What we did on our virtual vacation?

Virtually Interrupted by …. virtual zergs!

While other gamers have been delighting in their new PS4s and Xbox Ones, we here at VI have been playing Guild Wars 2’s recent Living Story releases and doing a lot of group and coordinated play.  In other words, there’s been a lot of zerging going on.

If you play Guild Wars 2 even a little bit, you know that the folks at ArenaNet have been adding more open world content over the past few months that have required a bit more coordination with each release.  Now, this is supposed to work better on higher population servers, which we happen to be on (Darkhaven), but over the past few months, we’ve seen some fluctuations in PvE group play that have been both very good and also quite frustrating.

During the initial Scarlet invasions this summer, our guild had a lot of fun as we had experienced commanders making themselves visible on maps and players using map chat well to communicate and coordinate.  We have guildies in NA and EU and both groups had successful runs in their respective timezone primetimes, even in overflow maps.  I don’t know how many WvW regulars played those invasions, but from my seat, it felt like their experience had an impact.

Somewhere between that release and the Halloween release, Darkhaven lost a number of large WvW guilds in the run-up to the WvW and world transfer fee changes.  As a PvE player, I found Raphia‘s (GuildMag columnist & Darkhaven player) commentary and observations about the growing trouble in WvW interesting but I didn’t think it affected me directly.  Then Tequatl was buffed and suddenly coordinated zerg play became more than important.  At first, our guild was excited about taking down this dragon.  One guildie tried the event right away and had such a bad experience that it made the rest of us rethink it.  “Darkhaven will get it,” I thought.  But that didn’t happen until the second week of the release.  As a “hardcore casual” PvE player, I didn’t want to risk assured repeated death thanks to uncoordinated play.  The news out of WvW also seemed to keep getting worse.  What was happening to our server??

Then the Halloween labyrinth event happened.  Things were so terrible that I finally broke down one night and guested over to Tarnished Coast to finish my labyrinth meta achievements.  I chose them based on their reputation alone.

So what did I find?  One commander leading the zerg from the center plateau on the map. When a door appeared, everyone would go towards it and defeat enemies and bosses. Fight over, return to plateau perch or zerg over to the next door. People rezzing each other or waypointing quickly (without being told) to return and not expose other players to harm. About an hour after joining them, I had my last two boss achievements for the labyrinth.  Not only did I get my achievements, I had fun!  That one night of guesting taught me that something had to change on Darkhaven or any future PvE group content would be a big ol’ bust.

Our little guild can’t make much of a difference, but a few of us are now kicking around the idea of getting commander tags.   We have several experienced players and maybe, in some small way, this could help.  Since just before the start of WvW Season 1, we’ve seen more guilds actively recruiting for both PvE and WvW play, and during the recent Tower of Nightmares release, we saw many successful coordinated zergs run the tower, with and without commanders.  We also saw good and bad commanding.  The best commanders used in-game chat to communicate; the worst would just run through without speaking, and didn’t hesitate to leave players behind and fend for themselves.

This brings me to the question about those commander tags.  Should they be available to anyone?  Are we assuming that if you can afford the tag, you must have played for a while and farmed a lot of content, giving you experience?  What if, as happened with one of our newer guild members (who’s also new to GW2), you simply played the crap out of the Scarlet invasions and made enough in-game gold to buy one?

These days, Darkhaven seems to be doing pretty well in WvW again and, on balance, the commanding I’ve seen in PvE also seems to be improving.  Zerg coordination can still be hit or miss, depending on when you log in but, as Star says, Darkhaven seems to be populated by people who have serious jobs that keep them offline during off-peak hours.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Overall, I’m feeling better about our future success (though I still haven’t taken on Tequatl).  I know I personally pay more attention to map chat now which is a good thing since I plan on taking my ranger in to map the WvW maps soon.  Who knows, maybe I’ll have such a good experience I’ll start playing WvW.  And maybe I’ll learn more from our commanders, making me confident enough to join their ranks.  Now if only those travel golems would let us play the tower floors we initially unlocked! ~ San

On Commander Tags

Time flies when you’re having fun.  One minute you’re gallivanting around the Mad King’s Labyrinth, the next you’re contemplating December and wondering if Character Slots will go on sale in the Black Lion Black Friday Sale-a-thon.  Although our blog was interrupted, we were not.  As San has detailed, our small PvE guild has spent an almost unheard of amount of time working through the living story content.  And I have commiserated with her regarding group events and the lack of coordinated play.  For what it’s worth, my experience may have been a bit less frustrating because I’m a loner by nature.  I’m perfectly happy playing alone or beside someone but I’ve rarely joined a party with anyone other than a guildie.  I successfully navigated all the content of the original Guild Wars with just heroes and henchmen; I even went through the War in Kryta alone.  Where skill didn’t quite see me through, sheer stubbornness kicked in and I soldiered on, ignoring the 60% death penalty in the corner, whaling on the mobs one pull at a time until the last one fell.

For much of the Guild Wars 2 content, I’ve done the same thing.  See, I don’t necessarily play well with others.  I randomly stop in the middle of things and go AFK, I push the wrong buttons, I minimize the game, I get distracted from the main task at hand by Nearby Events.  When I do play with my Guildies, they spend half the time wondering where Star has gone and why she’s feeding cows instead of joining in on the story step.

Usually, me playing alone is a public service.

I tell you this to illuminate my perspective regarding the Living Story events.  It must be said that I played through the Southsun Cove content alone and loved every minute of it.  Only after I’d explored every random outcrop of the island did my Guildies join me.  There were large groups in Southsun whom I could play beside and if I found myself alone and dying, I had plenty of money to teleport back to a waypoint.  Over the course of that event, I grew to understand how my warrior character worked, what her strengths and weaknesses were and how to maximize her build.  She’s now a badass.  But she’s still a loner and probably always will be.  She worked really well in the Scarlet Invasion and as a lone warrior, I ran where I could, how I could.  Sometimes, there were enough people making a concerted effort and Scarlet was driven back.  Other times, not so much.  I was never frustrated by the lack of direction or command.  I may be laboring under the false impression that there are a lot of loners on Darkhaven.  San, however, is a natural leader and I could tell she was frustrated by the lack of coordination.  As the Scarlet Invasion neared its end, I began to pay attention to group coordination on Darkhaven and noticed that when there were commanders on the map who knew the route and knew when to break off combat and when to stick around, the invasions were pushed back more often than not.  People naturally gravitated toward the commander tags.  And who wouldn’t.  I mean, they’re “Commanders.”  Surely that meant something.

I didn’t participate in Tequatl as I just didn’t have the time.  On the rare occasions I played during that content release, I chose the simple pleasures of mapping and daily gathering.  I heard it was awful.  I heard many had left Darkhaven, taking their expertise with them.  I saw the problem first hand during the Mad King’s labyrinth, where it was near impossible to kill the bosses.  Like San, I guested to another server to see what she had seen and to complete the achievements.  I came back to Darkhaven contemplative.  There were still commanders running around, I could see their tags.  But many of them lacked something I had seen on the other server.  They lacked the ability to command.

At that point, I had two related ponders:  First, if all you have to do to be a “Commander” is amass enough gold, then the tag, in and of itself, is ultimately meaningless, and second, how does one learn to be a commander?  How much real experience with the game, with builds, with strategies, and with actually commanding others, does it take to deserve the blue tag?

Then the Tower of Nightmares content went live and climbing it on a daily basis I’ve discovered several things.  First, Rangers are damn fine bad asses in their own right, second, when all else fails, condition damage wins, and third, there are Commanders both with and without tags and some of the commanders with tags don’t deserve them, even though they bought them.  I have faith that those who deserve the tags will collect the gold to buy them and that those who already own them will learn the hard lessons that will make them worth following.

From what I’ve seen over the last few weeks, a good Commander is someone with vision enough to lay out a strategy and the communication skills to see that everyone following them knows the plan. A Commander is someone who can look at a failure and tweak the plan enough, rally enough people to a corrected course of action, that the second attempt will succeed, and perhaps most important, someone willing to teach and learn from others.

I’ve seen this happening in the tower.  I’ve seen helpful people both with and without the tag, people willing to sacrifice themselves, to make sure everyone gets through, to go back against their better judgment and (for those playing with me,) not berate.  They might not all have the gold they need for a tag, they may be loners and have no intention of wearing the tag, but they’re out there in the wilds of Darkhaven.  And I’m happy to have friended them over the last couple weeks. *cue the sappy music* ~ Star

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