Guild Wars 2 – Dungeons
So now that I’ve spent time talking about some things that Guild Wars 2 does well (although certainly not everything it does well), I think it would be appropriate to talk about the main, glaring flaw in the game – dungeons. Every MMO in the past decade has had some form of instanced group challenge, and every single one of them has done it better than Guild Wars 2.
In very general terms, a dungeon should be a fairly linear environment filled with obstacles, usually a mix of groups of weak normal monsters and intermittent bosses. There might be environmental hazards or timed goals, and the players should need to work as a team (if they don’t massively outlevel the dungeon). World of Warcraft and all its clones have this down to a fine art. You get in, you get your fill of plot and lore (or skip them), you murder all the things, and you get loot. It’s not the most elegant system, and one could argue that it isn’t fulfilling if there’s not enough challenge involved, but overall I think players would rather do something that is easy to moderately difficult, rather than bang their heads against a wall for say, 4 hours.
Does 4 hours seem like an arbitrary amount of time? It isn’t. That’s how long me and my new friends from the Eikosi League were stuck in the Ascalonian Catacombs a few nights ago. This is the first dungeon available in Guild Wars 2, and it kicked us in the asses for 4 straight hours. I don’t think we are bad players, but there’s really no way to tell, and the final event was just too much for us, no matter what increasingly desperate strategy we tried. Now, I remember my first run of Deadmines (the first Alliance dungeon in WoW), and while it was hard, that was because we were all underleveled, new to the game, and the game was incredibly unpolished back in 2005. And we still won and got our rewards for our time. Fast forward to 2012, where Guild Wars shows so much promise in MMO innovation, and yet has dungeon difficulty spikes worthy of the end of Psychonauts. Most of us were high or max leveled, decked out in decent gear, and pretty knowledgeable about our classes, and we still failed over and over.
Part of the problem is that Guild Wars 2 likes to delevel you and your stats to match zones. In this case, we were all brought down to level 35, meaning our gear was contributing very little. I like to feel strong when I work hard to be a higher level, and I like to know that the gear I spent time and money on means something. You don’t get that feeling in Guild Wars 2, unless you’re playing in a max level setting. However, the stats are not the main issue. The main issue is an underlying problem (or perhaps feature?) of the game’s overall design.
You see, this game doesn’t really have “tanks” or “healers”. Everyone is expected to avoid all the damage they can, and everyone has their own healing ability. Everyone is technically a damage dealer, although you can be more or less a support role. This is great when you’re out in the world, dropping into informal groups to complete events and then leaving whenever you want. It is the exact opposite of great (in this case, soul-crushingly bad) in a dungeon setting, where everything can hit you for all of your health, and you could really use a tank to gather up all the monsters.
So what you end up with is combat that is always total chaos. There’s monsters running everywhere, aoe covering the ground, and players rolling (or being knocked) all over the place. You shouldn’t be standing still, and sometimes it’s hard to find a safe place at all. This doesn’t mesh well with the confined, linear, monster-packed dungeons. It doesn’t help that monsters do not die quickly, and boss fights can last for well over 10-15 minutes.
I personally play a more support-focused Mesmer, giving buffs (boons) to myself and my allies, and putting debuffs (conditions) on my enemies. I can also haste my allies for short amounts of time and remove their conditions. I do most of my damage over time through various effects, and I make a lot of illusions that do the same. While in our dungeon disaster, I found this build to be completely insufficient. I wasn’t able to do AOE damage to the groups of weak enemies (because clones go away when your target dies), I wasn’t able to damage the enemy-spawning burrows (because they don’t receive conditions), and I wasn’t able to effectively buff my teammates, because we were spread out most of the time, trying to protect crystals and destroy burrows, while fighting 8 skillion gravelings at the same time. I assume everyone else was more effective than me, but overall our group just couldn’t do enough damage or soak up enough hits.
Guild Wars 2 doesn’t give you a lot of feedback in dungeons. It’s hard to tell if you’re really hurting the target, and anytime you manage to muddle through a boss fight after being knocked down 10+ times (and maybe even dying), you call it good and assume that was what you were supposed to do. I mean, bosses have so much health, you just have to win through sheer persistence. It’s not like your gear or stats will help you. The event we were stuck on didn’t have a boss monster, but we never were able to find a strategy that worked. It’s not like the game was going to give us any clues or ideas. The NPC that governed the event was no help, I don’t think he could even attack.
So we wiped, over and over, and eventually gave up and left, with nothing to show for it except some grey trash drops and hefty repair bills. I still had fun, because it’s fun to play with friends, but I would have left hours before that if it had been random players. Guild Wars 2 is fun because it’s colorful and vibrant, with a world that lets you explore and events that flow seamlessly from place to place. Dungeons are where you walk down a brown linear corridor, getting killed by everything you meet.