Flameseeker Chronicles: Guild Wars 2's dragon evolution

Flameseeker Chronicles Roleplaying in Guild Wars 2
I'm praying to Grenth -- not just because he's lord of the dead and my human Necromancer's supreme master but because being in Sparkfly Fen during a Tequatl-stomping session has been threatening to down my usually robust computer and I'm hoping Grenth will take mercy on it. That, or I could just upgrade it. Every little bit helps, though.

I've spent most of this past week finishing up the move to a new apartment, but I've still made time to throw myself at Guild Wars 2's buffed-up Tequatl the Sunless fight. I was pleasantly surprised by the encounter and the community's reception of it, and it's definitely given me hope that ArenaNet will be able to add more complex and fun fights of this kind to GW2's open world in the future. Tequatl is like the star of a teen movie, turning every head at the prom after a radical makeover. I know you needed that mental image. You're welcome.

Dragons that aren't in dungeons

For a raid-level boss, Tequatl is pretty simple. The hardest part of the fight -- mechanically speaking -- is getting him down to 75% health quickly enough to proceed into the second phase in time to finish it. In practice, the greatest difficulty comes from the fact that you can't pick your teammates, and unless you're up for chilling in Sparkfly Fen for several hours beforehand, you have a good chance of getting shuffled onto an overflow server that doesn't have the numbers or the organization necessary to realistically make a decent effort at defeating ol' snaggletooth.

Last week, I talked about mechanics in events and how players tend to ignore them if they're not crucial, even if they make things easier. Tequatl turned out to be the flip side of that: Successful coordination to use the fight's mechanics is absolutely necessary for a win. The Hylek turrets that dot the beach where the battle takes place are a crucial part of the fight, and misuse of them can result in certain failure before Tequatl has lost even 25% of his health. When the dragon lands, he starts to build stacks of a buff called Hardened Scales, which turret gunners need to remove by spamming the second turret skill, Scale Penetration, whenever it's off cooldown. If the scales reach 20 stacks, Tequatl throws down a bone wall that needs to be cleared before he can be damaged again. While getting a bone wall isn't an insta-fail (if I recall correctly, the first group to beat him had at least one bone wall spawn), it does mean losing precious time. On top of that, Tequatl spawns tendrils that create poisoned areas, which the turret users are responsible for clearing, as well as mobs of risen that swarm the turrets and attempt to destroy them.

The fight puts huge pressure on the gunners, especially in the first phase. The role requires a great deal of situational awareness and good reaction time, and it's entirely possible for someone who has no idea what he's doing to take control of a turret and sit on it for the entire fight, contributing absolutely nothing. Other parts of the fight are relatively jerk-proof, but if the people organizing the fight want to make sure players who know what they're doing are on the turrets, the best way to do that is to camp them well in advance. A possible solution might be adding a nearby NPC who offers turret kits, allowing organized groups to set them up manually in some fashion to better control the fight. The current, risky method of handling things is to just let the offending gunner die to the risen and then rebuild the turret.

I have to stop here and admit to something: The first time I fought Tequatl, I suspected that despite having excellent intentions, ArenaNet had severely overestimated GW2's playerbase. My initial feeling was that revamping world bosses to create a higher standard of content design is a good thing regardless of whether or not it ended up being popular, and I still believed that; I just didn't think popularity was very likely. From the first time the event spawned, it was obvious that Tequatl Redux is like nothing else in the game, and I did not foresee that going over well... especially not after the first wipe I was a part of resulted in a torrent of snide negativity in map chat, along with a lot of griping about ArenaNet not knowing how to design a boss and predictions that the event would be dead within a few days. Even though I found the attempt fun, I thought it was probably true that very few people would stick with it, and I feel bad about that because I was mostly wrong.

Players adapted. They started getting organized. Blackgate downed Tequatl, followed by EU server Desolation, and then my own home world, Tarnished Coast. Strategies got nailed down and more and more server first kills followed. People were excited about it. People were having fun.

This is kind of a huge deal because it shows that the spirit of overcoming challenges collaboratively is alive and well in GW2 and can possibly even survive in the open world. The fight is not perfect, and there have been plenty of people calling to instance this sort of battle and make it a proper raid, but it's a good first step toward content that's complex enough to challenge a group while still being as accessible as Scarlet's invasions or temple fights in Orr. There are some obvious hiccups, like the turrets and the overflow mechanics, but I don't think those are things ArenaNet could fix without first pushing the line forward and getting the content into the game. I expect to see some adjustments to the fight, but overall I think it can be considered a success. This is a good base to build future ideas on.

ArenaNet did a cool thing when it decided to brave removal of the classic MMO tank/healer/DPS trinity in favor of a soft trinity of damage, control, and support. The problem has since been that there are few encounters in GW2 that take advantage of roles other than damage. Support is helpful, but sheer DPS is enough to get through most fights. The usefulness of control falls off outside of PvP, since the majority of truly dangerous enemies in PvE have the Defiant buff or are completely invulnerable to crowd control skills. This results in a style of combat that doesn't show off the true potential depth and complexity of GW2's professions and contributes to the prevalence of zerg rush tactics in the open world.

Tequatl represents something of a shift in encounter mechanics because ArenaNet built the need for support and control directly into the fight. In keeping with GW2's design philosophy, any profession can handle any one of the three roles (although characters geared for critical damage don't do as well on Tequatl himself), but it's necessary to have players dedicated to each position and performing their jobs well. The turret operators take care of support by cleansing poison, debuffing Tequatl, and buffing the raid. The front line is devoted to damage, focusing on taking down Tequatl's health. And the turret defenders, along with the megalaser defense phase, represent control. Despite some crossover, the three roles are fairly distinct, and the fight was designed around them. I think this is one of the major reasons that the Tequatl encounter feels fun and rewarding; it tickles the brain's gaming gland to get obvious "this is working" feedback from what you're doing instead of just watching the enemy die. It's one of the reasons people do enjoy throwing themselves at challenging content until they've beaten it -- apart from the loot, of course.

And if you've never heard of the gaming gland, don't worry. I made it up.

Flameseeker Chronicles
Dungeons following dragons

The new focus on permanent content is chugging right along; the October 1st update looks as if it'll be centered on a rehaul of the Twilight Arbor dungeon. I'm split on this. On the one hand, it looks pretty awesome, and I do enjoy Scarlet as a character. On the other, I'm a little leery of tying dungeons so heavily into the current living story plot arc. Twilight Arbor has always had a tight focus on Sylvari lore, and I'll admittedly be disappointed if it gets a full Aetherblade and Molten Alliance makeover. Granted, there's a good chance that Scarlet will unearth some interesting Sylvari-related information, but she's threatening to do a better job of taking over Tyria than the dragons are. And where the heck is she getting all of those pirates?

I'm gonna hazard a guess that Halloween funtimes will be coming in the second update of the month, and I can only hope that Mad King Thorn's clock tower, dungeon and labyrinth will be making repeat appearances. In the meantime, we'll just have to hang out in the local swamps and graveyards, looking creepy and scaring the locals. Or maybe it's just me doing that. Ha ha! Necromancers, right?

Have you downed Tequatl or any of the other new and improved world bosses yet, or are you less than impressed with them? Let us know in the comments below, and I'll see you in the Mists!

Anatoli Ingram suffers from severe altitis, Necromancitosis, and Guild Wars 2 addiction. The only known treatment is writing Massively's weekly Flameseeker Chronicles column, which is published every Tuesday. His conditions are contagious, so contact him safely at anatoli@massively.com. Equip cleansing skills -- just in case.

This article was originally published on Massively.