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Guild Wars 2 General Article: Ascalon Catacombs Dungeon Experience

By David North on February 21, 2012

Over this past weekend I got the chance to finally play Guild Wars 2.  The Beta did not have the game fully available to us, but ArenaNet made sure there was plenty for us to do, but one thing put us through a harsh test of skill, patience, and sanity.  I’m talking about the Ascalon Catacombs dungeon!  This was level 30 content that felt more like level 80 content, but I mean this in a good way.  There’s so much going on just in this one dungeon, you forget what safety is.  Traps, monsters, and bosses awaited us around every corner, barely giving us any time to breathe.

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Right away you get an eerie feeling.  The environment was very well done.  Broken rubble was everywhere, the floor was dirty, and the signs that life once walked through these halls littered everything.  Things weren’t very cut and dry either, as just like the world outside of the dungeon, there were multiple layers of elevation.  Both enemies and bosses were able to hit me off a ledge.  There was one time though where I embarrassingly rolled out of an attackto evade it, right off the cliff to my death!  Go ahead and laugh.   If that doesn’t amuse you, I did it in front of a two developers who were guiding us though!  There, you’re probably laughing now.

The types of enemies we encountered were very fitting for the story of the dungeon.  Many of them were the ghosts of Ascalon, people who once walked through the halls as members of the living.  We also encountered mounds of dirt that housed swarms of gravelings.  The best part about these two enemies was that their AIs worked differently.  For the most part, they would focus on who was closest and was doing the most damage to them but once a player was down the gravelings would begin focusing on them to finish them off.  It was really effective as they came in such large swarms, and wouldn’t stop their relentless assault until you destroyed their mound.  It really made the action fast paced and intense.

Puzzles were used slightly for this dungeon which was no surprise, as the first game had quite a few in nearly every dungeon.  With this being the first dungeon, they were pretty simple.  You had pressure sensitive triggers to open up the pathway to advance further.  Since I was playing through with some developers, I asked if the dungeons would have unique puzzles and traps to fit their individual themes.   In the first game, several different dungeons all used similar traps and puzzles, so with each dungeon having its own theme it would make sense that they would have unique features.  The developers assured us that they were keeping things unique, and as the dungeons went up in difficulty, the puzzles would get more and more complex.

Though the puzzles we experienced in this dungeon were basic pressure sensitive floor tiles, they did require teamwork and communication.  In fact, the entire dungeon promoted heavy teamwork.  We would have died several more times if we had not done so.  When a player was downed, we had to make lightning fast decisions on who was going to work on reviving, and who was going to try and keep the enemies attention, and how to keep it long enough to revive the player.

With the dungeon being very difficult, you’re going to die a few times.  But never fear, waypoints have come to the rescue!  Like the outside world, the dungeon has its own waypoints to help you out.  My guess is they added them since they offer no gear repair stations in the dungeon itself, which is very mean.  The idea though, is so that you just can’t beat your head on a dungeon till you beat it.  You’re going to come up on parts where you realize the team isn’t good enough yet.  You need to take a nice breather, and come back with a new strategy.

Then come the bosses.  They hit hard, and can take a beating.   They also follow you through the entire dungeon if you try to run.  Found that out the hard way, but this is both good and bad!  First off, it brings immersion.  Why would a boss get to a certain area and just decide, “Well they ran pretty far, maybe I should just let them live.”  That makes no sense.  Instead, they see you run and they run after you.  You can use this to your advantage to pull them out of their ideal fighting environment, into something that gives you and your team the advantage.  Now this is hard to do, as I said that the AI’s actions are based on who’s closer, who’s doing the most damage, and just who the AI feels like attacking.  The AI can be set to attack at random, but a team that’s coordinated well enough will be able to use some pulling strategies.

The boss designs were also very unique.  It was more than just stand around and hammer away.  One boss remained on a tall pillar, out of reach from our blades.  It came down to flying steel and magic to assault him as we dodged his attacks.   Another boss was actually two, and the trick was to separate them, otherwise you were in for a very long fight.  The thing that impressed me the most was how well the designs fit the theme.  They felt like ghosts of ancient warriors, still using their skills, but mixing them with their new phantasmal powers.

Overall the dungeon was great.  The design was smooth, and the progression through it was very rewarding, as everyone got loot.  Players were also very helpful with trading the loot right away to strengthen the party.  I also felt satisfaction after taking on each obstacle that was in our way.  When they said this wouldn’t be easy, them meant it, but it sure was a blast.  I can’t wait for you all to have a chance to experience it. 

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