What's in a name? Well, when your name is “Gorseval the Multifarious,” chances are that you're not a kind and cuddly teddy bear. Instead, you're something of a cross between a mutated tree and bloodthirsty zombie, which makes you the perfect candidate for a major boss fight in the first wing of Guild Wars 2's first raid. Other, less intimidating and gruesome candidates need not apply.
I took my whacks at Gorseval, along with Bill Murphy and eight of ArenaNet's finest – or at least the ones with the highest tolerances for pain – in a preview last week of the first wing of Spirit Vale, Guild Wars 2's new raid. It marks ArenaNet's initial foray into raiding and its fulfillment of that “challenging group content” we've been hearing about for what seems like forever. It's finally here – well, some of it, at least – and the bit I got to sample certainly lived up to the billing.
As with any good boss fight, there are several stages to the Gorseval fight. I won't go into great detail about what they are or how you beat them – hey, have to leave something for you to figure out! – but suffice to say that they properly felt like the big, nasty raid bosses I've fought in other MMORPGs. While Guild Wars 2 will always be a little more chaotic and freeform than most games, there's edge-of-your-seat tension to the battle, from start to... well, the points we wiped. There's not much room for error, and one person not living up to his or her billing will doom a run.
On the bright side, it doesn't take long to fail. Our typical wipe only took about two or three minutes, and we were actually surprisingly decent in our first run, getting Gorseval down to about 75% health – not too bad with Bill (who died almost immediately – wait, was I not supposed to say that?) and me dragging down the team. On our final run, we got him down almost to half and made it into stage three of the fight, which was like the not-exactly-easy stage one but with an added complication. Overall, we squeezed about seven or eight attempts into half an hour... bring your Repair Canisters!
Right now, my guild is figuring out who will take shots at the raid, when they're available, what roles they'll fill, and so on. On the one hand, it's exciting; on the other hand, it's a little difficult to adjust to, after years of hearing that Guild Wars 2 was different and that it (mostly) avoided casting people into specific roles or introducing “you can fail the group” kinds of stress into its encounters. Granted, this led to a lot of faceroll-easy content, because encounters had to be designed to allow for a wide variety of builds, so a well-tuned or highly skilled group could smoke what was meant to be challenging. I can see why a little tweaking of the formula needed to be done, though I'm still not sure what to think of it all.
I asked Associate Game Designer Steven Waller about that, if going this route seemed to be a little “anti-GW2,” if the “no trinity” philosophy still held up. “I think what we talk about are build and play roles in the encounters,” he said. “You could put on more toughness [boss monster aggro is determined by toughness] in pretty much any profession and make [tanking] your job. Obviously some people are going to be more used to doing that role, but I think that's one of the things that's special about Guild Wars 2: Everyone can heal, you have that customization where you're not locked into a specific role, you have that opportunity with your group to decide, 'OK, what is our group composition going to be? Let me adjust my build to play that role for the team.'
“We wanted it to be accessible. You're not sitting and waiting around – 'Oh, our healer hasn't shown up' – a lot of professions have the ability to do good healing, and you can build your team composition in a way to support that. That's the way we look at it. We're going to design encounters to have build roles to vary up the encounters, to create unique challenges, but we're not specifying how people fill those roles.” I asked about “build pages,” so you could easily swap between roles for encounters without having to remember, reset, and re-assign your trait setup for each encounter, but Waller wouldn't comment on when or if that was coming. ANet, plz!
One point that won't be a challenge, at least as far as the group is concerned, is the quest for legendary armor. The article introducing it said that collecting it will “require many feats within the first several raid wings.” Waller assured me that this wouldn't be anything like “defeat the boss in under five minutes” – the sort of thing that some players might want while others didn't, introducing a new level of stress/drama to the group. They might include some obvious group goals, like “Beat this encounter,” but nothing that should require any kind of “challenge mode” for the group.
Borrowing a page
I'm both excited and nervous about the raid. While we fared reasonably well against Gorseval, we were also a group comprised of 80% ArenaNet employees and fully decked out in ascended gear. Looking back through some of the articles about the raid on the GW2 site, there are several gleeful references to how tough the raid is, as if ANet has heard enough of how the game's content is too easy and cranked the difficulty up to 12, as if to say, “See, we can do nigh-impossibly hard stuff, get off our backs!” I wonder how “normal” groups, like my guild's will fare, even with months' worth of attempts.
And Gorseval's just one boss – and, being in the first wing, is probably one of the easier ones. He'll almost certainly lead to plenty of “too hard!” posts on social media and the forums, with a corresponding number of “he's easy, just play better” counterposts. I know it's not perfect, but I like to think Guild Wars 2 has one of the better MMO communities out there, and I'd hate to see elitist fights break out left and right.
That's part of what worries me the most about raids: the loss of that special Guild Wars 2 identity. Guild Wars 2 is unique in many ways, and on some level, catering to the “raid mentality” seems to erode some of that uniqueness, to try and cater to that mass of players who want something just like every other MMO. ArenaNet resisted most of those temptations with the base game, imperfect as it was, and raids feel a little like “giving in” to the generic nature of most MMOs, with their roles-not-roles, strict metas, extreme difficulty... even the inability to rez fully dead (not downed) players during raids seems like an anti-GW2 stance meant simply to artificially raise difficulty.
But I understand why it's being done. ArenaNet tried to do challenging group content without all of those things and it didn't work out as well as expected. I could have lived with that, and gone to another game if I wanted a punishing raid challenge. I don't know what my tolerance will be for getting smacked in the face by Gorseval and the rest of Spirit Vale, or if I'll want to keep at it for multiple nights a week for months. Maybe that makes me a casual. Or maybe it just makes me a typical Guild Wars 2 player.
Jason Winter is the semi-proud owner of an underwater legendary weapon. You can find him on Twitter @winterinformal. Also, make sure to check out his girlfriend's adorable Guild Wars 2 charms on her etsy shop!