[GW2] Farming Arah and the ugly Face of Anonymity

For reasons not entirely transparent to myself, I’ve recently decided to set myself a goal in GW2 which is farming tokens from the Ruined City of Arah in order to acquire the only set worth a look on my female Norn Elementalist. It’s not that I require the gear statwise, as it’s identical to my current armor which also happens to look smashing – but then, GW2 endgame is all about creating your own challenges. And Arah surely is that, although not in the way I initially anticipated. While this might be one of the more challenging dungeons, its greatest annoyances come in form of skipping content and frankly obnoxious people populating pickup parties.

Here’s a confession: I hadn’t been to Arah-the-dungeon prior to my decision to farm tokens. My personal story is pending just one or two chapters before that. I have finished a story mode run more recently but my first runs ever were in complete ignorance of the place (which is usually the case when you do something for the first time) if not of Orr. That said, story mode is no preparation for exploration mode really, so what is a player to do other than to start and build up experience from there? I would also say for myself that I’m far from slow when it comes to steep learning curves.

arahz01

Yet, my first few Arah PuG runs almost made me give up completely on my set goal (and humanity). They were spent group-rushing through large packs of trash, frantically spamming cooldowns and hoping to keep up with the others because no idea where I’m going. More often than not, they were spent being one-shot by said trash which either wiped the entire party or “the unlucky one” (as I like to call him by now), then re-attempting the same leeroy act, corpse-running over and over until somehow the entire party makes it through alive. Should you happen to be the unlucky one, don’t count on much help; you then get to attempt the insanity all by yourself with the rest of the group waiting impatiently, rather than porting back to retry together and increase your chances. Because what nobody likes to admit is this: thank god it wasn’t me and I’ll be damned to go back and help anybody! I’ve actually been in parties where people were happy to stand around for 15 minutes, rather than helping the person rushing trash alone, dying over and over. This gotta be the saddest, most asocial show I have ever experienced in an MMO which pains me a great deal to admit.

Most of Arah’s trash is ridiculously overpowered and probably meant to be skipped, which doesn’t excuse shitty behavior one bit. The absurdity of the trash combined with the vast scale and multiple paths within the dungeon, make it every beginner’s nightmare. Not only do you not find your way alone, your group is too tired and annoyed by the trash to play more cooperatively. You’re supposed to know your way around or be damned. This of course leads to many more questionable situations, soon making you wonder whether you are really saving that much time by skipping mobs:

  • Groups wiping because it’s not clear if a particular trash is to be avoided or killed, ending up with three players rushing through and two pulling.
  • Everybody reluctant to be the first one / on the front-line of a rush.
  • The group deciding to continue without the unlucky one, in order to activate the next waypoint. This may include killing a next boss without the person.
  • Squishier classes getting the greatest beef. Direct quote from my last Arah run: “this is why we don’t play Elementalists”.

 
Now, I’m happy to admit I still have things to learn on my class and I’ve already improved much as far as individual performance goes. It’s the whole randomness about skipping trash in Arah that gets to me. Rushes are so chaotic and hard to coordinate (with strangers), it’s often a lottery who gets through and who doesn’t. I’ve had runs where I didn’t die once and I’ve had the most horrible and frustrating runs which in fact made me ragequit once or twice – not last because of how thoughtlessly people behaved in general.

The paradoxical thing is that you can go through all this negativity before ever hitting your first boss. From my experiences from paths 1-3, there’s not one boss in Arah as frustrating as the long, to-be-avoided trash routine. I can easily survive through Lupicus by means of my own survivability skills and despite what some say about the bossfight, I don’t think it’s too hard. It’s one of the greater fights in all of GW2, one where tactics and your survival skills can truly shine.

And the whole grouping mess already shows before finding parties. Generally, players will use gw2lfg.com for lack of an ingame grouping tool in this cross-server MMO (!), then whispering random strangers for an invite. Only, that’s not how you do it, which I discovered after being ignored a couple of times. “Use self-inv” was the gracious reply I finally received one day and so I added myself to a party where quite obviously nobody was interested in who I was. Which to some degree makes sense in a setup-free game, only doesn’t if you then also have a look at popular party requests for GW2:

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Random days, random dungeons on LFG (click to enlarge)

“EXP ONLY NO NOOBS” – “LF ZERK WAR / MESMER” – “Excessive dying will not be tolerated” – “RETARDS WILL BE KICKED” – “full exotic gear, must ping gear”

Here’s the funny part: nobody can truly tell experience by looks or gear in GW2. Hardly ever do you even get asked for gear level and “proving” it is pretty useless without inspect or armory functions. More importantly, you need neither the greatest gear in the world, not a certain warrior or other class, nor years of experience to run a dungeon like Arah (or any other dungeon). All you really need is a decent group of human beings.

What exactly is the point of lines like “exp only” or “full gear” if nobody checks on you anyway as you self-invite yourself?

The ugly face of anonymity

We’ve known since WoW latest that cross-server anonymity is one of the big banes of server community. The upside of shorter queues is won by too a high a price and it’s not just the exceptional troll that makes for lousy group experiences. There’s a common dynamic of caring less about others not from your own server, caring less for your own performance because there’s little consequence, caring less for decent communication because explaining things to strangers is tedious – and why do it when they’re so easily replaced? A note about social mechanics in any human society: anything that makes people “care less” is generally a bad thing.

Furthermore, there appears to be a direct, inverted relation between downtime tolerance and the actual downtime in an MMO: GW2 is a game of few downtimes related to grouping. Not only can players cooperate without formal grouping on outdoor quests, there’s the self-invite function and lack of strict group setup requirements. You could therefore think that players are generally less in a rush and more inclined to wait for each other or explain something – but not so! Being used to little downtime results in an even lower tolerance for the same. At least people treasure their groups more in MMOs where they cannot take them for granted and where losing a member is to risk more wait time.

Do I advocate to bring back grouping barriers and artificial downtimes? No. However, for all its improvements on the social side, such as dynamic outdoor grouping with shared nodes (I know GW2 is not alone in this), res-anyone and setup freedom, GW2’s pickup dungeon experiences are as bad or worse as any other MMO’s – not least because of ANet’s concept of the global village. The entire server/world is your guild? If so, where’s the g-quit button?

GW2 removed a few dated concepts that came with their own set of issues. Unfortunately, it did fail to replace them properly. I’m thinking of more positive ways to motivate spontaneous grouping between levels 1-80 and better overall cooperation in dungeons (I would’ve expected a lot more in terms of encounter design or combo mechanics). I’m in full agreement with Psychochild here – I’ve no wish to go back to good old bad times but there’s clearly a lot more to be done about cooperation and social interaction in this genre which continues to push mega-servers, paradoxically enough for a not-so-MM experience. I wish we could go back to small or even private server communities already.

To close, an attempt at balance: yes, there are good PuGs in GW2 sometime, just like there are in any game. I’ve had few runs by now which were almost pleasant, with people I would sadly never run into again because they weren’t from my server (and friendlists are a downtime). Every now and then you’ll find “relaxed group” advocated in LFG, although that’s fairly rare. There’s a much greater issue at large here and while bad design does not excuse nasty behavior (it sure does not), it has a way of coming through and slowly affecting everyone and everything, until even the most supportive person resigns to what’s been established as the most efficient way of playing, rather than the best one. The fastest way to treasure, so we can be done playing this already.

Yeah, I did have some good groups in Arah…still, I’d rather not ask how they may have turned out had I dared to be unlucky.

P.S. A new episode of Battle Bards is up – go check it out!

23 comments

  1. ArenaNet should never have included instanced dungeons in GW2 in the first place. Everything about them stands in direct contradiction to what they were supposedly trying to achieve.

    They should have gone for huge, sprawling open dungeons using the same turn-up-and-play mechanics as they used throughout the open world. They should have stuck to their “levels don’t matter, gear doesn’t matter” paradigm. They should have gone with “everyone gets the loot” approach. They should never have tried to have their cake and eat it.

    And personally, if I never see another 5-man instanced dungeon again it will be too soon. It’s not 2004 any more. Let’s move on.

    1. There’s a lot of that in GW2 unfortunately. open world and side-kicking, yet levels rather than skill-based progression. collective play with the entire server, yet introducing more and more guild content. dynamic mass-events and auto-grouping, yet 5-man dungeons. no endgame, yet endgame gear grind. Baffling.

  2. Isn’t the real problem here A) the heightened difficulty, and B) the “necessity” to farm said content? The elitism you see in those LFG invites is a perfectly rational response to a nigh-certainty of failure. I don’t ever believe that anonymity engenders such a level of negativity without additional factors, like artificial stress.

    1. For the most part these dungeons aren’t that hard – certainly not too hard. people farm them daily and they’re surely all ‘on farm’ by now, but they’re so inconsistent in places with bizarre trash and weird randomness. Arah is badly designed in my eyes: what’s the challenge exactly of leeroying through that much trash and praying it won’t kill you? that’s just stupid.

      At the same time, the way people act makes this worse rather than better. you could avoid a large amount of frustration and deaths if the basics of communication were heeded. you know, asking ‘everybody know this boss?’ before a special encounter, sticking together and deciding who goes first on pulls or leads a rush. just because there are no tanks and healers in GW2, doesn’t mean there aren’t roles at all…I think this is a big misunderstanding and it hurts group play. It’s a mess for all these reasons and the general reaction to it is wrong. randomness or bad communication aren’t solved by “full exotics” or a warrior or mesmer inside the party. it’s a typical misconception that Arah’s difficulty is defined (or decreased) by gear or class restrictions. bosses have one-shot abilities no matter your gear or even level. trash is chaos. if there was gear involved (or even skill during trash), players wouldn’t chicken out to port back and help a fallen player (surely they can do it a second time).

      And there’s really no necessity for dungeon gear in the game. since all endgame gear is leveled and you can acquire the same stats via several means, it’s mostly a cosmetic or collector’s thing. also keep in mind there’s nowhere to go from there; it’s not like people are prepping for raiding in GW2.

  3. Interesting experiences with Arah. I was able to complete story mode in a PUG without many problems. I’ve run the explorable mode a few times with a friend’s guild. The funny thing is that one guy in that guild, playing an elemenatalist, prefers to dash past monsters. This irritates my friend to no end, as he’s often the guy that gets downed. The guy who dashes past monsters is a seriously good player, though, and I think he doesn’t realize that others don’t play as well as he does.

    Here’s a bit of insight into psychology that will perhaps help you: don’t be the follower if you’re the one that gets left behind. Lead the others. Either say, “I’m pulling the monsters” or be the first to dash through the enemies. People will be more likely to help someone who is down ahead of them than to go back and help someone. (This has to do with “loss aversion”, they don’t want to have to go back and risk losing their progress and therefore being the person who gets left behind.)

    1. …and I was told using my air dash was the completely wrong thing to do by a particularly obnoxious player. :D true story.
      that said, I go full out on my CDs, anything from dash, mistform and shield to teleport will be used. still, I can get unlucky and initial aggro is the worst that can happen to me. you have a point about leadership, but I tend to survive better if I’m at the heart of the rush. also in Arah there’s no such thing as helping anyone on trash who died – there’s no time to stand still and res anybody, no matter who died first. the gauntlets are too long. I even died at the very end of one and still wouldn’t get res because two mobs were still in proximity. many groups aren’t even up to try anymore.

      1. Well, people are more likely to try to do something to help you out if you’re ahead of them rather than behind. Or, being pragmatic, monsters might aggro in funny ways if you’re ahead and you die, causing problems for others. ;)

  4. Part of this situation, or the reason why it’s so extreme in GW2 may well be down to GW1 and build elitism. GW1 allowed such a variety of character builds, some overpowered beyond belief and many others totally useless. GW2 I see the same thing happening, the min-maxers have found certain groups/builds that are powerful – just see the forum threads about Zerkers+Mesmer groups. When it comes to farming these builds are super time efficient but that means that anyone who doesn’t have that build or know the tactics and shortcuts is frozen out of those grouping opportunities. It happens in other games perhaps but not at this level.

    In WoW you had a ton of bad blood over gearscore (players wanting overgeared players for speed-runs), then Raid Finder was added and people stopped caring as much as 25 man content can suddenly be completed by 10-15 vaguely competent players. I’m not saying Raid Finder is a good thing, but it did give ‘loot farmers’ an easy option where the presence of what they would consider ‘bad players’ wasn’t as important (I can’t believe I’m saying Raid Finder is anything but an abomination…)

    The open world casual group content in GW2 is great, however and I agree here with Bhagpuss, the dungeons are not. In a game with no trinity, very little in-game indication of what works and what doesn’t and an inherited tradition from GW1 of extreme min-maxing speed-run grouping, this form of difficult small group content was just a plain bad idea.

    1. Indeed =/ that’s some interesting background about GW1, thanks – certainly sounds like a toxic combination. I haven’t seen it to this degree before either, not even in WoW. it’s so bizarre if you consider that these tokens are mostly about cosmetic skins rather than the desperate need for an exclusive gear set. and it’s not like there’s a ton of content waiting…yet, people act as if they were on a timer.

  5. Yeah, I can’t deal with many of the dungeons either. I think they were originally meant as a harder challenge for people in a guild to do together, where people can discuss and create builds that complement each other, but somehow it’s gotten adulterated into the ‘normal’ group-up-and-farm-for-reward thing players expect in an MMO and a few expected PUG efficient builds.

    I had fun learning and adapting to the dungeons in slower, more relaxed groups, usually with a guild, but somehow I can’t shake the hunch that at least 1-3 other people in the group would have much preferred it go faster with zero hitches. It ends up as a clash of priorities for me – I personally find fun in exploring the place a few times, adapting to the group and working out viable strategies together, sort of the social/exploring aspect, while this ever-growing group of achievers who are just counting their next 60 or 20 tokens to the next shiny weapon thrown into the mystic forge, or gold per hour end up taking all the room in the social niche.

    I just figure it’s evidently working to hold them somehow and that little minigame / activity is just not meant for me. I’m a lot happier that I can get different statted exotic weapons and armor from WvW now, to supplement the crafting method, and that relieves a lot of the ‘must-feel-obliged-to-dungeon’ pressure. I might put up with dungeon groups for a Legendary at some point, but other than that, there’s definitely no siren call to go do them for fun.

    1. I didn’t think about the forge…if that’s the case, I wish they made token gear unforgeable or something. the speed-running that is done in CoF especially is just nuts and finding a group as non-war/non-mesmer for that instance is a nightmare.

      1. Actually, on further consideration, what they really do is salvage the dungeon rares for ectos, which then get sold for further gold.

        CoF is popular enough that I’ve only made a habit of joining ones that say ‘casual’ or ‘any class okay’ and still find enough groups. I do hate the elitist mindset that goes along with 4 zerker warriors and 1 mesmer though, but as someone mentioned, it’s a problem endemic since GW1’s group-based stuff. It was just possible to bypass it in GW1 by taking your own group of heroes/henchies, which let us all not bother each other in our own niches.

  6. Fortunately for me, I’ve done all of my GW2 explorable dungeon runs as part of a guild group or almost fully guild group, and my guildies are relatively sane types who treat the thing as a chance to have a laugh and a joke on voice chat whilst killing the bad guys and taking their loot. Speed runs aren’t our forte, but I’d rather end an evening with 60 dungeon tokens and a smile on my face than 200 tokens and a migraine… the migraine I can get doing my real life job.

    Having said which, I’ve not done any of the Arah explorable paths but the guild group who did try it a couple of times didn’t apparently enjoy it very much. Not sure if they were trying to fight their way through or speed run past the trash, though.

    1. It’s not the most enjoyable place even with a good and friendly group, so yeah. there’s some very questionable dungeon design – but a bad group makes it ten times worse. I guess I need to find a guild after all.

  7. Well this is disappointing. I only just started again in the hopes that levelling in dungeons would be a fun and exciting alternative to the tedious story and heart grind. I just got to level 30 the other night and was about to get stuck in.

    I could quit again but how long can we keep giving up and moving on. I wonder if we even deserve better at this stage. I’m pretty sure I’ve read this sentiment here recently.

    Maybe we just need some determined hearts to try. It may take time. It will take downtime (God forbid!) It may take some organisation, but getting a krew of civilised people in the same place to enjoy some dungeon action in a civilised manner must be achievable. Say what you like about ArenaNet, they’ve done the hard work. We just need to turn up and show some class.

    1. I’m sure there are guilds out there who manage this, you just need to find them. as for leveling in dungeons, I can’t say I would want to, hehe….but if you do, sticking to story modes is probably the way to go as groups are generally far less rushed on those. and I’ve had many exploration runs by now where they wouldn’t except anyone below lvl80. despite the fact that you have all these different dungeons in GW2, people don’t seem to use them for leveling up but go there after hitting max level.

      1. So far so good, ran the level 1 fractal with random dudes. Didn’t go near that website needless to say, pugged them in chat. I was pretty much crying with joy at the patience everyone showed while folks failed at wisps. Guys we’re running around in circles, getting to the tree and realising they forgot the wisp etc etc. Total madness, total fun. Made friends.

        As much as I miss that trinity, it was mechanical and tedious compared to this.

        A good start then, it can’t last.

    2. I dunno, maybe it’s because my first MMO was WoW, but I don’t understand how people are so disheartened that the average pug community in these games tends to be fairly bad. I just expect it to be so, and spend time looking for a quality guild with a good community and active members. I find that guarantees you will have fun in any game, rather than simply hoping you can get along by randomly running across enough cool people (who play the same times as you) that you can friendslist. I only imagine relying on the latter strategy is a surefire way to end up alone and bored after a few weeks, regardless of what game it is (unless it’s one with an incredibly tiny playerbase).

      The guild is my main community in every MMO I’ve ever been in. When I find cool outsiders I add them to my friendslist and sometimes we keep in touch, but I don’t rely on that kind of dartboard approach to finding a community in games.

  8. This is why I only group with guildies and people I know. I’m not an “Elite” player. I tend to zone out in fights. I don’t know the dungeons/fractals.

    I’m not an idiot, but things have to be explained to me and I don’t have the time or patience to deal with elitist jerks who feel they can judge me because I’m not “uber”.

    It may not be the “social” thing to do, but I don’t PuG and a good part of that is because I don’t want to deal with the very people you’re describing.

    1. That’s pretty much what I’ve done in the past and for the same reason. but since I’m playing GW2 fairly casually, I don’t have a guild and so pugging it is for dungeons.

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