For reasons not entirely transparent to myself, I’ve recently decided to set myself a goal in GW2 which is farming tokens from the Ruined City of Arah in order to acquire the only set worth a look on my female Norn Elementalist. It’s not that I require the gear statwise, as it’s identical to my current armor which also happens to look smashing – but then, GW2 endgame is all about creating your own challenges. And Arah surely is that, although not in the way I initially anticipated. While this might be one of the more challenging dungeons, its greatest annoyances come in form of skipping content and frankly obnoxious people populating pickup parties.
Here’s a confession: I hadn’t been to Arah-the-dungeon prior to my decision to farm tokens. My personal story is pending just one or two chapters before that. I have finished a story mode run more recently but my first runs ever were in complete ignorance of the place (which is usually the case when you do something for the first time) if not of Orr. That said, story mode is no preparation for exploration mode really, so what is a player to do other than to start and build up experience from there? I would also say for myself that I’m far from slow when it comes to steep learning curves.
Yet, my first few Arah PuG runs almost made me give up completely on my set goal (and humanity). They were spent group-rushing through large packs of trash, frantically spamming cooldowns and hoping to keep up with the others because no idea where I’m going. More often than not, they were spent being one-shot by said trash which either wiped the entire party or “the unlucky one” (as I like to call him by now), then re-attempting the same leeroy act, corpse-running over and over until somehow the entire party makes it through alive. Should you happen to be the unlucky one, don’t count on much help; you then get to attempt the insanity all by yourself with the rest of the group waiting impatiently, rather than porting back to retry together and increase your chances. Because what nobody likes to admit is this: thank god it wasn’t me and I’ll be damned to go back and help anybody! I’ve actually been in parties where people were happy to stand around for 15 minutes, rather than helping the person rushing trash alone, dying over and over. This gotta be the saddest, most asocial show I have ever experienced in an MMO which pains me a great deal to admit.
Most of Arah’s trash is ridiculously overpowered and probably meant to be skipped, which doesn’t excuse shitty behavior one bit. The absurdity of the trash combined with the vast scale and multiple paths within the dungeon, make it every beginner’s nightmare. Not only do you not find your way alone, your group is too tired and annoyed by the trash to play more cooperatively. You’re supposed to know your way around or be damned. This of course leads to many more questionable situations, soon making you wonder whether you are really saving that much time by skipping mobs:
- Groups wiping because it’s not clear if a particular trash is to be avoided or killed, ending up with three players rushing through and two pulling.
- Everybody reluctant to be the first one / on the front-line of a rush.
- The group deciding to continue without the unlucky one, in order to activate the next waypoint. This may include killing a next boss without the person.
- Squishier classes getting the greatest beef. Direct quote from my last Arah run: “this is why we don’t play Elementalists”.
Now, I’m happy to admit I still have things to learn on my class and I’ve already improved much as far as individual performance goes. It’s the whole randomness about skipping trash in Arah that gets to me. Rushes are so chaotic and hard to coordinate (with strangers), it’s often a lottery who gets through and who doesn’t. I’ve had runs where I didn’t die once and I’ve had the most horrible and frustrating runs which in fact made me ragequit once or twice – not last because of how thoughtlessly people behaved in general.
The paradoxical thing is that you can go through all this negativity before ever hitting your first boss. From my experiences from paths 1-3, there’s not one boss in Arah as frustrating as the long, to-be-avoided trash routine. I can easily survive through Lupicus by means of my own survivability skills and despite what some say about the bossfight, I don’t think it’s too hard. It’s one of the greater fights in all of GW2, one where tactics and your survival skills can truly shine.
And the whole grouping mess already shows before finding parties. Generally, players will use gw2lfg.com for lack of an ingame grouping tool in this cross-server MMO (!), then whispering random strangers for an invite. Only, that’s not how you do it, which I discovered after being ignored a couple of times. “Use self-inv” was the gracious reply I finally received one day and so I added myself to a party where quite obviously nobody was interested in who I was. Which to some degree makes sense in a setup-free game, only doesn’t if you then also have a look at popular party requests for GW2:
Random days, random dungeons on LFG (click to enlarge)
“EXP ONLY NO NOOBS” – “LF ZERK WAR / MESMER” – “Excessive dying will not be tolerated” – “RETARDS WILL BE KICKED” – “full exotic gear, must ping gear”
Here’s the funny part: nobody can truly tell experience by looks or gear in GW2. Hardly ever do you even get asked for gear level and “proving” it is pretty useless without inspect or armory functions. More importantly, you need neither the greatest gear in the world, not a certain warrior or other class, nor years of experience to run a dungeon like Arah (or any other dungeon). All you really need is a decent group of human beings.
What exactly is the point of lines like “exp only” or “full gear” if nobody checks on you anyway as you self-invite yourself?
The ugly face of anonymity
We’ve known since WoW latest that cross-server anonymity is one of the big banes of server community. The upside of shorter queues is won by too a high a price and it’s not just the exceptional troll that makes for lousy group experiences. There’s a common dynamic of caring less about others not from your own server, caring less for your own performance because there’s little consequence, caring less for decent communication because explaining things to strangers is tedious – and why do it when they’re so easily replaced? A note about social mechanics in any human society: anything that makes people “care less” is generally a bad thing.
Furthermore, there appears to be a direct, inverted relation between downtime tolerance and the actual downtime in an MMO: GW2 is a game of few downtimes related to grouping. Not only can players cooperate without formal grouping on outdoor quests, there’s the self-invite function and lack of strict group setup requirements. You could therefore think that players are generally less in a rush and more inclined to wait for each other or explain something – but not so! Being used to little downtime results in an even lower tolerance for the same. At least people treasure their groups more in MMOs where they cannot take them for granted and where losing a member is to risk more wait time.
Do I advocate to bring back grouping barriers and artificial downtimes? No. However, for all its improvements on the social side, such as dynamic outdoor grouping with shared nodes (I know GW2 is not alone in this), res-anyone and setup freedom, GW2’s pickup dungeon experiences are as bad or worse as any other MMO’s – not least because of ANet’s concept of the global village. The entire server/world is your guild? If so, where’s the g-quit button?
GW2 removed a few dated concepts that came with their own set of issues. Unfortunately, it did fail to replace them properly. I’m thinking of more positive ways to motivate spontaneous grouping between levels 1-80 and better overall cooperation in dungeons (I would’ve expected a lot more in terms of encounter design or combo mechanics). I’m in full agreement with Psychochild here – I’ve no wish to go back to good old bad times but there’s clearly a lot more to be done about cooperation and social interaction in this genre which continues to push mega-servers, paradoxically enough for a not-so-MM experience. I wish we could go back to small or even private server communities already.
To close, an attempt at balance: yes, there are good PuGs in GW2 sometime, just like there are in any game. I’ve had few runs by now which were almost pleasant, with people I would sadly never run into again because they weren’t from my server (and friendlists are a downtime). Every now and then you’ll find “relaxed group” advocated in LFG, although that’s fairly rare. There’s a much greater issue at large here and while bad design does not excuse nasty behavior (it sure does not), it has a way of coming through and slowly affecting everyone and everything, until even the most supportive person resigns to what’s been established as the most efficient way of playing, rather than the best one. The fastest way to treasure, so we can be done playing this already.
Yeah, I did have some good groups in Arah…still, I’d rather not ask how they may have turned out had I dared to be unlucky.
P.S. A new episode of Battle Bards is up – go check it out!