Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Get Smart : GW2

Festival of the Four Winds ends today. I had to be at work by eight in the morning so I thought last night's session was the last I'd see of The Crown Pavilion and Labrynthine Cliffs until next year.
I spent most of the evening on the newest of my three accounts, the only one that wasn't around last time we saw this content, grabbing bundles in the Treasure Hunt and doing any event I could find to earn Festival Tokens.

I just managed to scrape up enough treasure to by a kite and with my tokens I got a hot air balloon on a string and that yellow flower that goes on your back. The sense of satisfaction when I was finally able to buy them, just before the clock passed the absolute latest I could stay up and still be half-awake in work the next day, was disturbing. I haven't been that keen to get something in an MMORPG for a long while.

Then I get home tonight, have my tea, read Feedly, log in and find the Festival's still there! I'm  listening to the sounds of preparations for Boss Blitz in the background as I type.

I mentioned in yesterday's post that I had something to say about Boss Blitz. I really enjoy it as an exciting, involving event  but I also find it fascinating as a social and psychological experiment. Or perhaps it's a demonstration.

Boss Blitz isn't hard to understand or to do. The optimal way to run the event is for everyone to split into six teams of eight to ten people. Ideally, certain classes or builds concentrate on particular bosses that suit their abilities. There are some mechanics that need to be explained, such as Boom Boom Baines' healing turret, but most of the bosses are tank&spank with a lot of dodging.

Once set up, preferably under six Commanders using different colored tags for clarity, each team goes to its designated Boss. All teams then attempt to bring their Boss to 10% health at the same time. Some inevitably get there first, meaning they have to "hold" the Boss at that point without doing further damage.

Someone needs to call out the health of each boss at frequent intervals in a public channel. I often took it upon myself to do that bit. I like yelling. I got suppressed a few times for spamming map chat, something which is all too easy to do in GW2, where you can be banned from sending items to your own characters after two deliveries in quick succession. I should have used /squad which doesn't use the same anti-spam mechanics.

Once the slowest team gets their boss to 10%, their Commander gets to give the "Burn" command, whereupon everyone goes flat out to kill the boss in front of them as fast as possible. The reason for the co-ordinated kill is that each boss passes its signature ability (bombs, adds, banishment) on to all the other bosses when it dies, meaning each kill makes every other boss more difficult.

If everything goes to plan a good, organized map can complete this in about five minutes. The timer for the Gold award is eight minutes. This year I didn't get one Gold in three weeks. Four and five years ago I got plenty. I'm not sure what to read into that. Have GW2 players got worse? Is the event harder? Was I just unlucky with the maps I picked?

I did get lots of high Silvers (time limit sixteen minutes, we did it often in nine or ten) and any number of Bronzes (no time limit). I used the LFG tool to swap maps often until I got one that was at least trying to get Gold or Silver. There were fewer of those than you might expect.

Most of the maps were barely organized at all. Instead of doing it as described above (a description that I saw repeated in map chat many times by patient or frustrated players) people did what they do everywhere in GW2 - ran around in a huge zerg trying to overwhelm all opposition by weight of numbers. Some of the squads advertizing in LFG even said "zerg" or "bronze" in the description, indicating an active disinclination to make more than the minimal effort.

Of course, zerging means that not only does each boss get harder as it acquires the abilities of the ones who died before it, but GW2's scaling mechanic means every boss also gains a gigantic health pool to reflect the army of players opposing it. An event that is self-evidently intended to take between eight to sixteen minutes often stretches out to half an hour or more.

The fascinating part is that by the second week of the Festival everyone knew this and yet the majority of players carried on doing it anyway. Angry and embittered experts railed against the idiocy but it seems clear to me that most players preferred to zerg. They knew it would take longer and they just didn't care.

After all, it's not like they had anywhere else to be. This is the event of the moment so they were doing it. The rewards for finishing faster weren't significantly better so there wasn't much incentive to organize. And in any case, zerging is a social activity, not a competetive one.

Watching this drama enacted over and over again was instructive and entertaining. Some people were so angry they must have had steam coming out of their ears in real life. The accusation was almost always that those who wouldn't organize were too stupid to know what was expected of them but the replies very clearly indicated the opposite. Everyone knew what they "should" be doing - they just didn't want to do it.

I very much did want to do it properly. I love organized content. I like events where everyone has to get into teams and go to different places and do different things to achieve a collective success. I love Dragon's Stand and Auric Basin and my favorite event of all time in GW2 was Scarlet's Marionette.

And yet I still enjoy a good, mindless zerg, even when I'm well aware it's inefficient and even counter-productive. Running around in gang of fifty, taking on massive hit-point sponges and wearing them down by sheer bloody-mindedness has its own appeal.

I guess you can have smart, clever fun or dumb, stupid fun. Either way you're still having fun.

Give me the choice and I'll go for the smart option, though. Well, eight times out of ten.


  1. Yeah, I'd be one of those with steam coming out of their ears. I wish I could take such things less seriously, I really do.

    I mean, I can enjoy dumb, stupid fun as much as anyone...just not when there's a clearly superior alternative.

    What's your secret?

    1. Play when tired! A good deal of my sessions are after work, when I'm more than happy to take the easiest option. I play quite differently on weekends and full days off than I do in the evening.

  2. I found it a little sad, actually. Not angry, but just sad that GW2 players were capable of self organizing a few years ago, but no longer today. The capable lose motivation too quickly to attempt teaching who they define as the unteachable; the ordinary players lose patience and motivation too quickly to interact or cooperate with those they define as overzealous optimizers.

    Ah well. It’s a six year old game, all things have an end. At least they’re still making some revenue with mount skins.

    1. I blame raids. The addition of raiding to the game has split the PvE community into Raiders and Everyone Else. Raiders have their special, private place to go and be elite. Everyone else has decided that's dumb and wants nothing to do with it. Consequently anything that smacks of raiding (and Boss Blitz does, even though it long predates raids and is vastly more accessible and vastly less demanding) is looked on with scorn by Everyone Else and contempt by Raiders (for whom it is a bad parody of the real thing).

      Before raids existed, the people who now raid were desperate to jump on anything that felt "challenging", particularly if the challenge both relied on tight organization and had a clear path to demonstrating technical superiority. Boss Blitz (and The Marionette) were the nearest thing to raiding back in those days but there was no stigma associated with trying to be good at them. It allowed the proto-raiders to organize and lead and Everyone Else to follow instructions and learn and both sides to feel they were part of a single community.

      That's my interpretation. Or it could be that GW2's reputation as the easiest of all MMOs has finally attracted the appropriate audience, while every one wanting something more challenging has left.

  3. I find, perhaps inappropriately, an analogy in society both sides of the pond where people are happy to hurt themselves and any collective effort their involved in through their choices *just because*. Call it laziness, stubbornness, idiocy or whatever. It's a very depressing sign of the times to me.

    1. That's quite a dark interpretation although I see where it's coming from. I can't take any video game quite that seriously. I'm also not entirely sure that I find the current lackadaisical approach particularly negative. It's not as though the zerg maps weren't cheerful and good-natured. Those were the maps with more of an actual festival feel to them, in fact.


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