and their fucking burrows.
I’m not sure how much you can really make out in this screen shot, but these are the Ascalonian Catacombs, and those are a dozen rabid gravelings trying to destroy everything we love. Or at least the quest objective, which at the time was everything we loved. Over a dozen tries were made to stop the gravelings – every one a failure.
Thanks to luck and careful cultivation of limited lifetime resources, I managed to get out of those catacombs last night at least breaking even, if not making a small profit. Those I ventured with, however, were not so lucky; unable to enjoy the free repairs I had, they each lost several dozen silver pieces on the run due to repairing their gear – some had a cost as high as forty silver – a substantial sum of money, equal to many hours of play even at the highest level. All caused by yet another Stupid Developer Trick – in this case, unbalanced play.
Nothing else in the game quite compares to the various dungeons. Some of the story missions come close – some expect you to effectively solo a spawn of five or six enemies, when most of the game is designed around being able to take one or two, with the “balance” being largely ineffectual NPCs who do virtually no damage and cannot hold aggro. But, for the most part, story missions never expect you to fight anything stronger than a “Veteran” foe, who don’t even match a dungeon’s silver tier monsters in difficulty. And there exist gold and even “legendary” enemies, the latter represented by a purple spikey ring:
Fights against these legendary foes can take five to ten minutes each, sometimes as much as half an hour, just to defeat a single foe – and much of that is spent with players on their backs, either knocked down by various special attacks, in the game’s last-chance “downed” state, or just outright dead. It is not unusual for legendary enemies to have attacks that will kill a player – or multiple players – in a single shot. In a typical dungeon run, you will likely encounter at least two, and sometimes three or four, of these foes (though thankfully, to my knowledge, never more than one at a time.)
There are a few world-map dynamic events that employ somewhat similar odds and mechanics, but most of those seem to be tuned to an expected mass of twenty to thirty players, not the mere five that dungeon mechanics limit players to. But this is the game’s first dungeon – level 30 is the first time you can tackle the Ascalonian Catacombs, and the entire game up to this point has encouraged at best ad-hoc grouping, where players who happen to be in the same place teaming up to accomplish goals. The Ascalonian Catacombs is any player’s first introduction to the game’s dungeons.
And by many reports, it is among, if not the, hardest dungeon in the entire game.
This is not a function of level. The characters running the dungeon in the leading shot were mostly max level, with uncommon or rare quality gear (and many had exotic quality weapons, the best the game has to offer numerically.) Even with level scaling, we should have had a substantial leg up on the challenges thanks to our high-level gear. And yet the challenge we could not surpass did not include even one gold-tier foe, let alone a legendary. In fact, we had to defeat the dungeon’s first legendary foe to get to that point, and while we struggled a bit with that, it was nonetheless an obstacle we could overcome. Yet a mass of normal-level “trash” and a few scattered silver-tiered foes defeated us time and again, stalling us for literally hours on one single event. After four hours in the Catacombs, we gave up, all hope of completion – and the reward payout that would have made the effort actually a net profit – lost.
The Catacombs introduce you to the concept of gravelings and their burrows with a single burrow, which must be destroyed before the party continues. This introduces one major flaw in all this graveling-based gameplay: targeting. While my screenshot failed to capture the floating text, the swing I had just made at this burrow, which I am practically standing on, was a miss.
Please note that Guild Wars does not have any to-hit mechanics inherent to it; if you activate an ability, have line-of-sight, and are in range, your ability hits unless actively evaded (which a burrow, being inanimate, obviously cannot do.) And yet with these graveling burrows, half to three-quarters of all melee-ranged attacks miss. You can slightly increase your odds by constantly shifting around, but “Miss” is still a very common thing to see while trying to attack these things.
Ranged weapons have it even worse. Literally no ranged attack can actually hit a burrow. You will be obstructed, or out of range, every single time, even when literally standing on top of one. Ranged area attacks can affect them, and every ranged weapon and profession combo in the game that I know of has some area ranged effects (or close-burst cones, which are functionally the same), so while it’s not completely a lost cause, it is still a great detriment to destroying the burrows.
The only abilities that reliably hit the burrows are area attacks – such as the various profession’s greatsword spins or the rain of death abilities of elementalists and rangers. And woe to any group seeking to tackle the two Explore branches that involve graveling-based challenges without them. Given that at least one of the graveling challenges is entirely time-based (can you tear down burrows fast enough to keep yourselves from being overwhelmed?) this is a really unbalanced transition from the rest of the game’s playstyle; instead of being able to do whatever you want with whomever you want, it encourages making sure you have “key” builds in place to overcome a particular challenge, a hallmark of older MMO design that Guild Wars 2 is supposedly moving beyond.