Flameseeker Chronicles: Guild Wars 2 raid beta impressions

    
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I don’t believe I’ve ever been more excited — and simultaneously nervous — about a beta test than I was for Guild Wars 2s third beta weekend that just passed. Raiding is by far my favourite MMO activity, so it’s not surprising that I’ve been exceptionally keen to see for myself how raids work in the upcoming Heart of Thorns expansion. We know that the raid design team has been hard at work for the past year to pull together what it promises will be the most challenging group content the game has seen yet, and this weekend we got to see the fruit of ArenaNet’s labour for ourselves.

In this edition of Flameseeker Chronicles, I’ll give you a brief overview of the raiding content while it is currently in development alongside my initial impressions from my time spent testing while talking a little bit about boss mechanics, and I’ll even throw in a video of The Sickest Guild’s world-first (is that a thing in beta?) Vale Guardian kill for those who have missed it.

raid pick fiveA wee (big) hiccup along the way

As with any beta test, we were pre-warned that the new elements introduced in this beta are still very much in development. There were issues with the expansion’s new squad UI that made it impossible to keep the raid content open for a significant portion of the beta period, but the team managed to fix this issue over the course of the beta and extended the testing period to cover Monday too. I was really very impressed with how swiftly the squad UI bugs were squashed, and I don’t think it’s much coincidence that a crowdfunding campaign started to send the ANet gang cupcakes this weekend!

I want to start by stressing that I didn’t get as much time to tinker with raiding as I would have liked, though: I don’t want you to think that my impressions are in any way formed by a full weekend of throwing my toons against the raid content. For clarity’s sake, know that I ran the raid content on Monday and unsurprisingly did not even come close to a Vale Guardian kill. My initial impressions are formed on the basis of a few hours of raid exploration, so bear that in mind as you read on.

What a wonderful place to raid! Why clutter it so much?

Let’s check out Dom from The Sickest Guild (NA) as his raiding team take down the Vale Guardian before I start explaining how I fared. Dom’s team are absolutely fantastic players and make it look very clean, which should help to clarify the mechanics I’m spotty on.

If you managed to play despite the squad UI issues that forced ArenaNet to temporarily pull raiding from the beta weekend, you’ll have seen how visually stunning the raid setting is. Beautifully green wild plateaus with staggeringly steep cliff faces greet you alongside a tangle of enchanting flora. Although there’s plenty to look at aside from the rather bland looking enemies at hand, I found that the sea of bright greens really helped with positioning and character contrast against the backdrop. The textures employed aren’t overly fussy, but the ground is sectioned off into handy slabs that make your relative distance from party members much easier to gauge while preoccupied.

Where the cluttery confusion started for me, however, was when the inevitable plethora of visual bells and whistles associated with ten players all casting and lots of enemy mechanics firing showed on the ground simultaneously, especially when the fight mechanics called for stacking. I almost felt as though clutter, more so than logistical coordination, necessitated voice chat more for facing the Vale Guardian. There was just so much goop on the ground that vision was super impaired. I am used to this from world bosses, granted, but the fine mechanics of this fight seemed to make it matter much more.

raid pick twoVale Guardian mechanics in a nutshell

I smiled the whole time I fought the Vale Guardian despite the wipes. The mechanics are simple in theory, but it’s a whole other ballgame in practice. You learn on the journey to the Vale Guardian that red indicates the need for condition damage and the presence of damaging seekers during the red guardian encounter; likewise, the green guardian’s AoE lightning fields displace characters who stand on them, and the blue guardian prepares you for the boon stripping and orbital strike that players must stack in. All of these mechanics merge together in the Vale Guardian, and I adore this very clever introduction of the boss’ key mechanics before you ever face him.

The floor is divided into colourful chunks, and each corresponds to a guardian colour aspect and pillar on the edge of the circular battle floor. The Vale Guardian follows the player with the highest toughness while using a whole bag o’ tricks to distract the raiding party. Blue AoEs displace players, seekers must be CCed effectively, and lightning strikes scour the battlefield in the current colour zone, damaging little strikes that must be absorbed by several players to prevent failure.

The battle is phased, which certainly helps to keep things interesting throughout the duration of the fight. Phase one progresses with the Vale Guardian throwing the aforementioned attacks around until he falls to 66% and then 33%, at which points he splits into the three distinct colour guardians. Each guardian must be dealt with as they were before, of course, with particular attention to the unique abilities of each colour. Phase two sees one zone light up in a rotation and deal damage to those within its sector, and the now-whole Guardian’s break bar must be broken in order to preserve the party. Phase three commences with two lit-up zones that damage contained squaddies, and this rotates around to keep you moving. Whew! I think I caught the general gist of the mechanics in my testing, but please point out anything I got wrong: I’m still learning the mechanics too you know!

raid pick fourI had to use my brain – yay!

I don’t think it comes across as well in video as it does when you’re actually playing, but please trust me when I say that there was much more to the first fight that simply spamming, splitting, and stacking if you didn’t play yourself. Players need to carefully follow the mechanics while maximising DPS and balancing health pools, just as you’d expect to do in any good boss encounter. Quick movement and precise positioning are both critical, especially when you’re getting to lightning or dodging teleports. I’ve never felt so stretched in GW2 before, so I definitely hope other bosses only scale up from here.

Although I was pushed in this first raid boss fight, the mechanics were clean and logical, making a boss-kill feel entirely possible if we could only clean up our act. The difference between success and failure ultimately came down to precision and not the exploitation of mechanics or any sort of crazily high artificial difficulty barriers, so I was totally happy to wipe repeatedly while we learned the steps to the first raid boss. Once I get my head around the combined mechanics, the specific timings, and the holy mess of telegraphs everywhere, I’m sure my group will shape up nicely. If this is just the first boss, I can’t wait to see where the ArenaNet gang takes raiding over the next few months (and years, for that matter). If you’re wondering, the best attempt we had was somewhere in the 30% region, and we kept failing on movement and correctly handling the commander split.

Over to you!

For me, many of my fears have been allayed by this taster, especially in terms of content difficulty. I most definitely wasn’t able to faceroll my way through this content, and I’m so very glad! Did you manage to squeeze in some beta raiding in the last session? If so, did any of you manage to down the first boss, or were you as challenged as I was? Are you now more or less confident for the raid content we’ll see in Heart of Thorns? Let me know in the comments.

Tina Lauro has been playing Guild Wars 2 since it launched and now pens the long-running Flameseeker Chronicles column, which runs every other Wednesday and covers everything from GW2 guides and news to opinion pieces and dev diary breakdowns. If there’s a GW2 topic you’d love to see covered, drop a comment Tina’s way or mail her at tina@massivelyop.com.
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DenvilFordChandlerIII
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DenvilFordChandlerIII

Looks fantastic. Tomorrow is going to Rock! Mwahaha!

Tina Lauro
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Tina Lauro

wolfyseyes  Always <3 ^.^

wolfyseyes
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wolfyseyes

Well, that pretty much tears it–raids look like the sort of content I can shoot for. Time to knuckle down and level up.
The world could use another Asuran Necro, right? :3

kalamarison
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kalamarison

But… But… Raiding is bad for MMOs, amiright guyz?

Vexia
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Vexia

Yay, more pro-raiding perspective on Massively OP! :P I know on “vanilla Massively” we had some very heated debates on that topic, and I was left with the opinion that most people either despised raids or were neutral towards them.
Raiding is one of my favorite activities as well. I have no idea what raids are doing in GW2, but they are among the new HoT features that are making me give it a second glance. If I ever see that expansion go on sale, it will be very tempting to buy it (but then I’d have to actually get a character to the level cap in order to try it out!).
Nice article all-in-all! I like how you break down the mechanics so we can get a better idea of what’s going on in the video. Plus it’s nice to hear your opinions on the challenges and coordination requirements that the encounter presents. It seems to me like every development team has to refine their mechanics design process to make progressively more interesting encounters, so here’s hoping the GW2 team can do the same.

cheesybites76
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cheesybites76

usagizero “Tank and spank with kiting” sounds like…..pretty much every single “boss” encounter in Gw2, so no surprise there!

Vexia
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Vexia

usagizero Watching any raid boss kill makes my heart beat quickly because I’m happy to see them get it down even if I don’t know what the mechanics are. :P 
That said, it was very entertaining to watch all the little Asura running around and beating up the boss, but they especially got lost in the spell effects. When you consider how they are all Asura, it also highlights just how tiny the boss is compared to the standard MMO boss model. The other races would probably be more than half as tall as it is.

BhimaJenkins
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BhimaJenkins

Interesting to note that the only guild that got a Vale Guardian kill had a Druid in full healing gear healing the raid. I’m not saying this is necessary since, clearly the encounter is new (and not properly tested by many), but, having watched the fight from the druid’s perspective, the heals are significant and his healing sustain is really quite good. I wonder if this is a sign of the times or just a throw away decision by the guild to try it out?

Either way, the heals were definitely effective and MUCH easier to pull of and sustain compared to coordinating blasting water fields.

tobascodagama
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tobascodagama

alexjwillis I do think the map could benefit from a “recall” mechanic like a lot of MOBAs have. A channel you can only start out-of-combat, broken by damage, that will take you back to your keep within ~5 seconds. Because, as it stands, there’s nothing to be done if your opponents have 5-man rushed your Lord unless — as you said — your own team is already in the Lord room as well. The map could probably use that teeny bit of anti-snowball to make the end of the game more exciting.

alexjwillis
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alexjwillis

Siphaed alexjwillis Hey, I won all my matches, so whatever we were doing was right. :) 
Our roles were always: 
– 1 Pure Defender
– 1 Defender/Roamer (Occasional Treb)

– 1 Utility/Roamer (Minions)
– 1 Pure Attacker
– 1 Attacker/Roamer
I tended to play Defender or Defender/Roamer, so used either a Turrent Engi (you can get really good positioning on the map for turrets where they are more or less immune to melee — great for rockets, nets, and rifles) for Pure Defence or a Sticky Point Denial Elementalist (staff) for Defender/Roamer. 

Roamer roles switch up for Mist and positional enemy combat, focused on the mid-map; Utility focuses on minions and the mid-map; Attacker/Roamer pushes and moves back to mid if necessary.

Right now it’s pretty obvious that Defence is key. I don’t know that I’d put 3 on defence as in your team, but you need at least 2, and they need to be sticky and durable with decent AOE attack.