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Guild Wars 2 Column: Exploring the Ascalon Catacombs Dungeon

By David North on March 06, 2012

After yet another week I’m still thinking about the Guild Wars 2 Beta.  I experienced a lot on that weekend, but one thing tested my skills in a way no MMO has ever done before.  I’m talking about how I got to run through the explorable (that’s not a word, but we’ll make it so) Ascalon Catacombs.  I went through the explorable mode of the dungeon with a member of the ArenaNet Development team, and we were still given a grim outlook.

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The entire weekend we had access to a Ventrilo channel that allowed us to speak to the many developers they had available to show us around the world of Tyria.  When I said I heard them talk about how tough the explorable mode was, I thought they were just trying to scare us.  I figured it would be tough, as I had a chance to go through the normal mode and it was challenging.  They warned me about the difficulty and that just made my hunger for the challenge grow.  So I joined a group ready to try out the explorable mode.  The group included me, a few members of the press, and a developer.  We made sure our connection to the Ventrilo channel was strong, and our wits were about us.  The entrance was dark and gloomy just as before, but we knew the threat within was something new, something different.

Once into the Catacombs I instantly noticed a change.  The environment was still very dark and gloomy, but an encampment was built within the entrance.  The main NPC called us forward, and we began to discuss how to move forward, to removing the threat the Catacombs had on the land.  The thing that interested me was that we, as a party, had a choice.  This means that you can go through the dungeon different times, and experience different stories and face different bosses.  The best thing is that each player selects the option they would like to try, and the option with the most votes is what the party will follow through with. 

Once our votes were in, our fate was decided.  We began our decent into the deep, dark depths of the dungeon.  The developer warned us to keep on our toes, and to be ready for anything.  When we encountered Gravelings, I did notice that they were much stronger, and in even greater numbers than the normal mode.  Already we were having trouble and had to refocus as a party a few times.  We got through it eventually, and continued on to face new challenges.  And one was very surprising, the first boss, or should I say bosses.

We got to an area that was just flooded with crazy traps.  These stony gargoyles spit fire at us, and boy did it hurt!  But that’s not the real threat.  The real threat was a pair of bosses, a huge spider and a giant.  The fight was very interesting, so much so that after a few of us were killed, the rest tried to run back up the stairs to retreat.  That’s when the unexpected happened.  The bosses started to fight each other!  In all my years of gaming I have never seen that happen.  Bosses usually wait for a player to come back so they can stomp on them time after time, again.  It really brought more feeling to the dungeon that the bosses  fought each other.  This really made things feel more alive. 

After we slayed our first boss our hopes soared, we could make more progress.  We ventured back and fought more powerful enemies, using teamwork to take them down.  Then without the dungeon giving us a break, we had to go through more traps.  Finally we made it to another boss.  I looked at the other members of the party and we weren’t looking too good.  Some of our armor had broken, meaning we weren’t fully protected.  In a way it was kind of funny, but I was worried that we weren’t going to make it.  You see, they didn’t put a repair merchant in the dungeon.  This may sound mean, but the reasoning I got was that it stopped you from just banging your head on the dungeon over and over again till the dungeon finally gave in.  You need to use skill and strategy to conquer the dungeon, not luck.  So we tried to fight against the boss time and time again, and soon we were all naked.  The dungeon had beaten us!

I really enjoyed the explorable mode of the dungeon.  It was a serious challenge that still kept the same level of immersion that I witnessed in normal mode.  The difficulty level is going to require players to really work together, which is a common theme of the entire game.  I think during the entire weekend I had with the Guild Wars 2 beta, the explorable mode for the first dungeon was one of the things that impressed me the most with design, and difficulty.   But heed my warning fellow players; the ArenaNet developers couldn’t even help me conquer the dark depths of the Ascalon Catacombs.  It’s just that brutal!

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