Tuesday, December 4, 2012

You're Not Going In There, Are You? : City of Steam, GW2

Three months in, my sum total of dungeon runs in Guild Wars 2 is stuck at one. Is that because I don't like dungeon play? Nope. Maybe it's the terrible reputation GW2's dungeons picked up right from the start? Not really. Perhaps there's just so much else to do? Well, there is that, but no, that's not the main reason.

It's too much trouble. There, I said it. Back in the day we thought nothing of leaving our characters standing around in Lake of Ill Omen, watching the Sarnaks lope past like so many saurian Grouchos while we called " lvl 27 druid lfg" for as long as it darn well took. On a good day someone might send a tell or just /ooc "Druid come to windmill" and that was Saturday morning sorted until lunchtime.

A crate is not a chest. As I found out.
Later, with more confidence, it became clear it was faster and more efficient to start the group yourself: "Need tank and 3 more for ToFS, have cleric and chanter already". As "fast" global travel permeated many MMOs, even going to the zone where the dungeon happened to be dropped out of fashion. Much easier to find a critical mass of players in a central location, first The Nexus then Plane of Knowledge, then port out to where the action was.

This remained the status quo for years, until WoW dropped the still-controversial Dungeon Finder bomb in late 2009. As with many of Blizzard's innovations, the effects rippled across the MMOsphere and nowadays many virtual worlds come complete with some stripe of automated assistant that takes away tedious admin (and vital social interaction along with it, some would say), leaving adventurers free to, well, adventure.

Y'know what? I just can't be bothered.
We all got lazy. Alright, some of got lazy. Some of us just got out. The Dungeon Finder dropped in WoW just as I was about to finish my few months in Azeroth. I hung on just long enough to try it out. It was a huge novelty then, hard though that is to remember. I did three groups using it, twice as healer, once as DPS, all at lowish level. Can't say I liked it much but it wasn't awful.

Since then I've used similar systems in a few other MMOs, occasionally, but mostly I've just stopped doing dungeons with pick-up groups altogether. It's strange in a way because much the same mechanism is used to queue for PvP Battlegrounds and Warfronts and I've played the skin off some of those. For PvE, though, I've never taken to it.

Doesn't that take you back?
Guild Wars 2 doesn't have a Dungeon Finder. For an MMO so gung-ho for inclusivity, so keen to strip away all barriers to commitment-free socializing, that's quite weird. In GW2, if you want to do a dungeon you either go with people you already know or party up like it's 1999. The new fractal dungeons are all the rage and handily the Asura Gate for those stands in Lion's Arch, so map chat there now serves as a permanent LFG channel.

Turns out that I don't like that much either. Too much hassle. Can't be doing with all those tells and typing and meeting strangers. Don't like the new ways, don't like the old. There's no pleasing some people.

Well, maybe there is. Which brings me to City of Steam. Got there in the end. Yesterday I did three "dungeons" in CoS. I say dungeons. Timed two-minute instances is what they were, with hardly any mobs and a lot of chests to open to find a bomb. Which I never found. It's not what I did that matters, though, it's how I came to be doing it.

City of Steam is structured rather like the original Guild Wars, with a number of open, multiplayer hubs leading onto many instanced areas. Quests happen in the open areas, which are very world-like and comprise the "MMO" part of the game. Fighting and breaking things (there's a lot of breaking things) happens in the instances.

That's a fail.
Each instance can have several functions. There's always a general mode in which the instance operates like any part of a virtual MMO world, where you can wander around at will and in which there may be quests. Then there are various Challenges that use the same instance but populate it differently and ask you to perform certain tasks. These Challenges seem to fulfill some of the functionality that both Daily Quests and Achievements provide in other MMOs.

It's all very neatly and attractively done and I look forward to getting down to it when I get a persistent character. The really clever part, though, is how the game deals with pick-up groups to take these Challenges, all of which appear to be tuned for more than one person.

There's no separate Dungeon Finder or LFG interface.
Stand on the mat, fool!
What happens is this: if you stand on the black and yellow hazard stripes that mark the entrance to every instance with the selection window for the various dungeon modes active and click on the one you want, the game checks if anyone else is standing next to you doing the same. If they are, up pops an invite to enter the dungeon with that person.

It's simple, effortless and organic. You're at the door, you clicked on the option, you must want to go in. Why wouldn't you accept? Of all the ways to automate instance run pugging this is the most elegant I've seen. In a game like GW2, where there is famously no Trinity and a viable group is anyone who turns up, this would be just perfect. Just wait at the Asura Gate with the relevant option highlighted until the team fills up and in you go.

It would just about be guaranteed to get me back in the dungeon. Even I'm not too lazy to stand on a doormat and click. Well, not on a good day...


  1. Main reason I stopped GW2: dungeons were terrible and no end game content. So I agree. Nice post

  2. Such a delicate subject and so hard to get right. GW2 left out the looking for group system intentionally as the explorable dungeons are really the only PVE potion of the game that foster interaction with your guild. Is this one of those outdated mechanics like forced travel times or resource recharging encouraging talking in guild chat?

    It seems to depend on what the purpose of the dungeons fills in the game as a whole. WoW is such a great example of seeing different viewpoints of that. In Vanilla, the dungeons were a place where you would meet new people and either find or recruit for a guild (we built up our guild for Molten Core this way). It also encouraged helping out the new person who you didn't know, as it often took more time to find a new person than to help the person who didn't know the instance.

    Contrast that one with the LFG system they set in place. The new system made it so that you can get on and run a dungeon quickly. The drawback was that you never saw the people again and guilds stopped trying to do the content together. The dungeons now feel more like a daily quest and the other players more like NPCs. It is also quicker to boot someone not keeping up than it is to help them figure out the content.

    Interestingly enough GW2 has already done away with the larger inconvenience most MMOs end up with in the grouping department. Tank.

  3. There's no doubt in my mind that the days of recruiting groups by talking to people led to better, or at least longer-lasting relationships within the game. Over time not only did you add names to your friends list and members to your guild but more widely you began to develop a mental picture of which people on your server were fun to group with, or competent, or willing, or to be avoided, etc etc.

    The downside was that putting a group together could be quite an effort, even when you knew plenty of people. If I could manage it I'd always let someone else do the hard work, sending tells, /oocing, sorting the responses to try to get a balanced group without offending anyone you might be glad to have along next time but who didn't quite bring the skill set you needed this run...

    Sometimes no-one else was willing, though, and I did my share putting groups together. After a few years I'd about had enough of it and having had a break I find I really don't want to start up again. It's too much like hard work, frankly.

    On the other hand, exactly as you say, the automated systems can rip the soul out of the whole experience. When other players become little more than NPCs (and often highly annoying ones at that) you might just as well stick with NPCs and take a merc or multi-box where the game permits.

    I'm sure there must be a better system. I'd like an automated dungeon finder that builds from my input, for example, where I could add weightings based on Guild, Friends, Previous Successful Groups et al. Why the choice has devolved to either shouting in a public channel or being dumped in a dungeon with four total strangers you'll never see again beats me.

    1. My experience may be very skewed from playing tanks and healers for so long. It really is no work if you like tanking to find a group as when you log on someone will usually ask you if you want to join them. Forming the rest of the group usually takes minutes. The other side of that coin is that that DPS who asked me to come was probably sitting in a main city spamming some chat channel for an hour before I logged on (which is what you described). So what looks like the "good ol days" to me really isn't for someone else.

      GW2 is actually suffering from different issue. You don't have to make any effort in finding a balanced group. Every group I have had has been formed with no consideration to composition, class spec and no gear checking. Instead the hard part in getting a group is most people are just grouping up to for the quickest path to a reward. This leaves the harder/longer dungeons (Arah) and the "irrelevant" dungeons (Story Mode) very hard to find groups for. A server wide group finder would be a great boon for this issue. I just wonder what portion of the game will help us build up the relationships that make MMOs so distinct.

    2. In my core grouping period (2002-2004) I played both a Cleric and a Shadowknight at max level. I could get a group doing *something* with either very easily - getting a group that was doing what I actually wanted to do, though, that was a lot harder, which is why it often came down to starting one from scratch.

      For the next phase of my EQ career, roughly 2005 - 2006, I mainly grouped as a Beastlord and a Magician. Still pretty easy to get groups and a hell of a lot less responsibility!

  4. This piece matches my experience so closely, I could have written it myself (except that it wouldn't be so well written).

    On top of the other things you said, there's also the issue that hardly anyone is interested in running story mode dungeons any more - anyone who is interested in dungeons has already done them, and is exclusively running explorable mode.

    So having only run one story-mode dungeon, I'm locked out of 90% of the content, even if I COULD be bothered to make the effort to arrange a group.

    1. I think they're going to have to do something radical about the Story dungeons. Maybe retune them for solo/duo play, even. It's going to seem increasingly ridiculous for new starters to get letters from the Herald almost begging them to go to certain dungeons if it's next-to-impossible to find anyone willing to come along.

  5. That certainly sounds like a clean way to do it. +1 interest in City of Steam. :)


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