Sunday, January 7, 2007

Guild Wars Nightfall: Progress Update Six

When last we left things, I'd finished the Consulate Docks mission and found myself in Yohlon Haven. Out of Nubrica and into the new lands of Kourna. And I'd bought up all the new Dervish skills I could find.

What I didn't relate last time was that at the end of the mission my party had been separated – in the mad flight from Varesh Ossa and her demonic friends. So, when I got to Yohlon Haven I found that Carson was no longer available to group with – I'd need to rescue him before I could use that Hero again. Pretty neat use of Heroes, if I do say so myself, to create some dramatic tension. Thanks to those permanent partymates, Nightfall is playing a lot like a traditional CRPG. Since I do like to play those from time to time I'm not exactly complaining. Another thing I found that made me think CRPG was after I finished the next primary quest in the sequence – to create the Sunspear Sanctuary as a hiding place for all the Sunspears who survived the disastrous assault that took place in the Consulate Docks mission. Along with that came the Command Post, where, apparently, all my Heroes get to hang out while they're not doing anything important. It also seems there are some quests I can complete to improve the place – add NPCs and merchants, no doubt – although I haven't done any yet. The place reminds me of those towns you'd build in the Breath of Fire series. Again, not complaining about that at all because I happen to think it's a pretty cool idea. Might not be player housing, exactly, but giving people a little part of the game they can customize has some possibilities.

The quest after that one was to spring Carson from the clinker. It went off without a hitch, of course, and Carson got added back into my group. The quest was called “The Great Escape” no doubt in reference to the great Steve McQueen film. It's places like those where the humor and light-hearted side of Guild Wars shows up – very effectively, I think – as the game's loaded with references and sly winks. I mean, just look at the list of shout names and tell me whoever comes up with these things is having fun. It's not overwhelming things but that sense of fun is there and I think it's a good thing for the game and the developers to have.

The next quest, though, was one I wasn't happy to see because the first step in completing it was to get to the next Sunspear rank. I'd been at Commander or rank 6 since leaving Istan. That's roughly 1000 points and I couldn't get more because the people handing out the bounties stopped giving them. To get to rank 7, however, and become a general in the shattered army of the Sunspears, requires 2500 points. That's a whole lot of critters to kill. Since I've noticed that the henchies on Istan have been replaced by old standbys from previous campaigns, I'm guessing that Kourna is the part of the game where characters from other campaigns will start playing Nightfall. And, not for nothing, I'm just saying that if I have to grind out twenty five hundred Sunspear points for each of my four previous characters in order to advance I'm not going to be happy. Not that I can't or won't do it but it's going to be a huge drag.

Well, there was a lot of killing to be done before I could move on. Flush with the new skills I talked about last installment, I decided to tinker with my builds. I left Dunk and Talk alone because they seem to be working fine so far. But my Dervisher builds were looking a little worn. For my main character, I started out with this:

Oreon Rex (lv19)

Mysticism – 8+1
Scythe Mastery – 12+2
Wind Prayers – 9
Dead Points - 3

  1. Rending Sweep
  2. Twin Moon Sweep
  3. Test of Faith
  4. Mystic Vigor
  5. Signet of Capture
  6. Whirling Charge
  7. Harrier's Haste
  8. Watchful Intervention

There are a couple things here. The first is that I broke down and bought some runes – the Dervish ones are pretty expensive, relatively but now that I have the max level armor it was time to splurge – I just dropped something like 10 plat on picking up 15 new skills so it's not like I was being cautious with my money (I'm not exactly rich by Guild Wars standards mostly because, you know, I only play roughly 3 months out of the year and I have a lot of characters to support but that's one of the benefits of having established characters – I have lots of resources to draw on. And I don't have to worry too much about spending money just yet. Now, buying all 300+ skills this expansion is going to get expensive in a hurry and more than I can afford but we'll burn that bridge when we come to it.). So they got added to my main character's armor along with that Minor Vigor I got as a quest reward way back when. I'd managed to find a Minor Protection rune along the way and that went to Dunk. Anyhow, that let me run the 14 Scythes I wanted as well as keep my Mysticism at the sweet spot where I get 3 energy every enchantment.

Now, what I'm doing here is testing some things out. Since I picked up several nifty Wind Prayers skills and I've been ignoring that line in favor of the other Dervish lines. Earth for defense, Mysticism for energy management as well as some nifty toys, and Scythes because, well, I want to hit people with sharp things sometimes and it's easier to do that in a video game than in real life. A lot less messy, too. But Wind Prayers has some promise, too, especially as it has lots of speed enhancing stuff which should combine well with a dedicated melee attacker. Which is what I was going for, obviously, big damaging attacks and some IAS to make them better. There's some good enchantment removal here, too, because I wanted to give Test of Faith a whirl, so to speak. I use Watchful Intervention here not for the healing but because it lasts forever – literally - and with it up I don't have to worry about Whirling Charge. Basically, I just wanted to throw some things at the wall and see what stuck here. I wasn't sure if I wanted to use Whirling Charge – which is both a speed buff and an IAS if you can meet the condition or Harrier's haste which has an unconditional speed buff. It doesn't have any IAS but it does give extra damage against running foes so it's almost as good. Since I couldn't decide, I used both – the durations for each combine to give me a constantly faster running rate but I just wanted to see which one was the better option. Rending Sweep was both good for enchantment removal and my go-to attack. Twin Moon Sweep's there when I need some more healing power.

You'll also note that I don't have a rez and have replaced it with an SoC. Now, this is one of those “kids, do what I say and not what I do” things because I've always maintained that unless you know what you're doing you should always carry a rez around. But, well, I like to think I know what I'm doing. I keep a rez around in PvE because I'm worried about a wipe. As a lower armored Dervish, I'm going to be on the frontlines of the party and likely to die before things get really bad but what I don't want to happen is for me to be the last person standing there with no way of bringing my team back. And running around in Explorable Areas where if I die there'll be a rezshrine nearby, that scenario isn't really a problem. It's not what I'd do in a mission but replacing the slot normally reserved for my rezsig with my capsig means I can use the rest of my bar to run with an actual build.

Anyhow, I'm glad I included the SoC because I soon hit lv20 (And by the time I was done with finishing the primary quests, so had all my Heroes.) and no sooner that I did I spied a boss monster called the Acolyte of Melandru. Now, that could only mean one thing to me – somebody was holdiing Avatar of Melandru for me. That boss was deep inside a fort full of Kournan soldiers and it took a few tries to crack it open but when it was all said and done I'd capped my first elite.

Avatar of Melandru. Mysticism. Elite Form. 25en, 2cast, 10recharge. For 15+(4xMyst) seconds, you have +200 Health, you are unaffected by Conditions, and your attacks deal earth damage. This Skill is disabled for 120 seconds.

In a word – sexy. This skill is one I've noted is popular and there's very good reason. The skill type “form” is one that's unique to the Dervish and one that's reserved for the various god's avatars, it seems (Which are, of course, all elite, but there's no reason it can't be extended and built upon in the future.), and the main mechanic seems to be that although they have low recharges they have a built-in skill lock that disables the skill for a long time. I imagine that's so that this skill doesn't become useless when it's interrupted – if you could shunt the use of this two minutes into the future with a distracting shot or strip it if it was an enchantment then, basically, it wouldn't get run. Not by me, anyway. But the low recharge and long disable means that if it fizzles you can try again soon and when you succeed you won't be able to use it again son so it stays relatively balanced – it makes this sort of skill very powerful but, really, it needs to be in order for it to serve its purpose. And that's making the Dervish into a lean, mean melee machine. The health bonus is nice, the earth damage could be useful, but the real benefit here is the Condition immunity. That means that you can use Wearying Strike at will without having to worry about the penalty. And you avoid the Blinds and Cripples that can be used to nullify melee attackers (Now hexes, wards and everything else still work and people seem to have caught on by now but, oh well, a shift away from melee in the metagame could be interesting.). Very nasty and it provides a credible alternative to running with Warriors. This skill? Good.

It's one of those skills I've had my eye on so once I got it I headed to the nearest outpost and switched my build around to include it.

Oreon Rex (lv20)

Mysticism – 11+1
Scythe Mastery – 12+2
Wind Prayers – 6
Dead Points – 5

  1. Rending Sweep
  2. Wearying Strike
  3. Avatar of Melandru {E}
  4. Rending Touch
  5. Signet of Capture
  6. Whirling Charge
  7. Heart of Fury
  8. Vital Boon

Like I said way back when I've gone with a base 12/11/6 layout. My runes give me Mysticism at the 12 sweetspot giving me 4 energy per enchantment. I don't happen to be running with a lot of enchantments here but with a protter in the group it helps.

Again, Rending Sweep's the go-to attack here. Wearying Strike only gets used when the Avatar is up – along with the Avatar's 25 en cost it's an incredible drain on my energy pool but getting to throw down an Eviscerate every 2 seconds is pure melee bliss. The fact that it can proc AoE under the right conditions is just icing on the cake. Otherwise, I rely on IAS to keep the offense up. I've decided that I like Whirling Charge better – at least in PvE – but I only use it when I want to run around the map or Heart of Fury goes down. Heart of Fury is as good as I thought it would be as an IAS and it also chips in 42 points of damage through degen whenever it ends. Since I dropped Twin Moon Sweep I don't have any way of prematurely ending enchantments while attacking anymore so it doesn't always go off when I want it to but it's wonderful when it does. One nice thing about Heart of Fury is that it's an enchantment so I'm thinking I need to find a +enchanting scythe handle, I think. Of course, I should probably find a max damage scythe first, too. Another change was to drop Watchful Intervention for Vital Boon. It makes using Whirling Charge a bit more labor intensive but it's better healing which help me to survive. And although I still like Test of Faith I'm going back to Rending touch – for one thing it lets me strip an enchantment so I can use it to end Heart of Fury early, if I want to – but it's also more reliable.

So, that's me. But that's only using a small portion of my newfound skills. But that's what I have Mell Mel around for – since she's a Dervish I can use her as a testbed for builds before running them myself. I haven't done much with that previously, but now that I have the skills to play with, that's exactly what I've done. Since that means she gets a spot in the party I didn't really mind that Carson disappear and, in fact, even after springing him from prison, I wasn't planning on using him.

Anyhow, I wanted to get crazy with Melly Mel and move in a completely different direction than the scythe slinger that my main character was turning into. And the way to do that, I thought, was to drop the idea of her using a scythe as her main weapon. Here's how I did that:

Meloni (lv17)

Mysticism – 9
Scythe Mastery - 4

  1. Earth Prayers - 12
  2. Mystic Sandstorm
  3. Zealous Renewal
  4. Staggering Force
  5. Dust Cloak
  6. Rebirth
  7. Heart of Holy Flame
  8. Eremite's Zeal
  9. Vital Boon

By level 20, Mel had a 12/12/3 layout meaning, among other things, she gets another energy and a bit more health per enchantment. By that point, though, I'd also gone back and ran through Consolate Docks again in order to cap Pious Renewal.

Pious Renewal. Mysticism. Elite Enchantment Spell. 5en, 1/4cast, 3recharge. For 8 seconds, whenever an Enchantment ends on you, you gain 0+(0.16xMyst) and 0+(0.66xMyst) Health.

At 12 Mysticism that's an extra 2 energy and 8 Health when an enchantment ends – for a grand total of 6 en and 20 health per enchantment. It's not exactly thrilling but it's a quick enchantment for fuel and I was hoping it can be useful for energy management when you have a lot of enchantments going off. Using 5 en enchants would actually profit you, after all, (though that's probably offset by having to spend nearly 2 pips to keep this up constantly) and it cast quick enough that it doesn't take up a lot of time. After using it, though, I think I rate this one as Poor.

Anyhow, that gets swapped in for Eremite's Zeal for more reliable energy management so Mel looks like this:

Meloni (Lv20)

Mysticism – 12
Earth Prayers – 12
Scythe Mastery - 3

  1. Mystic Sandstorm
  2. Zealous Renewal
  3. Staggering Force
  4. Dust Cloak
  5. Rebirth
  6. Heart of Holy Flame
  7. Pious Renewal {E}
  8. Vital Boon

Okay, the idea here is to use a lot of quickly cast AoE damaging enchantments – what I like to call “attack enchantments” - and then strip them off with Mystic Sandstorm for even more damage and fun as those enchantments will impart a lot of conditions when they go. As an opening volley it should be devastating although afterwards things get a bit iffy as the recharges don't sync up but since you only need four enchantments at 12 Earth to reach 120 damage (just 10 off the 130 cap) not everythign needs to go up at once and the enchantments can be cycled to something consistent. If you'll excuse the slide rule I figure that laying down Zealous Renewal, Staggering Force, Heart of Holy Flame, and Dust Cloak will give me 228 damage in 3 seconds (At a cost of 40 energy, you can see why energy management's so important here, I think.) or 76 DPS which can be followed up by a Mystic Sandstorm blast for another 120 damage for 358 damage (Depending on how the aftercast plays out this can be done in as little as 3 ¾ seconds. But unless you have a way of getting 13 pips of regen then its better to wait a bit for Mystic Sandstorm – each of those enchantments going off, though, returns 4 of 10 energy, lowering the cost.) total. Along with Bleeding, Weakness, and Blind being thrown down. And depending on how the energy and recharges go you can cycle back through things with smaller spikes. Actually, looking over the energy it might be best to go with only three enchantments before each sandstorm.

Either way, that would be a lot of damage to handle in a situation where you have a lot of enemies clustered up together. Whether that's a pack of monsters or, say, a dais map (You can tell I'm thinking about Tombs a bit, can't you?) that kind of AoE spike could be rather effective. If I was going to be really nasty then I'd change Melly Mel to a Dervish/Assassin and give her something like Dark Escape to snare a target before laying on the pain. But since I can't do that myself and I've built Melly Mel like this with an eye on eventually running a build like this myself (With, of course, my PvE character.), I haven't. Aura of Thorns might work much the same but I want to go with enchantments that cause damage for now. D/Mo with Air of Enchantment might work, too. But this is, as these things go, a first draft. I'm just throwing things together to see if they work and as I go along I'll start refining things until they really shine – Mystic Twister, for example, might turn out to be a better way of going about this than Mystic Sandstorm and there'll, hopefully, be a way of doing this without spending my whole bar to do so – or, at the very least pulling off this trick while still being able to do some other things. It falls apart in the face of enchantment removal, I think, but by staying close removing these enchantments is almost as bad as letting them stay so it's not quite that crippling.

The underlying idea here, though, is one I first realized last expansion with Assassins. With decent armor and caster-level regen they could make for particularly hardened casters. All they lose out on is 5 maximum energy. Any sort of decent e-denial actually makes that a liability, though – it's like credit, basically, so it's not the energy you have it's the energy you can get that matters. So while the stereotype of an Assassin and a Dervisher might have them being weaker armored melee bangers it should be possible to stick them in the midlines as well-armored casters. It doesn't work out so well with Assassins because their primary attribute only procs when they're attacking so standing there casting doesn't do them any good and you'd be better off with almost any other primary attribute for the character. Dervishers, on the other hand, actually have a useful primary for such things – they get energy whenever enchantments end. This means you can have, say, a D-Mo who concentrates on Protection and things like Signet of Pious Light or Dwayna's Touch to be an efective healer with built-in energy management – go far enough down that path and you get something like the NeMos that make bloodspike work. I imagine you could do something similar with Smiting although from what I can see that line's been hit with the nerfstick since I've been away. But any way you could have a lot of enchantments popping off you can build a Dervish that doesn't need to swing a scythe. And that's what I'm trying to do here.

I realize I'm probably not the first person to think of this because if it occurs to me it can occur to people who've been playing this game a lot longer than I have. But, hey, the point isn't so much to come up with a killer build on my own as to get used to trying to come up with them by myself. I'd like to think I used to be able to do that although I'm probably flattering myself. But, anyway, it's an idea with some potential, in my opinion.

Melly Mel, of course, seems incapable of running it correctly. I even stuck Air of Enchantment on Dunk in the hopes that awesomeness would develop but no such luck. She doesn't run it like I would, let's say, and there's no way to get her to do so without a lot more micromanaging than I'm willing to spend – I've got to deal with cutting people to ribbons my ownself, thank you very much, so I don't want to be activating skills on her bar and directing her around the map in the middle of a battle. She does enchant up and then use Mystic Sandstorm but she doesn't cycle through things and find a pattern the way I'd like (This is, basically, like a PBAoE Ele build and managing recharges is the key to getting it to fly) and maybe even I could. And there seems to be something off about how Pious Renewal works. As I understand it, when it gets stripped off it should be providing its bonus to each and every enchantment that goes with it – it does happen to go off when Pious Renewal itself ends, which is a little unusual and, of course, nice – but it seems like no matter how many enchantments go off at one time the bonus only gets applied once. That means instead of getting 4+2 energy per enchantment or a 60% reduction in costs I get an extra 2 energy thrown into the mix. It needs some testing, I think, but from observing Mel's bar that's what seems to be happening.

Now, the XP from capping Avatar of Melandru and Pious Assault combined with the XP from the quests and Sunspear slaughter gave me enough to “level” again and get another skill point. Just as I'd done for Pious Assault, I swiftly headed for the skill trainer and picked up another Signet of Capture and went hunting for the other Dervisher elite I'd spotted. In the same EA as the Avatar of Melandru and not too far away was a boss with Grenth's Grasp. It was a much easier battle but the first time around I was all out of cap so I couldn't grab it. But it wasn't too much effort to backtrack and pick it up.

Grenth's Grasp. Wind Prayers. Elite Enchantment Spell. 5en, 1/4cast, 20recharge. For 20 seconds, if you are wielding a cold weapon, your attack Skills also Cripple that foe for 3+(0.83xWind) seconds.

Pretty mangled wording, if you ask me. But anyway, this wasn't a skill I particularly wanted and I could have saved the skill point but I'd eventually pick it up anyway. It's not very thrilling as far as I can tell. The recharge and duration sync up and it's nice and inexpensive both in terms of energy and casting time but the benefit is marginal. Could combine very well with Grenth's Fingers or Dust Cloak and Winter, say, and useful for things like Spinal Shivers but, meh, a lot of effort to get it to shine. As far as I can tell it might be useful in PvP but condition clearing is very effective these days so that Cripple won't last very long. And in PvE Cripple is only a marginally useful condition. With how cheap it is, I'm tempted but I think I'm going to have to go with a ranking of Poor

Anyhow,.that done I'd killed enough critters to get to the next Sunspear rank and get the primary quest I needed to advance. At the moment I have 3k or so in Sunspear points which is a bit misleading because the bounties in Kourna give 4 points per kill rather than the 1 a critter on Istan – meaing the 1.5k points I needed to get the next rank was actually an order to kill only 375 creatures not the 1000 it took me to get to Captain. And primary quests give points for completion too. So, I figure I've killed about 1300~1400 things under bounty at this point.

That done it was time to get to the next mission, Venta Cemetary. I grumbled a bit when I saw that Carson was required for it. So, I reluctantly dropped Melly Mel from the group and took Carson along with my Monks and my standard party. But when I entered the first time I noticed the NPCs I was to escort through the mission were a large pack of healers. I hit the mission's lobby and swapped out Powder for Mel and dropped the Earth henchie for the Archer– that much healing backing me up meant I could run with a lot of offense. I could have dropped Dunk, too, but I didn't have anyone to replace him with and I figured I'd be wise to keep at least one effective Monk around in and under my direct control in case there was any stupidity.

The mission was a simple one: escort a bunch of Sunspear refugees across hostile territory to escape from the Kournan military. The one twist was that at the beginning of the mission you got a special skill to disable traps in the mission – just like with the snowball arena or with the campaign ending celestial skills in Factions. Nice to see that the developers have taken that idea and run with it. The traps to disable weren't all that threatening, really, but it was a nice little touch. The bonus was to kill all the enemies around 12 guard posts in the area. Thanks to one of the many “new to me” features – the improved mini-map, this wasn't very hard at all. Each one was marked out with a little flag and I could plan my route to them. In Explorable Areas the rezshrines and collectors are marked out along with other information that makes getting around easier. It takes a lot of the challenge out of things, of course (Why, in my day, we'd have to hunt around the map to find those guard posts. And we'd have to climb uphill twelve miles in the snow just to connect to the game!), and I'm not sure I like that. But not having to hunt around for that collector I'm looking for or searching for where the next step in a quest is at, I'll live with. The only real difficulty I had was when the game warned me I was getting too close to the central garrison. I'm not sure what would happen if I did but I figured it would be bad. So, I turned around, found another way to get where I was going and finished the mission bonus and all. That's five perfect bonuses for five missions – the only one I've had to run multiple times (As I don't really count restarting on my own) has been the second one, Jakannur Diggings thanks to its boss, Apocrypha.

The mission wasn't anything really remarkable or challenging but it did move the storyline forward well. Unfortunately, the plot seems to have taken me out of Kourna and back to Istan which is where I had to log out. I just got out of that damned place and now I'm going to have to crawl around there again? Well, you'll have to figure out whether I do next time (After, you know, I find out myself) when we'll feature Return to Istan: The Escape from Newb Island.

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