Flameseeker Chronicles: This might just work!

OK, it's confession time. I hated the idea of 5-man dungeons in Guild Wars 2. Well, "hated" may have been too strong a word, but since I'm an MMO gamer whose fun largely centers around playing with my friends and guildmates, the thought of being forced to only play with four of them was sort of a turn-off.

My mind has been changed, so let's cut right to the chase. Follow along after the jump and I'll tell you why!

Books, covers, and judging

Socialization was a concern, and still is, to a point. A problem that I've run into in Guild Wars 1 is setting up a group run for something and then having too many people wanting to join. It's really frustrating to have to change from your desired profession, ask someone else to change, or tell someone that there's flat no room for him unless he wants to bring a Monk. With a typical group limit of eight (or 12 if you're doing one of two elite areas) and some necessary class roles that can't be left out, you bump into that party limit pretty fast.

This was my biggest concern for the dungeons of Guild Wars 2. With a party limit of five, not only will I have to reject even more guildmates, but we're going to have to be even stricter about what classes people can and cannot bring. The setup seemed like... well, pretty much the antithesis of everything I love about gaming. I've since changed my mind on this in a big way.

Let me pause here and point out that there have been multiple aspects of Guild Wars 2 that I've strongly disliked on sight. The UI and the voice acting are the two that spring to mind. When I first got a look at the GW2 UI last year, I hated it. It seemed intrusive and too flashy, and I especially disliked the big yellow "New Event Nearby" swipe across the screen. I was pretty vocal about it, and even more vocal about my dislike for some of the voice acting. I made the mistake of stating unequivocally that I didn't like these things and was disappointed in them because I wound up feeling silly when I got to PAX last year, played the game, and found that I quite liked the UI.

There's a big difference between hearing about something or seeing a demo of it and actually getting in there to experience it firsthand. You can read about a game all you want, but it's impossible to really know whether it'll work for you until you experience it in person.

Dungeon mechanics

I've done a complete turnaround on my concerns regarding dungeon party setups. I know people are concerned about the lack of defined class roles, and there are worries about allowing everyone to do everything. Defined roles can be important for several reasons, and the thought of tossing them out completely and expecting a difficult 5-man area to run smoothly sounds... well, silly.

After trying it out, though, I can see how it's going to work. First of all, every class isn't just a mishmash of "whatever you feel like playing." There are still defined roles; they're just a lot more open and versatile. The result of this setup is that the thing I so dislike about current challenging areas of Guild Wars 1 is a non-issue. If someone wants to bring a Warrior, she can. The worry of telling her no because there's only room for a Monk? Gone. There are no Monks, and every class has the ability to fall temporarily into a support or damage-mitigation role if needed.

So what made me feel so much better about this? Well, two things. First, I had the opportunity to play a Guild Wars 2 dungeon as an Elementalist. My companions were three other Elementalists and an Engineer. In the current Guild Wars mindset, there was nothing even remotely resembling a healer or support -- we were five glass cannons. How very wrong my preconceptions were! This new dynamic takes pretty much everything we're used to and sets it on its ear.

Everyone in the dungeon was all over the place, switching attunements or kits as needed in response to the current flow of battle. There's a cooldown on the switching, but it's very painless and really only prevents you from clicking different attunements like you're trying to work through a stack of chocolate bunnies.

If the battle wasn't going too well for us and everyone was taking a lot of damage, an Ele or two switched attunements to temporarily take a healing focus, for example. Once the tide turned and it was time to move back to heavier damage, they switched back to something that brought the pain.

The entire setup serves to bring a much more immersive experience. The downside is that I can see some people getting frustrated because there's a definite learning curve here. The combination of class versatility and a much more fluid battle style takes some getting used to. The AI seems to have improved quite a bit: It's more responsive and clever and will react more intelligently to your actions. I anticipate a lot of people getting frustrated and declaring it broken, but I hope they'll stick with it and get used to it. It's a fun challenge after a while.

In spite of the learning curve, I have completely stopped fretting about the 5-man dungeon mechanics. Sure, they're a challenge, but they seem to have been (and likely were) created with the Guild Wars 2 class system in mind. They work together beautifully.

The social aspect is still a concern. I'm currently in a nearly full guild on my main account, and the members are very excited about playing GW2 together. I'm so looking forward to rounding up 15 or 20 of my guildmates and racing off to meet some challenge, and I'm disappointed that it can't be a dungeon. If I've learned anything in the past year, though, it's to just sit back and wait. ArenaNet will likely throw some challenge at us that will take every person we can round up. I look forward to it!

Rubi is a longtime Guild Wars player and the writer of Flameseeker Chronicles here at Massively. The column keeps a close eye on all the events in Guild Wars, Guild Wars 2, and anything bridging the two. It's also the home of a weekly summary of the travels of [MVOP], Massively's Guild Wars guild. Email Rubi at rubi@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.