Over the weekend games.on.net again had the chance to go hands-on (or claws on, if you’re a charr) with the Guild Wars 2 beta. The sylvari and asura were once again unavailable for testing, leaving us with no choice but to roll up a human engineer.
The biggest new addition to this weekend’s test was the introduction of the Ascalonian Catacombs, a five-man, level 30 dungeon which you can find a few minutes walk (or a quick teleport, if you’ve been there before) out of the charr starting area. You can enter it without being level 30 of course if you like a challenge (or are a fan of dying repeatedly), but to play it at the appropriate level will require you to come back later. Fortunately for this event, ArenaNet were good enough to buff me and a few fellow lucky testers up to level 30 before sending us in.
Cutscenes and puzzles
One of the first things to notice about the Catacombs is the amount of story that ArenaNet have lovingly crafted around it. Upon entering the dungeon, you trigger a cutscene. Then, later, once you’ve beaten your way through some elites, you’ll get some more cutscenes. And then once you catch up with another NPC, you’ll get some more custscenes in which they talk to each other. Aaaand so on. In the case of the Ascalonian Catacombs, you even get your own elite charr general NPC who follows you around and helps you out with the battles, which aids immensely in bolstering the believability of the mission at hand (though his tendency to shout “For great justice!” over and over again during battles can be be tiresome).
For our part, our adventure began with a less than exciting dead end. We’d entered a room full of coffins and dispatched an angry ghost who rose up to challenge us, but then we were stuck. The door ahead wouldn’t open without a key, and as none of us had run the dungeon before, it took us a few moments before we all simultaneously hit upon the solution.
“Search the coffins for keys!” three of us yelled at once, and we spread out to madly click on the coffins. It wasn’t too long before finding the key triggered another wave of ghosts, and we all rushed over to pitch in. Soon, though, we were through the door, and the dungeon decided to up the ante with its next trick: traps. Traps everywhere, some sticking with the tried-and-true “spikes through the floor” approach, and other aiming for something more new-fangled with little stone gargoyles on the walls who blasted you with fireballs constantly.
There were chains to pull which could disarm the traps in some cases, or in other cases the correct approach was in fact to destroy them as quickly as possible. Red circles on the ground provided indicators of trap triggering so you could time your approach, and working as a team to take them out or jump over them together really conjured up memories of old-school dungeon-crawling fun.
Before long, we’d made our way to the next stage of the Catacombs story, where an undead king made some vague-sounding threats about how we should all get the hell out of his tomb. While the dialogue can be a little bit cheesy in Guild Wars 2 from time to time, in this dungeon-crawling gloom it fitted in perfectly. Needless to say we refused to leave, and in fact re-iterated that we weren’t going anywhere until he and all his friends were dead. Again.
The next few fights were interesting to say the least. One saw us battling against the ghost of a ranger who stood on a tall spire of rock and was difficult to approach in melee without some clever jumps, and another saw us duelling the ghosts of two lovers who regenerated monstrously fast when close together (and emitted a constant string of love hearts).
We wiped more than a few times on that battle before finally being able to pull them apart enough to finish it, which also led to the discovery that you can respawn from any waypoint within the dungeon. It’s a neat system, and one that makes dealing with the inevitable wipe much more palatable.
Eventually we triumphed over the disgruntled undead and returned to the surface, blinking in the light of day. The whole experience had taken an hour and a half, maybe two hours (it was three in the morning, so I’m a little fuzzy) including our wipes and retries. Some of our team disconnected during the battle, and upon reconnecting were dumped right back in the dungeon alongside us, which was fantastic and great news for anybody with a fickle internet connection.
Lag problems resolved?
In the last beta test I experienced some lag during PVP and WvW matches, which was seemingly related to the amount of players nearby. I’m pleased to note that lag in this five-player dungeon was much more bearable, with only a few occasional snaps when bosses deployed physics effects. That said, this time around the rodeo revealed that, for me at least, my turret pets had a tendency to stop rendering during the bigger battles. They were still there and still doing damage, but just turned invisible when things started getting hectic. It was a bit weird, but hopefully nothing that won’t get ironed out before launch.
Although this was my first Guild Wars 2 dungeon, it’s pretty clear from a single playthrough that ArenaNet are clearly as unhappy with current MMO dungeons as they are with everything else about the genre. With its unique mix of exposition, puzzles, trap mechanics and interesting, varied boss-fights, the Catacombs was a breath of fresh air in a stale, musty tomb of a genre. I’ll miss the NPC who can instantly buff you to 30, but if the Catacombs are what await me when I arrive, it’ll be well worth the trip.