Filed under Tim

Roadmaps and Rapid Rounds

Meanwhile, in games which aren’t Guild Wars 2, Planetside 2 is going pretty well. Getting the K/D out of the way right now, I seem to be consistently coming in at 0.3 or so, which is similar enough to my six years of on and off Planetside 1 play. Sometimes I finish a night with over 1.0! It doesn’t matter though, because the main reason I loved Planetside 1 was the sheer spectacle of the ongoing massive fighting, which very much exists in the sequel.

The differences between the first and second games are many and varied, but the essential spirit of the game seems intact. The art and engine are both huge improvements on the first game, delivering a very modern feel to basic gameplay, on a par with current console shooters in a way that Planetside 1 never really managed against Counterstrike and its contemporaries.

The class-based model is interesting and new in the sequel, letting everyone have access to all the basic tools from the word go, but avoiding the late-stage pitfalls of PS1’s cert system, which five years in had produced an elite tier of do-everything super-soldiers against which a newbie would have real problems competing. Skilful long-term play and/or enthusiastic cash shop participation certainly helps refine existing classes to be better at their jobs, but you do now have to stick to one job at a time, which seems better. This is balanced by the option to swap class instantly any time you respawn or use an equipment terminal. (Worth noting that the entire thing is truly F2P, no box cost involved. If that enrages you, you should probably not play!)

I’m mostly Engineering. They get a decent enough stock gun, have access to deployable mines, turrets, etc and can also earn side XP repairing tanks and wall turrets if they’re not that great as shooting things, like me!

Vehicle-wise, PS2 is impressive enough. A smaller selection of vehicles made it to the sequel, but they are all a lot more modular now, capable of a few roles each. The large armour columns and air swarms still live on. I mostly use the Sunderer these days, a 12-man APC capable of being deployed as a spawn point, resupply depot and all sorts else. I’m finding the planes a bit tricky; the sequel uses a somewhat different flight model which is hard to come at new, and I was never that great in the planes in the first game anyway. More practice there I think, as although I continue to hate Air Cavalry, the Liberator 2.0 and Galaxy 2.0 are both iconic classics and look useful and fun.

Outside of the game, things look quite progressive too. SOE, or at least John Smedley, clearly love the Planetside franchise and seem to be working very hard in the post-launch phase of it all. They’ve put out a Roadmap which initially made me quite cross, mostly because I came at it tangentially and only saw this thread for May, via Arkenor.

May – Taunts

In which the ill-conceived idea of user-customisable death-screen taunts (plus custom background!) are given an extensive short shrift by most of the players of the game. I’ll leave the ‘What could possibly be wrong with that?’ as an exercise to you, dear reader.

I bitched in a tremendously emo fasion on the podcast a bit, but afterwards, calmed down a bit and went to read some of the rest of the Roadmap, which is actually full of a lot of good ideas and exciting future features. A good summary can be found here:

The Mittani.com: Ps2: Examining the Roadmap

It’s a crazy topsy-turvy world of misrule when The Mittanni.com (Yes, THAT Mitanni) has become my number one go-to site for Planetside 2 news, guides and tips, but they have some very decent coverage over there, with it’s own section and everything. I wonder what that means for Dust 514?

Anyway, it’s a good start for me; I’m enjoying the basic game-play and also looking forward to new things in an MMO again. Quite a few of us in a similar boat, so I went ahead and set up the Nicholas Courtney Tribute outfit; “Five Rounds Rapid” which is also open to people who aren’t Dr Who fans too! If you enjoy our writings here and wordnoises on the podcast, and want to get involved, do get in touch: I’m ‘VanHemlock’ on the Miller [EU] server, and we’re all Vanu Sovereignty, which you will have to be too. It’s quite unreasonable about cross-faction guilds, I’ve found! We play UK evenings, have VERY low standards of ability and coordination, and Mumble is a plus, if only to listen in. I’m get very lazy about typing stuff these days!

Look out for lots of bitching about how OP Light Assault is to come!

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I, Mesmer: Shattering

Guild Wars 1 has Attributes, alterable point scores in four or five disciplines for each class, which govern how powerful the skills of that discipline are, and also which carry some innate passive effects as well. For the Memser, these would be Fast Casting, Domination, Inspiration and Illusion. One of these would be the Primary Attribute (Fast Casting for the Mesmer), and unique to that class. It was this, and the armour piece stats, which would make a Mesmer/Ranger subtly different to a Ranger/Mesmer, who would get Expertise instead.

Guild Wars 2 has gone with a more conventional Talent Tree style of customisation, often using the same names, but something of the spirit of the Primary Attribute lives on in the Profession Mechanic. This is different for each class and usually involves the F1-F4 keys, and the UI area just above the Weapon Slots. For the Mesmer, this is Shattering.

The Mesmer Class Mechanic revolves around the creation and destruction of Illusions. Many Mesmer skills create Clones and Phantasms as part of their function. The skill bar keeps track of how many of these are in play, using the round purple pips above the Weapon Slots. A Mesmer can only maintain three Illusions, summoning a fourth will cause the first to vanish. While active, these Illusions will go about their own summoned tasks, attacking the target mostly. When the target is dead, all Illusions will vanish, so a fresh set will need to replace them on a new target, unlike the pets of other classes, which stay with you for the next fight.

In important note on nomenclature; Illusion is a term which includes both Clones and Phantasms, and is what the Shatter Pips track. A Clone is a weak Illusion, but often quick and easy to create. They do negligible damage and have poor HP/Armour, but will be able to cause conditions, depending on the skill used to summon them. To you, all Clones look exactly like you, including nametag. A Phantasm is a much stronger Illusion, capable of real damage and with decent HP/Armour. Phantasms appear as ghostly purple versions of yourself, with their own distinctive names; ‘Illusionary Berserker’, ‘Illusionary Warden’, etc. Their summoning skills are often slower to cast and longer to recharge.

This is important for Shattering, as on the whole, Clones are disposable, easily replaced, and ideal for Shatter fodder, whereas Phantasms typically have a defined useful purpose and are generally best kept alive as long as possible so they can get on with it. Shattering destroys them, obviously.

 

When a Shatter order is issued (F1, F2, F3, F4), all active Illusions will stop what they’re doing and immediately run toward their target. When they come into contact with it, they will… Shatter, turning into a collapsing pile of purple triangular shards, which collapse on the floor. Quite harrowing considering they all look like you! Note that depending what type they were, they are unlikely to all hit the target simultaneously; ranged Illusions take longer to get there than melee ones, creating a staggered triple-hit attack chain of sorts. There is no way to selectively Shatter specific Illusions; pressing the button is an all-or-nothing action, killing all currently active Illusions when you do it.

What happens next depends on the F-key pressed:

Mind WrackF1 – Mind Wrack: This is the most straight forward and in my case, most often used. The Shattering Illusions will blow up and cause decent damage to nearby foes; a point-blank AoE effect. The damage goes up with more Illusions Shattered. Good for spiking particular targets and executing death blows, but it is important to weigh up the damage potential of leaving Phantasms alive to get on with their work. Also consider the time it will take to replace the lost Illusions, especially if using Ether Feast as your heal. The short cooldown on this skill lends itself to a Clone-heavy bar where cycling Mind Wracks is the key tactic.

Useful traits here are Mental Torment (+Shatter Damage) and Precise Wrack (+Crit Chance). For a Shatter-based build, these will be essential.

 

Cry of FrustrationF2 – Cry of Frustration: This does minor damage, but applies 3s Confusion to the target. I tend to not use this much, because I can generate Confusion quite readily with use of Combo: Field Ethereal (Feedback, Null Field, Time Warp) and Combo Finisher: Physical Projectile (GS: Mirror Blade) sufficiently often to not need this as well. At 30s cool down, this starts to move out of convenient reusability. Other ways to cause Confusion include Sceptre: Confusing Images.

Useful trait: Confusing Cry (+Retaliation to allies) but it seems a bit of a waste of a talent slot for just this.

 

DiversionF3 – Diversion: Something of a panic button at 45s, this causes Daze on the target, and no damage. Each Illusion causes 1s of Daze, but they do not stack, suggesting a mix of ranged and melee Illusions for best overlap. Daze interrupts the target and prevents skill use for the duration, which frankly is not a very long time at all. This skill is further diminished by the Unshakable/Defiant crowd control immunity that Champions and Legendary PvE enemies usually have – Daze is included in that and won’t work in boss fights. Typically anything weak enough to be susceptible is also weak enough to just murder with the Greatsword. Works on players though.

Useful Traits: Imbued Diversion (+AoE targets), but again, an excessive spend of Talents for just this one skill.

 

DistortionF4 – Distortion: Very much a panic button at a full minute of cooldown, this grants you one second of the Distortion effect per Shattered Illusion. This buff makes you automatically Evade attacks while active; Invulnerability, in effect. I should probably use this one more, but the short 3s duration is not often a window large enough to get completely clear of the threat. Works well to augment Sword/Sword melee or Sceptre/Sword defensive builds, but watch out for the cooldown timer, and consider if the Illusions are already protecting you, by holding aggro which once Shattered, will generally transfer to you!

Useful Traits: Masterful Reflection (+Reflection) bounces damage back ala Feedback. Also Blurred Inscriptions grants the 1s Distortion buff when using Signets – nothing to do with Shattering, but a useful alternative to get at the same quite powerful buff.

Generally Useful Traits for Shattering:

  • Rending Shatter (+Vulnerability on Shatters)
  • Shattered Concentration (-Boon on Shatters)
  • Vigorous Revelation (+Vigor on Shatters)
  • Shattered Conditions (-Condition on Shatters)
  • Restorative Illusions (+Heal on Shatters)
  • Illusionary Retribution (+Confusion on Shatters)
  • Shattered Strength (+Might on Shatters)
  • Illusionary Invigoration (Recharge Shatter skills at 50% health)
  • Illusionary Persona (You count as a extra pip for Shatter skills)

Note that Traits which cause things to happen when an Illusion is ‘killed‘ will not trigger when they are Shattered. Lots of ways to build for a Shatter-Heavy play-style there and it really does benefit from dedication if you’re going to be doing it a lot.

Also consider pip replacement. Many Traits produce Clones on particular actions, but my top pick is Deceptive Evasion (+Clone on Dodge); every time you tumble out of the way, which you will be doing a LOT, it makes a new Clone where you were. Every weapon set will give you access to one Clone and one Phantasm. This can then be bulked out with Utility skills; Mirror Images and Decoy in particular. Wield a Sceptre for its auto-attack and add Deceptive Evasion to that and you should have enough Clones in play at all times to power a full Mind Wrack (F1) every time it lights up. Bulk out the remaining Talent Tree with some of the above Traits to make that Wrack really hurt.

It does seem a genuine opportunity to work at a Comedy Mesmer Build, but it is still only one of a small number of ways to play, and usually I go another route, relying on the persistence and power of Phantasms to get the job done instead.

 

So there we go; you now know at least as much as I do about being a Guild Wars 2 Mesmer, which nowadays seems mostly to be a kind of chaos-based “Fifth Elementalist” rather than the subtle master of interruption, interference and turning an enemy’s strengths against them that I knew and loved from the first game.

Go forth! Mesmerise! If anyone needs me, I expect I’ll be back in GW1, doing it all old-school instead.

 

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I, Mesmer: Spear and Trident

New and different in Guild Wars 2 is Underwater Combat. All characters start life with a miraculous Aqua Breather item in the appropriate slot which makes all inhabitants of Tyria amphibious! Its actually a bit of a stat-holding placebo designed to trick the nervous fish-people of Tyria into using their previously untested gills – try going deep and then unsloting the breather; nothing happens! All a bit creepy! Many of the zones contain large expanses of deep water, often with important hearts, vistas and events going on in them, and of course fighting.

The texture of underwater combat is quite different to the usual land-based shenanigans, and requires a slightly different, three-dimensional mindset which many players can find tricky. Without the ground as a familiar distance and perspective cue it can be tricky to judge ranges, particularly with point-blank melee-based underwater weapons, and of course, enemies can come at you from all directions, not just the horizontal.

While beneath the waves, the Mesmer gets access to the Trident and Spear, but not the Harpoon Gun. Since you have two swappable underwater weapon slots, there is no actual choice to make here; equip one of each in the appropriate boxes. The two weapons serve quite different purposes and offer two different skill bars.

 

The Trident is the Ranged Weapon of the pair and mostly concerns itself with debuffs and limited crowd control.

Siren's CallThe auto attack slot #1 is Sirens Call, which shoots purple musical notes at the target doing okay-ish damage at full (1200) range. It’s a bounce type projectile similar to GS: Mirror Blade and Staff: Winds of Chaos; the projectile will try to bounce off allies, buffing them as it does so. Traits and shorter distance help with more bounces. Fairly mediocre, but as an auto-attack, quite hands off, and positioning is very easy here.

IneptitudeSlot #2 is Ineptitude, which is very straight forward; push button, cause blindness. When blinded, the enemy will miss with their next attack. It also does a decent hit of damage, so fairly useful.

Spinning RevengeSpinning Revenge, #3, summons a Clone onto the target and buffs nearby allies with Retaliation, a decent if short-lived damage reflection buff. As a Clone, it is perfectly suitable for shattering as needed. The ability is a Whirl Finisher, but in my experience, creating Combo: Fields underwater is a lot trickier and more rarely accomplished than on land, so don’t worry too much about creating zorbs or causing Confusions.

Illusionary Whaler#4 is Illusionary Whaler, a surprisingly weak Phantasm who starts firing a harpoon-gun (which we ourselves are unable to use!) at the target. The damage dealt is really very low for a Phantasm, but it does stack up Bleeding as well. Unlike most Phantasms, you can probably quite happily shatter this one, and will likely cause more damage doing so than letting it live out is short ineffectual life. Of far greater disappointment is the fact that the Phantasm looks like the Mesmer, and not Cthulhu, as the icon would have us believe! Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn!

Illusion of DrowningThe best Trident skill is #5, Illusion of Drowning. A sort of underwater Root, it summons a purple anchor and chain which will not only stop the enemy moving, but will also drag them down to the seabed. It causes respectable damage and has a usefully short cooldown; against big bad Veteran and Champion fishes, it’ll light up several times during the fight. Very powerful, and similar effects exist in other class underwater bars, allowing a rotation of sinkage to be maintained with minimal coordination. Keeping the very large Megalodons locked down with these skills makes the fight a lot more controlled and easier to manage position-wise.

 

The Spear is a largely Melee Weapon and is more focused around damage and mobility.

Evasive StrikeJabStabSlot #1 is a straight-forward attack-chain; Stab, Jab, Evasive Strike. The last hit makes you evade, showing the typical Mesmer melee survival method at work, but the basic damage is the thing here. The chain produces a satisfyingly high base DPS, which is only improved upon by the other slot skills. Feels pretty gutsy too. The tricky part of Spear is the near point-blank range of the attacks – you really do need to be right next to the enemies, and facing the right direction; not always as easy as it sounds in dense clouds of bubbles, piranhas, magma blobs, and floating turrets.

FeignFeigned SurgeSlot 2 is the real winner for me; Feigned Surge. This makes you hold the spear out in front of you and then surge forward at high speed for a short distance, severely damaging anything in your path. Then hitting the flip-skill, Feign, will teleport you back to the start location, and create a Clone where you were, which immediately joins the fight. Feigning is not mandatory and sometimes, letting the flip-skill expire is the smart move, leaving you in place at the end of the dash. Note that this is ‘forward’ not ‘toward the target’, so it is quite possible to entirely miss the enemy if you are not lined up correctly to begin with. Using the #1 attack chain for a round or two first will usually ensure correct alignment.

Illusionary MarinerIllusionary Mariner in #3 is our Phantasm here. It summons a spear-wielding you which goes to town on the target with a highly damaging flurry of stabs while evading the target itself. Very powerful and a much better choice than the iWhaler. Aim to keep one in play as often as possible and avoid shattering it if you can.

SlipstreamSlot #4 is Slipstream. This creates a linear effect in front of you. Allies passing through it get a sudden speed burst, much like Focus: Temporal Curtain. Unlike the Curtain, this is not a buff effect to your own speed, but instead it just propels you forward quite quickly. It also pushes enemies away. I find it very tricky to use well because underwater, it becomes a line rather than a wall, making it quite tricky to hit correctly. It also brings you to a momentary full stop when the burst ends, before allowing you to swim onward, making it awkward to use as a travel aid.

VortexLastly is #5, Vortex. This creates a large and highly spectacular purple whirlpool in front of you, which sucks all nearby enemies into the middle of it. It does a bit of damage and is a Combo Field: Ethereal too. This works very well with the point-blank nature of the basic #1 attack chain, and also neatly concentrates lots of enemies for a merciless dash with #2. Thumbs up all round!

 

Underwater combat isn’t my favourite thing, it has to be said, but I definitely get on better with the Spear than the Trident. The Trident has its uses though; large underwater events where the melee front line is too confusing already, but also for smaller fights where I swap to Trident just for the anchor, before getting back to the spearwork.

A quick look at Shattering next, then we’re done and I’ll probably start posting about Other Games again!

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I, Mesmer: Elite Slot

The cornerstone of any exotic quirky Comedy Mesmer Build in Guild Wars 1 was always the Elite Skill. You’d only be allowed one of these in a bar at a time, and they had to be captured off monster Bosses out in the wide world, using the Signet of Capture. This was an element of game play that struck a particular affinity with me. I loved it and over about five long years I eventually ended up completing the Legendary Skill Hunter title, gained by capturing every Elite Skill in all three Guild Wars Campaigns, about 140 of them in total. Go me!

An Elite Skill was typically a powerful thing, opening up entirely unexpected play styles, or in other cases offering a much more powerful version of a normal skill you used a lot anyway. Builds on wikis were typically named for the Elite Skill in use. They were powerful and significant. How has that translated into the newer game?

 

Guild Wars 2 does have Elite skills, but only a handful of them, all of which are obtained by simply saving up 30 or so skill points apiece and buying them from the skill window. With only a single class and no option to switch, this leaves the player with very few options for slot #10. The Mesmer can choose from the following three options:

Mass InvisibilityMass Invisibility: This skill creates a bubble of generous radius which grants Stealth to 10 allies within it, for five seconds. Five seconds is really not a very long time at all in almost any situation, and it ends prematurely if you deal damage to anything. While stealthed, you cannot be targeted for direct damage, but will still take damage from the many AoEs that the game throws at you, including melee swings if you’re close enough. It can be traited for an extra second of duration, but aside from some very precise applications in WvWvW or sPvP, I’ve yet to find a satisfying use for this, apart from briefly startling people at banks and auction houses. It is not even a Combo Field, unlike most Mesmer domes. It also comes with an entirely prohibitive recharge timer of 90s, making it something I almost never use. It is not even theoretically possible to maintain this permanently if you have 18 Mesmers working with clockwork efficiency on voice comms, because it only works on 10 allies, including yourself.

Moa MorphMoa Morph: This skill turns the target into a Moa Bird for 10s. As a Moa, the target is given a new skill bar with various Claw, Kick, Peck type skills most of which do sub-standard damage and effects, which is good. It does work in PvP against players, which is surprising for both target and Mesmer. It works on monsters too and can be useful for a 10s respite from particularly nasty Veteran attacks. One problem with this skill is its single target nature; if you’re facing only one enemy, you will be better off going crazy with the Weapon Skills than mucking about with this. An AoE version would be much more useful. The other problem with it is the truly geological cooldown of 180s – nearly three whole minutes of the enemy Not Being A Comedy Bird, and you Not Casting A More Useful Elite. The skill seems high comedic and only really useful for very limited single target humiliation in PvP. After which they’ll come for you and murder you. Underwater, it turns the target into a Tuna instead, with a similarly goofy skillbar I imagine.

Time WarpTime Warp: This skill creates a large bubble which grants the Quickness buff to any allies within. Quickness is a very rare buff which doubles skill activation speed and halves cooldown timers and is incredibly useful for all concerned, allowing you and those around you to spam skills like crazy for ten seconds of focussed ultraviolence. It is also a Combo Field: Ethereal which is a nice bonus, dishing out lots of double speed Confusion into the bargain. The cooldown timer isn’t great at 210s, but bearable. I use this elite almost exclusively, especially in WvDoor siege attempts and against unexpected Veterans and Champions in normal PvE. Best kept as a force multiplier in specific tricky fights than spamming it whenever it is lit up, but it really does win fights when used well. It appears not to have an upper limit of recipients, so drop it on the densest clump of friendly players or teammates for maximum effect.

 

And that’s it. How far we have fallen, from 34 Mesmer Elite Skills in GW1, to a mere 3 in GW2. To bulk out the post a bit, let’s look at the Human Racial Elites, which is what I am one of as well.

 

Avatar of MelandruAvatar of Melandru: This elite turns you into a miniature version of one of those quadruped tree-monsters you see about the place for 20 seconds. This form has inherent Stability vs knockdowns, punts and the like and gets its own funky skillbar, mostly centred on healing and curing debuffs. It’s an interesting change of pace I guess, but being only accessible for 20s in every three minutes, opportunities to practice the thing are few and far between. It isn’t up to the job of main healing in any normal sense and I always find most of the 20s duration is taken up with me frantically wondering where my Illusionary Berserker has gone and why didn’t I take Time Warp, stupid! Novelty skill, unsuited to real gameplay.

Hounds of BalthazarHounds of Balthazar: This Elite summons two flaming attack dogs each with 6k health and 2k armour which leap at the target and start mauling. They aren’t intrinsically bad, adding extra dps and interference on the target and even set fire to the things they bite. As with all Elites, the main problem is that cooldown; 240s in this case, although the dogs last a quite reasonable 30s before vanishing, if not killed first. A not entirely useless choice for a Human Elite slot, if your own class offers nothing worthwhile.

Reaper of GrenthReaper of Grenth: This Elite turns you into a manifestation of the Human death-god. More of a buff than true transformation, you keep your normal skillbar and gain a black tatterey shroud effect on you. Nearby enemies gain Chilled and Poison conditions reapplied over the 15s duration. A modest skill with modest effects, it should probably be in Utility, rather than Elite and should really have a cooldown much shorter than its current 180s. More underpowered than actually useless, there are almost always more useful Elites to take instead. Unusually, this may be useful in Mesmer Comedy Skill building, providing two Conditions not normally found in the Mesmer repertoire, useful for the Illusionary Warlock (Mesmer: Staff) to build extra damage on, but the near point blank range of it and the very long cooldown make for difficult consistency of application.

Naturally, there are several other Racial Elites; Golem Summoning for Asuras, Animal Spirit stuff for Norns, Artillery Strikes and Warband skills for Charr, Tree Roots and Plant Dogs for Sylvaris, etc, but I’ve never used any so have little idea how good they are. I sincerely hope your mileage varies to mine!

 

My advice for the New Age Mesmer is simple. Time Warp. I am not often of the opinion that any one play style is more valid than any other in MMOs, but I firmly believe that if you are a Mesmer that is not using Time Warp at all times, you are playing Guild Wars 2 wrong. All other Elite skills are a waste of slot and time. Perhaps one day, the great buff and nerf cycle will change this, who knows?

 

In general, Elite Skill v2.0 is a very lacklustre gameplay element indeed. These skills, which are meant to be at the pinnacle of character progression and the foundation of entire play styles, are typically either pointlessly weak, prohibitively slow to recharge, or both. This makes slot #10 something that you can happily ignore in most cases. Other classes may vary, but I doubt by much.

Energy SurgeFor comparison, consider my Most Used Elite for day-to-day work in Guild Wars 1; Energy Surge. This has a cooldown of 15 seconds, a cost of 5 energy and a cast time of 2s. It drains energy from the target, and then uses that energy to cause a small-AoE damaging blast. Admittedly not the subtlest of Elites available, but the point is that the timings involved mean that I use it all the time, and two or three times per individual fight. Its frequency makes it highly relevant to my gameplay, as opposed to the infrequent ‘panic button’ status that Guild Wars 2 seems to give its so-called Elite skills. A shame.

In my experience, to get the job done in Guild Wars 2, I find myself mashing Slots #1-5 over and over, and sometimes throwing in #7-9 just for variety. Flailing about with a Greatsword and frantically tumbling all over the place is fun enough, I guess, but there seems very little that is Elite about the Elite Skills of GW2, and almost nothing in slot #10 that interacts meaningfully with any other slot. There also seems very little opportunity for old-style build-craft either.

In short, there are no Comedy Mesmer Builds in Guild Wars 2, just the Right Way and a dispiritingly small selection of Wrong Ways.

 

Spear and Trident to come, mostly for completeness at this stage…

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I, Mesmer: Utility Slots

For me, a good Comedy Mesmer Build has always been about searching through a vast list of obscure skills, finding hidden gems and utilising them in unexpected or unusual ways. The first game was a treasure trove in this regard, with around 180 skills to choose from in the Mesmer list alone, and double that when dual-classing.

The sequel is more limited, offering the modern Mesmer twenty Utility Skills to be used in the three Utility Slots you eventually unlock access to. With seven of the ten skill slots fixed in purpose, perhaps the Utility Slots hold a glimmer of the old meta-skill of build-craft, being the one place where a quirky mix of skills can be allowed to interact in unusual ways. Can a comedy build exist in only three skills?

Rather than bang on about all twenty in detail, let’s look at the types of skill available here.

Mantras

There are four Mantras available (Five, if you include the Healing one), which can suggest a Mantra based Comedy build. A Mantra is a spell which you cast ahead of time, which can then be instantly discharged several times before needing to be cast again. There are traits to improve the number of charges, but Mantras rely very much on preparation and micromanagement. This might seem ideal for sudden spike damage assaults, but the Mantras available are so varied in purpose, it’s hard to pull them together into a focussed spammable attack sequence. I tend not to use them much.

Signets

There are four signets available, which are conceptually magic rings with infinite charges. These typically have a minor always-on passive effect and a major useable effect. These are mostly to do with Boon and Condition manipulation and can be useful in concert with other skills. They usually have very lengthy cooldowns though. The passive nature of them works well for hands-off playstyles, or where the Mesmer has their hands full getting the most out of the weapon slots. I usually find more useful things to take than these.

Clones and Phantasms

There are four Illusions available and these really are useful. Most weapon sets will generate two Illusions during the normal rotation, so any Mesmer looking to keep the maximum three Shatter pips should take at least one of these skills too, especially with Ether Feast in the heal slot. Remember the difference between a Clone and Phantasm; a Clone exists purely for interference and shatter fodder, while a Phantasm has real health and does real damage, making it a useful and capable combatant, but they are also slower to summon in a hurry. I make extensive use of Phantasmal Defender.

Glamours

There are four Glamours available. These are large AoE field effects which help allies and harm enemies. They are almost always Combo Field type spells, so very important in Combo work providing starter opportunities for Finishers, either by you, your Phantasms or other players. This makes them very useful in any kind of group or zerg work, and I usually take two of them along in my standard build. They’re also satisfying spectacular to watch, which never hurts!

Manipulations

The last four skills are Manipulations, a sort of hodgepodge catchall for stuff that doesn’t fit elsewhere. These tend to be one shot abilities which mess with single target enemies, or do unusual things to yourself or allies. I use one or two of these sometimes, but on the whole don’t see a lot of use in this category.

Racial

Mesmers of various races will also have access to a few racial skills for the Utility slot. These skills are not tied to profession, so any class can take them, not just Mesmers. Shaln’t explore those here, but in my Human experiences, Prayer to Kormir and Prayer to Lyssa are both of limited use in Boon/Condition work, have long cooldowns and don’t seem worth a whole slot which could be more productively used with something from the Mesmer list instead. Your own racial milage may vary however. I hear that Charr get rocket launchers!

 

It’s a short list on the whole and one with quite a lot of red herrings in. While some of these might be useful as part of a clever chain, many of them just don’t seem that useful at all. So rather than detail them all, here at my top picks instead!

 

FeedbackFeedback: This creates a purple shimmering bubble around the target which reflects projectiles. This typically means that the enemy will then go on to shoot themselves in the face with their own bolt/arrow/whatever, for full damage, crits, etc. If this projectile happens also to be a Combo Finisher: Physical Projectile, they will actually combo themselves, causing Confusion, which is very funny. Obviously this is best used against Things That Shoot You, (Young Karkas on Southsun Cove will literally do themselves in for 80% of their own health bar in one shot if this is timed right), it can also be useful to fire it at melee monsters purely to set up a dependable Combo Field: Ethereal for others to finish, or to fling Mirror Blade into. Useful in WvW against Smuggy McSmuggington, Ranger Sniper Extraordinaire, hooting on his walltop rampart, but many more savvy WvWists know about this distinctive-looking field nowadays and will simply move away or stop firing. Not all of them though! Works underwater, for some reason probably to do with spheres vs cylinders.

Null FieldNull Field: A largeish placeable AoE template which will create a purple crystalline ring which removes Boons from enemies and Conditions from allies. A decent all-rounder with a variety of uses, I use this as primary Condition Removal for me and friends, but it’s is also worth throwing these into hectic frontline melee to unbuff enemies into the bargain. It lasts long enough to clear several conditions, has a decent cooldown and is also another way to set up Ethereal Combos for self and friends. Does not work underwater, for some reason probably to do with cylinders vs spheres.

Phantasmal DefenderPhantasmal Defender: I’ve gone with this one for my third Illusion skill. It creates a Phantasm holding a shield, but no weapon, who then soaks up half of any incoming damage – very useful given how glass cannon I usually am, and a Light Armor user to boot. It apparently has 5300 health at Lv80, and interestingly, the damage split buff is party-wide, meaning that the Phantasm soaks half of all party damage, not just the casting Mesmer. This does mean it’ll burn out that much quicker though, so be alert. Avoid shattering unless absolutely necessary! The damage soak comes in the form of a buff, so the actual placement and position of the Phantasm is irrelevant. Very useful for survivability, particularly on Power/Precision heavy builds, I always use this!

 

Those are my day-to-day must-haves. One or two others deserve honourable mention, to be swapped in when needed.

 

Portal ExuentPortal EntrePortal Entre: Always a crowd pleaser, when cast this makes a shimmering pool of purple magic at your feet. For the next 20s it will sit there until the flip skill is cast, Portal Exuent. This then creates a matching pool at your feet in your new location. Standing on one and pressing F teleports you to the other. Travel is two way and repeatable, for you and any other player, until the pair vanish, 10s after the exit portal is placed. Timing this takes a bit of practice. Unlike Blink (below), travel is not restricted to contiguous surfaces and the pair can cross gaps, jumps, walls and doors. All sorts of fun can be had with these and some examples include; helping more vertically challenged friends shortcut jumpy puzzles and vistas, helping allied troops teleport through keep walls, helping the prepared Mesmer make sudden escapes when chased, and so on. The only real restriction is that the Mesmer must still be able to get to the exit portal location to place it; i.e. you still need to do the jumpy puzzle properly to help other people cheat at them! The portal pair is limited in range to 2500 units of separation (About twice maximum spell range) and only 20 people can use the pair. I honestly don’t know if WvW enemies can use your portals – I suspect not, but I’ve never seen a PvE monster use one! The portals work underwater, but it can be a bugger to find the ‘F’ spot when swimming – it’s quite small on land as it is!

BlinkBlink: A somewhat less impressive personal teleport, this instantly moves you to the location of the placed template. It’s more of a movement buff than proper teleport, as the target destination cannot be anywhere you’d need to jump to get; i.e. it won’t cross ledges, gaps, go through walls, etc. Even so, it will scoot you instantly past traps, red rings on the floor and similar, just as long as they are all along the same surface. Limited usefulness, but less faffing about than Portals. It leaves nothing behind that anyone else could use. Does not work underwater.

DecoyDecoy: Creates a Clone where you currently are, and then stealths you for 3s, allowing you to slink off out of the way a bit. Useful as a panic button, it’s underwater availability means I use this on my standard Underwater Bar, in place of Null Field. Helpful more as survivability than Illusion generation – use Mirror Images instead if you need pips fast and often. General purpose usefulness – those jellyfish have no idea where to turn!

 

In general, the Utility Slots seem a token nod to the previous game at best. Very little in there is hugely gamechanging and overall focus seems very much on spamming Weapon Skill slots instead. These are very literally Utility Slots; skills which muck about with Conditions and Boons for the most part, with a few interesting ‘others’ thrown in. And as a base for constructing quirky builds and combos, they seem bland and dissapointing. Perhaps the Elite Slot, which in GW1 formed the cornerstone of many a crazy skillbar, can also provide in GW2?

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I, Mesmer: Heal Slot

Moving along the Mesmer skill bar today, with a look at Slot #6, the Heal Slot.

In Guild Wars One, this wasn’t something I generally worried about, partly because although every class did get a self-heal of some description, Mesmers got just that; exactly one healing skill; Ether Feast. It wasn’t something we really concerned ourselves with, being very much a crowd control and DPS based profession. Mostly though, it was something that we left to the ever-present entourage to take care of; either the traditional Healing Prayers Dunkoro or a more quirky Restoration hybrid Ritualist/Necromancer or three.

In these modern times, where soloing means literally that, just you on your tod instead of meaning you +7 AI henchmen/heroes, things are much different. In a conscious design decision aimed at mixing things up and aggressively dismantling what little trinity even existed in GW1, the Monk, Ritualist and Paragon, the three classes which stood any chance of significantly healing a party, all no longer exist. The new Guardian class does share a few similarities to Monk, but doesn’t seem anything like a traditional group healer class either.

This all means that it’s every man for themselves, healwise, and not only are you given special heal skills for the job, but you are required to take one of them. So what options does the Mesmer get in the heal slot?

Any discussion of healing skills must concern itself with efficiency and a few back of an envelope calculations of negative DPS. A good heal is one that offers a high rate of HP replacement during combat. Over longer periods, out of combat, natural HP regen is usually more than adequate. Also to bear in mind are any odd conditional circumstances that come with the heal of choice.

Ether FeastEther Feast 2.0 is a good solid heal. Working out at about -265 dps, (Damage / (Activation + Cooldown)) if you hit it every time it lights up. It has a decent recharge, decent activation, no quirky mechanics necessary to get the heal, and will do extra if you have active illusion pips, which most Memsers will do in the heat of battle. At the full three pips, it goes up to -365 dps, so be sure to keep the Clones and Phantasms coming and try to work the timing of Shatters around this skill’s cooldown for best effect.

Power ReturnMantra of RecoveryMantra of Recovery is a bit more problematic. It is a Mantra skill so the first usage stores the heal indefinitely for when you need it. Then you hit the flip-skill, Power Return, two more times (three with traiting) for instant low-powered heals. These heals are quite a bit less powerful than Ether Feast but there are two charges of them, they’re uninterruptible and can be used when knockdown, etc. Total for the entire cycle is -368 dps, (-551 dps with the tripplecast Mantra trait), which seems respectable, but the problems come with the micromanagement of it all, and mashing the button only to discover you’ve had your two shots is always a fraught experience, as the initial charge up takes 4.25 long seconds during a hectic scrum. If you’re good at preparation, this might be a useful way to go, recharging it when breaks appear in the fighting.

MirrorOption three is Mirror, which does a paltry -240 dps, but also reflects incoming projectiles. It only does this for one second, so timing is critical here. I guess you’d have to weigh up whether the incoming projectile was going to cause you an additional 128 damage in that second to be effective. At any rate, it’s a lot of fiddly mucking about for a very substandard option. Remember, the moments you need healing the most are often the moments when there is a LOT else going on too, so a good heal should be a one-click fire-and-forget thing ideally.

And that’s it, if you’re a Charr, Norn or Asura. Hardly exhaustive, and not much of a choice either. I recommend Ether Feast as the most reliable and powerful of the three; as a Mesmer, Illusions are usually present in enough quantity to power it fully and it’s activation is quick and reliable, delivering decent healing even without pips.

Prayer to DwaynaIf you are Human, as most right-thinking Guild Wars 2ists are, there is an extra option; Prayer to Dwayna. This is a straight heal with no funny business; push button, receive hit points. The down side is a very lengthy cooldown, lower its rating to -210 dps over the full cycle, and also making it very unlikely that it’s lit up when you need it most. Also, for some reason, Dwayna can’t hear you if you are underwater, further reducing its flexibility. Clearly a heal slot option for roleplayers only!

Healing SeedIf you are Sylvari, you could also go with Healing Seed. I’m not, so have never used one, but it would appear to do something like -91 dps? It does so by minor healing and the Regeneration buff, lasting 30s on nearby allied, so the maths is a bit awkward. Unlike the other Mesmer heals, this one helps allies too making it a useful addition to everyone else’s regular heals, but probably not a replacement. Also, the enormously lengthy 45s cooldown also means it’s unlikely to be ready when you need it most. Healing Seeds like south-facing chalky soil with good drainage, so will not work underwater. As with all regeneration style healing, watch out for spike damage, which almost all of GW2’s damage tends to be.

To be honest, healing is useful, but being a stupidly over-specced DPS glass canon, I tend to get by with frantic kiting and dodging as often as I can! The heal slot skill I use the most though, is definitely Ether Feast. When you need hit points, you invariably need them fast!

 

On a more general note, the lack of options here is a bit disappointing. Guild Wars One had somewhere in the region of 100 healing skills, many of which worked for the entire party, taken from Ritualist Restoration, Paragon Motivation and of course Monk Healing Prayers, along with whatever self-heals the other classes got. So many options, and because of the dual classing, I could happily stack the skill bar with Resto Rit secondary skill and become a group healer without breaking my stride, even as a Mesmer. No alts required. And if everyone in your little gang hated being a healer, then it was eminently viable to just get an uncomplaining and constantly attentive Mhenlo or Dunkoro to do it. In GW2, pretty much everyone gets to chose from only three single-class skills, most of which are strictly self-heals. I get that the Trinity Is Old Fashioned, and that the easiest way for an MMO to declare itself Edgy and Modern is to abandon it in favour of everyone being their own godly Solo Tank-Mage, but the ferocity with which Arenanet seem to have rejected their own groundbreaking philosophies, is worrying and a shame.

Not giving up the ghost just yet though. More thoughts to come, with Mesmer Elite Skills!

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My Christmas Job

I’ve got a part time job over the Christmas period! It’s just a short term placement, you understand, running for the 35 days up to and around the festive day. It’s quite light weight; I only have to put in half an hour a day and I can work from home which is always convenient. I do have to turn up every day, but I get ten days off, so I can spend the big day itself with my family, which is very considerate! Each day, I have to turn up and run around a highly unsafe and slippery race course, chased by some kind of space monster or another. No one has explained to me why this is necessary, but they’re paying me an entire spaceship for my temping contract, so I thought it best not to ask.

Yes, I’m doing the ridiculous Star Trek Online Winter Event Thing, and I’m finding it hard to explain why.

It’s a usual kind of MMO Xmas event, although I’d never been to the STO one before. That rascally Q, a being whose power is only matched by his petty ennui, has created some kind of Standard MMO Winter Event Instanced Environment in which many festive dailies are to be found! There’s special Duty Officer Missions which sometimes turf out rare baubles which act as yet another set of currencies, which can be traded for the usual earmuffs, snow boots, scarves and so on. There’s some kind of regular snowman invasion event thing which I keep missing; you need to use the piles of snowballs to take them out. There are little snowmen hand-to-hand combat dioramas about the place, complete with bat-leth’s made of twigs, which did make me chuckle. It’s all very familiar, what with Cryptic Studios having made it and the place is eerily reminiscent of the Pocket D Ski Chalet of City of Heroes.

Frolicry and good cheer abound, but the real reason most folks are there are the slippy racing missions. There’s a competitive one on a regular timer, “The Fast and the Flurrious”, which pays out tags which can be traded for Chistmassey versions of the new Epohh mini pets, added in Season 7, and of course, my new part-time job, “The Fastest Game On Ice”.

This one is conducted on a large flagged wiggly circuit which is highly slidey, against a randomly spawned NPC opponent. It’s a somewhat tricky affair at first glance. Going flat-out will almost certainly see you slide off the course on the first bend and fail the mission, or simply have so much backtracking to do that loss is inevitable. It took me a few goes to get the hang of the thing, and the winning technique seems to be to use the default speed of standard jogging where possible, and only to Shift+W sprint in short bursts on straight-ish sections, slowing to an almost full stop for any of the 90-degree turns. Double-tap combat rolling works to bring you to a complete stop if sliding out of control. Also worth noting is that the little lamp things are not the actual course edge. The flags on sticks seem to be that, so minor corner cutting works to gain distance.

So not too difficult and one to two goes will show you the basic technique and mastery follows in two or three more goes. I’m not sure what is gained by the subsequent twenty runs though, but to get the big prize out of it all needs 1000 signed glossy 10×8’s of Q, which are exchangeable for the Breen Chel Grett Warship. You get 80 glossies per successful run. I have no idea why 80 and 1000 – wouldn’t 1 and 25 work? At any rate the whole event only lasts until January 13th, meaning that as I write, only 35 days remain. (If you’re interested you should start soon!)

The whole thing is preposterous, but I find myself oddly compelled and am currently 1/5th the way there on two characters. Part of it is how grudgingly they hand out spaceships in that game.

You get one when you start, obviously, and a free token that can be exchanged for another when you reach Lvs 10, 20, 30 and 40. For L50, and if you just want more anyway, you have to work hard or buy. My Fed was lucky enough to be around when they had an anniversary event and managed to bag an Odyssey Cruiser, such a capable L50 workhorse tanky-healy cruiser that I’ve not felt the lack there. My KDF on the other hand has done a lot of hard work. I’d been pottering along refining dilithium from dailies and converting them to Zen points (PWE’s micro-currency) for the best part of a year on both characters and only recently managed to scrape together enough to get the Marauder Flight-Deck Cruiser, finally getting them out of the freebie Hegh’ta Heavy Bird of Prey.

 

This lengthy exercise was a kind of F2P experiment really, testing to see if it is actually possible to work in-game and earn the Precious Things without cash-shopping for them. The answer is, yes, but you have to be unfeasibly patient and dedicated and I could have just paid $20 for the ship and saved myself 11 months of patient grinding.

There are other ways to get ships; paying dilithium in-game without going through the Zen shop. My Fed is currently attempting this, having an eye on the Advanced Escort as a DPS based alternative to the Cruiser. This costs 120,000 refined dilithium, which if I worked as hard as possible, would still take 15 days of maxing out the daily dilithium refinement allowance. I typically work a lot less hard than that and often spend dilithium on other things; duty officer upgrades, etc, so 30-45 days might be more realistic. There is a fair selection of those sorts of ships available, but the really impressive ones are bought for Zen or found in lockboxes.

I’m not much of a gambler, so don’t go for lockbox keys myself, but those can be bought for Zen ($1.25 per key, slightly cheaper in bulk), and interestingly, can be sold in-game to other players for Energy Credits, the somewhat obsolete base currency, providing a way to just buy EC if desired. Keys go for about a million EC a go, and apparently, have a 2.5% chance of giving you a spaceship at all, and only 0.4% chance of coughing up the much broadcast Temporal Science Vessel. For every broadcast you see spammed across the screen, 249 other keys (Costing $311.25 in total) only turfed out junk consolation prizes. In other words, PWE earn $312.5 for each Temporal Science Vessel spawned. Sort of. I don’t even know if they’re any good!

Seems like a mug’s game to me, so I diligently grind instead, choosing to be a different sort of mug entirely!

So free spaceships are quite a big deal, and the limited timeframe of it all does tug at me a bit. Mostly though, I find a perverse sense of amusement in the sheer madness of the whole thing. It’s so silly I can’t help but give it a wry go. Also, there is a curious sense of satisfaction, in this age of paid-for shortcuts, to have gained a thing by the slow path, to have put the effort in and gotten something as a proper reward. Value is subjective, but I certainly appreciate my Marauder. It’s widely regarded as inferior to the Kar’Fi Battle Carrier in almost every way, and you don’t see many about, but this one is mine and I worked hard to get it. I expect to regard the Breen ship in a similar manner.

I haven’t entirely taken leave of my senses mind you; I happen to be going through a phase of STO interest anyway, exploring the Season 7 stuff, pottering with Duty Officers, pimping up the Marauder and so on. If I hadn’t been, I’m not sure this would have been enough to bring me back. The skinner box is pretty transparent, but knowing it is there and how it works, I’m still pushing the bar anyway, half bemused and half eager.

Whether I can stay the course and complete my Christmas job before losing interest and wandering off, remains to be seen. I’ll be fascinated to see how many of the Breen ships will be out and about after the 14th. 20 dailies to go!

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I, Mesmer: Pistol & Torch

Cracking on with the hunt for quirky and exotic Mesmer skills, with the remaining two offhand slot items.

After 250 years, and a lot of technological progress which only the Asura and Charr seem capable of making, guns are a big thing in the modern-day boutiques of Tyria. It’s all a bit Fable II to be honest, and flintlocks abound. Most classes get to tool themselves up these days with pistols, rifles and spearguns. The Mesmer, in a typical fashion doesn’t really shoot people with their Pistol, instead opting to just wave it around and use it to cast spells with, which at least saves on ammo. It is quite a stylish option though; paired with a main hand Sword it all looks very highwayman buccaneer chic! But what does it actually do?

Phantasmal DuelistIt is an off-hand only item when used by the Mesmer, so let’s jump straight to #4, Phantasmal Duelist. This is the obligatory Phantasm, this time creating a duel-pistol wielding handsome devil that stands at the back and goes all John Woo on the chosen target. In a flamboyantly noisy display it will unload both guns, firing off eight shots every seven seconds or so for a highly respectable DPS. It doesn’t do a lot else, although the shots have a chance of being a Projectile Finisher for Combos. Mind you, it doesn’t really need do anything else, being a respectably solid Summon-and-Forget Illusion choice for basic damage work. As with most Phantasms, avoid shattering it, where possible.

Magic Bullet#5 is Magic Bullet, an extremely improbable trick-shot which can change targets during flight and moderately damages and debuffs the  things it hits. It works a lot like the Staff: Winds of Chaos and Greatsword: Mirror Blade by bouncing from target to target, applying different Conditions to each. Like Mirror Blade, it also Projectile Finishes combos. Note the somewhat shorter range though, 900 vs  a usual 1200 for such skills.

I don’t often use the Pistol but when I do, it seems to be a decent middle-of-the-road option, offering basic damage and debuffs, with a useful Phantasm thrown in. The problem comes with range; paired with a Sword, you end up with a mix of melee and ranged skills which work somewhat at odds with each other. Paired with a Sceptre it works better, (everything works at a 900 range), but you lack punch in a particular role – neither of them is a particularly focused on damage, debuffs or survivability.

 

The last option for the Mesmer weapon slots is the Torch. An odd choice, but very handy for mobbing the local mad professor’s castle on stormy nights, this is literally a flaming stick. It offers a very quirky pair of skills which I still don’t quite know what to make of. Torches can only be carried in the off-hand, presumably to leave the main hand free for a pitchfork.

The Prestige#4 is a joke, or at the very least an entire skill slot given over to an Easter Egg Shoutout. Called The Prestige, this skill does a number of things. First, it blinds nearby enemies. Then it makes you invisible for 3s. Then you reappear in a fiery explosion, burning nearby foes. If this sounds at all familiar, that’s because you’ve played Borderlands, and this is more or less exactly what the Lilith the Sirien’s “Phasewalking” class skill does. It’s quite baffling really, for Mesmer AND player. I’ve tried it out a fair bit, desperately wanting to like it, but I’ve found that it really does sound a lot cooler than it is. As with all Mesmer Stealth skills, the duration is not nearly long enough to get anything useful done and while the Conditions are nice and the damage reasonably high, placement is a problem; to get the most use out of this skill, you need to be in exactly the right places, for disappearance and reappearance. While invisible, you can’t be targeted, but you will still take AoE damage and most fights typically have a fair amount of that, and also a lot of bodies in the way of where you’re trying to get to. Unlike Lilith, you don’t pop in and out of view accompanied by an apocalyptic fireball of doom and sadistic peals of laughter, only a mild and annoying scorching. Also Lilith gets a speed-buff while invisible, WHICH WOULD BE NICE! Good position and timing can make powerful use of the Combo Finisher: Blast of this skill, causing Multi-Zorb-Bonus-Round, but again timing is against you here. All in all, I find this one quite fidley to use, and there are better Mesmer options for Stealth, Conditions or Damage. Useful for losing aggro in mad minute, but in general highly gimmicky.

Phantasmal Mage#5 is better, but still not hugely impressive. Phantasmal Mage summons a curiously attractive Phantasm which dishes out reasonably high damage and Confusion to enemies, and Retaliation to allies with a bounce effect as seen elsewhere. Phantasms are always welcome and this one puts out a reasonable DPS, but again, there are better Phantasms available, including Pistol #4, above, making it hard to justify Torch use for this skill alone.

I just don’t get on with the Torch, which truly does fit in Mesmer Comedy Build territory. Possibly one to come back to for a humorous quirky exhibition build, I certainly wouldn’t recommend it for day-to-day levelling PvE – it’s awkward and doesn’t seem to offer an appropriate payout. Given the choice between Pistol or Torch, I’d go Pistol every time, but probably take Focus over both.

(If you want to see a Torch made awesome, give it to a Guardian. Their #5 makes them breathe plumes of blue fire in a spectacular breath attack, and their #4 makes them set themselves on holy fire which damages everything nearby, and which can also be thrown! So. Jealous.)

 

More to come: Heal Slot, Elite Slot and the Utility Skills!

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Only a Hobby

I read stuff like this:

Biobreak: Turbine, Shark-jumping, and $50 horses

…and just sigh. Well, first I check it isn’t April 1st, and then I sigh. This, again?

For the click-averse, the basic deal is that Turbine would quite like some specifically NON-NEGATIVE feedback on a little cash shop proposal they’re mulling over for Lord of the Rings Online. In a highly meta act of knowing self-parody, it turns out to be a stick. With a wooden horse’s head on. Which you pretend to ride while going ‘Giddy-up!’, which increases travel-speed by +68% and which costs $50 worth of Turbine points. I have no idea how ‘Morale’ can even function in this context! So yes, not content to make your pretend elf ride a pretend real horse to an imaginary war in a made up landscape, that elf can now own and ride a pretend pretend horse! What next? Orcs who are actually Hobbits in disguise? Unhandled Exception: Fatal Brain Recursion Error!

I’m all for player engagement, and focus group feedback is probably a quite useful tool in any business endeavour. Turbine seems to agree as long as the feedback is OVERWHELMINGLY POSITIVE! DO NOT tell them it sucks, for that is not what they wish to hear! Otherwise, presumably, you’ll get deleted.

Barely concealed passive-aggressive contempt for the player-base aside, this elicits a particularly deep sigh from me, as I am one of the few remaining fans of F2P Cash Shop payment models, and this sort of nonsense isn’t helping my rapidly dwindling case, which I now feel compelled to restate below!

Well, fan is a strong word really. It is hard to understand how someone can get more excited over billing models than actual gameplay, content and so on. Haha! I don’t mean that I look at the back of the box, skip down until I see “No monthly fee!” and click my fingers and go, “That’s the one for me!” That would be bonkers! My appreciation for the current F2P style of things is somewhat more considered than that.

You see, in Soviet Russia back in the day, when the mighty subscription gods of old strode uncaring through the freshly hewn and still-molten MMO landscape, you didn’t get a lot of choice in the matter. You paid your $15 a month, or you buggered off, generally to one of the other three MMOs, who each also charged $15 a month. It meant a kind of enforced loyalty to a product which seems ridiculous when applied to any other field of commerce. Playing more than one MMO got quite financially punitive quite quickly. Imagine only being able to buy groceries from one supermarket in a given month!

Probably a flawed analogy now I think about utilities service contracts, but my point is that if you liked some parts of a game and not others, you still only had one option for expressing your dislike, to bugger off, or to not bugger off. Very binary! It probably made life more difficult for developers too, to judge what customers liked and didn’t, how to improve the product and so on, although back then it was very easy to get the impression that MMO developers didn’t much care about what actual players thought. Oh sure, you can canvas for opinion on the Official Forum, but we all know how that goes; to hell in a hand-basket very quickly at the hands of high-pitched textual shrieking by a very vocal minority, many of whom will simply scream without pause at you until you give up and go away, trembling. Eventually, the devs probably come to disregard the whole forum as an unpleasant baboon cage, leave it to a Community Manager with a fire hose, and go back to just guessing, which is Not Scientific!

Maybe I’m just a naive old dreamer, but I thought F2P was going to change that. By dividing the content up into smaller opt-in pieces, the popularity of each piece can be more accurately assessed. Players buy the bits they like, and don’t buy the bits they don’t like, which all sends a very direct kind of feedback, free of forum lobbyists and unrepresentative pressure  groups. Personally speaking, I tend to put down cash for content; new zones, more story and missions, that sort of thing. Similarly, I tend not to buy consumables, cosmetics, power-ups and shortcuts. I spend my cash to make a game I enjoy longer, not shorter. That’s just my own preferences, but in an F2P world, my message is being sent, and received, along with everyone else’s. Whether these are then being listened to and acted on is another matter though.

I also thought that F2P might free us from the more egregious extremes of The Grind treadmill. A monthly game must keep players playing for as many months as it can, because month-end is the only payday it can expect. Obviously, this leads to design which requires players to work for a very long time to accomplish their goals. By removing that time-based requirement, I thought, perhaps the basic nature of MMO gameplay can now be designed to not be quite so wretched? I am less sure what priorities exist in a F2P game though. I suppose you still need to keep players interested and invested for a long enough time to want to buy things, only now there are more unlock-based hurdles? More front-loading?

Early LotRO and DDO did seem to get it right, which makes “Hobbygate” so surprising. The core business seemed to be content unlocks, with some fluff and a few power boosts thrown in to bulk out the shop a bit. Ultimately, it worked out as a kind of part-work lifetime subscription, which indeed cumulatively cost a lot more than just dropping £200  an actual lifetime sub, but it came in much more manageable chunks, and if you hated specific zones or dungeon packs, you could just opt out of those, which was nice. Under the old sub model, players who hated PvP or Raiding or whatever, still effectively had to buy those regardless, or not play at all.

Well, it seemed right for us anyway. Perhaps it wasn’t right for them, which is where F2P becomes an ongoing kind of debate. The MMO devs experiment with new goods and services, in order to survive and thrive (presumably some of them even enjoy creating this stuff, but I wouldn’t take that as a given), and then we decide which ones seem fair or are patently daft, and purchase accordingly. Like in every other industry or field of commerce, in fact. Internal marketplaces.

Regardless of the commercial priorities I always thought F2P was a good thing, because it put more of the decision-making in our hands. If they put a thing in the shop that you do not like, and this is the tricky bit, do not buy it. By not buying it, you’re sending a much more concrete message than a blog post like this one, which no-one will read, or a forum thread that devolves into anarchy and shrieking. Similarly, if you approve of a new thing in the shop, buy it! It’s not rocket surgery!

I suppose the big downside of F2P, and what angers so many, is that everyone else gets a say too, which is always inconvenient, since obviously everyone else is wrong and an idiot. Except you, dear reader, you’re great! Sparkleponies do get bought and the Hobbyhorse probably will sell a few too.

It’s up to us, all of us. Kicking up a fuss does help shift perceptions of course, perhaps swaying some potential customers, but paraphrasing that CCP bloke who came up with those Monocles; they’ll pay attention to what folks do, not say. They went on to only sell 68 monocles in the end (out of 100,000 or so potential customers) and gave up on the plan. I’m not sure all the in-game suicide bombings of Jita had much to add to that real life economic certainty. (I hear that that happens in Jita every day anyway?)

I tend to view all this sort of fuss as a kind of perverse kind of victory. I’ll see a hobby horse zoom past and think, “I was smart enough not to fall for that! High five, me!” and be a little bit smug knowing that for my 5000TP, I bought the entire Rohan and Isengard expansions in a sale instead, or more likely, that for my no TP at all, I quested my way to an Elfen Ambassador’s horse or whatever, which are just as good and don’t look make you look like you need an adult to help you with scissors. I really don’t mind so-called Whales subsidising my recreational time. Not one bit. And if the immersion-breaking gets too bad, well, I’ll just leave and find some MMO that takes itself just as seriously as I take it, which to be fair isn’t an awful lot! Thanks to F2P, I won’t even have to give a month’s notice when I quit!

The truth will be in the eating, as they say, and this is one of those interesting key social experiments where what people do and do not buy will matter a lot more than what they shriek about on this or any other blog. In a way, it’s Turbine’s job to come up with stuff like this. It’s our job to say yes or no, with our wallets. The hobby horse is plainly bonkers, to me, but luckily, I get to not buy one!

Tell you what though, we will all be here again, with a $75 ridable oliphant or something, and probably much sooner that we’d all like…

 

Anyway, it’s all academic, because I refuse to return to LotRO until I can buy my Hobbit a flying aircraft carrier, like out of the Avengers. For 495 TP, tops!

“Our shop-wizards would like to hear that this is a good idea.”

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I, Mesmer: Sceptre & Focus

Some more Mesmer 2.0 musings here!

The last main-hand weapon option for the Mesmer is also the first; you’ll start life holding a Sceptre. It is spelled “sceptre”, by the way. I should know because I come from a country which still has an active monarch, and she uses one every day in her day job. This does mean that HRH Elizabeth II is technically a Guardian, Elementalist, Mesmer, or Necromancer. I’d be more certain if I could remember what off-hand item she uses on state occasions. A handbag is probably a focus? I’m pretty sure she can only wear Light Armour though, so she’s probably not Guardian!

Anyway! The Mesmer Sceptre is quite a mixed bag, and is further mixed by the choice of accompanying off-hand. While the other weapons seem to have more clearly defined purposes, the Sceptre is somewhat more vague, making it quite multi-purpose.

Ether CloneEther BlastEther Bolt#1 Ether Bolt/Ether Blast/Ether Clone is a three-skill attack chain, which shoots quite pacey purple bolts at the target which don’t do anything special, just damage. Each third bolt will also create a Clone, who will start shooting Ether Bolts too. This clone does not cause further clones to appear and being a clone means their Ether Bolt will do next to no damage, but being able to create clones from an auto-attack is unique among Mesmer weapons. 900 range isn’t as good as Staff or Greatsword, and the damage isn’t massive, but the cumulative activation times of the chain means you can replace Illusion pips at a rate of one every two seconds without doing anything more than pressing ‘1’ once. Augmenting this rate with Utility and Offhand Illusion generating skills makes the Sceptre the best main-hand choice for Shatter-heavy play styles, creating waves of disposable explosions-in-waiting. This can be further enhanced with a large variety of Shatter related traits. With this weapon the cooldown of the Shatter skills (F1-F4) themselves becomes the limiter.

CounterspellIllusionary Counter#2 is Illusionary Counter, a defensive block. This functions identically to the Offhand Sword #4 slot skill, Illusionary Riposte; for 2s the Mesmer will block the next incoming attack and create a clone when doing so. During that 2s, the flip-skill Counterpsell can be used, ending the block and shooting a bolt that does minor damage. This one blinds instead of dazes. Interestingly, this is a main-hand skill, while the Riposte is an offhand skill, meaning that you have both by doubling up, using a Sceptre/Sword pair, perhaps one of the most effective defensive pairings available.

Confusing ImagesConfusing Images is #3 and is a kind of mini-laser version of the Greatsword #1, Spatial Surge. It holds a sustained purple laser beam on the target lasting five seconds. During this time it will do a significant amount of damage and apply five doses of Confusion on the target, which will damage the target further if they use a skill. Confusion is the bread and butter of Mesmerwork, but usually you have to muck about with Combos to regularly apply it. This skill lets you just cause it without fuss. The cool down could be shorter, but a useful part of basic DPS all the same. Bear in mind that many monsters, particularly of Champion and Legendary grade, have a special Unshakable buff to protect them from ‘crowd control’ skills, of which happily, Confusion is not one, making this kind of thing invaluable in boss fights. Mesmers always were good at Bosses.

 

That covers the four Mesmer weapons, but to bulk up a short article, let’s look at the Focus offhand! Foci come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but are all basically just a magical whatnot you hold on to, to make bigger mojo.

Into the VoidTemporal Curtain#4 is Temporal Curtain, and my main reason for using Foci. It places a purple shimmery linear curtain wall template on the ground which serves two purposes:

1) Speed boosting. It is the only Mesmer run-buff (apart from the randomly dispensed effects), and when allies run through it, they get Swiftness; +33% speed for 10s. Handy all round, but even better, enemies running through it are Crippled;  -50% speed for 5s. This naturally lends itself to escaping pursuit, particularly as it can be cast on the run, although dropping the template in the right spot can take a little practice. It’s also useful for just getting about a little quicker, although the cooldown means it can’t be kept going continuously. I use mine to hurry Dolyaks along in WvWvW!

2) Yanking. Using the flip-skill, Into the Void, it becomes one of the few rare skills that can Pull. Used correctly, the Mesmer can collapse the Curtain, sucking nearby enemies towards and through it with some force. This takes quite a bit of practice to get right, particularly as the Curtain only lasts 5s, but can be hysterical fun, especially during WvWvW keep assaults. Place the curtain on the outer facing side of the wall, near the very top, just beneath where Smuggy McSmuggington, Ranger-Sniper Extraordinaire, is hamfistedly beating the Barrage button over and over while hooting lots (I hear Rangers only get one skill?) and then hit the flip-skill. Quirky battlements allowing, Smuggy (and if you’re lucky, several of his mates) will suddenly come sailing over the top of the wall, to land unexpectedly in the middle of your own team’s angry frontline. This will almost always be followed by a highly panicked limp toward their glowey keep entrance rectangle, which they won’t very often make. For best results, try to anticipate the direction of pull and aim them away from their keep door. Petty, but fun, although do watch out; to pull this off well, you’ll need to get fairly close to the wall base yourself to plant the Curtain – have it queued up as you make your run and get the hell out before detonating it to minimise exposure. For extra lolz, have a Mesmer buddy with Illusionary Wave waiting at the base of the wall to bat the freshly pitched Ranger out of the park! The yank is less spectacular used against PvE monsters, as they are immune to being knocked off things (It won’t pull Veteran Archers from WvWvW keep walls, merely knock them down), and also the collapse pulls monsters from both sides of the Curtain through it, often leaving you with just different monsters on your side of the Curtain. Too unpredictable for general-purpose positional crowd control – use Greatsword Illusionary Wave instead. Note that the pull is toward the centre point of the Curtain, not in a direction perpendicular to the Curtain, as you might think.

Phantasmal WardenAfter that, #5 is a bit of a letdown for me, although many Mesmers do swear by it. Phantasmal Warden creates a Phantasm which does a lot of whirling with axes and makes a projectile absorbing bubble. The problem is that the bubble is centred on the Phantasm and not you or your allies, and the Phantasm seems to have a habit of appearing in less than useful positions and then just standing there. To be protected by it, this means that either you or the thing shooting you need to be inside the iWarden’s bubble. The above #4 yanking can help with this, or you can just leg it to the right spot. To be really useful, it needs traiting; Phantasmal Haste to reduce its ability cooldown and Warden’s Feedback to make the whirl bubble reflect projectiles instead of absorb them. Very tricky to use well, I tend to go with Feedback and Phantasmal Defender from Utility instead, but it is capable of massive damage and trivialising a lot of fights via immunity to projectiles.

 

The Sceptre is a good choice for defensive work, and also for flexible ranged utility. The Focus is a good workhorse in the utility category, and together the pair offers a lot of options for interference and manipulation, more subtle than the big brash two-hander options. In particular, I’ve found the Focus Temporal Curtain to be an indispensable secondary offhand skill that I’m rarely without.

More to come; Pistol and Torch!

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