Thursday, 12 May 2016

Healing For Fun And Profit. Okay, Forget The Profit : GW2

Over the long years since the dawn of EverQuest I've played most of the standard MMO roles but my favorite and the one I feel most competent and confident in is Healer. One of the famous, or infamous, decisions ArenaNet made when designing GW2 was to do away entirely with the Holy Trinity. At the time I didn't have particularly strong feelings about it one way or another but the one thing I really didn't like was way it effectively removed the role of Healer from the game.

In GW2 everyone's her own healer and everyone else's patch healer at the same time. Healing is your job, my job, no-one's job. It works well enough and I've certainly become used to it but it's never been ideal.

Consequently I felt that one of the more welcome additions brought to the game by the Heart of Thorns expansion was the introduction of the closest thing GW2 has ever had to a dedicated healer - the Druid. Druid is the Elite Specialization for the Ranger class. Rangers might seem an odd choice for the healing role but, as Zubon pointed out way back when, the Ranger started out as a good match for the then-favored "main" healing class, a Staff Elementalist in Water attunement.

Don't turn your back on me Rytlock. I'm tougher than I look. What do you mean, "You'd have to be?"
I played both a Ranger and a Staff Ele and I tried for a while to fit into a support role as a healer but it was never very comfortable or satisfying. It works best in World vs World, where dropping water fields on command has always been an integral part of gameplay. It doesn't feel like proper healing , though, and the game itself didn't recognize any form of healing as worthy of credit so it took a very selfless player to commit to a full-time healing role. Few did.

With the coming of HoT all that changed. The Druid was designed primarily as a support class, with the bulk of that support coming in the form of healing. On top of that, the rules were changed so that healing players during combat gave the healer credit towards whatever rewards might be on offer. True, you do still have to do some nominal damage as well in order to be recognized but some of the healing skills come with damage built in so that's simple enough.

Amazing how the arrows don't go right through.
It's surprising, then, that it's taken me six months to get around to trying the Druid out. Mrs Bhagpuss, who has had a Druid up and running for a good while, has been telling me for weeks I ought to give it a go. And it's not like I wasn't ready. I completed the specialization back before Christmas, along with the ascended weapon quest collection for Yggdrasil, the druid staff. And yet I carried on playing as a ranger.

In fact,three rangers: one a Charr, my first GW2 character, another, on my third account, a Sylvari, and in-between those two there's my Asura. A year or so ago, on a whim, I re-specced and re-geared the Asuran Ranger for pure survivability. He's all toughness, vitality and, most especially, healing power. His passive and reactive regeneration is so high that in most PvE fights his health barely appears to drop at all.

That made him the ideal candidate. Over the weekend I tuned him still further in that direction, put a staff in his hands and sent him out to learn how to Druid. It was a happy experience.

In open world PvE he is virtually indestructible. Packs of mini-raptors, hordes of mordrem, whole temples of risen minions of Zhaitan throw themselves against his healing and bounce. It makes traveling a breeze.

Hi, King Adelbern! Look, he's waving!
In WvW he is both an irritant and a salve. In the zerg his heals throw clouds of green numbers as far as the eye can see. It feels like contribution. It feels satisfying.

Roaming, something I have rarely managed to bring off with anything even remotely comparable to success before, he is a total nuisance. He may not be able to kill other players  - the downside of the healing build is DPS like a wet dishcloth - but boy, can he hold a ring.

When he turns up, a simple camp capture for a couple of invaders turns into a long-drawn out war of attrition as he dodges and rolls and throws out heal after heal that not only keep him and his pet alive but revitalize all and any of the camp guards that are still standing.

The longer the fight goes on, the higher the chance another player on my side will turn up to assist, and once that happens the tide just turns. Having a heal generator on tap frees up whoever has found the fight to blaze away while, as everyone knows, you have to kill the healer first and that was already problematic when the healer was alone.
This guy seriously doesn't know when he's beaten.

So, I spent a good few hours over the last few days doing that. So much in MMO gaming - gaming in general - comes down to muscle memory and being able to act without thinking. I am nowhere near being "good" at playing a druid yet but I'm beginning to pass the point where I have to think about everything as it happens. When instinct can take over performance will improve.

Off the back of this positive experience I had the bright idea, late last night, to see how the Druid would go in a dungeon. In all the time I've played GW2 I've done just one of the original dungeons and that but a single time. That was the final Zhaitan fight at Arah on Story mode, way back in 2012.

I've done around a dozen fractals and all the temporary Living Story and holiday dungeons but the regular ones, never. I thought I'd start at the beginning so I went to the entrance of Ascalon Catacombs in Plains of Ashford, knocked on the door and went in. Alone.

Rytlock Brimstone wasn't impressed. He thought I needed to bring some help if I was coming with him to find Eir Stegalkin. Apparently a three foot tall Asura wearing a child's cat hat and waving something that looks like a sapling he just uprooted doesn't equate to a full warband in the eyes of a great soldier like Rytlock.

Twenty-six silver? You're kidding, right?
Well I sure proved him wrong. I wasn't expecting to get far. The last time I tried that dungeon solo I didn't get past the first room. This time I progressed and kept progressing. I had a walkthrough up but I didn't really need it. I only died once and that was the fault of the in-game instructions, which put up a huge message telling me I'd disarmed all the traps only for all the traps in the room to fire at once as soon as ran back the way I'd come.

Other than that, none of the fights even came close. I was never downed. Rytlock, Eir and her wolf, Garm, fell over many times but I quickly learned that if you just run back a few dozen yards they pop back up at full health as though nothing ever happened.

The dungeon was gorgeous, insofar as a decaying, ghost-ridden crypt can be. The mechanics weren't too annoying. Difficulty felt almost identical to Advaned Solo in EQ2. Rewards were poor but it was interesting to follow another part of the story, even though it's more like history by now.

Rytlock's stormed off in a huff. Again. Everyone feels bad. Even the pets.

It opens up the prospect of doing more dungeons solo and of duoing them with Mrs Bhagpuss, who has already expressed an interest in running Twilight Arbor for tokens to buy the Nightmare Court armor. Researching that I found the beautifully designed guides at GWDungeon.net, a resource I didn't even know existed. I anticipate making considerable use of all their hard work.

I am not a fan of running dungeons over and over. I have always thought it a poor mechanic and a wrong-headed direction for designers to take. I do like a good dungeon, though - solo, duo or full group. It would be good to see them all and what's more, if I've been through a dungeon at my own pace solo or duo I'll be much more likely to take a run with a group. Even if you don't know the ropes it's nice to at least feel you know where the ropes are.

It's also made me more interested to play around with the other Elite Specializations and also experiment with builds. Who knows, I might even make some effort to put a character into full Ascended.

If I do, it'll be the Druid.


6 comments:

  1. Yep. One of the things I was seriously considering a week or two back was soloing dungeons or fractals with a class that wasn't as much of a pain as trying to do it on a squishy guardian. I found it in the viper horror necro, similar to how you've found it in the druid.

    I suspect it's the pet/minion buff that has made them rather effective tanks while the one soloist whittles down the bar made for five players.

    I really hope they don't do anything to it, because it opens up a whole new kind of content for players who prefer a slow, solo or duo GW1-like henchmen style of dungeon play, using the exact same dungeon layouts, earning the exact same rewards at a slower pace than a five person speedrun.

    The only sticking point are the dungeons where simultaneous button-pushing or pressure pad sequences require more than one player. :(

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  2. My wife plays a zerk Reaper and this post has inspired my to see how many dungeons we can duo once I refit my Druid into something a bit more healy.

    I feel like power creep has made it so dungeons are actually more fun with only 2 or 3 people – 5 just makes things too easy, so the only challenge is to do it as fast as possible. I've tried soloing a couple on my condi thief, which was a bad idea for a couple of reasons (1: a big part of the damage there is from venom share; 2: thieves are generally squishy anyway). Plus CoE has this room where you get stun-locked which I don't think even being super-healy would help with. Hence wanting to try it duo.

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  4. Tantalizing. Tanking and healing simultaneously. Makes a nice counterpoint to the large numbers and crowd control of a Berserker staff Elementalist.

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  5. I really enjoyed this point. The Druid seems like a class I could get into since I enjoy healing. Previously I always seemed to fight the GW2 strategy of everyone being their own healer - it seemed they kinda had tanker characters and ones that focused more on dips, but now they also have a class that can focus more on healing...cool. I mentioned this post in my Six Degrees post - Six Degrees of May 13, 2016.

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