Another Beta Weekend Event has come and gone, and on this occasion I could be a little more experimental in how I approached the game. Aside from being able to finally record and process video, I was able to get my hands on a lot of the new content introduced to World vs World over the course of the past six weeks. One of the key features I know a lot of people were excited about was the WvW Mini-Dungeon, announced shortly before the weekend by Eric Flannum, the Lead Game Designer at ArenaNet.
“One of the coolest things that we’ve added to WvW recently is a persistent mini-dungeon that can be accessed through the three keeps in the center map. This area is designed with multiplayer PvP in mind and players can do things like activate the traps in the mini-dungeon to defeat enemy players. Of course, at the end of the area there’s a chest full of rewards.”
While we got exactly what he stated, I and many other players were expecting something a bit different. When I say different, I mean less "Puzzly". And when I mean less "Puzzly", I mean the Mini-Dungeon is a giant Jump Puzzle. So far, at least from my prospective, there is a miscommunication in terminology between the developers at ArenaNet and their audience. For Eric Flannum, clearly the word Dungeon is very literal — as the area beneath Eternal Battlegrounds is a giant, sadistic set of pain chambers that are frustrating to deal with. Players on the other hand may think differently when they think of the word "Dungeon". For them, Dungeons have long been places filled with monsters and bosses, rare loot and precious rewards worth fighting over. But sadly, there is nothing worth fighting for in the sunken city beneath the Eternal Battlegrounds
This miscommunication did lead some people to expect that the "Mini-Dungeon" would be something like Dark Age of Camelot's Darkness Falls, a contested dungeon with three different avenues of advancement which meet in the middle for a rough and tumble grudge match to have rights to bosses and loot drops. I believe ArenaNet should take this as a clue, perhaps when they are to describe a Jump Puzzle, they should exclusively refer to it as a Jump Puzzle --- not a "Mini-Dungeon".
Late Sunday, my server fully conquered WvW and gained rights to the Mini-Dungeon and or the very first time I could venture down and see it for myself. With hopes of banding together with my teammates to gain some extra Experience Points and do something fresh and interesting as a cooperative group --- instead we got something beyond what anyone of us could have imagined. After crossing through the Mystic Portal, I found myself standing on a platform looking at two other Mystic Portals. Instantly I knew that the additional portals were from the other two Keeps within Eternal Battlegrounds, all within firing distance of one another. There were no three unique paths to fight through, no individual experiences based on which Keep you entered. All Keeps could spawn me at the exact same starting position.
Before me was a massive chamber beneath the Eternal Battlegrounds, very much like the Caves of Planetside. The area was huge and the cleverness of the design was instantly apparent. Right in the middle of the chamber was a ray of bright purple light. It shot down diagonally from the ceiling, emitted from a huge purple crystal at the highest point on the map. The light rays bounced off a smaller crystal in the middle of the room, which pointed a ray of light off to the left --- clearly saying "Go That Way". So I did.
At this point my eyes were keenly looking around for something to fight. Some sign of activity, some creature or boss or baddie of some sort. But nothing was there, just a huge empty room with slender ledges and platforms. Soon it sunk in, and it was clear that this was going to be a long and painfully complex jump puzzle to solve. And indeed, it did take a good time to solve. I spent three hours recording the whole experience. But I realized I lost about an hour of footage, having failed to notice I didn't record for a while — I was too focused on solving the puzzle I admit. But in the end, I only lost a minor portion of the overall dungeon and can safely say I recorded 90% of it.
At this point I've taken the time to edit the video down considerably, only really show casing at lot of parts that didn't go horribly wrong or were hindered too greatly by PvP combat. At the conclusion of this experience, I realized that what I just went through really wasn't very much fun at all.
The only person who seemed to have a great time was the Mesmer in our party, which is no shock to me at all because they have a built in "Reset Button" so they can just Portal back up if they mess up. Unlike most of us who play, who have to backtrack about five or ten minutes to repeat the same portion of the maze over and over again while the Mesmer just keeps going forward without a problem. I can see how he didn't find it difficult or frustrating; he's playing a ridiculously convenient class that has all of the best abilities in the game at present.
What truly alarmed me and made me really feel a shock and awe, was when I first ventured down into the Third Stage of the puzzle. You venture down a stairway which takes you into a pitch black chamber where the puzzle is completely done under cover of perfect darkness. The only way to venture through was to illuminate the way with torches and Area-of-Effect-Ground Target abilities to help physically "See" where to go next. I found this to be a needless frustration, as in the end I could see just fine with my abilities and the torches felt like a PvP handicap that forces you to do something you don't want to do in order to endure the trial.
But the first time I went down, I didn't realize I even needed a torch. So I did it all in perfect darkness. Eventually when my team mates came to join me, I informed them of the torches at the entrance and things went a little easier. Yet still, even a minor mess up to any jump at any portion of the puzzle meant you had to reset back to the beginning of each Level. In all, there were five levels to the dungeon. In reflection, I can say that the Jump Puzzle doesn't make a good PvP space. I could find myself just boiling over with intense frustration while trying to work my way through this if I had enemies always a few steps ahead of me manning traps.
That is another thing which bothers me, the traps. It seems silly to me that there are platforms where one person can man several traps at once — giving one person the ability to hinder everyone who follows them, even if they are on your own team. This looks to me like it can be a huge problem when the game goes live, as seeing there are people out there who just love to grief and this seems like the perfect place to do it. You can create a living hell for members of your own server, and they can never, ever kill you either.
But after all of that, spending hours of going through and gaining a little bit of ground after a while — the only real reward at the end is to just say "You Did it". Seriously. Of course there is a chest at the end, but it's nothing special. You can earn the same rewards from Mistrought Vault in each of the Server Borderlands, and since there are three of those you can better spend your time getting three times the reward just pushing Mistrought every two weeks. Beneath Eternal Battlegrounds resides a huge puzzle that is even more difficult, but doesn't really net any rewards that value the effort. Even worse, once you finish it -- the thrill of discovery is gone. Any repeat process through it feels more like going through the motions rather than a fun experience.
So in the end I wonder, what's the point? Was it fun to do? In a way, yes. But I found fun in it only as way to spend time with my guild mates and get to know them more. Do something other than fight and do something which involves team work and cooperation to get to a goal at the end. That was fun for me. But I could not and do not want to imagine this place as a shelter for PvP, especially if every team starts at the exact same location. You will have to constantly watch your back and man traps for long periods of time, likely not even killing those who venture through them and net you no real reward or experience points - only the minor thrill of ruining someone’s day. I feel ArenaNet can do better, and this just doesn't feel like it deserves to be part of World vs. World. It doesn't feel critical or exciting, heck it doesn't even feel relevant — because frankly it isn't.
Class balance is huge as well, as many classes can easily breeze through this as others have to struggle considerably. Fairness becomes an issue, and if Mesmers do not see a massive change in their skill sets — then we'll likely see these puzzles turn into an industry for Mesmers to make a butt-load of money teleporting whole teams instantly to the end of the Dungeon using their Mesmer Portals. We tested it, it is possible, and that's just stupid. But I give ArenaNet credit. I like it and feel it does need to be in the game — just not in WvW. I share this with you all now so you guys can get a taste of just what this really was. I hope a lot of the feedback from this weekend's BWE will result in a lot of changes to change this dungeon, and perhaps to actually make it a dungeon.
In all honesty, I think ArenaNet has accidentally stumbled on something very promising here. People do like doing puzzles in MMORPGs, and these are good and tax the brain in a healthy way. I'd like to see more of these, in fact a lot more. A huge portion should reside in some off-the-grid location where I can invite team mates to come with me as we tackle Jump Puzzles. We can adjust the difficulty, turning on Traps ourselves for greater rewards. Maybe even be able to find items scattered around in hidden locations for special rewards and achievements. That seems like a great thing to do and may be a better use of this map. I just hope ArenaNet and the player-base agrees with me, who knows — time will tell.