Sorrow’s Embrace: A Quick Look

The Dredge Alert

The Dredge Alert!

Welcome to Mole Talk!

Yes, I am honoring the emblem of my blog with some more Dredge discussion. This first piece is on the story mode of Sorrow’s Embrace. I have more to say on the explorable mode and the stories within, as well as more of the visuals associated with the Dredge in game. (My Mesmer is sporting a transmuted Dredge Blaster currently.)

So, let’s get to it by discussing one of the longest dungeons in game.

Leave My Dredge Alone!

The plot of the Sorrow’s Embrace dungeon can be roughly summed up as the Inquest are involved, and the Dredge are being used as their workforce.

Yes, the Moletariat prevailed right into another subjugation. Like you did with Molenin before, you will be facing armies of Dredge as they toil away underground for someone else’s grand scheme. Due to the Inquest presence, you will also be facing Golems and Asuran technology, and as well, the strange Dredge technology, and, finally, a monstrous hybrid between the two.

Remember the Past

One of the more captivating set pieces of Sorrow’s Embrace is Molenin’s Tomb. Yup, that’s a lore reference. Molenin’s tomb is the sight of a Dredge Public Assembly. The tomb itself is a colliseum of sorts, and large groups of Dredge stand in formation at the bottom of the tomb as a military leader shouts out a speech from a high ledge. In story mode, you don’t fight the military leader, but he seems like a prime tool for explorable mode plotlines.

See No Evil, Hear My Sonic Death Ray

The Dredge mobs of Sorrow’s Embrace are range heavy and feature the use of sonic rifles that shoot ground rumbling, directional projectiles. There are touches of the Dredge’s mechanical tech here and there, but many can also be found outside the dungeon in Dredgehaunt Cliffs.

Subtarrean drill-cars often sigbal the arrival of a new pack of Dredge. These vehicles drill up and out of the ground, and the Dredge forces pop out the back. The dredge themselves also have the ability to tunnel underground (much like Wurm mobs) to travel from one point to the next.

Another interesting note about the Dredge mobs is that since they are mole people, they are naturally blind and effectively immune to the blind condition. This provides a nice change of strategy for typical dungeon setups that may rely heavily on blinds to mitigate damage in other dungeons.

Bosses of an Epic Nature

The Sorrow’s Embrace dungeon features some of the most tiresome boss fights, but also some of the coolest fights, and coolest bosses. The Story Mode contains one of each. The next to last boss is actually interesting  in design, with three different phases, but suffers from too high health pools on its various meta-bosses. The encouter became too tediously long a fight at the time of my running the dungeon. It’s beatable, but really extends the encounter time of an otherwise smooth flowing dungeon. I hear they have done some work to tone down the health bars of the bosses you fight in this encounter in the past few weeks and that should help turn the fight from work to play.

The last boss is a treat. I won’t spoil what it is, but it’s likely that many people have seen this boss before entering the dungeon. It’s featured in one of the game’s early trailers, and the fight itself confused me at first, but then quickly made sense. I suggest to not stand on the bridge looking at the boss unless you like death rays to your face.

Next Up

Explorable Mode and Dredge Art design!

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Welcome to Launch!

Lion's Arch

It’s a big world out there

 Tres Bon Voyage

If you’re a pre-purchaser like myself, then you’ve been in the world of Tyria for a few days already. Officially, the game launches today and that means many retail purchasers will be joining the rest of us. Apparently, the game has already reached over 400,000 concurrent users in pre-launch. With over a million players to boot.

Though I have played many MMOs, this is my first launch-day experience. Overall, it’s going about how I expected. Launches of online games are always a rougher experience than playing that same game six months after launch. Current issues are server backend problems that have limited access to the Black Lion Trading Post and Commerce Page, an issue with Guilds and their rosters, and grouped players not being able to stay grouped and within the same shard.

ArenaNet has started to relieve the difficulties created by Guild Issue, though I hear invites are still not working properly. I was locked out of my own guild that I created for most of Sunday, but had access to it again by Monday. The lack of a Trading Post has turned Lion’s Arch into Trade Chat spam, but that’s nothing new to Guild Wars 1 players. I thought they might fix the Black Lion Trading Post for the real launch, but its still currently unavailable.  The biggest issue is the grouping problem, as it really works against the social and cooperative nature of the game. From what I hear, it is also making dungeons a pain to do as well.

Despite these issues, this has been a pretty decent launch. MMOs have a long history of nasty launch problems. Even ARPGs like Diablo 3 had major problems at launch, keeping people from even playing the game. At least ArenaNet has managed to keep the game up and running. There was one period of maintenance downtime in the middle of the night on Saturday of the pre-launch, and Europe, I believe, had another period of maintenance over the weekend. Outside of these times, the game has been fully playable and I’ve had little issue with lag on the server’s end. The one real annoying bit is trying to keep grouped with my friends.

First Impressions of the Real Deal

I have several beta impressions on this blog, but my launch impressions will likely be different due to playing the game entirely different at launch from how I approached the beta. There are a few key differences that make the experiences different, but the main two are that I have all the time I want to do whatever I want and that now all my friends are here in game with me.

This change in approach from beta to launch has given me a much better experience. In Beta, I was testing specified elements of the game, and namely, I focused upon the elements that concerned me. Now that I’m adventuring with friends at our own pace, I have come to feel that levels and experience aren’t my major concern. Progress in the manner of levels is something that just comes along with the adventure of the game, but it’s not the meat or the point of the game. It’s just the side salad. I find my exploration percentage to be a more adequate test of my progress. It’s not a concern that going to the Plains of Ashford is returning to a starter zone. It’s a concern that there might be something cool in the zone that I haven’t seen yet.

If it’s one thing that I would entice others with about this game it would be these adventurous discoveries. Whether it’s a waterslide dive through a cave that looks like a skull, or a game of stealth with the Ash Legion, or a family of giant frost worms at the bottom of a cave, or the jumping puzzle and treasure chest after those Frost Wurms, or just a Privateer’s secret hangout full of drunk ornery pirates and their singing captain, or a hidden waterfall with a vista and skill point, or a hidden cabbage farm defended by bandits, or a Quaggan city off the edge of the sea shelf, or just a nice mansion in the city of Divinity’s Reach, I simply smile and say, “you got to go see it.”

Seeing the Rest

Of course, beyond these elements of the world, there are more standard faire such as instanced dungeons and story quests. These two parts of the game also represent the most difficult part of the PVE game. My first dungeon run escalated my /deaths to three times its former modest number. The story quests aren’t much easier, and some are frightfully hard to do alone. Difficulty doesn’t bother me, unless its unfair difficulty. I’ve only run into situations that felt unfair two or three times so far.

Not a Closing Thought, but a Rejoinder

This last paragraph I chose to delay until a week had passed since official launch. Many launch issues have been resolved in that time, and the Trading Post is functioning most of the time now. It’s first return was a laggy version of the TP, but it’s much quicker since another fix. I haven’t had grouping problems in a long time, but I did discover adding someone to a in-progress dungeon run is a big mess. The game just doesn’t seem to be able to put anyone outside the instance back into the same instance with the rest of the party.

So, fixes are coming along pretty quickly, but not very quickly. There have been issues with bugged story quests that get resolved in 24 hours most often. I have been able to use the Trading Post with ease the past couple of days, but there’s always the worry that it will go down again. The sPVP side of things has had some downtime and reward delays. My tournament winnings arrived to me hours after I had finished the tournament, but others have waited days for their rewards.

Still, the game is playable and nothing has really gotten in the way of being able to play the game. Those that still needed to setup their email authentication did have this trouble though and were kept from playing the game for days. That one pissed quite a few folks off. I hope to see issues weeded out by a month’s time.

Early PvP Tips

ArenaNet finally announced the next Beta Weekend Event for June 8th to the 10th. In preperation for that, I am offering some PvP tips for people who are just now joining in on the Beta experience or for those that spent the first weekend knee deep in PVE and are spending this June event in the e-peen glory of the Mists. First, I’ll give some general tips and then I’ll note some things to watch for when fighting against certain classes.

Of importance here is that all class tactic discussion is based on the game and classes as they appear in the first BWE. Certain changes could throw things out the window, but I imagine some things will remain true until release. Also, I won’t be talking about WvWvW as that sort of has its own, grander strategy and I feel I have an invalid amount of experience with that part of the game. At least not enough experience to dish out some worthy tips.

Any player can plop directly into a Conquest game from their Hero Panel. The Hero Panel is also the quickest way to get to the Mists. If this is your first time trying PvP, I highly suggest going to the Mists before using the Conquest hotjoin option.

In the Mists

The Mists is the lobby area for PvP, consisting of a short tutorial area and then the larger zone beyond. The tutorial area will give you tips on resurrecting others and using your finishing move on downed foes. These are basic, quick tutorials. You can skip them if you want and head straight to the Asura gate in the back which will take you to the actual Mists lobby area. The first thing about the Mists that you’ll notice is that you’re hopped up to level 80 and have access to all skills and traits. This means there is no grind in the sPvP beta. You can be what you want and how you want immediately.

In the lobby area, you will find two important Asura Gates, PvP vendors, a NPC offering a Game selection screen, and a grander tutorial area beyond. One of the Asura gates will take you to the central map of WvWvW. Once you port into your server’s base in the central map of WvWvW, other Asura Gates will be present for you to hop into the different zones of WvWvW.

The Vendors in the Mists Lobby offer various gear, weapons, runes, amulets and gems for your PvP experience. For the purpose of the Beta, these will only apply to Conquest’s Structured PvP mode. Looking into your options for gear is highly important and will grant you more immediate satisfaction with your sPvP experience. The game provides you with a basic build and some gear to go along with it, but these are very general builds that won’t be as enjoyable as playing the way you want with the sort of gear that accentuates your style.

On that note, the amulet is currently one of the biggest and most important pieces of gear in the sPvP game. If you are playing in a way that relies on bleeds and conditions to tally your damage then switching to the condition damage amulet will make a large difference in the effectiveness of your build. Beyond this, there are runes that offer set bonuses and weapon enhancements that offer bonuses on such things as weapon swaps or chances to proc air damage. Honestly, the immediate rush of stat choices and modifiers is a bit of a shock after you’ve been playing low level PVE with gear that has two or three stat attributes. I would suggest putting on gear and weapons that roughly reflect your build and then working from there.

Your “build” then is what you make out of your weapon and skill choices, along with your traits. You can instantly refund your traits at no cost, so play around with them and look at all your options. The trait lines often have a tell as to what weapons they more naturally work with. Some may offer more power with a sword equipped or more toughness with a mace equipped. These clues will help key you in on where you may want to spend trait points if you plan on using these weapons.

Beyond the immediate lobby area is a surprisingly helpful tutorial area. While many are likely used to dummies as target practice, in the Mists, the Asura Golems stand in as practice targets. They come in different armor classes and they also come in as dodge tutorials. One Golem will spin its arms around to help you practice dodging out of aoe attacks. On a rise beyond the dodging Golem, a selection of NPCs representing each profession in the game await you. These NPCs will fight you and exhibit certain skills and styles specific to them. For example, the thief NPC will use stealth and move aorund, while the Guardian NPC will hold the middle of his area and use bubbles. If you fight these NPCs and lose, they will stop to resurrect you. It’s a useful tutorial for new players with little risk involved.

Fighting the real thing

There are certain things I feel every player should know when fighting against certain professions in the game. This is a quick rundown of some tips.

The Engineer

The Engineer has no melee weapon option available to them, so the first thing you should realize is that an Engineer will likely begin fighting you at range. This doesn’t mean that you should disregard an Engineer coming towards you in melee range, as the toolkits of the Engineer can be devastating at close range. For example, the Flamethrower is an aoe and control nightmare. The main attack on this toolkit sprays fire in a frontal cone. The weapon can also be used to suck in and blow out foes. If you’ve played TF2 then the concept may be familiar: don’t stand in front of the Pyro. Mines can be quite powerful as well, as can bombs. An Enginner can often spam these explosives on the ground around you, so watching where you step versus an Engineer is very important.

These explosivse and flamethrowers are all utility skills and that means they are a tell to the type of build your foe is running. For example, if you come across an Engineer with multiple turrets set up around them, then you likely don’t have to worry about those explosives and flames because turrets are utility skills as well. So seeing a bunch of turrets can be a tell that this Engineer isn’t so well equipped for melee battles, while seeing a bunch of strange clouds on the ground can mean the Engineer is relying on an elixir gun that you’ll want to dodge past  the spray zone of or stay beyond.

The Mesmer

First things first with fighting a Mesmer: the illusions. Don’t worry about the clones, they do minimal damage. You only have to worry about them if you get stunned or they run at you. But how do you tell which is the real Mesmer? Look for the Mesmer that is moving the most; look for the Mesmer that actually looks worried you’ll hit it. Beyond that, you can currently check the health bar of each target for the Mesmer class icon. If your target has the class icon then it’s the real thing. If it doesn’t then it’s a clone.

So why should you worry if you get stunned? The Mesmer’s Mind Wrack shatter spell can hit for a ton of damage if traited properly. We’re speaking in the 10k range of combined damage. In order to get this amount reliably, many Mesmers carry stun skills to keep their target in place. Since you can see those clones suddenly rush at you, its rather easy to hit your dodge and let the clones explode for zero damage. In order to stop this, the Mesmer will stun on a Mind Wrack, creating a clear tell that the damage spike is coming. If you have a skill that lets you escape from stun, I advise using it against a Mez and following it with any damage avoidance available.

Outside of the Mind Wrack, Mesmer damage is rather mundane and their strength relies in prolonging fights and getting you to chase their nonsense. Their second best source of damage is the dueling phantasm, which you may want to line of sight. In general, focus the Mesmer and avoid their Mind Wracks and you can be alright.

The Thief

The thief class has immense burst right now. Key to surviving a thief is dodging their initial burst. Often this will come from a backstab and some 3 skill attacks. The 3 skills on a thief are skills that change based on the weapon combo the thief is wielding. For example, dual pistol’s unload can create a significant amount of damage, so simply kiting a thief won’t do. You have to be ready to avoid the big unleash, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to see when it’s coming.

What to do versus a thief then is to keep moving and dodging, but also put pressure on them. The thief isn’t extremely durable and can’t take a lot of damage. Once you unload on a thief, they will likely use a stealth skill to give themselves time. Use this space in combat to beef yourself up as well. Certain thieves live on a 30 to 40 seocnd timer of buff skills to kill, so keep this in mind if your foe tries to reset the encounter with stealth.

The thief, along with the Elementalist, is also the most annoying class to finish off in PvP. They will vanish and port away in downed state, so don’t let yourself get too low before a finishing move. They can reset your Finisher and manage to kill you.

The Guardian

The Guardian will take you awhile to kill. They’re just built that way. If a guardian is playing stationary and prolonging a fight, then it may be better to just skip out and take another objective. If you catch a guardian between points and get them to chase, then you can get them outside of their protective aoes.

One thing to keep in mind with Guardians is that they normally carry a lot of boons. Necromancers may have a better time versus them than other classes as stripping their boons away takes away some of their defenses.

Fighting defensively versus a Guardian may not happen often. If you are fighting a Guardian with a greathammer, I would watch out for their fifth skill which can trap you in a little magical prison while they swing away at you. Also, greatsword Guardians can trait to be healed on greatsword attacks. If you see that big sword and your foe’s health constantly ticking up, it’s time to kite or disable them.

The Rest

I’ll probably get into the other professions after the next BWE. I could give some general tips on them, but I feel they wouldn’t be as specific or detailed as the rest of these notes. (Not that these are outstanding strategies I’ve included.) I could give you these basic tips: Don’t stand near enclosed spaces versus an Ele, just kite the Warrior, good luck vs a Ranger, and Necromancer’s Death Shroud is bloody annoying.

Good luck.

How Guild Wars 2 Welcomes Roleplayers

Pirate Outfit

Come, put on your pirate outfit and talk a bit of Roleplay with me.

The City Calls To Me

The above photo is my character in his pirate costume standing outside the giant music machine in Divinity’s Reach. It was always my plan to tour the towns a bit more during the next beta, but I managed to get some of my exploring done during the stress test. What I found during my short trip was a city more alive than I seen in most any other game. For this reason, I decided I should do a blog about something that may seem out of the ordinary for me: A Roleplaying Post.

I know Lord of the Rings Online has a good, active RP community and there are reasons for that. I am not a RPer myself, so consider this an outsider’s viewpoint on the chances of Roleplaying within Guild Wars 2, but I am not a complete stranger to this creative element. I did play on a RP-PVP server in WOW for years and do have a few LOTRO characters. These experiences taught me some of the elements a RPer looks for in a game and what sort of things attract them to a game. I also learned that the RP community is friendly, and most importantly, one of the more mature segments of the MMO userbase.

Wanting To Live Here

Divinity's Reach

Divinity’s Reach rises high into the clouds.

Imagine the busy lives of the people in Majora’s Mask. Imagine the wandering folk of Skyrim and the conversations you hear in the bars. Think of Stormwind filled with emissaries parading through town. Combine that all into a city bigger than any you may have seen in an MMO before. That’s sort of what you have in Divinity’s Reach.

Divinity’s Reach looks like Minas Tirith from the outside, that high standing and glorious Tolkien city from the Lord of the Rings. Inside, the city is a lively place of political discussion, racial tension, commerce and communities. If you wander around, you’ll find the place is more than a bank deposit and auction house. Go left and you may find yourself near the shrine of Lyssa. Keep moving. Go north. You may find yourself in the audience of the Queen. Maybe backtrack. You may find a Sylvari asking locals where to get some good grub. Hang around. You may find the locals asking the Sylvari if she eats anything but sunshine. She’ll reply in kind that she’s looking for some meat and some good ale. The Norn might butt into the conversion, because he’s nearly sober and that makes him miserable. Yeah, I’m not kidding. There is a procession of wonder to entering the city. The first step is the audacity of scale, the second is the artistic beauty and the third is multitude of NPCs with voiced conversations.

Part of Roleplaying is taking in the world as something more than just a bunch of static programs purposing a game. Within the high walls of Divinity’s Reach, a people live and work, gathering water from wells and talking to each other. The faithful are worried about the queen for they are worried she’s still single, and after the faithful pray, they stop to debate the cynical over the existence of their Gods. The cynics love a queen without a king. They say Balthazar was never there. Around the corner, the classes fall from exquisite to wanting. The poor are begging behind pillars and claiming all donations are tax deductible. The children are pretending to be Charr and chasing each other around. The mothers walk out of their modest homes, draw a bucket of water, and return to their kitchen. A child’s teddy bear shirt hangs on a clothesline behind the mother’s house. The wind blows the drying laundry back and forth. As far as I know, observing these elements are not quests, and they are not achievements. All of these little things are touches of detail to make the city feel alive. Divinity’s Reach is a prayer of devotion towards the pursuit of immersion. I imagine a Roleplayer appreciates such a thing.

But don’t thin that such elements are reserved to one city. The people of Beetletun praise their local patron. They discuss the issues of the carnival. The children hide from their chores, blissfully unaware of the dark realities of war. Meanwhile, the Charr cubs of The Black Citadel go on a school field trip throughout the city. Their teacher tells them of the uprise of the Charr and their technological accomplishments. The children ask why they just don’t eat all the humans. Their teacher says “good point”, but then reminds them of the dragons and the merits of a truce. Charr warriors discuss a Charr lady across from them at a bar. A Charr lady offers to tattoo their faces with an axe. Charr love is hard business.

The world of Tyria is alive and wonderous, if you pardon my awe.

Lore!

One thing that being a sequel provides a game is the opportunity to build on what the first attempt establishes. For Guild Wars 1 players, the first big change is that the Charr are now friendly instead of the initial enemy. The starting whispers of this change begins with the Eye of the North campaign in the first game, but here the world has truly adopted a multiracial existence. The humans no longer reign supreme. In fact, the Charr and Asura provide all the advancements. This does not mean pure peace, for old grudges die hard and relations between the varied people are still tense and suspicious, and the neutral city of Lion’s Arch is even seen as a bit renegade to the human populace. Plus, the sunken ruins of the old Tyrian city of glory rest in the oceanic depths beyond the sandy beaches of the new, shipwrecked city of cross-racial commerce and Mediterranean flair. Lion’s Arch is a beautiful yet grim reminder of what once was.

For the Charr, the heroes that lead them to this point have statues erected in their glorious honor. The people discuss their own history with pride. The legions fight for supremacy amongst each other.

Market Street

Statues, flowers, and people fill the entrance.

All of these things add up to a sense of history and lore. Beyond the fact that the world exists, there is the evidence the world has existed. Ruins lay about in the sunken depths of swamps. The Asurans have built over ancient ruins and have begun to research their history. The Dredge have taken up keep in Sorrow’s Furnace. For a roleplayer, there is history to draw from and biases to play off of. Races have distinct personalities, but those traits are not set in absolute stone. One of the great bits of the Guild Wars 2 world are the children that seem to undercut all assumptions of a people. Even the great warriors of the Norn lineage start out with snowball fights.

Looking Good Old Chap.

Armor design in the game is pretty impressive from what’s been seen so far. If you want, you can tour the vendors of Divinity’s reach for a quick look at some available armor sets. The game has no class specific armor, but just three basic armor levels of which any class of that armor level can use. There is also the ability to transmute stats onto a piece of armor and vice versa, allowing you the benefit of upgrades without losing the spiffy look you’ve established for yourself. Beyond this, a costume panel

is open for players to outfit themselves with, but if I had a criticism of RP elements in the game, it would be that the costume panel only works outside of combat. Once you enter combat by any means, your character switches to their basic armor set in appearance. Still, for town wandering and RP meetings, you can dress as  a pirate if you so want.One important element of Commerce Shop costumes to note is that there are weapons for these sets and these weapons have their own set of skills. My pirate outfit had five total skills tied to a wooden sword. These skills includes a Yarr emote, summoning a parrot, doing a splash dive, and building a canon. Yes, a canon, but also, a canon that can be fired by anyone. That’s how you party, matey.

The Lyssa Shrine

A pirate stands above the shrine of Lyssa.

Things to do; People to beat.

One thing lacking from the first beta weekend event were the small events that will be available within the city walls. These sort of events include bar fights, shooting galleries and carnivals. You could travel on over to Beetletun and see the carnival folk waiting around and killing time, but the festivities have yet to begin within the game. Hopefully, a future beta will open these events up so that people can partake in some non-combat fun, which I feel is always beneficial to a RP community. It not only breaks up any monotony found in constant combat, but helps build a world that is a functioning, living place.  You will find little events out in the world to enjoy as well. The Norn children will have snowball fights and if you think you can walk in, toss a snowball and forget them, be prepared to take a icy fastball to the back of the head. Those little runts will knock you down. The Charr area also features a cow launcher. I cannot comment on this event much, for I haven’t tried it, but there is a Cattlepault. I imagine the Asura have their bits of fun. I hear there will be Golem battles to be had in Rata Sum.  Beyond the little events, the city offers the player the ability to just go lurking and leaping around. I found myself rooftop hopping, trying to find a new area or a secret alcove. There’s a giant garden/observatory in the middle of Divinity’s Reach that is absolutely beautiful. The world kind of makes you want to go play a game of hide and seek in it. You skitter between houses, looking at the surrounding paintings, rugs and people. You think to yourself that here might be a good hiding spot. What this means is that you can invent your own fun due to the detail of the world, so little or large RP events have a place to play out.

What doesn’t quite welcome RPers

It’s important to note what the game lacks for RPers, the main missing element being a RP labeled server or a server with strict RP rules. This means there is no server with enforced naming conventions that weed out the

Lion's Arch

Lion’s Arch is a haven for all sorts of creatures.

Chuck Norris factor. There will be a Roleplay community in the game, as there are already fansites set up for Roleplaying in Guild Wars 2, but that only means that a server may become the main home of RPers. We’re probably still months away from release, so time will tell if the community decides upon somewhere to gather or not.

Guild Wars is also a fairly fresh intellectual property. The game world and Lore are based upon the first game and its expansions, plus a couple of books. ArenaNet does have a team that works and story and lore, but you can’t instantly create something on the level of Star Wars or the Tolkien world.

What this means is that there will be a certain leap taking with venturing into RP within Guild Wars 2. I would suggest keeping in touch with the forums to see where RP action will be had. I imagine the Roleplay community will build up within the game. While there is less establishes and less well-known lore, the world is so full and alive, I think it overcomes its youth.

Will the Moletariat RP?

No, most likely not. I get along with RPers and will play along if grouped with them, but for some reason I never care about the issues of lore or whatnot. This doesn’t mean that I won’t be out in the city, doing non-combat things and planning my hide and seek game. I may even snoop in on an RP event if I come across one. I am a curious fellow.

Lion's Arch High Dive

It’s a long way down from the Lion’s Arch high dive, but you’ve got your diving goggles on.

The E-Sports Charade: Part Two

The A.B. Problem

One of the main complaints from the PvP community about the choice of Conquest as sPvP in Guild Wars 2 is the Capture Point rule set. This doesn’t mean that capture point games aren’t common or unpopular, but that they rarely become the accepted test of skill in PvP type games.

So what is a Capture Point game? It’s your basic node and resource control map. In World of Warcraft, Arathi Basin is the second battleground you gain access to and is a Capture Point ruleset and map. There are five nodes to capture and when you capture a node, your score begins to go up. In Guild Wars, the Capture Point ruleset was called Alliance Battles. The maps in Guild Wars were larger and since the game stuck you into four player squads, the battles quickly became a game of running from node to node, moving around in circles. Tol Barad in Cataclysm is a Capture Point battle of a larger scale. This map had people running from point to point as well. Of course, this running around is sort of the issue with the whole Capture Point system.

Capture Node

Standing around and scoring points.

All By My Lonesome

In the two Conquest maps shown so far, the rate at which you neutralize a node is much greater than the rate at which you can capture a node. What this means is that if you run around to a node held by the enemy team, its fairly easy to neutralize that node and make it so that it doesn’t contribute points to either side. Staying around and capturing the node takes two to three times as much time. This may be done to stop the running around issue, but so far, it doesn’t really accomplish that. People will take what’s easiest. Often you will find yourself as the only person at a node. There is no fighting. You’re just sort of standing there until a bar changes. As you may imagine, this sort of activity doesn’t really excite the PvP community. While hanging around to capture it may lead to enemies coming to stop you, there is no assurance of this. Further, neutralizing a point can often be effective enough on its own. If you have a lead of 50-100 points, neutralizing is all you need to do. You can sit on an equal amount of nodes captured and win.

And once you neutralize or capture, then there is no benefit to hanging around. There is likely a contested area or node that needs you more at the time. It is possible that you could design your team to have sets of two players who feature a highly supportive and defensive player with someone of decent damage output to take a node and sit on it. The problem then becomes that the battle is a war of attrition. Prolonged battles and over-balance are two of the major reasons the Guild Wars PvP scene died off after being so healthy for years. If your ruleset and map dictates prolonging fights to preserve nodes then it shrinks the type of builds and strategies to use.

ANet has tried to get around this with features like the trebuchet and bosses. These are meant as equalizers against heavily guarded nodes. A trebuchet shot can take out an entire group if it hits right. Downing the mini-bosses will net your team 50 points and a buff. Yet the issue with all of these things is the small size of the encounters. A boss killer and trebuchet player is often out on their own, not interacting with the team. This isn’t a new element to Guild Wars, as GvG had flag runners and split squads, but those small size roles were always balanced by larger scale battles elsewhere. One of the major issues with the current Capture Point system is that there will likely be no larger battles seen.

Where Depth Disappears

In larger head-to-head battles you have more room for builds to specialize into different roles and for players to coordinate their playstyle with the playstyle of their teammates. What this means is that you could have a six on six head-to-head battle with different team makeups on each side, as opposed to a standardized Cap Point team. For example, one side is carrying three melee characters, but there is a ranged character supporting those melee characters by snaring their target and buffing their allies speed. Perhaps one teamhas a Guardian and  a Warrior paired together with hammers. The Guardian snares a target within a restrictive circle, and the Guardian and Warrior both unleash hard hits to the trapped target. The other side could have an Elementalist and a Mesmer set up combo fields for Ranged characters to shoot through. The strategy of the melee team forces the other team to use more control fields and snares, encouraging the ranged attackers not to get stuck together and caught in the same trap.

While Guild Wars 2 encourages people to be a master of all things, the ability to focus in an area to the greater benefit of the whole is an element of strategy that fades away in a spread-out Capture Point map.

This doesn’t mean that I encourage straight deathmatch systems for sPvP in Guild Wars 2. Dueling for the purpose of training and testing will likely find its way into the game, but Arena deathmatches have their limits, too. You can still create setups where you have room for both small skirmishers and larger skirmishers. Control Point maps, where you must fight to control all nodes at once to win, create this sort of situation. It is the procession style of these maps that cause the larger scale battles. If you still had the equalizing elements of trebuchets and mini-bosses, then split squads have a place as well. GvG maps and rules had larger battles with options of flag running and split squads as viable tactics.

In Capture Point, if you try to stick together as a single swarm, then you’ll likely lose. You can’t force large battles in Conquest. If most of your team is at one spot then you give up the other two nodes. Running, delaying and interfering matter most. What the PvP community wants are those team vs team situations where the battle is all out, and it’s a matter of supporting and controlling both sides. Players want to be sized up against the whole of the other side. They don’t want to succeed at their node running, just to realize they’re losing because of something that is happening on the other side of the map for which they have no input on or access to. Players also want the extra strategy of team builds. They want the strategy of what you sacrifice from the team to run off and do small skirmish tasks in order to help your chances to win. The carousel of Capture Point maps has never excited the PvP community. It’s a “fun go”, but that’s about it.

You Can’t Be Big Without The Respect

Blizzard put a lot of effort into legitimizing their Arena tournaments as a legit e-sport. The problem was that PvPers knew the game had major balance issues and the balance issues only became worse as the scale of combat shrunk down. I took Guild Wars PvP seriously enough. I understood that the card-deck system meant that nearly everything had a possible counter. I worried less about balance. Succeeding at Guild Wars PvP meant something so it mattered to succeed. Succeeding at Arena never mattered to me for it was becoming obvious that success depended greatly on gear and which classes had the power advantage. If you weren’t the right class then it wasn’t the right game for you. That or you would have to reroll and level the “winning” class.

What ArenaNet risks by going fully in with just Conquest is alienating the playerbase that would make the sPvP attractive. You can’t be bigtime without the respect of the community because you won’t draw the community to care and be competitive about your game. You will get, and forgive the elitism here, the second and third tier players to fill in the gap of talent. In other sports, there are minor leagues and spinoff leagues. There has been basketball leagues that use trampolines and favor dunking because it has a high entertainment value. These minor leagues don’t ever rise above the level of sideshow because nobody truly respects them. They don’t draw the top talent and thus don’t draw the big attendance. I feel this is the same for E-sports. ArenaNet can’t go out there and try to push E-sports while being PowerDunk Ball.

Investigating the Dredge

The Dredge Alert

The Dredge Report!

The Moletariats

The theme of this blog is inspired by the Dredge race within the Guild Wars universe. Originally, the Dredge were mostly found in dungeons of the world. They are a mole-like people who are enslaved for their tunneling techniques, forced to dig away and mine for dwarf taskmasters. Over the course of the first Guild Wars, this race goes through some changes and growth. By the time you find them in Guild Wars 2, they are their own people and still mining away. They are not friendly folk and some early quests involve fighting them within the mines.

No Allegiance Owed

The offspring of a few desperate escapees from the Shiverpeaks who tunneled for hundreds of miles to reach their strange new home, these Dredge have no reason to feel any friendship toward humans or anyone else—they escaped slavery on their own, and plan to establish their race anew in the petrified woodlands.

-Guild Wars wiki

Molenin

The friendly hero Molenin

The interesting part about the Dredge up-rise is how transient the player races are to the forming of the new Dredge society. In the Eye of the North expansion, there is a friendly Dredge named Molenin who stands guard outside the entrance to Vloxen Excavations. You can go inside the Vloxen dungeon and fight the Stone Summit Dwarfs, setting some of the Dredge free, but the game does not take these small parts as important to the collective liberation of its molemen. Some of the Dredge you set free run off, while others seem to wander aimlessly around.

There are few places to find the Dredge in the first Guild Wars if one was to out Dredge hunting. The previously mentioned Vloxen’s Excavations features enslaved Dredge folk, as does the Stone Summit run Sorrow’s Furnace. These are the typical Dredge slaves and you can find friendly versions in the mines of these areas. Over in Cantha, within the Echovald Forest, lives the freed society of Dredge. These Dredge are not friendly and are given workmanlike names for the different enemy class types. For example, a hostile Dredge monk is a Dredge Gardener and a hostile Dredge Ranger is called a Dredge Gatherer. Within the Echovald Forest, the Dredge live near dirt mounds that are likely the signs of their tunneling skills.

The Canthan Dredge have their own leaders in various Boss NPCs found in the explorable areas. In these forest areas, I have run across a couple of the named Dredge bosses called Tarlok Evermind and Wagg Spiritspeak.  It is tough to say whether there was an established naming convention for the Dredge yet or if their names are just a product of their specified class. Looking at the names Molenin, Tarlok and Wagg you have a mix of mole reference names, guttural sounds and warrior-society sounding first names.  On the other hand, Ferndale features a Dredge boss named Maximole, so the naming convention again returns to the mole puns.

Vloxen

Some Dredge will fight with you to free themselves.

Names aside, it’s pretty clear that the Dredge are a race that is on their own path in the Guild Wars universe. Even the Tengu seem closer to the sort of race you may find hanging out in Lion’s Arch as a friendly visitor than you would the Dredge.

A Return to Sorrow

The dredge are an intelligent mole-like race found in the Shiverpeak Mountains. They view themselves as the true heirs of the dwarves and are involved in an ongoing conflict with the norn over territory.

-Guild Wars 2 wiki

Dresge Tower Sketches

Dredge Architecture

Vloxen Lock

A gearwork lock in Vloxen’s Excavation

Interestingly enough, the Dredge of Guild Wars 2 come to inhabit and basically take over the old evil dwarf stomping grounds. It is thought that Sorrow’s Furnace is now the Dredge capital city. If so, this brings in some interesting possibilities. Mostly, I’m curious to see if Sorrow’s Furnace will return as a neutral city or as a hostile area. The early dynamic event involving a fight against the Dredge are found in the Norn area of the map. Here, you run into a mine and try to push the Dredge out. It’s a simple war for resources as your reasoning and vidya-gaming impetus, but it’s also interesting to see within the event that the Dredge have begun constructing objects of more interest than dirt mounds. While the complexities of the Dredge’s handicraft have been found mostly within their tunnels, the dynamic event involves a boss on a wooden platform and desparate attempt to keep the Dredge from rebuilding a tower.

ArenaNet has released some artwork of sketches of Dredge towers and buildings. There are similarities to be found between the Dredge constructions and those found in Sorrow’s Furnace and Vloxen’s Excavation. The heir of Dwarves may mean that the Dredge adopted the Stone Summit construction techniques seeing as they fit their spelunking lifestyle and new homes.What has happened with the Canthan Dredge we probably will not learn of until the first Guild Wars 2 Expansion.

Possibilities

The Dredge’s Moletariat society offers a lot of possibilities for future use in Guild Wars 2. They could become a neutral race that the player can befriend. Their home of Sorrow’s Furnace could become a major battle area or a dungeon. Their fight with the Norn could escalate at higher levels or perhaps you can negotiate a settlement between the Norn and Dredge at some point. It may be obvious, but I am hoping for some friendly Dredge to be found within Guild Wars 2. I have a hard time killing former slaves just to get to some iron ore.

Long live the Moletariat! (Until one of those Dredge tower workers try to stab me with an axepick.)

The E-Sports Charade: Part One

Guild Hall

You must defeat your foe’s Guild Lord to win in GvG

“We are seeking/pursuing/enthusiastic about…

ESPORTS!”

I used to watch Guild Wars 2’s Hall games and GvGs in the game’s observer mode whenever I had been out of the pvp game for awhile. (Let’s say months.) This was a way for me to see what builds were being used and how people were playing. A few months ago, I watched a couple of top 25 guilds battle it out in an extended GvG. One team was using an effective split build, going around the central area and in the backdoor with a Elementalist/Monk and a Dervish to take down NPCs and bleed-n-burn down the other team’s Guild Lord. The split strategy, rather common in the first Guild Wars, forced the other team to either split their own team up, move the batlte to where the split was or try to win while allowing their NPCs to die.

My first guild would revert to this strategy whenever we were losing and at times it worked. When being pushed back at the flag, we would send off two or three warriors to take down as many NPCs as they could and then fight the team’s Guild Lord all by themselves. When it worked, the other team was pretty pissed. We “ganked” the GL or we “ninjad” the win. The truth was that this was early on in the game’s life, before split builds became more popular and accepted. Honestly, we were just making it up as we went along. On the other hand, the true split build exists in a way so that larger group left behind can survive for extended times versus a numbers disadvantage. It wasn’t until the Factions expansion came along that these sorts of builds started to appear more commonly and in a more intelligent fashion. The Assassin’s teleport ability and the Spirits of the Ritualist provided both the ninja ability to sneak in and the delaying strategy of limiting damage to a group of people.  These things, along with new skills for all the professions, made split builds a more viable tactic. When the “Victory or Die” rules came in, taking out NPCs early meant even more in regards to your team’s chance at winning a GvG match.

As far as we know, this sort of game will not be appearing in Guild Wars 2. ArenaNet has devoted all structured PvP attention to their Conquest mode. The Conquest mode is the hot-join game players see when they hit “Play Now” on the PVP tab of their Hero window. When you hit the Play Now button, you literally do play then and now. The game ports you directly into an already active game. It’s sort of like joining a random game of Team Fortress 2. This, along with the instant boost to max gear and level, makes the GW2 structured PvP game very easy to get into. Before getting into my polite little rant, I’ll clarify what Conquest mode is like.

Conquest mode is your common resource capture point ruleset and map. There are two maps showcased so far and both have three capture point spots, along with team size limited to around five or six per side. The PvP community hasn’t exactly been thrilled by this. There was a capture point game in the first Guild Wars but it was not popular, and garnered nowhere near the interest that Guild vs Guild or Heroes Ascent/Hall of Heroes did. To be honest, it’s always been tough for Capture Point maps and rules to be taken seriously as true tests of teamwork and skill by PvPers. I’ll get into why that is later, but I feel the next thing I should address is why the community is stuck with Conquest when it doesn’t seem to want it.

The True Heart of E-Sports is Corporate

From a broadcasting and sponsorship perspective, there were a few problems with the original Guild Wars PVP game. One, the depth of builds and skills was something that required a devoted interest in the game by the audience. As well, many spells weren’t all that visually apparent. By this, I mean what was going on in a sixteen player battle wasn’t easy to tell by just watching the battle from afar. You could see a Monk get interrupted by a spell, but unless you were watching the castbars of the other team, you couldn’t tell where it came from. Often, it might be a Mesmer on interrupt duty. It might be a Power Block skill or it might even be the product of some hex being triggered. Sometimes you had Rangers with interrupt skills. To understand the action on the field, you had to know the way the game was played and you had to switch around to look at people’s skillbars and guess at their basic build, come to a general idea of who would be doing what and then try to comprehend the overall battle.

This is difficult for a broadcaster to easily translate into the sort of  vibrant, excited wave- flow of phrases that any new audience can understand. On top of this, since there are eight players on each side, there’s a lot of names to remember and many important events that happen, namely the important moments involved which shift an ebb and flow of multiple players reacting and responding.  The game also featured spikes, which were synced attacks meant to make any health bar go from 100% to 0% in the flash of an eye. There is no way for a broadcaster to be able to ancticipate these spikes without listening in to the voicechat feed of both teams. In this way, a broadcast of Guild Wars almost needed a broadcasting team, and then audio from both team’s voice chats to fully visualize what was going on. These things made the first Guild Wars very demanding on broadcasters and it did not translate well into the sort of flashy entertainment package that a company can easily sell to someone who was an outsider to the Guild Wars PvP world.

This is before we even consider the complex rule sets of winning a Guild versus Guild battle. The basic point is to kill the enemy Guild Lord, but map differences, flag captures and NPCs still alive in a draw matter as well. The GvG maps were not small either and the game demanded you follow the whole map with the roles of split builds and flag runners.

Now consider how easy it can be to tell who is winning or losing in a fighting game match being broadcast. Maybe you can’t see all the technical skills being used, but a landed punch and a decreasing lifebar is visually telling all by itself. A fighting game match lends itself to excited reactions and concentrated commentary. There’s a major combo landed or a counter, and the game involves all of two people. This is far easier to broadcast and market than your average MMORPG and their corresponding llist of skills, builds and players.

So the braodcasters concern is the company’s concern. They want something that will draw an audience as large as possible. The game companies want broadcasters to support their game, because having their PVP put out there helps sell the game and gets money flowing their way from the various other companies associated with the event.

Sponsorship

Broadcasters aren’t the only money involved in the E-Sports game. Accessory and hardware companies help support E-Sports by sponsoring players and tournaments, and for this sponsorship, they get their logo and gear advertised with the tournaments and their products associated with high level play and high level players. Like any company, the E-Sports sponsors want a good deal. They want as high an exposure they can get for the lowest cost to themselves. In this way, sponsoring teams of eight players plus alternates can be pretty expensive for the companies. The truth is the more players they sponsor, the less they gain from their sponsorship. A sponsor gets just as much publicity from sponsoring a two player team at a tournament and getting their logo put on a sponsor board as they do sponsoring an eight man team.

Of course, sponsoring five players is much more cost effective than sponsoring eight. So the more the team size shrinks, the happier sponsors are. MMOs will always be more costly because they often rely on team structured PVP and Guild identities. Still, by going towards Conquest and smaller teams for their tournaments, ArenaNet is working to appease. possible E-Sport sponsors. And by providing the Capture Point map, they appease the broadcasters. Why?

Conquest gives a readout of points scored and points attributed to players.

Tiny  Battles and a Scoreboard

Capture Point maps and small teams create a situation where players must split up and keep moving. I mentioned split squads and tactics in this entry’s opening, but these split situations in a Capture Point map are different. A GVG split squad is organized to split, a tandem or a trio of players who know they will be sticking together and have builds that support each other as a split squad. The splits in Capture Point demand singular splits and multiple splits. Basically,you go where you’re needed on the map. You cannot rely on someone on your team to always be with you, so your build must prepare your character for life as a solo survivalist.

What the Capture Point ruleset creates is the One on One fights familiar to fighting game fans. When you have a skirmish at a capture point, the broadcast can focus on that particular fight and those particular players. They don’t have to worry about the build of each team or interacting builds, but instead, the broadcasting team can focus on what one player is doing versus the other player. This includes the camera, the announcers and the studio guy in charge of directing the action. These small skirmishes are the sort of spotlight situations that work for television and streams.

Also, the Conquest game mode has a running score at the top of the screen, so that no matter where the action is going on, the viewer can get an idea of how the overall battle is going. People understand points even if they don’t understand how those points are being made.

This doesn’t mean the work being done towards making Guild Wars 2 an E-Sport will succeed or even that fans should want the game to become an E-Sport in this way. In fact, I think any MMO player should be worried about their company talking about E-Sports.

Why For You Mad At E-Sport?

The problem with the whole reasoning and explanation of ArenaNet’s situation is that nowhere along the way did the consumer and the playerbase become an important factor. Everyone involved is seeking to profit off the performance of the PVP community, but that player community isn’t being considered in the design of the game. At least not considered at the same level of importance as the sponsors and broadcasters.

Despite being accommodating to a supposed audience, there is something very anti-consumer about the E-Sports pursuit. There is also a patronizing view of the audience, and I would argue an exaggerated projection of the real value of competitive gaming to the public.

And worst of all, all the planning and pleasing comes tumbling down if the playerbase rejects your PVP game.

That’s the issue I will be getting into with Part Two of this discussion.