Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Guild Wars Nightfall: Progress Update Four

Last time, I said the next step was to get through the next mission. Well, step taken and here's the story of how I did it. When we left off, I was up to level 17 from the Wintersday quests. That put me ahead of the normal progression for the newbielands, I'm thinking, as it's removed almost all challenge from encounters.

I've also climbed to rank 6 on the Sunspear ladder but either that rank or my level means that I can't get any bounties anymore. No bounties means no point to killing things and I haven't gotten another point past the 1k or so I'm at now. Very little gives XP and the drops aren't really worth the bother of fighting so, for the most part, I'm avoiding encounters if I can. As a measure of just how much effort I'm putting into things for the most part I've been running around with a Freezie helm. It has zero armor which means I can get hit for a lot if I'm struck in the head but there's just something about being a scythe wearing engine of doom with a corncob pipe and a stovepipe hat that just warms me on the inside.

One thing I've noticed in this expansion is that there's a definite emphasis on the quests. Between each mission there's been a long string of “primary” quests that have lead me around the area, gotten me Heroes in the party, and otherwise introduced me to things that needed to be completed before I could advance. There was also the Sunspear promotion requirements but, obviously, that's not a concern for me. Now, on the one hand I like this because, hey, more quests means more free XP and, for the most part, the quests have been pretty well made. Sunspearing aside, there's been little in the way of “go out and kill x of creature y.” or any of the other cliches in MMO quest design that the average player can rattle off. Instead the quests are interesting and they've directed me through the game with elegant grace – opening new areas and exploring new ideas. On the other hand, I'm getting a bit sick of the newbie area and I'd like to get on to the next place in the game. I want better armor and more skills and all the rest. And, by now, these quests are just running me around in circles through ground I've already covered. I can understand the developers need to make sure that the areas they've worked so hard on actually have enough content to warrant them but I've seen it, I've done it, I'm ready to move on and these seemingly endless string of quests in-between me and the next mission are keeping me from getting to where I'm going.

Anyhow, doing these quests earned me another Hero, my fifth to unlock (3 from the campaign and one, somehow, to unlock the Hero Battles on a PvP character – that's Acolyte Jin but she doesn't seem available to my PvE character just yet.), in the form of a second Monk to go along with Dunk. Her name's Tahlkora and she annoys me instantly. In lieu of a better name, I've taken to calling her Talk. As in, “she's all talk.”. I don't know why but the na├»ve waif from a spoiled background who becomes a great hero is an archetype that just gets under my skin.

The game says she's supposed to be a prot Monk. At least, that's what she defaults to. Unfortunately, that's Dunk's job, so I've had to convert Talk into a healer. Not a big deal, of course, but including her in the party is. I said last time that I was certain I was going to run into a cap on the Heroes I could use at once sooner or later and it looks like I finally have. It's 3 which makes sense given the controls available and, obviously, the developers don't want people to be too reliant on the AI but that means only half the party's under my direct control. The rest I have to fill out with henchies. And, of course, with four Heroes, that means one's left out. Since I like having a solid backline – it's generally harder to have a good one and easier to get by with a mediocre frontline than the other way around – Talk and Dunk are the two mainstays in my party now. Dunk's prot and Talk's heals. The odd one out, at the moment, is Melly Mel. While I could keep her around because of all the enchantments flying around and use her to experiment with skills and things, I'd rather have the generally more effective and versatile Carson – whom I actually have skills to experiment with. He's better at staying alive, better at doing damage, and I can tweak him into something else a lot more easily, it wasn't exactly a hard choice. So, Mel's on the bench for the moment. That gives me a base of a Dervish, a Warrior, and two Monks. Since I'm having an easy time with things I filled out the party by going heavily offensive. Normally, I like having a “protective” or defensive support character – that's typically been the Earth henchie – but since I have a solid healing base and am above the level curve I just wanted to bowl through things as quickly as possible. So, my party looked like this:

  • lv17 Dervish/Paragon (me)
  • lv17 Warrior/Monk (Carson)
  • lv17 Monk/Mesmer (Dunk)
  • lv12 Monk/Mesmer (Talk)
  • lv12 Mesmer (Odurra, Illusion henchmen)
  • lv12 Dervish (Gehraz, Holy henchmen)
  • lv12 Warrior (Timera, Brawler henchmen)
  • lv12 Ranger (Abasi, Hunter henchmen)

I'd rather have another Warrior or something but my options were limited so I had to take the ran. You might notice that Talk's level is in line with the henchmen and that's true, she's a good five levels behind everyone else – it makes her a lot more vulnerable and it means her attributes are scarcer, too. She'll catch up eventually but for now, it hurts me.

Since I've been breezing through things, I didn't have any cause to tweak things again. So, with the notable exception of Talk, all my builds are the same as the last go around. In the course of things I managed to gain another level – for everyone, really – but that just meant a few more points to throw into the junk stat for things. So, Oreon Rex had a few more points in Earth Prayers and so on. Talk, however, needed drastic revamping from what she started with. I didn't go too crazy, just used a variant of the healing build that Dunk used previously. Here's what she's using at the moment:

Tahlkora (lv13)

Divine Favor - 4
Healing Prayers - 11
Inspiration Magic - 2

  1. Word of Healing {E}
  2. Dwayna's Kiss
  3. Healing Breeze
  4. Healing Touch
  5. Rebirth
  6. Draw Conditions
  7. Revealed Hex
  8. Power Drain

So, really, she's a lot like Dunk, just lower level and focusing on powering out the heals rather than the protection. Dwayna's Kiss is awesome on a Dervish, of course, and Word of Healing is powerful stuff to be throwing around at this level. Healing Touch is there for self-healing although it could really use a few more points in Divine Favor before it shines. Healing Breeze is costly and Talk lacks the attributes to really make her Mesmer energy management shine – I'm considering replacing it with Orison – so she tends to run low but I like it because it's a) an enchantment to use as fodder and b) it helps fight off degen better than most other things she can use. Draw Conditions is likewise not the best thing to give her. If I was smart, I'd give that to Dunk and let her have the Mend Ailment because she's low enough that she can really get hammered by Bleeding or Poison but giving Dunk the Mend means he has another heal available and the conditions aren't really that nasty. Still, I want one mass removal in the team in case they get rough and Draw's still a great option there.

With that set and the quests out of the way, I moved onto the third mission in the expansion, Blacktide Den. It's a swampy, mysterious place with great visuals. The mission involves creeping around in disguise to avoid enemies and it's all very atmospheric. Again, I rather like this one although I imagine if I had to run it to exhaustion, I'd get tired of it. The whole mission you're being directed to a meeting with a supposedly important NPC, the General Kahyet. She's been setup before in a cutscene and through Talk as a serious opponent. So, a lot like Apocrypha or Justicar Hablion, I was expecting a massive throwdown. It was, truth be told, a bit of a let down, though. For one thing, she showed up with two Scythes of Chaos in tow. Those are enemies from some of the harder dungeons in the original campaign – they're basically the raid content in Guild Wars. They're pretty nasty critters there, they have this one skill that causes havok with the unique abilities of each and every one of the core classes. These versions, though, are much lower level and not quite as much of a challenge. It also would have been a lot more effective to see them, I think, if they hadn't shown up before on one of the many quests leading up to the mission. During one brief quest you're transported to Kamadan, the main city in the area, under seige by demonic forces. These lower level scythes show up, you beat them up, and you move on. Since the General's supposedly in league with these creatures it makes sense for her to have them as pets but, as a reveal, it's weakened by the fact that players have seen these things before. It robs the moment of any real impact. If that was the first time they'd shown up, it could have been something special. For new players, they'd be a strange new enemy with unknown abilities flanking yet another important boss. For older players, they'd instantly connect them to the more difficult versions in earlier campaigns and be wary. Not to mention impressed that this human boss managed to command such fearsome creatures – but which is going to be the biggest problem, are those Scythes of Chaos like their older brothers, those and lots of other questions would be racing through players minds ratcheting up the tension during the cutscene where the General strolled in. Since they'd shown up before it robbed them of any mystery. And compared to Apocrypha, General Kahyet was a push-over.

She died easily enough and the mission was over. For the third time, I managed to get the full bonus. The first two missions were pretty easy to get that, of course, but this one was a bit more tricky. I had to kill off all five Rinkhal Monitors (weird looking things with the head of a cobra grafted onto the body of a velociraptor, apparently.) which took a bit of hunting around. But once I figured out that this wasn't a dreaded escort mission (I don't know about anyone else but the missions/quests I hate the most are the ones where I have to tag along with some NPC who can barely tie their own shoes let alone defend themselves.) and instead the NPC who was leading me around was just there to show me the correct path through the swamp and was in absolutely no danger from the enemies. Once I clued into that, I was free to go off exploring and going down the paths the NPC had led me past quickly led to the monsters I needed to kill for some odd reason. The NPC, of course, complained about it the whole time until I rushed back to finish the mission but he was just creating the illusion that there was a time limit, there was no actual reason to rush through things.

Next time, I apparently have yet another series of quests to go through before the next mission. One of these days I'm going to get off the Isle of Noobs.

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