I'm super into the idea of open-world endgame zones, which is admittedly strange because my experience with them hasn't been great. They usually involve a lot of dying in terrible places, kill-stealing, and people tripping over one another in a way that creates centuries-long mutual hatreds. Guild Wars 2's Tower of Nightmares zone manages to mostly avoid the latter two by virtue of ArenaNet's core game design choices, but the first appears to be a defining feature of the content. If you haven't yet found yourself pushing up toxic daisies while Scarlet's minions casually play board games on your corpse, you haven't... uh... lived.
It's pretty awesome. That might sound strange, but when everything comes together the tower plays like a big, magnificent dungeon where parties can form on the fly. It follows, then, that it's a lot less painful when approached as a dungeon rather than as a zone where the goal is to race to the instance at the end.
Like the Tequatl encounter update, the Nightmare Tower zone isn't exactly mindblowingly difficult as MMO content goes, but it does go far enough in that direction to reward teamwork and it requires you to think on your feet a bit. If you haven't gone waltzing through Kraitsville yet, here's the deal: The instance is made up of three maze-like floors. You can dungeon-crawl your way up the levels or (after you've unlocked them once) talk to the wee relay golem to teleport to a given floor, but the final instance is at the end of the third level, and at least one of your party members needs to reach it. You'll also find the tri-key chest just outside of the instance, along with one of the pairs of goggles needed for the diving achievement.
The third floor is much less forgiving than the first two, unless you like dense mob distribution and being constantly poisoned. I'm not going to judge you if you do because there are all kinds of people playing GW2, but those two things do make it much harder to survive to the end of the level without at least a small group, as evidenced by the trail of lonely corpses littering the path every time I head up there.
Teamwork makes the dream work
On the whole, though, players are starting to realize that rushing one by one into the tower and trying to Sonic the Hedgehog their way through isn't the best method of getting to the core, mostly because if you get unlucky or miscalculate and die, nobody will stop to rez you. Doing so is asking to be made into a sushi platter for a Krait social, and having to respawn at the waypoint means repair bills, teleport fees, and starting over from the beginning of the level. The third floor is where this becomes a real problem; several times I fought up through the first few floors with a small group, only to have everyone suddenly fall apart at the entrance to the third and try to make a mad dash to the end. The third floor is really long and very dangerous, and if everyone's not killing stuff and looking out for each other, it can turn into an exercise in futility quickly. It's probably possible to run through to the end, but it would require using the other people around you as monster bait, which is a jerk move. You can get up by soloing, but it involves careful pulling and actual killing of things. That's made significantly harder when Leeroy comes tearing across your path, dragging half of the tower behind him.
My wife has been saying for some weeks now that people don't revive other players in GW2 as often as they used to. Like the doofus I am, I kept telling her that I hadn't noticed. I didn't stop to consider that my good opinion of the community's altruism might be influenced by primarily playing a Necromancer in level 80 content; when I get downed I can be reasonably sure it was because I did something dumb. This is not to say that I never do anything dumb in the course of normal play; on the contrary, I try for at least one ridiculous, undignified death per login session. But I'm used to waypointing sheepishly before anyone notices the dumb thing I did instead of hoping for a rez.
I waltzed into the tower in my full Berserker gear, which didn't work out too well for me. I could have swapped to my mixed Knight's gear, but I'm stubborn and lazy and have an adversarial relationship with safety precautions. Unfortunately, having a natively large health pool and condition removal will still take you only so far in a place that features both condition damage and spike damage in heavy amounts and where the elites, veterans, and champions have fairly high health pools themselves. This meant that I died a lot more than I'm accustomed to before I got a little better at playing in the tower. It also meant that I immediately noticed what my wife had been talking about because even in a group it was a tossup as to whether or not people would stop to rez in the middle of a fight.
A big part of GW2's gameplay design is predicated on the fact that everyone can resurrect and that getting downed doesn't mean that you're out of the fight quite yet. It's a very important part of group play, and we've gotten served with more and more encounters recently that can easily wipe a zerg (at this point even the events in Cursed Shore can be deadly to a large group when they're scaled up far enough). At the same time, though, it's become riskier to rez as getting in position to do it is more likely to put you in the line of danger; this is the case with the toxic warlock champion on the tower's first floor. It has a devastating fan attack and pull, summons dangerous adds, and surrounds itself with a large toxin field. It's not uncommon to see players collapsing like dominoes in front of it.
This is a good thing. We're transitioning slowly from style of gameplay that can be easily wiped out by large groups to more encounters where safety in numbers isn't a foregone conclusion, but there are some growing pains. We need to adapt, both by helping each other and by being careful to avoid positions that make it difficult to receive help. Don't face-check happy Mr. Poison Snake and then demand to know why people aren't running into his LSD cloud to rez you from death. Don't be so intent on tagging the nearest champion that you ignore the downed person next to you. Switch out your gear for more survivability if necessary, instead of getting increasingly frowny-faced as monsters eat your head (note to self). If content updates continue in this vein, we're going to need to learn to help each other more, not less -- and we're going to need to get good at it.
In other news
Lead Writer Bobby Stein has recently addressed the continuity disconnect between the personal story and the living story, saying that it's an issue ArenaNet has been working on. That's a big honkin' deal as far as I'm concerned. A while ago I discussed the impact of that disconnect on Orr and talked about why it needs to be resolved for the living story to realize its full potential, but the issue goes far beyond one group of zones; in fact, I think that most of the story-based criticism of the living world content can be traced back to it in some way. We got brand-new heroes and villains and threats so that the living story writers could avoid crossover with the personal story, but while it kept the timeline intact for people who hadn't done the personal story yet, it also resulted in a lot of players wondering what the heck happened to the whole dragon threat thing and asking to go back to it. Even though I enjoy the living story, it does feel a lot like a filler arc.
While I'm very excited to see how ArenaNet plans to address the issue, I'm left wondering what the long-term plans for the story originally were and how the writers planned to move forward. The personal story leaves a ton of plotlines hanging, and I'd assumed those were hooks for future content. Would they have ever been resolved? It also makes me curious as to what the plans were for introducing the other Elder Dragons, since Zhaitan's death would almost have to be established as having taken place in the past at that point. Maybe the writers asked themselves similar questions and came to the conclusion that it would be less wonky and immersion-busting to square away the timeline now. I hope so.
A good move -- and one of my favorite things about the current release -- is the responsiveness of the content to the choices made in the personal story. The hallucinations Scarlet throws at you in the nightmare chambers recognize and adapt to your character's history, and I think the positive impact of that is tremendous.
We should be getting information on the next release soon; judging by the preview image on the official release page, I think it's beginning to look a lot like Fractal updates. It's hard to believe that we have only a handful of releases left in 2013, but I guess we should start making our Wintersday lists and dropping hints about how good we've been this year (hint: rez more strangers).
Are you enjoying The Nightmares Within? Did Scarlet get under your skin with her hallucinatory taunting? What do you think would have made the content better? 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 email@example.com. Equip cleansing skills -- just in case.