I took my first run at a dungeon this last week in Guild Wars 2, joining a group for the story mode of Ascalon Catacombs (post-reward-nerf, FYI). I went in with next to no knowledge of what to expect. Like most of you, I’d watched videos and read stories about AC in the months leading up to launch, but many of the final details had since been forgotten. The dungeon was about as fresh to me as any content could be, and I wanted to see what kind of a shock it would be to experience “hard” content after just tooling around in the world for my first 30 levels.
GW2, so far for me at least, has been undeniably fun, but it’s also lacked challenge. Dynamic events are usually loaded down with enough people to as to make the difficulty trivial, and when I’m out in the wild, I can routinely take on two or three enemies a couple levels ahead of me. (Some of the story quest missions, however, have provided a welcome challenge.) This isn’t a terrible thing — when you get right down to it, most MMOs are pretty easy outside of rigidly controlled environments like dungeons — and it’s still fun, but I wanted to reserve judgment on the game until I’d at least had a chance to try something in a more controlled environment. Plus, I wanted to see how valid the “no trinity” argument was.
After failing to find a group within my guild, I went the PUG route, finding a group very quickly. That’s a plus, but I wonder how long it will stay that way as the game matures and people move on. I was able to find groups quickly for the first three flashpoints in Star Wars: The Old Republic, but after that, when the game was about two months old, it became impossible.
In any case, our intrepid group of two necromancers (including me) and three rangers — a very non-trinity-like group — ventured into the dark. I was level 31, and the other players numbered 30, 32, 47, and 80. The 80 seemed to know what was going on and “led” us, though there was little communication in general. The fact that we were able to complete the dungeon (I know, I’m skipping ahead) despite no “tank” or “healer” and with minimal coordination was nice.
This isn’t to say there weren’t bumps in the road. I went in with a fully repaired set of armor and came out with a fully damaged set of armor, indicating that I’d died six times. It wasn’t terribly hard, and I’d wager that with a somewhat more seasoned group and better cooperation and communication, ideally through voice chat, we’d get it down pretty quickly.
Speaking of cooperation, there seemed to be relatively little of it. Maybe it’s because 3/5 of our party was rangers, who, if they take their cues from other MMOs, are used to shooting first and asking questions — as well as doing anything else — later. I shifted my utility skills around during the run, gradually adding more support when I could, and it seemed like one other person was also at least attempting to buff, put down beneficial effects, or set up combos. Otherwise, though, it seemed like a lot of “every man for himself,” which probably hurt our efficiency.
It took us a little over an hour to complete — far from a speed run — and, unlike in some PUGs I’ve been in in other games, there was no inter-party griping about how long it was taking, how much we were dying, and how big a bunch of noobs we were. That was refreshing. As I said, I think it would be easy to get our time down and die less if we had a more focused or guild-composed group, especially one that tailored its builds to assist other players.
Maybe a little more class diversity wouldn’t hurt. My take on the “no trinity” argument is that it is doable as long as people know what’s going on, are aware of their surroundings (more on that in two paragraphs), and adequately support each other while also being aware of their individual situations. Being willing to switch your build or weapons to suit a situation is key, as well. I changed my strategies on the fly slightly depending on what kind of enemies and bosses we were fighting. If I’d known what to expect before going in the dungeon, I probably would have been able to tweak things even further.
Of course, this is all from my experiences in a relatively easy story mode dungeon; explorable mode is much harder and might require stricter adhesion to pre-set roles, but I still think there will be some wiggle room if players work together and adjust their builds accordingly.
The one, big “Hey, ArenaNet, I wish you’d change this” thing I’d call out is the red circles that indicate incoming enemy attacks. When you’re out in the wild, with not much going on — and few consequences if you fail to react — it’s relatively easy to dodge enemy attacks. In a dungeon, with your focus divided between what your teammates are doing and enemy action, and with spacial awareness so important, it’s very hard to discern a thin red circle, sometimes before it’s too late.
A lot of us, myself included, scoffed slightly at the giant red blobs that WildStar uses to “telegraph” enemy attacks, and out in the world, when you’re facing one or two monsters, they should be pretty easy to dodge. In a dungeon situation, with a lot more going on, I can see how something like that could be a lot more welcome. Maybe the outline could be thicker? Or pulse more vividly?
(I’m also iffy about the ability to die, go to a waypoint, and then run back to the fight in progress. That probably shouldn’t be an option, but for a noob in his first dungeon, I couldn’t criticize it too much. And actual character names, not account names, when you mouse over portraits, would also be nice so I can find people easier and get to them when they need help.)
I was relatively pleased with my first dungeon experience in Guild Wars 2. AC story is probably the right level of challenge for a first dungeon, completable as it was by a PUG with virtually no communication. It’ll be a long time before I’m ready for anything explorable, but I look forward to the challenge of figuring them out.
In the meantime, my engineer just hit 30 — LFG for AC story!