Sunday, January 7, 2007

Guild Wars Nightfall: Progress Update Five

This one took me a while to write and even longer to remember so sorry for the delay. I've done a bit more PvEing in the interval but I think I'm going to end this after the next mission in the sequence. It makes a convenient stopping point, after all, and I find that's generally the point where I stop playing, too.

Anyhow, if you'll remember from last time I was getting pretty sick of newbieland or what the developers have taken to calling Istan. It's a nice place and all but having done three missions, countless quests, and leveled considerably, I'm more than a little ready to move on to the next area. There they'll be new monsters and new skills and new places for me to explore. I get a bit annoyed at having to crisscross areas over and over again. Which, of course, is what the next series of primary quests led me to do. The quests so far have been pretty interested and chock full of lore and flavor – they really fill in the background of the region. And they do so in mostly interesting ways like visiting a crypt and summoning the ghosts of fallen legends from the past. They, of course, test whether or not you're worthy by attacking. It's good, solid design and the quests have come a long way since the first chapter in the game, I think, although I can't quite put my finger on why. But, if I had to guess, I'd say that having several years of backstory to build on have made them a lot richer and the developers have figured out how to make them more meaningful. In the beginning I ran around doing every quest I could but now that I'm eager to get out of Dodge, so to speak, I've been ignoring them. I have a full quest log full of things to do. Eventually, I'll get around to them because they're a good source of XP but, at the moment, I'm approaching max level and I've run out of things to spend skill points on so I don't really need to. What I do want is to progress the storyline so I'm just running through the primary quests.

So, sorry to say but all the details and intricacy of the quests is being lost on me as I try to race through them as quickly as possible. The quests with the ghosts, I mentioned, for example, was no doubt richly symbolic but I couldn't tell you because as far as I can remember, it involved trudging through the swamps of Blacktide Den, the last mission I've run, figuring out I had to kneel in front of some statues, beating up on some monsters in rapid order, then trudging back to get my reward and get on with things. I do like the fact that mission areas are now being reused as explorable areas – something that started with the last expansion, Factions, but wasn't done during the first game – because it allows for a lot more exploration and some of those places have some really cool stuff that can be missed when you're fighting your way through a mission. But, again, I've seen the place already and I need some new scenery before I get interested again.

One neat little quest I ran involved a trial. I've heard that Nightfall is going to include a lot more minigames rather than straight up hack n' slash stuff and I guess convincing a crowd of nobles that dark things are afoot in Elona is part of that. The NPCs would speak and then I'd get to pick a witness to call, they'd give their testimony, I'd be asked a question, and the trial would move on. Interesting, if nothing else, and it reminded me a lot of some points in KOTOR. The problem was that it wasn't very clear what I was supposed to do or just what calling each of those witnesses or how the different answers were influencing things. In fact, I'm not even sure if they did at all. Since there's no save state to go back to in case I messed up I suppose that's a good thing but it wasn't as rewarding as I thought it could be. If there was something at stake, some reward that doing the right things could have earned me, then it would have been a lot more exciting but as it was it was merely an intriguing idea I hope is built upon later.

Anyhow, shortly after that it was time for the next mission. In the lobby I spotted a crafter selling armor. 70AL, a big step up from the 55AL stuff I was wearing and, I believe the max that Dervishers can get (If they can go higher with 4 pips of regen and an energy bonus then things are really weird, balance-wise.) so although it doesn't have any built-in bonus I snapped it up. If I spot a crafter with some “magic” armor later on I'll probably have to craft that but I'm beginning to suspect that with the whole insignia thing that I might have to be supplying my own. That might get a little annoying depending on just how easy it is to find the things but I do like that I'll have the option – from what I've seen of insignias in the faction unlocking screens, I'm not too terribly thrilled with what's available for Dervishers and I'll probably just go with the +en or +hp stuff (Which, no doubt are probably among the most expensive to buy.). Anyhow, as for looks since I've had the Sunspear and Istani skins already, I went with the Elonian this time. It's alright if you're into that sort of thing, I suppose, and I like the detailing on the hood as well as the leather looking shoulder guard but I'm not too impressed with it. None of the Dervish armor I've seen really thrills me so far as, in general, I like simpler, less adorned stuff and all the sets have some geegaws and fiddly bits I'd rather they didn't – what I'd like is just a simple robe that makes me look like a friar right out of the middle ages, I guess, roughspun cloth and all.

For the mission there were lv17 henchmen available. Since I've been trying to speed up my progress I'd been running offensive heavy but heading into a mission where I wasn't sure what to expect, I figured I should go back to be well-rounded with a solid defense. For the team, I went with the following once again leaving poor Melly Mel out of the mix:

  • lv18 Dervish/Paragon (me)
  • lv17 Warrior/Monk (Carson)
  • lv17 Monk/Mesmer (Dunk)
  • lv14 Monk/Mesmer (Powder)
  • lv17 Mesmer (Odurra, Illusion henchman)
  • lv17 Elementalist (Herta, Earth henchman)
  • lv17 Dervish (Gehraz, Holy henchman)
  • lv17 Warrior (Devona, Fighter henchman)

I was a bit sad to see the Brawler henchie go because she was replaced by a familiar face from the original campaign, Devona. Who, gods lover her, she tries, and I definitely love a girl who can swing a mean hammer but her skill bar is just a mess. She uses Charge! as her elite. It's just...wrong. The sword using Timera at least didn't have any skills that made me recoil in horror.

As for the builds I actually can control, I haven't changed much since last time. Just gained a level or two so spread some more attribute points around.

For Oreon Rex, my main character, I was at lv18 and went with 9 Mysticism, 12+1 Scythes, and 6 Earth with 4 points left over. And aside from getting the better armor, my only other change was to swap out Zealous Renewal for Rending Touch (And I slotted that 4th, shifting Heart of Holy Flames into the 6th spot vacated by Zealous. Again, I really have to detail my interface setup one of these days to explain just why that's important.). Along with Rending Sweep that gave me some pretty good enchantment removing capabilities and I hadn't been having energy issues at all so while Zealous Renewal's nice it was surplus to needs. That left me running with only three enchantments to fuel both Rending Touch and my enchantment eating attacks but with the low recharge on Vital Boon, it wasn't a problem.

For Dunkoro, I only had a small change, too. He and Carson were also at lv17 (Melly Mel, not being with the party was stuck back around 16, I believe – I guess you need to level Heroes individually which is going to be “fun” because there's something like eighty four dozen of them if the faction unlocking menu is accurate. Grindalicious! Seriously, if I have to go through this along with the Sunspear point farming with each and every PvE character I'm going to find a developer and kidney punch them.) so Dunk went with a 12/9/6 setup as well in Prot, Inspiration, and DF, respectively. My only change here was to drop Guardian for Shield of Absorption. Talk came with that skill, unlocking it for my account so Dunk can use it now, too (Although I, of course, cannot.) but initially I wrote it off as a weird and weaker version of Shielding Hands. Sure, it recharged faster but it seemed to only absorb 5 damage per hit while Shielding Hands caught 15 at 12 Prot. However, when I was looking over things, I reread the skill description (Which, you have to admit is pretty misleading) and realized that it wasn't just 5 damage a hit. It was -5 damage per hit. The first hit is reduced by 5, the next 10, then 15, and so on. Shielding Hands is still better if you're only getting hit a few times but if you're getting rocked constantly then Shield of Absorption is going to dramatically reduce the amount of damage you're taking until you're suffering no damage on any hit. Fan-freaking-tastic. Combine it with Prot Spirit and you've switched on god mode. Since Guardian was my “I'm getting mobbed, help pls” skill on Dunk's bar, I figured I'd give Shield of Absorption a whirl there and see how it goes. So far, I'm pretty happy with it although the AI doesn't use it quite as effectively as I'd like.

For Tahlkora, who hit lv14 thanks to my questing and had her stats boosted to 4 DF, 11 Heal, and 4 Ins with 3 points left over my only change was to remove the energy hogging Healing Breeze and replace it with Orison. I figured Powder (That's my new nickname for her, by the way. Like Talcum, you know? And as in what she needs to take for her low-level butt to survive. What? I think it's clever.) could use a little self-healing help to survive. That gives her three heals to power out even with her low Divine Favor bonus reducing their effectiveness. Combined with Dunk's damage mitigation that's plenty to keep things going.

Anyhow, my preparations complete, I hit the mission giver. According to my sources, Consolate Docks was supposed to be a pretty cool mission if an easy one. Having played through it, I can safely agree. The mission takes place during a Sunspear invasion of a massive Kournan Fort (Sorry to spoil the story for anyone but, well, the game's been out for a couple months, deal. But the story goes that the leader of the Kournans is a grade-A whackjob who likes to consort with demons, if you get my drift, the players discover this over the course of the previous missions and quests, and convince the Sunspears and then the Istani tat military action needs to be taken. This mission's the payoff for that.). There's plenty of new enemies in the form of Kournan soldiers. And there's a palpable tension thanks to the feeling of being part of a beachhead landing. Not, perhaps, as much as I'd like as I think this is one mission that really could have benefited from an opening cutscene of the Sunspear troops pouring onto the docks and while you're running around I want cannons raining fire and battlements crumbling – give me Call of Duty and Normandy's Omaha Beach Guild Wars style, is what I'm saying, and leave me shellshocked. There were some decent fights in the mission, although there was an enchantment giving all my characters lv20 hitpoints making things easier. Nice, although it only meant about 40 more hit points for me. It really helped out Powder although it's really the lack of attribute points holding her back at the moment. But some of the bosses were tough, especially the Dervisher one – definitely glad I brought the extra enchantment removal because it really paid off there. Some of the archer groups were a pain, too, lots of damage getting my melee characters to them – and mostly on me because I was in the lead most of the time (I could have ordered Carson in first, I guess, but that smacks of, you know, effort.) so I'd get nailed by the combined effort of four or five archers at once. My Monks were up to the task but once you'd start hitting on them, they'd buff up with Ranger stances that evade attacks – meaning Carson, the Dervy hench, and I are swinging away futilely. Really wish I'd thought to have brought Shields Up! and/or Wild Blow for that but I managed to power through it.

The bonus was to finish off certain groups of enemies. With some Ctrl key conning, I managed to scout them out and take them down without a problem (If you're keeping count, and I know I am, that's four missions and four perfect bonuses. Getting the Nightfall ones is a lot easier than the timed ones in Factions, so far anyway.). I was expecting a tough fight at the end of the mission. Instead, I got a cutscene that gave me flashbacks to Prophesies. If you've played that game you know the campaign devolved into one “big” reveal after another. It was a like a bad M. Night Shymalan movie - “What a twist!” Especially since the twists and turns were telegraphed and about as obvious as you could get. Anyhow, turns out instead of fighting the commander of the enemy, there's a cutscene where she summons some demons that basically wipe out the Sunspears and force everyone to retreat. Since I'm sure that as the campaign goes on I'll be fighting and mopping the floor with those summoned beasties before too long, it was a bit annoying that the game forced me to retreat rather than stay and fight. I'd much rather have had a doomed attempt against overwhelming odds that's sure to result in death where my character wakes up having been dragged from the fight and certain death by some kind ally. Or actually be able to play the desperate flight from the enemy while soldiers were being torn apart by the demonic forces. Either way, when something like that happens I want to feel like I'm the one making the choice to escape or at least like I'm in control while I'm doing so. Having the game just declare the fight over and my side's the loser is like when I'm roleplaying play by post, say, and someone starts to direct my character's actions. It's really bad form and the better thing to do is to give another person something to react to, not tell them how they've reacted. The mission was a blast right until the end when it felt like the controller got ripped out of my hands.

So, even though I leveled halfway through the mission, that left a bad taste in my mouth and I grumbled my way through the cutscene telling me the Sunspears had scattered to the wind. But I perked up when I rezzed into a brand new area. Finally, I was out of Istan. And right there in town was a skill trainer full of new skills to splurge on. Now, I'd been hording my skill points in anticipation of what would be available in the new area – not buying any Paragon skills really helped. But I had a supply of about 15 skill points to burn so I scooped up every Dervish skill there was to buy. There was one Paragon skill that caught my eye – Song of Concentration. I believe it was available earlier but I've been paying attention to Tombs lately and that skill is just an excellent one for that venue. Basically, it means that if you can get your Ghostly capping a dais with that popped off then you're going to gain control of it. Insanely powerful. Didn't pick it up, though, because I had just one skill point left over and that one I used to buy a Signet of Capture. An SoC available means one thing – there's going to be elites to cap in the near future. So I want to have one on hand for that possibility even though I won't use it until I hit lv20 under any circumstances, I don't want to miss out on the extra XP that's awarded on a per level basis (Now, me, I would award it based on how many elites you've captured but that's just me.). It's 5k at lv20 and that's a third of the way to the next “level”.

As for the other skills, I bought there were fourteen, in all. Five Mysticism skills; Eremite's Zeal, Faithful Intervention, Heart of Fury, Meditation, and Watchful Intervention. Four from Earth Prayers; Dust Cloak, Mystic Sandstorm, Staggering Force, and Veil of Thorns. Three from Wind Prayers; Dwayna's Touch, Mystic Twister, and Test of Faith. One Scythe Mastery skill (although it's a good one); Wearying Strike. And one unlinked; Winds of Disenchantment.

Whew, that's a lot. And, as you might imagine, with my newfound wealth of skills to play with I'm a happy little min/maxer. But that's a lot of skills to absorb all at once so, if you don't mind, I'll share how I go about doing so. Any Guild Wars player, especially one who likes to play with a lot of the different classes (Let alone all of them, the way I do.) has to filter through lists of skills like that one and figure out what to use and how to use it. I've long mentally ranked skills according to how desirable I find them. It's not always entirely accurate because sometimes even a seemingly useless skill can be combined with something for good effect. But, in general, I look at the skill on its own merits and try to figure out just how much I want to use it. That, to me, is a good guide for how easy it's going to be for it to find a spot on my skill bar – the more desirable skills are the ones that are powerful enough in their own right that it won't matter what's next to them. Or they have a lot of utility and will combine with a lot of other things. Anyhow, here's how I rank them:

  • Good: These skills are the keepers. The ones that I can build a whole bar around because they're either powerful or amazingly useful.
  • Average:These skills just are. They do what the do and they do it alright but they don't immediately pop out at me as something I need to have.
  • Poor: These skills are suboptimal somehow. Either they're underpowered or they cost too much energy or take too long to cast or they just do something I don't find all that valuable. Whatever the reason, I'm not very likely to use them.

Keep in mind that these are only general rankings and, of course, subject to change at a moment's notice but I make use of them because when there's a list of several hundred (now over 1000) skills to pour through, something to cull the treasure from the trash is needed. But after ranking them, I then try and figure out how to fit the better skills into my bar while supporting them with the average skills. The poor ones are the ones I ignore, for the most part, except in rare circumstances.

Dust Cloak. Earth Prayers. Spell. 10en, 3/4cast, 15recharge. All adjacent foes are struck for 20+(4xEarth) earth damage. For 30 seconds, your attacks deal earth damage. When this Enchantment ends, all adjacent foes are Blinded for 1+(0.30xEarth) seconds.

Earth Prayers has a lot of enchantments like this – when they go on something happens and when they go off they do something, too. Like this one, a lot of them are what I like to call “attack enchantments” those being the ones that cause some AoE damage when you put them on – another example would by Staggering Force which we'll get to in a bit. The Blind that this one causes on the way out is nice, should really help out in the middle of a large pack of melee monsters, for example. Average.

Mystic Sandstorm. Earth Prayers. Spell. 10en, 3/4cast, 8recharge. Lose all Enchantments. For each Enchantment removed in this way, all nearby foes are struck for 10+(1.66xEarth) earth damgage (maximum 130 damage).

This one has some potential. Unlike Mystic Twister, which we'll get to later, and the Wind Prayers line Earth Prayers has several enchantments that operate on what I like to call the “Phantom Pain” model. That is to say they get you coming and going like the Mesmer skill Phantom Pain which causes degen while it's up and a Deep Wound when it goes off – it's a hex rather than an enchantment but the idea being that no matter what happens to it, your energy isn't wasted unlike, say, Conjure Phantasm where if it's stripped you're out the casting and recharge time. So, with Mystic Sandstorm you can strip off all those enchantments that do something and cause a nice burst of AoE damage at the same time. The only problem I can see is that it recharges a lot faster than most of the enchantments I have. Could be nice under the right circumstances. Average.

Staggering Force. Earth Prayers. Enchantment Spell. 10en, 3/4cast, 12recharge. All adjacent foes are struck for 20+(4xEarth) earth damage. For 30 seconds, your attacks deal earth damage. When this Enchantment ends, all adjacent foes are Weakened for 5+(0.66xEarth) seconds.

Nice damage, relatively low recharge, Weakness can be crippling if you're in the middle of a melee attacking mob, and I've noticed a few skills out there that require earth damage to proc so that can be a nice benefit, too. It's a pretty solid attack enchantment but nothing to really write home about. Average.

Veil of Thorns. Earth Prayers. Enchantment Spell. 10en, 1cast, 20recharge. For 5+(Earth) seconds, whenever you are hit by an attack, your attacker is Crippled for 5+(0.66xEarth) seconds.

Since Dervishers have less armor they do tend to suck up the aggro so I can see where this skill might come in useful – it would really help out if you wanted to kite away from a big mob, after all. Since it's in a non-primary line it could be picked up by classes that are a lot more defensive in nature than the Dervish. I think your average primary Dervisher is going to be a melee machine so something that helps them get away from their enemies isn't the most useful. And since you'd need to run away for this to be effective, it wouldn't be of much use to any kind of tanking Dervish. Poor.

Eremite's Zeal. Mysticism. Spell. 5en, 1cast, 4recharge. Lose 1 Enchantment. You gain 1+(0.36xMyst) Energy for each adjacent foe (maximum 15 energy.).

Under the right conditions this could be an amazing energy management skill. At 12 Mysticism you only need 3 foes adjacent and you'll cap out and get 15 energy plus the 4 from the Mysticism bonus. And you can do that every 4 seconds. Meeting those conditions, though, isn't very easy. And you'll spend one second out of every four casting just this skill if you want to keep up the energy gains. The less you use it and the fewer enemies there are around the more this skill trails off. Amazing in the lab, probably awful under realistic conditions. Poor.

Faithful Intervention. Mysticism. Enchantment Spell. 5en, 2cast, 20recharge. If damage drops your Health below 50%, Faithful Intervention ends. When Faithful Intervention ends, you are healed for 30+(8xMyst) Health.

Okay, put the heal aside for a second. The real benefit here is that this skill has no duration. Put it up, forget about it and anything that triggers while enchanted will be covered. That can be incredibly useful and the cost of this enchantment decreases the longer you can keep it up. Throw in a nice heal that will trigger when you take a lot of damage and this looks pretty good. The long casting time means it's going to be hard to put up in the middle of combat, though. Average.

Heart of Fury. Mysticism. Enchantment Spell. 10en, 3/4cast, 30recharge. For 5+(Myst) seconds, you attack 33% faster. When this Enchantment ends, all nearby foes are set on Fire for 1+(0.16xMyst) seconds.

Let me put it this way, this lets me buff up my attack speed for, roughly, forever, will give me energy back when it ends, and will cause 14 damage a second for up to 3 seconds on any enemies in the area on its way out. I like this one, in case you can't tell. The recharge means you can only have it up for about half the time and it will cost a pip of energy to maintain but, hey, Dervishers have four pips to play with and this one is worth it. Good.

Meditation. Mysticism. Spell. 5en, 1cast, 15recharge. Lose one Enchantment. If an Enchantment is removed in this way, you gain 4+(4.16xMyst) Energy, otherwise you are healed for 20+(7xMyst) Health.

So, that's 9 en or 104 health at 12 Mysticism (I can't see running it much higher, personally.) which isn't bad. It's a weird little skill, though, a self-heal when you're in trouble and energy management when you're throwing up enchantments. Find an enchantment that recharges in 15 seconds or so to go along with it and it could be pretty good. If you'll excuse me while I crunch some numbers, it's 9 energy every 15 seconds is a shade under 2 pips of regen – not bad for a non-elite, though you'll spend a lot to get it depending on what you use – at least 10 energy over those 15 seconds which is fully two pips plus at least one to two seconds casting. But you'll also get the 4 energy from Mysticism, so you do get something like a half a pip profit (If, of course, you run at 12 Mysticism below that you're better off taking something else unless you want the self-heal.) But what's important here is that you can use Meditation to get that energy on demand. It effectively nullifies the energy cost of an enchantment and dumps a load of energy into your pool which you can use right away when you want it. I can see this being used to do some interesting things but not without a lot of work. The self-heal's nice but it's not like the Dervish line is hurting for such things. Average.

Watchful Intervention. Mysticism. Enchantment Spell. 10en, 1cast, 15recharge. For 60 seconds, the next time target ally's Health drops below 25% that ally is healed for 50+(10xMyst) Health.

It's Divine Intervention 2: Aesthetic Boogaloo. Marginally more useful because it lasts a lot longer (Though that just means it can be stripped if it's sitting there for a while.) and recharges faster though it costs more both in terms of energy and casting time. Since it's in Mysticism it's only going to be useful to primary Dervishers whom I'd think are a lot more likely to be melee attackers than some kind of psuedo-Monks. Although it could be combined with Faithful Intervention for a lot of self-healing if you get into trouble. But a good skill trapped in the wrong attribute line, if you ask me. Average.

Wearying Strike. Scythe Mastery. Scythe Attack. 5en, 2recharge. If this attack hits, you deal 1+(2xScythes) damage and inflict a Deep Wound for 3+(0.5xScythes) seconds. You suffer from Weakness for 10 seconds.

Oh yeah, now this is what I'm talking about. This is basically a non-elite Eviscerate that a Dervish can pop off every other attack (Sure, it recharges in 2 seconds but a scythe swings either every 1.75 seconds or 1.15 with an IAS, so you need a spacer.) for a mere five energy. That is, of course, insane. Since it's a scythe attack you can also catch multiple opponents with it. The only downside is that you'll weaken yourself which is a pretty big hit to the offensive output. If only there were some way of getting around that pesky condition... Good.

Dwayna's Touch. Wind Prayers. Spell. 5en, 3/4cast, 2recharge. Target touched ally is healed for 15+(3xWind) Health for each Enchantment on you (maximum 150).

Oh look, it's Healing Touch for Dervishers. With enchantments up – and any Dervish should have a few – that's some pretty powerful healing. You need just three enchantments at 12 Wind to hit the healing cap (Which I don't like but with a recharge that low I can see how it would get crazy if there wsn't one.) because you'll heal for 51 health an enchantment. Very useful for self-healing and it's in a pretty good line for an attacking Dervish as a self-heal probably less useful for healing anyone else. Average.

Mystic Twister. Wind Prayers. Spell. 10en, 3/4cast, 12recharge. For each Enchantment on you, one foe in the area is struck for 30+(6.33xWind) cold damage (the same target cannot be hit more than once).

This could prove pretty useful, I think. At 16 Wind that's 131 AoE damage over a pretty wide area. If you've got a character with a lot of enchantments up then that's a lot of pain to dish out. It's still 106 damage at a more reasonable 12 Wind. The trick, though, is getting enough enchantments up to make this worthwhile. If this was ranged it would be amazing but as it is... Average.

Test of Faith. Wind Prayers. Spell. 10en, 3/4cast, 15recharge. Target touched foe and all nearby foes are struck for 15+(3.33xWind) cold damage. Affected foes below 50% Health lose all Enchantments.

I had to reread this skill a few times because, wow, that's sexy. You mean I can mass disenchant over a wide area and the only condition I have to fulfill is that the targets be under 50% Health? And I can deal some damage while doing so, too? At 10 en and a 15 second cooldown, it's reasonably reusable, too. Amazing skill, I love it and plan to use it as often as I can. Good.

Winds of Disenchantment. Unlinked. Spell. 5en, ¾cast, 20recharge. Lose all Enchantments. For each Enchantment lost in this way, 1 nearby foe also loses 1 Enchantment. (The same foe cannot lose more than 1 Enchantment.).

As far as I can tell, this would strip off almost anything including things that normally are immune to enchantment removal, like Spell Breaker. Still, the fact that you can only remove one enchantment – which, no doubt is the latest one in any stack – from any target makes this a bit too much of a crapshoot for my tastes. It likely won't hit the enchantments I want to remove on the target I want. Poor.)

The sad thing is I used to be able to do that for each and every skill in the game. There were, of course, only about half as many skills then as there are now, though. But given the time and energy, I'm sure I could put together a list like that for every skill in the game. I'll leave that for some other night, though.

Next time, it's adventures in the brave new land of Kourna as my characters are on the run from the law. Also, the case of the missing henchman.

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