harder if more people congregate to it, so the design imposes some player self-interest in keeping in quiet and unannounced. Usually, I get there to see either I’m alone or upwards to 7-8 other players, which is still more or less manageable if everyone’s on the same page.

That is, to kill all the smaller roots before the big main veteran root.

This yields the bonus. If the main root is killed before that, it will bury itself and replace an existing smaller root. Surprise surprise, you get to kill it all over again, and this time, no more bonus.

The “bonus” by the by, is an interesting mechanic. It’s the ol’ partial reward thing again, reinforcing full rewards if you play the way Arenanet hopes you’ll figure out how to play, and giving you a consolation prize if you don’t – except put in a much more palatable form of “you get a bonus” if you manage this.

The concept being tested here is the ability to target select, dodge red circles, as well as listen/communicate to others.

Almost always, there will be one or two people who will try to go for the mob with the big orange swords over its head. Almost always, I have to quickly type out ‘kill the small ones first for the bonus’ and amazingly, almost always, they actually respond by target switching and killing the adds. (Amazing, I know. Such is the quality of players who have chosen to come to a T4 map. It’s not that they’re dumb, they just weren’t informed or aware of the mechanics yet.)

The trick, of course, is that the big root will throw a whole bunch of heavy damage poison projectiles at you if you stay at range (which you often are, when killing the small ones.) So now you have to stay mobile while killing – which imposes a bit more of a dps pause for melee users unless they can kite well in movement, and balances the playing field for ranged users outputting more sustained damage.

And you can also demonstrate knowledge and mastery of projectile absorption by using skills to soak the projectiles – though projectile reflects are more iffy as the veteran root can easily kill itself with two good reflected bursts of its own attacks.

The most obvious event in Dry Top.
The most obvious event in Dry Top, and correspondingly most crowded and played.

The race to get zephyrite crystals before the Inquest do is the more obvious event, sitting right next to a waypoint and a more well-traveled area next to “town.”

This is interesting because it places a decent amount of stress on crowd control.

Yes, if you zerg the event and try to burst down all the Inquest before they get anywhere, that is also a form of crowd control. But if a champion or elite Inquest happens to pick up a crystal, grabbing a boulder or using a skill for a knockdown to force them to drop the crystal is a lot easier than trying to work through all their hp before they run off.

And a brief immobilize can also sometimes help to hold one for long enough to be bursted down.

Being able to throw crystals also leads to the possibility of setting up a pass-the-parcel chain for them, but that never happens in practice. It’s already pretty good if people realize that they can aim their crystal properly and throw it right into the basket. (Hint: set up fast cast ground targeting and hold down skill 2 while moving your mouse and position it properly ON the basket.)

Concept test: Being able to use ground targeting to aim at a precise spot. You can see all the people choosing to run to the basket and press F failing this.

Finally, everyone trundles over to the moa.

The strategy has evolved so that everyone can get at least two event completions in these five minutes, though a really fast and savvy player can tag all three. (If enough smart people are at the race though, they’ll finish before the tendril people can get there.)

The moa, as some have praised enthusiastically, is a very very obvious concept test of hard cc.

See that orange bar on the UI? That's when you interrupt.
See that orange bar on the UI? That’s when you interrupt.

If there isn’t at least a few players in your group that have the ability to do a stun, daze, knockdown, knockback or pull consistently, and are able to pay enough attention to the UI to see the bar that announces when the moa is going to run off and respond in time…

…well, the moa is going to do a roadrunner on you – you can imagine it going “BEEP BEEP” in a taunting fashion as it runs off and heals to full health.

The zerg solution, of course, is to bring as many players to it as possible, in the hopes that at least a -few- players will have the right class and skills up to perform this.

This one frustrates me a little more, mostly because I’m a bit more helpless when I run as my sword/focus scepter/torch zerk guardian. I generally have to rely on someone else to perform the mechanic well. I suppose I -could- switch to greatsword and see if the pull works, but I’m just not really built for interrupts. I do, however, quickly swap out “Stand Your Ground” for “Signet of Power” which has a knockdown and can be fired off in an emergency. It’s a long cooldown and can’t consistently fire every phase it runs, but there has been twice or thrice now that my slow interrupt is the only one that is fired and saved the event that way.

An offhand pistol thief with skill 4 works wonders though, along with other more cc heavy classes that actually know how to use their cc.

At :05, :20 and :35, it’s Serene, Froggy, South Mine and Queen.

Everybody nearly always skips Serene, for obvious reasons. Slow ass escort, up in a really inaccessible place with bad jumping puzzle memories. It’s soloable or small groupable, if a lone person finds themselves up there and feels like helping, but probably not.

From the moa, it’s easiest to branch off to Nochtli, the froggy in question.

Some self-sacrificing individuals do head over to the south mine, apparently, to free the zephyrites and so on. Maybe. I don’t know. I generally don’t follow that route.


Zerging down Nochtli makes the event very easy.

Concept-wise though, Nochtli is a fun test for solo or a small group.

It has a lot of quick direction changing cone atttacks that will knockback, so circling around to the back of your opponent is tested.

It has a period of invulnerability plus small orange circles to not stand in.

That period often telegraphs the next phase which most people have trouble with – the big orange circle where Nochtli jumps up into the air and comes down, knocking everybody off.

In theory, the intended way to do this is to time jumps carefully. That’s what the big red orange arrow pointing up is supposed to indicate. I freely confess I totally DID NOT get that message until I saw someone else attempting to time jumps.

Anyway, timing jumps is a latency bugaboo. I suppose it’s something for fun I might try when Dry Top empties out more and see if I can get the timing down, but I simply DO NOT trust jumping.

There are, of course, other options. The guardian option is to enjoy stability. Lots of it. Stand your ground and Hallowed ground, timed just as the red circle phase starts, will get you through the first two such incidents with no problems. The third is a little trickier if nothing’s recharged yet, though stand your ground might have, and there’s always coordinating with another guardian (which was how I got the achievement first time around, three of us happened to be there, and two of us were guardians.)

Blinding powder on thieves is also supremely effective, I hear, as it just pulses blind constantly and will cause all its jumps to miss -everybody- rather than only saving a select five using stability.

As a zerg, everybody just fires off all this stuff at once to stack blinds and stablity and combined damage plus a time warp bonus turns the hylek into froggy mincemeat.

Not that we’re arguing, we need the bonus favor for the zone mechanic.

From Nochtli, folks head to the colocal queen nearby.

Yeah, I play zerg events with crappy graphics. So happy the Living Story Season 2 isn't -all- zerg only.
Yeah, I play zerg events with crappy graphics. So happy the Living Story Season 2 isn’t -all- zerg only.

If someone grabs the old colocal tooth quickly, before too many players get within range, this apparently affects the hp scaling somewhat and makes it easier to burn down. Or so someone said once. Given how freaky wurm scaling was, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some bugs like this happening under the hood still.

Regardless of how much health the colocal queen happens to have on any one go, it’s a zerg it down till dies affair, with generally a bunch of people going down with every pounce and charge/rush. Unless, and this is just a suspicion, there’s someone tanky in melee that happens to pull aggro and manages to hold it in place and survive the pouncing.

There have been a few times where the colocal queen sat in place for a ton of people to burn down without harm, and while it isn’t obvious, I suspect there was a Soldier or Knight or Cleric armored guardian or warrior soaking up damage sitting in place right along next to it. Just a hunch though.

I do know if I happen to draw aggro – and for some unknown reason, I can draw a phenomenal amount of aggro when scepter/torching on my zerk guardian (is the dps THAT high?), I end up in a mad dodging scramble up and down ledges, testing my dodging sideways ability to its absolute limits, losing a chunk of health every time I screw up, and eventually dropping after I screw up and/or run out of endurance. Sometimes people rez me, sometimes I just waypoint and come back. Such is zerker life.

(The day they make a fight less close to a convenient waypoint though… that’s going to be more of a pain. I forsee a lot of whining and complaining before any adaptation stats-wise.)

Once the colocal queen is down, many folks will rush off to the south mine to see if they can get a tag in on that event if it’s still going. Often it tends to fail if no one else has been working on it in the meantime.

At :10 and :25, it’s the north mine and basket events.

Me, I’m usually on my way from colocal queen to the basket, because it’s best to be in place before the time hits, as one technician grabbing supplies from a basket and running off into a portal means the end of the bonus.

This is a very strange event, because of the scaling. If more people show up, this event gets a lot harder. It’s in everyone’s interest that as few people show up as possible, which usually means only the most savvy show up and leaves everyone else dead ignorant that this event even exists.

Soloed or duo’ed, this is quite easy. Technicians are just normal mobs, there is only one basket to concentrate on, burn down the technicans, burn down other nearby mobs, and the Inquest morale bar will drop very quickly and finish up, with the bonus.

As five or more show up, two more baskets will float down on parachutes, one near to the original basket and one on the top rock shelf. (There is a ramp up that the technicians will run up.)

I've taken to camping here because almost no one else does. I've seen one person up here before when I was down there once. And once, another person joined me. Countable on one hand.
I’ve taken to camping here because almost no one else does. I’ve seen one person up here before when I was down there once. And once, another person joined me. Countable on one hand.

From observation, it is super-easy for players to miss a technician grabbing a crystal from one of these other baskets and losing the bonus that way.

I’ve personally taken to camping up on the rock shelf and singlehandedly stopping technicians from reaching the top basket, and sniping down below at the original basket to help – which sometimes works, but I can’t do -anything- about the last basket, and sometimes still have to watch helplessly as a technician out of my range scampers off with players below missing it.

Looking down to snipe the original basket spawn. Turn around every now and then to make sure a technician isn't on the way up.
Looking down to snipe the original basket spawn. Turn around every now and then to make sure a technician isn’t on the way up.

Concept-wise: This is a cc and target prioritization test.

I use a scepter. I can immobilize a technician before they even reach a basket and it’ll die or be very close to dying by the time it gets there. If someone has a knockback or pull, they can yank the technician off the basket. Prioritizing technicians and killing them off yields a bonus. Killing the closest red Inquest thing may work on the bar, but lose the bonus as the sneaky little technician gits run off into their portals.

The north mine is a very interesting event.

Folks tend to zerg it, mostly because the alternative nightmare is a zerg at the baskets, and that doesn’t sound very fun at all.

Also, as a zerg, there is more damage that can be focused on killing the appearing ambushing Inquest quickly, plus the off chance that an elementalist capable of using water fields actually exists within the horde.

You see, and it took me a while to realize this, the Zephyrites you need to escort out are crippled. Anything with a condition on it, will not regenerate by itself when out of combat. Effectively, these guys will not heal up unless -players- heal them up.

Since healing power and healing skills are so derided, almost no one in the zerg is capable of healing, except a WvW elementalist that can use water fields and people who blast in them. Or the odd guardian who actually realizes this and switches to things like the book heal – though we’re still talking fairly pathetic heal numbers while in zerk gear.

This usually results in a lot of players running around like headless chickens, trying to kill Inquest faster than they can damage the Zephyrites, accidentally leading Inquest into doing area of attacks while a Zephyrite is cowering nearby, running by soaking up 5-player limit heals meant for the Zephyrites, and a lot of dead Zephyrite bodies, failed bonuses and failed events.

Unless, of course, the zerg is big enough to do a lot of lethal damage to any Inquest mobs that show their faces and happens to contain a few maniacal water field healers. MORE PEOPLE TO NORTH MINE PLZ.

Concept tested: Protection and careful NPC escort, healing actually being useful. Cheerfully being failed at least 50% of the time.

Despite that though, it’s possible to hit T4 as long as the whole cycle is repeated and there are more successes with bonuses than the odd failure here and there, and will almost always hit T3.

This post is getting way too long, so I’ll leave off discussing the special stuff that comes out during the sandstorm. Mostly they’re reward events, zerg and burn with a few simple mechanics, meant for collecting 8 or 10 geodes per event for reaching T3 or T4.

I did think it was rather interesting to see the pre-sandstorm events sneakily test various control and support concepts that are not very stressed in ordinary everyday PvE.

I think this is only the beginning, and the tip of an as-yet unexplored iceberg.

GW2: Coda

To be continued...

This time, Ravious and Bhagpuss have beat me to it with their thoughts on the Living Story’s end. (For Season 1, that is.)

As much as I’ve been wanting to say something about the story since the Escape turned into a Battle that led us to an Aftermath in the wreckage of Lion’s Arch, the truth is that I feel that there isn’t much to discuss, nor much to talk about.

That is not to say that I don’t like the story.

Since the Queen’s Jubilee, as the story writers have started to find their stride, and as the boring talking heads have metamorphed into cinematic cutscenes, discounting the odd miss here and there, on the whole…

I have been… content.

It’s an MMO. It’s never going to be fine literature.

The plot pacing improved, ever so slightly. We started to learn more crucial clues and actually understand whatever point the writers were trying to tell us, rather than get strung along with cryptic words and empty promises.

The focus on likable characters and conversational dialogue and humor has been the highlight, as far as I’m concerned, as it seems to be where our crop of GW2 writers shine the most. So it makes more sense to concentrate on that as a strong point.

I find the consequence and impact of the Living Story has been made more meaningful and lasting since the Kessex Hill and Lion’s Arch changes, though I especially appreciate the forewarning so that we can actually spend time recording and documenting how it was before and appreciate the changes better without having to rely on exceedingly faulty memories. A flashback system would be good here, and I think we’re seeing some of the beginnings of that through items or NPCs that play certain cutscenes for us.

If you read the forums and Reddit, it can oftentimes be a cesspool of negativity and criticism where the Living Story has been concerned, full of conviction that such-and-such is lore inappropriate, or that they could write the story better, or that such and such plot point or clue should have best been included so that everything makes more sense. (Sometimes, they’re even right.)

I guess, I’m finding it hard to make topics like that into a point of discussion anymore. Ultimately, it seems to boil down to opinion and preference. I like this. I don’t like that. You like something else. You hate this thing over here. The writers in charge of the story like this other thing.

We’re still going to end up with the story the writers decide they want to tell us.

At the moment, I enjoyed the quiet little interlude at the Dead End Bar, for the most part. Though some of the laughter seemed forced, we got a little conversation time with all our Living Story NPCs, developing their character slightly further, and even had a new character introduced.

I still didn’t understand the whole plot point that included Scarlet in it, especially this crazy little doozy here:


Leylines are currents? Wha? That doesn’t explain anything, just sounds like a hocus-pocus hand wave.

I kinda preferred the Reddit explanation, the drill disrupted the leylines somehow, and that alerts a jungle dragon that happens to sleeping close to one of them, nomming away at his midnight snack.

Some other people hated all the lovey-dovey talk.

Well, that’s life. You get bits you like and bits you hate. Some parts you understand, and some you don’t.

The overall theme of the hints seems to be pushing us towards Maguuma and the jungle for the next season, anyhow, what with talk of the bandits in the Brisban Wildlands (encamped so cozily in a fortress guarding an exit deeper into the wilderness), and more stuff with the sylvari (the racial prejudice after the disaster being a nice echo to the real world, I thought.)

And well, we’ll see where and how things develop from there.

I trust that ArenaNet has learned some lessons about pacing out the story from the first season, and I am generally content to see where the story takes us.

Other people whine bitterly that they want a new expansion. I sit around thinking that what they want is really a new class, a new race, a new (permanent) zone or maybe a new (persistent) story. All of those can be requested without having to have an expansion.

I dunno, maybe it’s my City of Heroes non-World of Warcraft background showing again. We got regular Issues and updates that gave us new and interesting things, whereas the expansions CoH had never seemed to do much except split the playerbase further across many zones (albeit the new archetypes and new stories were fun) and WoW expansions to me just mean an ever-increasing max level and gear tiers that everyone races to, invalidating all old content in the process.

And here we come to the crux of why I feel it’s pointless trying to turn these things into a conversation point:

All these MMOs are different games.

Different people prefer different things.

We choose MMOs that give us these different things. If people like how WoW does things, they probably have already gone back to WoW. (Or ought to, instead of trying to make all other games resemble WoW.)

It’s been 1.5 years. To me, Guild Wars 2 has already matured. I find very little need for hype or insecurity concerning how the game plays.

I don’t think we have “a large shard of sandbox in a themepark.

For better or worse, what we have is a mutable themepark (with a veneer of sandbox in the leveling game and in the lateral progression options – which I like, mind you) that is determined to change with the passage of time.

And I’m okay with that.

I like that, actually.

I’m happy with enough freedom of choice that I don’t feel obliged to spend every logged-in hour working towards the next tier of gear, or having giant signposts telling me “HERE IS WHERE YOU GO NEXT, everything else is NOT YOUR LEVEL and NOT WORTH YOUR TIME.”

I don’t want to be playing a holy trinity game where my role boils down to TANK THIS NOW TAUNT TAUNT TAUNT -or- HEAL YOUR LIL TITTIES OUT -or- MOAR DPS. If you failed, it very well could be your stats and gear not being up to the challenge, GO GRIND MOAR to get exponentially better at the game.

I’m okay with MOAR DPS, MOAR BUFFS, DODGE YOU FOOL, MOVE CORRECTLY and even occasionally, OH MY GOD I HAVE TO ACTUALLY THINK AND READ / SWITCH MY SKILLS and USE THE CORRECT ONES TO COUNTER THE ENCOUNTER. (Though more of the latter, in a solo setting, would be preferred. GW1 background showing…)

Where GW2 is concerned, I’m happy to not be in a complete sandbox where you have to make your own story, make your own bloody house from materials piece by piece, level your skills percentage point by decimal percentage point, and then lose it all when some bugger comes over the horizon and ganks you in FFA PvP.

There are other games for that.

(Some of ’em I like – A Tale in the Desert, Don’t Starve and Minecraft all come to mind, and others that I’m not so keen on – Wurm Online, Darkfall Online, Eve Online, fer instance.)

I am perfectly okay to log in and think, “Hmm, what do I feel like doing today?”

Ok, today I’ll do some dungeons – cue the LFG tool because I lack friends who get the urge for dungeoneering at the same time I get these odd whims.

Or today I’ll do a raid – log into TTS Teamspeak and see what they’re up to.

Or today I’ll WvW – see if my guilds are running anything / log into Tarnished Coast Mumble.

Or today I’ll be a hermit and wander some of my favorite mid or high-level zones solo, hunting every mob in sight and collecting every node because I find it incredibly appealing and fun to hit these little waypoints of achievement/collection/loot get/mini-dings.

Or today I’ll experience the next part of the Living Story, or work on the accompanying achievements. Or today I’ll craft. Or play the TP in a misguided attempt to get rich.

Or today I really have to clean up my inventory and bank because stuff is a colossal mess from all the above activities.

Or all of the above.

I don’t want to -have- to be climbing an endless ladder to feel better than everyone else around me, or feel stuck on a treadmill running in place going nowhere.

Attending a carnival or an amusement park – visiting all the booths and rides at least once and then repeating my favorite mini-games (real world sidetrek: did anyone else like Skee Ball as much as I did in my youth? I’d do a pirate ship ride once, and then use up my entire stack of arcade coins hurling a tiny ball at some targets with points inscribed on ’em) until I’m done for the day or the carnival’s gone – is okay by me.

There’ll be a new carnival or another trip to the amusement park in two weeks.

If you don’t like carnivals, the WoW gym where you can compare your pectorals and how much weight you can bench is over that way.

GW2: Tribulation Mode Thoughts Sight Unseen

The new experimental strategy ArenaNet seems to be going with is pre-warning the players what to expect for the next patch, what with John Smith chiming in on expected economy disequilibrium and Josh Foreman sharing some of the design philosophy behind the Super Adventure Box’s Tribulation Mode.

From what he hinted, it’s going to seem like bad design because the rabidly hard platforming genre tends to use intrinsically unfair tricks.

(Perhaps they’ve gotten tired of players continually posting up TV Trope’s FakeDifficulty page on the forums after the Queen’s Gauntlet.)

It’s going to use up a lot of lives via very arbitrary deaths while the player learns via repeated trial and error what not to do and where not to step, and those lives in turn may have to be saved up / prepared / “ground” out via plays of an easier mode.

To this, I only have the following questions and statements:

1) Iteration

  • What is the iteration time between attempts?
  • How long am I going to have to wait before trying out a new strategy?
  • Surely you are not going to make me watch a whole bunch of other players be a whole lot better at the minigame than I am and rub that salty fact in before I can try again?

From imperfect memory the last time the SAB came around, death via falling into a bottomless chasm blacked out your screen then started you off at the nearest checkpoint.

The SAB is also an instance that can be entered solo, unlike the Mad King’s Clock Tower and Winter Wonderland, where one did indeed have to wait and watch other players go at it before you got a chance to go again.

I submit my guess that the iteration time should be fairly minimal, except for the possible exception of unskippable cutscenes. We can hope.

The longer my wait, the faster I am going to get frustrated and not bother.

2) Penalty for Failure

  • How costly is the death or failure penalty after each no-go attempt?
  • Is it going to impact my overall goals in another part of the game?

Failing the Queen’s Gauntlet damaged my armor. If no one rezzed, I had to waypoint and subtract an additional fee. Gold is a ubiquitous and extremely valuable currency that I could be using for a whole lot of other things.

That helped me prioritize very quickly how important striving for a hard-to-reach and costly QG goal was to me, in comparison to say, a new set of exotic gear for an alt, buying components for a Legendary, or buying cultural armor and dyes and luxury miniatures.

(It also took a ticket, but the tickets dropped like candy and had only two purposes to compare – earn gold via a simpler fight or spend it on achieving something hard.)

Again, based on previous SAB experiences, failure is going to eat up a life. When you run out of lives, you will have to endure a slightly longer continue screen then it’s going to eat up a continue coin. Lives are earned inside the specific game itself and continue coins can be bought via baubles earned within the game, and last time anyway, were earned via jumping puzzle chest reward as well.

I like that the currency is specific to this minigame alone and that it’s probably not going to turn into a sneaky gold sink or gambling game. That makes things more palatable.

3) Rewards

  • How exclusive and how desirable are the rewards to be gained via this especially hard difficulty?
  • Are there alternate means of getting the same or a similar reward?
  • Is that reward going to impact me in other parts of the game (be it through me or another player having it?)

From what has been said so far, the rewards for Tribulation Mode are the same skin, colored differently. This has some exclusivity and prestige factor, in that one will be able to stand out via the different color, but others will still be able to enjoy the weapon model in a more common color.

I personally think this is a good balance to hit, especially if they get the colors right.

Normal mode blue is likely to be good enough for the majority. I like blue. I think a lot of others like blue too.

Red, green, yellow, purple? Ehhhh. Depending on the alt, red might match, I might find a use for green (maybe) and I suppose mesmer types enjoy purple. I dunno about yellow, but yeah.

In fact, I probably wouldn’t mind if super-duper hard mode had a super-duper desirable color like white or black either, AS LONG AS normal mode has something decently pretty looking, like blue. and is glowy.

Skin impact on other parts of the game, we have long established, is negligible or nonexistent. Maybe one day, some extremist players might make a value judgement based on the kind of skin you have, but cosmetics generally make a great reward because how awesome you look tends to be a great deal more important to yourself than other players.

Tribulation Mode is likely to have its own separate achievements. Maybe a title, maybe not. Titles also fall under the cosmetic banner for me. It’s something to show off for players who like that sort of thing, but doesn’t affect how hard you hit or how desirable your character is for a certain type of content.

Achievements once upon a time were similar, but it’s gotten more into edge territory what with overall achievement point rewards. There are other ways to gain AP, of course, but it’s also undeniable that a player who can do some content that gives AP has the potential to have -more- than another player who can’t. I’ll wait to see the quantity of AP one can gain via this mode as compared to that played on normal mode before forming an opinion.

Stat-based rewards are unlikely to apply for the SAB, but it’s still worth putting the possibility out there in case a future type of minigame/activity/content type shows up one day (raiding?! *nervous twitch*) and we have to come back to this set of questions. Rewards with stats have the potential to be the most divisive and affect a level playing field balance. (All eyes are on Ascended crafting at the moment. I frankly don’t understand half of it yet, am waiting to see how it works and what the drop rates are.)

4) Time and Access

  • How much time is it likely to take me to get through the content?
  • Is the content once-off temporary, recurring or permanently a part of the game?

Players get very bitter when they have to attempt hard mode content on a deadline, within a limited timeframe and told it’ll never come back again, one chance only. It’s my hope that ArenaNet is moving away from one-offs and at least to recurring content, even if we can’t have stuff permanently there and available on demand like in GW1.

SAB, we know, is recurring content, so there are no issues there on that front. Worse case scenario, it’ll come back next year. Preferably sooner.

Tribulation Mode, however, is likely to be extremely time-consuming, so brace for that and evaluate priorities accordingly.

5) Variable Difficulty Levels

  • Do you have player-chosen variable difficulty levels where a player can opt out of the extremely hard mode content?

One of the ways to get the bitterest complaints is to include a “forced” aspect to content.

If you don’t do it this way (usually a way the players don’t like), you’ll never get to see the new and novel content – experience the story, witness the world, see the sights and the scenery – and reap its rewards (see point 3 and make it an exclusive, highly desirable cosmetic AND stat-based reward. Or two. And throw in an RNG wrapper rather than the slow-and-steady token earning option.)

Fortunately, the SAB is unlikely to be any of the above.

Is Infantile and Normal Mode still going to be in the SAB?

All signs point to yes.

Then why, we shall have no problem with the existence of Tribulation Mode whatsoever.

I personally doubt I have the masochism for the mode, honestly. I’ll give it a shot or two, then go back to happily wading in the baby pool and enjoying the challenge of normal mode. I’ll wait for the guides and videos to show up, then give it a third shot or five. Then I’ll stop before I drive myself up the wall and focus on other things that make me happy. Like a bevy of miniatures.

But as long as all the points above yield a fair and reasonable answer, where TM is an optional choice that provides just a little extra bonus reward that doesn’t unbalance other playing fields and can eventually be revisited and retried for any account, then hey, I’m glad its there for the folks who enjoy that sort of thing.

(I reserve the right to subjectively change my opinion should my guesses to how it works this time around be wrong, eg. if any changes were made to how the SAB works versus the last time.)