The Subtleties: Group Combat

A Dredge Mole

Guild Wars 2 Combat

Let’s Get Together

This will be a discussion about how group combat works and what merit it may hold for high level content. My first post on combat was about combat in general, but explained through a single perspective. I didn’t touch on the removal of the holy trinity, the lack of a global cooldown and the removal of the need to target players. I know these elements confuse people and should be discussed.

Also, any discussion of group combat in regards to Guild Wars 2 must first explain that all the elements discussed here do not require you and another player to be in a group together. As explained in the first combat discussion, spells and skills behave in a open-friendly manner. Any friendly target can interact with a skill you use that has an interactive feature with no grouping required. Mainly, this interaction has to do with Cross Profession Combo fields, but bouncing skills follow the same rules.

So, we’re all grouped and all together.

No Holy Trinity? Soft Trinity? New Trinity? Free For All!? Mass chaos!?!?

The holy trinity consists of the tank, the healer and the dps. Sometimes you get a sacred 3.5 with the addition of a support and control class. In WOW, this support class would mean supplying CC or Crowd Control to an encounter in order to limit the incoming damage. For a game like Rift, support normally means supplying damage, buffing and healing all at once, with the damage and healing being less than you would get from a specialized damage dealer or healer.

ArenaNet describes the roles in their combat as control, support and damage, and that combat involves each player flowing in and out of those roles within an encounter. So to go forward in explaining this, I will try to nail down what a tank, healer or dps is, and then explain what control, support and damage means in Guild Wars 2. If you’re thinking that DPS and damage are pretty much the same thing then you’re right, but much like everything else in Guild Wars 2, the experience between the old and the new is all the difference.

The Way Things Used To Be

The first thing I would tell a longtime MMO tank player about Guild Wars 2 is that there is no such thing as a meat shield to be found within the combat. Historically, tanking in MMOs or even something like Diablo 3 is based on passive stats that supply a constant benefit to your ability to absorb or mitigate incoming damage. Tanks normally have high armor value, shields to block with and stats and traits that offer universal damage reductions. All of these boosts to defense allows a tank to stand in front of a big old dragon an take its claw swipes to the face.

There is a certain  pride in being able to go toe-to-toe with giant beasts or a mass of enemies. When I leveled my Paladin in WOW, I found Protection to be the most fun leveling spec. I could gather a bunch of mobs, prop holy shield and reflection talents, and watch those hapless Murlocs punch themselves to death. In Rift, the Riftstalker rogue spec was fun for me to play due to its teleporting tank mode. I could hop around a rift encounter, applying aggro on each teleport, creating rift disturbances that grabbed mobs off other players, picking up elites and mobs as I bamfed around, all while never getting close to dying. A riftstalker is often capable of soloing many Rifts. The more I upped my block, dodge or defense stats, the more unstoppable I felt. The tank is defined by its ability to take many hits, hard hits and attract aggro quickly and continously.

A healer has more than heal skills, but is a character that puts all of its stats and talents towards boosting those heals and being able to maintain resources for constant healing. The healer and the tank are symbiotic in that RPG bosses are designed to hit so hard that a tank can’t simply stand their ground against them without help. The help often comes from the healer, who replenishes the health of the tank for each major hit they take. Healers often have damage mitigation spells they can put on others, such as shields or bubbles. So not only does the healer replenish health, the healer also helps the mitigation efforts of the tank.

In many games, the healing is done through the party interface. In the same way that a player must target an enemy to attack it, the healer must target a player to heal them. Certain heal spells are ground targeted, but the great majority require a player to be targeted. Group interface bars make this process easier by listing names and healthbars of your group close together, allowing the player to click on who needs help via a list rather than trying to find their body on the playfield. TERA is different in regards, requiring active target healing that means that the importance of the ability to see the player you are healing matters. Otherwise, healing becomes what has been coined “wack-a-mole” of watching bars go up and down, and clicking on the bars going down to cast your heal spell.

I will make DPS short and sweet. DPS focuses entirely on killing. The prime DPS is a matter of optimization of skills, something sometimes called your “ideal rotation”. This is a matter of firing off your attack skills in the order that maximizes your damage output. At times, DPS provides crowd control as well.

That Dragon Doesn’t Seem to Matter to Me

What needs to be understood is that design approach dictates encounter approach. The reason the holy trinity work is due to how mob AI and encounter design work. The bosses and mobs of dungeons are designed to be attracted to a single player through aggro, so that DPS can work unhindered and healers can work unhindered. An encounter may add randomly spawning and straying attacks that will cause the non-tanks to move, but not be in constant movement. Holy Trinity design often becomes a sort of dance routine, and once you learn the dance routine, all difficulty lies in a stat measurement. In fact, when your stats get high enough, you outgear content and even the dance routine doesn’t matter much anymore.

For the tank, the boss matters a lot. You are the one moving that big fella around and taking its hits, and popping a cooldown on its big, nasty attacks. That boss doesn’t seem too smart though, because the truth is that you’re hardly hurting the beast. The DPS are doing all the damage. If the boss was smart, they’d take out the healers and DPS, for there’s its whole problem. Its the DPS that’s hurting the boss without ever having to fight the boss, and trouble of the boss lies in the healers keeping all its dragonly fire-farts from ending this epic shenanigan.

For the DPS, the boss is merely a big target. As mean as that dragon looks, you’re not really fighting the dragon. Instead, you’re fighting latency, global cooldowns and long cooldowns, and watching the stock market of the DPS charts, vying for that top spot.

Meanwhile, the boss barely even exists for the healer. Their battle is one of charts and bars, making for a pattern recognition puzzle to solve within the interface. The dragon matters not to them. Everyone just stay out of the muck and remember the dance steps, and the healer will never see that ugly beast’s face.

An Oakheart Boss roams around

This red and angry tree boss will require teamwork.

So what’s this new freestyle flow?

Every player in Guild Wars 2 may need to learn a little bit of all the elements that used to be sectioned off in the holy trinity, for support, control and damage are leaned away variants of the old trinity.

Control might involve getting in the face of a foe, but it’s not tanking. In general, mobs in Guild Wars 2 aggro towards the nearest target hitting them, though ANet says they have mobs with different aggro rules and patters as well. I can only speak for the early level mobs, which probably have the least complex behaviors to be found. So, for control, perhaps you attract the attention of the mob by getting in its face, but then you cripple the mob and having it slowly kite towards you. Control also means seeing a mob attacking a friendly and placing down a Guardian’s magical wall between them. You may have your friend call out on vent that they’re out of stamina and can no longer dodge, so you apply a stun to the mob and get between your friend and the foe. In this way, control is about limiting a target’s movement, directing its movement and imparing its abilities.

Support is about supporting and helping another player in defense or in offense. You may have a ranger with you while fighting a veteran oakheart. You’re an elementalist and throw down an icy aoe spell. The ranger shoots through the aoe and gains an added effect to their arrows. These arrows now chill the foe, slowing down the rate at which they can fire off skills. Then you throw down a Healing Rain as the Oakheart turns towards you. You stand in the rain and support yourself with its heal, but the ranger’s arrows hit the Oakheart through the rain and heal you as well, providing support twice through the combined effect. But then this isn’t enough, and the Oakheart wacks you hard when you thought you were safe. You go into downed state, but the ranger uses its search and rescue skill to have his pet heal you up from downed state.

Damage is damage. It’s the arrows firing and the ice chill aoes hitting.

But look again at my hypothetical situations. The Ranger shooting icy arrows at the Oakheart is also offering control by applying the chill condition to the target. The Guardian laying down the magical wall is also presenting a combo field that supports attacks from behind it. A Mesmer Chaos Storm can be control, support and damage all at once. In fact, the devil is in the details of the Guild Wars 2 skills. You shouldn’t just be  looking at the damage applied, but the secondary and third parts of the skill. The player in Guild Wars 2 flows in and out of roles due to how varied each skill is in its benefits.

A Sampler Tray of Love and Poison

Of course, since all of these interactions are meant to work in dynamic events, they do not rely on group interfaces. This makes all help in the form of control or support less direct. The Guild Wars 2 teamwork system works like someone presenting a sample tray to the friendly public and if they that are the public need something from the tray, they can freely take from the tray. The public can also add to the tray if they so wish. A quick example: You can lay down a Necromancer mark that weakens foes who travel across it, but your ally gains no benefit from that if they don’t lead the monster chasing them across that mark in the ground.Perhaps they are smart enough to take advantage of the necromancer’s mark, but then lay a crippling trap right before it as well. Now the area is twice as poisonous to foes and twice as useful to the public.

I mentioned earlier how design approach dictates encounter approach. In regards to Guild Wars 2, the combat must work on the large scale of dynamic events. Due to this, the combat roles cannot become isolated into small partnerships with private communication lines. One of the early issues that beta testers have had with the game is the huge pyrotechnics on display during combat. The reason there is so much color and explosion blasting onto your screen is due to the combat needing to be able to explain itself without Deadly Boss Mods and everyone on the same voice chat. This is why combat is visual, and why group play relies on being individual and cooperative at the same time. At first, everything is murder and cacophony until you are able to sparse through the jumble and read the important elements. It’s like skimming an encyclopedia for the important dates. Perhaps you just skimmed through this long blog post and found yourself attracted to the bolded descriptions of the holy trinity roles. Consider group combat in Guild Wars 2 to be a bit of RPG combat skimming and high level play to be a matter of raising your reading level.

And finally, Speed.

You can quickly recognize a diku-clone,slash wow-clone by the visual of hotbars and the the visual reset of the global cooldown. The GCD limits a player from firing off a ton of skills together. Guild Wars 2 doesn’t really have a GCD due to its combat needing to be fast enough to read and react. In fact, a Mesmer’s Mantras can be fired off in the midst of the animation of another skill activating. If the Elementalist casting the healing rain realizes the Oakheart is coming towards them too fast, they can cancel out of the cast with a dodge or go right into an invulnerability skill. Again, the large scale, cooperative combat design dictates the move away from the hard trinity, which dictates that defense must be proactive or reactive, which dictates that the slowing down of combat from GCDs cannot be had within the game.

And there’s likely more

All of what I’ve said is based on encounters in PVP and PVE of a beta of a game that has 80 levels, many zones and dungeons, and of which I’ve seen all of one zone and 18 levels and maybe 8 hours of PvP.

The Moletariat P A T I E N T L Y waits for that next BWE.

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The Subtlety:Combat in Guild Wars 2

A Dredge Mole

Guild Wars 2 Combat

Tab Target or Don’t. Who cares.

Part of my research for these blog entries is based on playtime with the game and based on collective feedback from browsing multiple forums. (About seven forums in total.) I mentioned in a previous post the confusion upon quest structure in the game, but there is a second issue which reappears with regards to the game and people’s play experience with it. People are sometimes loving the combat, sometimes finding it to be “not different”.

I think it’s fair to say that ArenaNet wanted a more active, actiony feel to combat in Guild Wars 2. I feel they have done that, but there are similarities to the established hotbar combat system. One, there is a hotbar, and two, you can tab target and then simply press hotbar keys. Of course, I think it’s fair to say most PC games are overly reliant on UI and menus to present their gameplay, but that doesn’t dismiss the presence of the hotbar and it’s impact on how people will approach the game. The issue is bringing to light the various little differences that makes Guild Wars 2 not feel at all like previous MMOs.

Swing away sucker.

When you target an enemy in Guild Wars 2, the game doesn’t make much effort to let you know if that target is within range. The numbers below your hotbars will change from red to yellow if the target is in range, but they won’t prevent you from using your skill on an out of range target. This makes knowing the reach of your melee skills very important. By reach, I am including the hitbox swing of your melee actions in the definition of reach. Many sword skills can hit multiple targets if they are within the swing arc of the animation of your attack. Normally in MMOs, a game will say if a skill can hit multiple targets and if it doesn’t say so then it’s assumed it is a single target attack. Guild Wars 2 doesn’t bother with that and takes the logical step of saying, “Well, if you’re swinging a sword from right to left then shouldn’t you naturally hit anything along the way?” From watching PVP videos, I’ve seen Warrior players miss their target by spamming their main attack on a target that is kiting around them. Never assume that just because you can fire off a skill that the skill will hit.

The second part of this free-swinging system is that though the skill will go off if your target is out of range, it will still hit any target in its range. So while you can tab target, you can also just run up to something within range but not targeted, hit your sword attack and hit the unselected target. This is part of the action game objective of ANet’s system. Further along this line, projectiles work with the same collision detection system, so that if you fire an arrow at a target and there is a moa bird between you and the target, there is a chance you may hit the Moa Bird. Certain weapons can be traited to pierce targets, adding directional functionality, making it so that your bullets or arrows will not be stopped by the first target they hit and instead pierce through any target along its line of sight.

Movement and Free Form Partying

When I first heard ANet speak of movement being more important, I disregarded the importance as anything slightly more than what previously existed in their first game. In a PVP sense, movement was important in the sense of kiting and positioning in the battlefield. In PVE, movement meant body blocking off mobs and kiting loose mobs as a caster. The previously mentioned differences in hitboxes and targeting make movement much more important. There is an aspect of the homing missile in regards to projectiles fired at a target, but this doesn’t mean that every projectile will hit its target when there are other targets and obstructions along the way. Furthermore, I know that at least in regards to Mesmer Shatters, you can outrun the range of a spell cast. You can also strafe to avoid arrows, though that feature was present in the first Guild Wars as well.

Movement also plays into the game’s free form partying system. If you and another player are friendly then any spell either of you cast the other can interact with regardless of being in a group or not. If an Elementalist casts Healing Rain, you can run into the rain and gain the healing effect. If you shoot arrows through the rain, then your arrows will gain the water bonus of adding a heal to friendlies attacking your target. It doesn’t matter if the Elemantalist is in your party or even knows you’re there. The spell itself is the language you must understand. If you know something is a combo field and you have a combo finisher, then you can use it to your advantage. Even spells that are not a part of the combo system react to other targets. A Mesmer’s Winds of Chaos will bounce its boon effect to any friendly target along its path.

Shadow Behemoth

Somewhere in this mess is a chaos storm applying boons to friendlies without me even targeting them.

Combo Wha..?

The Guild Wars 2 combo system is made up of the interplay between skills that either establish a combo field or a combo finisher. Some combo fields are AOEs like Healing Rain or Chaos Storm, while other Combo Fields are magical lines drawn in the ground. There are four types of Combo Finishers that when applied to the Combo Field create a secondary effect. Each finisher applies a type of effect that would make sense for the four types of actions.

The most common combo finisher is a projectile and projectiles shot through a combo field take on the property of the field. An arrow flying through friendly fire becomes a burning arrow. An arrow flying through an ice shard becomes a chilling arrow. Another common finishing attack is the Leap, and leaps generally add similar corresponding elements to the attack, but are more specific to the body of the character leaping into the field. A light field will add blindness to a leap attack, but a smoke field will cloak the attacker using leap. Blast finishers are your Hulk SMASH sort of moves that work a lot like Leap finishers, but generally have a wider radius to their effect. So while a Leap move into a Smoke Field will cloak yourself, a Blast finisher into that same smoke field will cloak all nearby friendly targets. The fourth and final finishing type is the whirl, and it functions sort of how you would expect a whirling fan might function in a magical field. Whirl finishers generally spin and spit the associated element around. A whirling axe finisher in a fire field will cause fire to spin out in all directions from the character spinning those axes around.

Finally, there’s the combo field element types which I will include in the proceeding list.

Combo Types

  • Field
  • Finisher – Blast, Leap, Projectile, Whirl

Combo Elements

  • Light, Dark, Ethereal, Fire, Water, Poison, Smoke, Ice, and Lightning.

What this means is that if you’re running through fire that doesn’t hurt you then it’s fire that can help you. Leap within the fire and gain fire armor to deal with attacking foes. Need a heal? Use a water field. The magic of the battlefield can be manipulated in Guild Wars 2, so use it when you can.

Read this wiki for further depth on the system (as it is known now): http://wiki.guildwars2.com/wiki/Cross-profession_combo

Reactive and Proactive Defense

There are two ways to be defensive and protective in Guild Wars 2, the reactive way where you see an attack coming and dodge out of the way or then kite away, and the more forceful, proactive approach.

You can see an archer firing on you and put up a magic wall, use a reflect skill or shield skill, and absorb or reflect the projectile back. You can simply just hit dodge and dodge the arrows. These behaviors are all based on a foe attacking and you the player doing something to deal with it. Strafing away from arrows is another part of reactive defensive play. These sort of skills are important because enemies in Guild Wars 2 can hit very hard. Bosses will take a giant foot stomp on your face if you get close to them and don’t see it coming.

Proactive defense is probably the part of the game that gets overlooked at first. It does take some time for players to adjust to having a dodge roll ability, but once you get used to having it then its a matter of reading your foe and using your dodge wisely. (Dodge uses up the endurance bar.)  Still, there are abilities and tactics you can use to disable an attack before it even starts. The blind condition will cause an enemy to miss their next attack. If your endurance bar is low and you see a hammer swing coming your way, a quick blind may save you from receiving the damage. Boons like Aegis will allow you to block and mitigate the next attack, so running in with aegis on allows you to stay in close for at least one incoming attack. Beyond this, inflicting a daze or stun on your target will disable them for a time while you apply damage or heal. You can then cripple your foe and use an escape or knockback skill to create distance.

An example:

As a Mesmer, I approach a pair of melee foes with a skillbar of two weapon sets. The first weapon set is my staff, the second weapon set is a sword and torch. My utilities are Ether Feast as a heal, blink, mirrored feedback and mirror images. I pull my target with winds of chaos on my staff. As the target starts to come towards me, I switch weapons and use my third skill to summon a melee clone of myself. As my clone nears the mob, I immediately use the secondary swap skill on my clone swordsman and switch positions with him and stun nearby enemies. I then proceed to hit the mob with my combo 1 attack, applying vulnerability to both foes. When the mob breaks free, I hit blurred frenzy and gain distortion, hitting the enemies while they miss swings flung through my distorted body. Bam, the first enemy dies, but one remains. My remaining foe stuns me and gets a big hit on me. I dodge back and away, accidently attracting the attention of a nearby archer. My health has taken a sizable hit. Am I in trouble? No, I heal and use my diversion shatter on my initial melee  target, disabling it from attacking me for a couple of seconds. Switching weapons again, I move towards the archer. On my way there, I cast Chaos Storm over the Archer while moving and begin firing off Winds of Chaos. When I get close to the chaos storm, I hit my second staff skill for feigned escape for its leap finisher effect, creating a chaos shield around myself that applies conditions to foes and boons to myself when I am attacked. Soon, with the Chaos Storm and the Chaos shield, I am spreading conditions to both targets as I circle kite around both of them while I spam out that Winds of Chaos. Next, I apply mirrored feedback on the Archer (causing his projectiles to reflect back to him) and switch to sword/torch. I cast my third skill again which creates another leap for a second Chaos Shield within the Mirrored Feedback field. I blink behind the melee enemy and beyond the Mirrored Feedback field, causing them to turn around to face me again. By now both enemies are low on health. I summon mirror images and use The Prestige torch skill to vanish from and blind my foes. I get between both of my targets and hit Mind Wrack shatter, creating double damage through the Mind Wrack and the explosion fire effect of The Prestige. Both targets die and I’m near full health.

What is missing in that description is any reliance on stats to provide constantly active but ultimately passive defenses. There are no dodge or block percentages. You either use a block skill or you don’t block. Some harder fights will ask you to change your weapons and utilities to adapt to what the fight brings to the encounter.

Kessex Keep

A quiet battlefield is easy to read.

Visual Literacy and Its Issues

What I have just begun to describe about Guild Wars 2 combat requires a learning of the visual information the game provides. You have to learn those combo fields and finishers, and what those fields look like on the battlefield. Furthermore, it requires understanding a lot of boons and conditions. These are the visual literature of the game, but as of now, the game isn’t always that easy to read. I noticed improvement in my battlefield awareness from my BWE experience to my stress test experience, but many issues still remain. Most of the Damage over Time conditions are shown through little icons on the UI. ArenaNet has set up this whole system to take players away from watching the interface, but their boon and condition system still largely requires interface monitoring. Unfortunately, their current system is in ways worse than the older system in Guild Wars 1, which explains bleeds and poisons through color changes in your health bar. Currently, the feedback from the game is not strong enough for many players. If ANet wants the game to be visual then more conditions need to be as easily read as the limping of your character with the cripple condition on them. Combo effects likely need a larger, more informative textual notation. Most of all, combat skills rely on the animation of the attack to tell the attack is coming and to mark the spot within the animation where the attack hits. These animations need to be more telling, at least for mobs, and if not more telling then more unified. It is asking a lot of your customer to remember the different attack tells of the hundreds of enemies they will likely find in the game. Audible clues would go a long way and add the crunch of hits that the game lacks at times, and that players often mistake for a lack of “heaviness” to combat. The animation system and softer hit sounds have left players thinking the combat is floaty when it’s truly anything but floaty.

So Bam!

Don’t get hit. Realize everything your skills do. Don’t play it like WoW. Don’t spam and lose.

Mole out.

The New PVE

RAWR DREDGE POWAHR

So there’s no questing, right?

Following Monday’s quick stress test of Guild Wars 2, I have seen roughly the same question asked by various people. My first response to the question consists of wishing they could play the game and understand, and my second response is a vain attempt to accurately put into words what is better understood through playing the PVE content.

So here comes the vain attempt.

The way PVE in Guild Wars 2 is constructed changes the entire feel of the PVE experience even though certain tasks may feel familiar to MMO players and the Story Quests may feel familiar to single player RPG players. To better explain what to expect with PVE in GW2, I am first going to address what people expect from “questing” and then address the question of whether or not there is questing, then I will answer the common follow up question of “what do you do then?”

Po Lycanthrope Pimpin

Werewolves on parade, HO HEY

The Kill Ten Rats Legacy

The initial moments of your typical MMO experience consist of a short cinematic, then being dropped into a starter area and making a short walk towards the first person with a brightly lit punctuation mark above their heads. Talking to this NPC will grant you a welcoming greeting from the local populace and then some following instructions about some annoying nuisance in the area. When I made my first WoW character, I had to show my worth by killing some wolf pups and pigs. In the first Guild Wars, I had to talk to some important generals to hear about the status of the town, then the issue of the war with the Charr and then go out into the instanced quest zone. Rift spawned me from a machine, had me pick a soul tree, and then find my way out of the test chambers and into to the dire future of a dark, decimating war. The Old Republic had me meet my Jedi Master and help her recover some hologram disks.

Following that introduction to the game, quests normally flowed from there on out into a Go Here direction that lead to a group of NPCs that beg and plead you to do some menial tasks of collecting and killing that make you wonder just how lazy these poor helpless souls are. At the worst of times—waves at Tera—the game becomes a friendly bit of fruitless genocide. You decimate X amount of Y and collect trophies off their corpses, and don’t forget to steal their honey buns and treasures, so you can bring them back to your friendly NPC who is waiting for you and everyone else with a grateful reward of experience, gold and some low level goodies. You smile, watch your XP bump up a bunch and sigh. Then you look back behind you and see all those mongrels have respawned and nothing has truly changed.

This is the Kill Ten Rats Legacy that has become a norm for MMOs. Blizzard has tried to freshen it up a bit with each expansion and add some cuteness and story to break up the genocidal mania, but questing has remained a list of requests to collect trophies and kill the unfriendlies. Even the story-focused The Old Republic offers bonus rewards for these sort of kill ten rat quests, even though it feels very un-Jedi-y of me to keep killing the locals just to keep up in levels.

So when people ask if Guild Wars 2 has quests, I assume they mean something along the lines of what I’ve described above. To that type of questing, the answer would be no, there is no questing in Guild Wars 2. Yet, and this is what some will find, there are still the tasks present and there is still killing present. The way the system behind Guild Wars 2 works changes the feel of these tasks and the way the world acts.

The Beetletun Farm

Beetletun Farm after I had ran the Centaurs off and fixed the sprinklers.

The Guild Wars 2 PVE System

Guild Wars 2’s world revolves around the relationship between two major elements: the Renown Hearts and the Dynamic Events. Sometimes these two things are confused, because neither involve getting a quest from any NPC and both notify you of their presence by simply being near them. In fact, the game can refer to both of these things as “events”. Often, a Heart and a Dynamic Event will occupy the same area and doing the Dynamic Event will fulfill your Renown Heart.

To get deeper into these two systems, I’ll point out the major differences. First, Renown Hearts are marked by NPCs on the map with a golden heart above their head. When you first arrive to the area, these hearts will be empty. A progress bar will show on the side of your screen telling you what sort of tasks will help you fill this bar. The basic formula for a RH is help X with general problem Y. These are still the same lazy farmers looking for some help that you may be used to, but how you help them is a choice of which tasks you’d rather do. You can feed cows, water plants or stuff out worms. You can find hiding children and tell them to do their chores or you can find rats and kill them to make the town keep up a high-class appearance. Every time you do a task for a Renown Heart, the meter fills up a little. No other players can fill up your heart for you and once filled, you cannot repeat the Renown Heart for full credit. Filling the heart just allows you access to the NPC’s shop of goods, which are normally purchased via Karma. Renown Hearts are static and don’t move, always remaining for players who haven’t finished them yet.

Dynamic Events are events that are triggered by other events, players or via timers. How and when these events happen is not always easy to tell, but they often happen near Renown Hearts and their fail/succeed rules can fulfill Renown Heart tasks. If your Beetletun Farmer wants help protecting his farm and repairing broken things, a Dynamic Event of a Centaur attack that includes fighting off waves of Centaurs that are lighting his farm on fire will fill up that Renown Heart as you fight to succeed at the event. The difference is that everyone involved in the Dynamic Event gets credit and fills up the progress bar. Dynamic Events also chain into other events. If you don’t fight back the Centaurs, they’ll likely take over the farm and proceed to the next friendly outpost. If you defeat the Centaurs, then the local Seraphs (a sort of police) will mount a charge towards fighting the Centaurs back further and further.

Often, both in story and in tasks, the Dynamic Events and Renown Hearts are tied together. In this way, they tell a sort of atmospheric story of the area and give the game an organic feel. I’ll now go a bit deeper into how they change the scope of the land.

Underwater slave pens of the Krait

Because I had failed defending the fishing village, I had to go rescue fishermen from the underwater slave pens of the Krait.

Baddies With Purpose

In a Kill Ten Rats world, mobs wander along very strict paths just waiting to be run into. While some NPC may tell you these bandits, gnolls or zombiess are terrorizing the locals and stealing their supplies, you never see the evidence of this. From what I can tell, the bandits of Elwynn Forest care more about staring at trees and sitting around the campfire than they do bugging the folks of Goldshire. I would argue that those poor bandits are deathly bored by their own existence, wandering aimlessly and heartlessly without the average newbie to come along and shove a fireball in their face. Thank goodness you’re there to give these horrible people something to be horrible to! Thank God this Paladin is here to kill us, they scream.

As is, the average MMO mob exists to be killed and has little purpose in life or programming beyond that.

In Guild Wars 2, there is a lack of the typical aimlessly wandering  mobs that fart around, roaming to and fro, dreaming, sleeping, walking and again, roaming until killed for the purpose of a quest. There are no forest bandits hanging around looking for some action. I have run across some nasty Ettins and found some bandits practicing their skills at their own hideout, but the Moa Birds and fireflies of the world ignore me when I walk past them. I do admit the Skale that wander the rivers are rather ornery, but that’s because I’m snatching crabs from the traps they’ve been messing with.

Like the previously described Centaur attack, the enemy mobs in Guild Wars 2 often have a purpose to their arrival and their attacks. The key word here is arrival. Most of the mobs you will fight in Guild Wars 2 arrive to you. They don’t wait somewhere to be killed. They are soldiers with a purpose and you’re in their way. If they aren’t planning an attack on a Beetletun farm then they simply won’t be there. If they are trying to defend a camp of their own, they will be focused on defending or retaking that camp from you and the Seraphs. This makes mobs aggressive and purposeful, so that you aren’t killing a set amount of them, but are instead driving them back out of the area they occupy. After you’ve driven them out, they won’t reappear until they’ve been able to mount another attack. After I cleared the Centaurs from Beetletun farms, I never saw them on the farm again. I was able to drive them back and out of their camp. They fought back versus other players and got as far as a waypoint spot, but never made it back to the farm.

So you took over their camp?

Right, and they can take over your camps. When I proceeded past the Centaurs to help some Ettin Chieftan out, the Centaurs pushed forward, moving all the way to a small outpost spot on the map that had been a friendly Waypoint when I first came across it. When I died trying to attack a Centaur Chieftain near the Ettin Renown Heart, I had to resurrect way back at the town of Beetletun rather than the nearer waypoint by the other Centaur camp. At this time, the Centaurs had also retaken their camp after I had previously taken it over. Back when another player and I defeated the Centaurs at their camp, the Seraph forces took hold of the area and one of them turned into a weaponsmith merchant, offering me unique weapons taken from the centaurs for a monetary price. When the centaurs took the camp back, these NPCs were pushed back or killed, and no longer available to me.

Also, after helping out that farmer and clearing the Centaurs from the immediate area, a Winemaker became available to talk to. By talking to her, I started a new Dynamic Event involving her ruined vineyard. Not all Dynamic Events happen spontaneously. Some of them, like the Winemaker and the Giant Boar Hunt in Queensdale, are initiated by a player finding a NPC and making the right dialogue choice. These DEs are still open to whoever runs across them once active though and thus not secluded quests only relevant to the player who begins them.

I help out a winemaker

Defending Beetletun opened a dynamic event with this vindictive winemaker.

Okay, so it’s just events? Does that get boring?

I never got bored of the combined events system of Renown Hearts and Dynamic Events, but I did run into spots in the first BWE where I felt I had done everything and were seeing some DEs recycle. Whenever you get to this point, I offer the opinion that you should explore. In fact, exploring is the way to level as it leads you to all things in the PVE game. Due to the previously mentioned differences, where you go on the map is not as heavily influenced by quests. In World of Warcraft, there are parts of Westfall that I haven’t spent an hour in despite playing many characters and alts, and running all of them through Westfall for the Deadmines quests. The reason I never went to these corners of the map is because I had no quests there. Killing mobs there was of no greater purpose than to grind and exploring brought me little in the way of experience. While you can explore in most MMOs, the lack of reward for doing so often keeps people from bothering with exploration. The typical system of MMOs pushes people towards optimizing their time used towards goal attainments.

In Guild Wars 2, there is experience provided for finding points of interest and there are Skill Point Challenges spotted around the map. As well, there are hidden jumping puzzles that normally lead to a boss or a treasure chest. You don’t really need a direction to go in Guild Wars 2. If you spot what looks like an island or a cave then going towards it will likely lead to an event, skill point challenge or point of interest. There is very little wasted space on the map. In the Godslost Swamp in Queensland, I was doing a Renown Heart and decided to swim down into the deeper parts of the swamp water. When I did this, I found the sunken ruins of the Temple of Ages. Meditating at the ruins provided me a skill point reward, along with experience.

The Standard Stuff

Beyond the exploration aspect, there are still the Story Quests and Dungeons beginning at level 30. These two elements are likely the most familiar to other players and easiest to understand. I have watched youtubes of some people playing the game and sort of randomly gunning around a Renown Heart and not noticing a difference between what they were doing and your standard MMO fare. I understand that the combined Heart/DE system is not as easily understood due to its subtleties. When you step into a Story Quest, the game becomes instanced and progress is linear with some splitting paths dependent on choices. For people struggling with the open world concept, these may be easier to get a feel for right away. The DE/Heart system requires paying more attention to fully understand.

I would comment more on the game’s dungeons, but I have not yet got to the point where I can do a dungeon. Hopefully a future beta allows the testers enough time to reach that point. Even with keeping my mesmer from the last BWE, I only made it to level 18 during the stress test.

In Conclusion

Play the game for the glory of the Moletariat.

Or check out these informative youtubes:

CaraEmm does Dynamic Events subtleties

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CyqGJHTjes

Hidden fun in WvWvW

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81mwQ4i_AwE

It’s not all about making the bandits miserable.

Things a mole ought-ta do

The first Guild Wars 2 Beta Weekend Event coincided with a out of town trip that I had planned months before. I had figured that I would only get one day of play in, but I did manage a bit more playtime thanks to getting the beta up and running on my somewhat miserable laptop.  Still, my next foray into Tyria will likely involve more devoted and extended playtime sessions. So in preperation for that, I am making a list of things I missed out on the first time.

Explore. Discover. Find your own way.

I am big fan of games that include an adventurous vibe, a world that invites you and the challenging invitation of letting you investigate and explore that strange new world. This is part of the reason I became such a rampant Metroid fan. This is why I can enjoy Dear Esther while not qualifying it fully as a game. But you don’t care about that stuff. You’re reading for GW2 info, so let’s get to the point.

Guild Wars 2 is a game that remembers that MMOs once had that same sense of exploration a long time ago, well before the rush to raiding and quest optimization. However, I was not so used to this being in my MMO, as I too had come not to expect any reason to explore.

Browsing through various beta impressios and videos, I discovered what everyone else had discovered while I was trying to min and max my time between leveling with my friends and trying out short bursts of PvP. What other  beta users had found was a world full of jumping puzzles, strange characters, high dives, giants of a less than jolly green sort, and somewhat familiar underwater ruins. Now, while I did find the sunken ruins of Lion’s Arch and the cute Quaggan creatures by their homes, I never realized there was a diving platform waiting up above at the top of a climb of stairs and wooden structures.

I discover Quaggan by their homes

These are the Quaggan. Don’t call them Snorks. They hate that.

PEH VAY PEHHHHHHHH

I didn’t spend as much time in PvP as I would like. I do have a PvP entry to come, namely one about the impact of Esports on game design, but for the purpose of really delving deep into what PvP has to offer in GW2, I am being reserved.  The main reason is that I really didn’t touch much of anything beyond some pickup games of Conquest and some bad experiences with WvWvW.

First, WvWvW needs to have a community established term. I nominate WubWub, but it seems Dub v Dub has become the quick reference for WvWvW. The problem is neither of these terms shorten the name to an acceptable level of conversational laziness. We’ll probably settle on Dubvee and congratulate ourselves on further reducing our need to read or converse. Yay, gamers. =/

Anyways, I ventured twice out into the WvWvW world and my first experience far outweighed the second. Both experiences suffered from my server choice though. To put it bluntly, the Henge of Denravi server didn’t give a rabid monkey nut about WvWvW for all but the last half-day of the BWE. We were getting our butts kicked before the Friday downtime and after the Friday downtime. One particularly frustrating moment involved having three gates out and all three gates taken. This is a problem that the game could still have despite ArenaNet’s efforts to avoid the issue by matching servers up with similarly ranked servers every week.

My first experience was defending the basic WvWvW spawn point for my server versus a green team that had pretty much taken over everything. Despite this disadvantage, these combat skirmishes helped me improve my play and decide on a play style. I was learning how to survive and dodge-roll at the right time. The familiarity with unlocked skills helps in WvWvW, while the sudden availability of everything in structured PvP is overwhelming at first. Despite figuring out a particular build I wanted to run before the BWE, I couldn’t just step right into having a skillbar I had no experience with and function fully to its intended purpose. In WvWvW, players will be bringing whatever they have in PVE to the battle, just upgraded to a level 80 status.

On my second attempt, I brought two friends along with me. One of them had hardly played any MMOs and the other more experienced but never a PvP type of player. We ran into the same wall as before, but at this point our side was starting to take down the door directly in front of us. We had no resources for siege tools. Everything was left up to basic character attacks to dwindle down that wall of a front door. We fought repeatedly for awhile that felt longer than it probably was. Once we knocked that door down we discovered yet another door behind it. The collective expression of everyone involved was “GWARG DIE DIE DIE I’M OUTTA HERE”. And then still, people kept pounding away at the next door. We did not.

So when it comes to the next BWE, I plan to go deeper into both Wub-Wub-Vee-DiddleDee-Dub and Conquest. I didn’t really touch any of the gem or armor options that are available for customizing your character for structured PvP. I didn’t venture into any of the other WvWvW portals at Lion’s Arch in an attempt to invade enemy lands. I discovered through the magic YouTube fairy that WvWvW had a massive jumping puzzle.

The Fountain of new Lion's Arch

Lost in the City

There were three race-based cities and one additional city in the last beta. I did a brief tour of Lion’s Arch and used Divinity’s Reach as I would any other MMO town. This means I just shopped and hopped, and left with purpose. Next time around, I plan to wander without purpose.I’d love to discover some nooks and crannies in the city districts. I’d like to visit the lodges of the Norn. I’d like to pose for some photos on those Charr Hot Rods.

Hopefully the mini-games are opened up next BWE as I’d like to try those as well. I certainly plan on doing some roof jumping and I’ll try to talk a friend into a game of hide n seek. I feel that there’s a lot of city life to be had.

And then after I’ve mapped the schematics of the city, I dig a hole and let the Dredge in for the Moletariat revolution.

Of course.

I love myself so much I split in two and then split in three until there was nothing left of the awesome I used to be.

#@&&!@#$!

Franz Mesmer

Last name Mesmer, first name Franz.

When you struck a poor unsuspecting foe with the spell Cry of Frustration in Guild Wars, their character let loose a cartoonish expletive like the one above. This was both a cute and amusing emote, as well as a telling one. For the Mesmer, it wasn’t so much about what you planned to do to your foe, but what your foe planned to do to you and gleefully screwing over their plans. A line of enemies has you in their sights, they rush in and prepare to smite thee down, only to land on their asses, cursing the ASCII Gods as you interrupt them with your fast casting counters. The Mesmer was like the blue tortoise shell of Guild Wars, it was great when you had one on your side but a real nightmare when one snuck up on you.

Somehow this mischievous element of the Mesmer has been lost in the transition between sequels. There are certain elements of the first game that are entirely gone from the second, such as hexes and an energy/mana bar. In the first game, Mesmers were a master of manipulating these elements to their advantage, so they’ve had to find new talents of unwonted persuasion in Guild Wars 2

The new class mechanic for Mesmers is split into two parts, which to be honest, are really three parts. The first two elements are illusions, divided between look-a-like clones and shadowy pink phantasms. Clones are low damage, low health minions that are easily summoned and easily killed. Their main purpose is to serve as a distraction from the actual Mesmer and as a resource for the Mesmer’s shatter mechanic. Phantasms are designed with far more specific purposes in mind. Many of these illusions have singular attacks or purposes, being either a crippling sword-spinning ghost or a meat shield that absorbs half of the Mesmer’s incoming damage.

The third element of this mechanic is the one that makes the first two a problem. The function keys correspond to shatters for the Mesmer, ranging from direct damage, to condition application, evasions and diversions. The direct damage element is the Mesmer’s hardest hitting attack with a maximum amount of illusions up. The diversion attack is the Mesmer’s replacement for the lost art of interrupts. Ironically, the condition shatter is currently termed Cry of Frustration, yet only frustrates the Mesmer and does not interrupt the target at all.

So why does this all not work? Because the Mesmer has become sort of like a night guard with a pack of dogs patrolling about the halls. The nightwatch looks daunting at first, but you wonder how easy it would be to deal with that guard without the dogs. Of course, you wouldn’t mistake the nightwatch for the guard dogs, and neither does the AI controlled foes in the game. But at least the dogs can be sicked on you correct? Yes, but unfortunately these are not German Shephards the Mesmer is handling, but more so than less so, a dazzling, sparkly trio of Droopy Dogs that mosey right up to their intended victim with all the urgency of a pack of teenagers crossing the street to the Mickey D’s. Bare with me for this diatribe on timing: While the Guild Wars Mesmer was attacking on broadband, the Guild Wars 2 is dialing up on 56k. We’ve gone from blue tortoise shell to three red tortoise shells, and people are plucking them off your kart’s bumper left and right.

There, that’s enough analogies for now right? So whats the exact issue here?

The problem is the combination of character based minions on a control class and the need for assured delivery of the Mesmer’s counter-acting abilities. When a Mesmer reaches for that Diversion shatter, it is doing so to interrupt and disable a foe for specific reasons at a certain time. While in the past, this sort of counter-move happened within a second, the current Mesmer must wait for its illusions to stop what they’re doing, acquire their target and then run towards it and blow up in their face. There is no consistent time elapsed between the button press and the diversion happening. It all boils down to the variables of where your illusions are in relation to the target, if there is any aoe along the way to gobble the illusions up and whether or not your foe is moving away from you at the time. It is perfectly easy for a foe to just outrun the to-be-shattered clones until they reach their range limit and stop moving completely. I know this is possible, because it happened to me many times during the beta weekend. I began to wonder if someone at ArenaNet had got hooked on Angry Birds and decided to turn their most iconic class into a janky game of topple-the-pigs. And while you’re flinging your illusions at your targets, you’re losing the beneficial aspects of your phantasms.

Zee illusionz! Zey do nothingz!

Your clones are mystified by such complex things as castle walls and people who run.

Back to the shores of Lake Constance

While I have complained about the Mesmer’s current shortcoming, and haven’t even touched the Confusion condition issue, there are some parts of the Mesmer that are working. Namely, melee combat and the more Mesmery utility skills.

The utility skill Null Field removes boons from foes and conditions from allies, working as a sort of two-way enchantment removal and cleanser. Being as the Mesmer originally had a lot of enchantment removal, its good to see this sort of ability renewed. The Phantasmal Disenchanter provides a similar tactic as well as a shatter charge. I am in particular a fan of Mirrored Feedback, which creates a dome around a foe that reflects all hostile projectiles back at their original source. This ethereal dome also works as a combo field, and leaps into the combo field create an explosion of chaos shields. What’s a Chaos Shield? The chaos shield is a staff ability, very Mesmer-like itself. This bubble surrounds the ally and causes conditions to enemies hitting the ally and boons to the ally when hit. This is the sort of counteracting magic that makes the Mesmer class valuable. The class just needs more of it and less of illusions, a better balance between direct control and AI controlled flops with a minion-bombing play style that causes so many issues with the entire purpose of there being a Mesmer class in the game.