From watching various YouTube videos, I knew GW2's first instance, Ascalon Catacombs (AC), was a real ball buster. Watching players run it on story mode, that's normal for WOW players, it looked as diffcult as any raid I'd ever done. On explorer mode, which is hard/heroic, I'd only seen two teams complete it. I was prepared for a slug-fest and that's exactly what I experienced.
You are not prepared
To bastardize a quote from Illidan Stormrage, if you are not prepared, do not enter AC. The instance is located in Ashford Plains, in Charr territory. It's level appropriate starting at 28. You'll receive in-game mail in your mid 20s that contains a map link to the instance. Don't worry that you need to rush off and do it the minute you hit the minimum level. The down-ranking system reduces you to the appropriate level for all content. However, XP and rewards may be less meaningful if you wait too long.
Having seen the difficulty of the instance, I decided to wait until level 30 and had unlocked at least 1 elite skill. I'll discuss cherry-picking skill points some other time. Suffice it to say, don't stumble in AC until you're ready for it. You will burn time and money if you're not prepared.
Even though the class trinity of tank + healer + DPS doesn't explicitly exist in GW2, I believe well rounded groups will be more successful in AC. The trash hits HARD. The bosses hit HARDER and some have what felt like alpha strike abilities. The instance is also littered with traps. Being unaware of your surroundings can easily cause unnecessary adds.
If possible, do your first run with an experienced guide. If you can't, read a walk through guide yourself or watch a video. Going into AC blind is only fun if you feel wiping every other minute is grins-n-giggles.
I also suggest the following:
- Know the boss fights - sorry, a couple of them have special mechanics it's better to know
- Take a couple of classes that can withstand melee damage
- Take at least one person that can do decent ranged damage
- Take a good hybrid along - can provide crowd control and/or HEAL SUPPORT
- DEFENSE out weighs offense - no tank aggro means EVERYONE will take direct damage at some point
- Wait until you've unlocked at least one elite skill, preferrably one that will be useful in a group
- EVERYONE needs to carry at least one ranged DPS weapon
- EVERYONE needs to slot at least one trait that can remove conditions
- CONDITION REMOVAL IS KEY - if you have a group removal skill you should slot it
- No tank doesn't mean free-for-all combat. FOCUS FIRE and coordinate mob priority
- Eat food - buff food is readily available so use it
- If you're wiping on a mob don't run back in to the fight one at a time, you'll be farmed. Re-group with at least 3 and re-engage
- REPAIR your gear! There's a gear repair object at the beginning of the instance. Use the portals to repair and quickly return to your group
- EXPECT TO DIE - If dying multiple times makes you angry, stay out of AC
- Voice chat is extremely helpful
5 Guardians through AC
My first run through AC was a guild planned event where Guardians happened to show up first. *smile* The guffaws and shouts of OP in voice chat were funny. We had an experienced guide so that was in our favor. Before starting out we discussed how we should build out our skill bar to cover many of the suggestions I listed above. However, we missed a few key things that caused us issues along the way.
In our favor
- KNEW FIGHT MECHANICS - experienced guide + a couple of us had watched videos
- HIGH DEFENSE - Everyone could take it to the face for a period of time
- HIGH CONDITIONAL REMOVAL - plenty of options
- HIGH SUPPORT - round robin shielding, knockbacks, blocking, health regen but we still died a good bit
- 2 players could kite while others returned from death
- 2 players could off-tank adds while the others dealt with the boss
To our deteriment
- MODERATE DPS - moderate DPS requires that you survive fights longer
- POOR RANGED DPS - only two people had ranged weapons in their inventory. DOH! I was one of the people that didn't. I'm not a fan of them for my play style but have now learned I need to keep level appropriate ones available
- Hit first & ask questions later - we were clearly, 5 people who tended to solo in a game where supposedly there's no tank. This initially resulted in us running in face first but we learned to stop doing that after a few awkward pulls and unnecessary deaths.
- Let the last boss farm us - we kept jumping back into combat one at a time after dying and he was NOT soloable. No surprise there but it took us a few to realize what we were doing.
- Shiny, let's click it - uh no, if you're not certain what it will do don't click it until the group is ready!
What I wish GW2 did differently
- Didn't realize until after we were done I had the wrong utility slotted - so many and some icons similar
- Could have made a better off-hand weapon choice if I'd thought about the significance
- Took too long to find my "right" weapon after changing to a ranged weapon someone loaned me
- I want to change a utlity when it's on cool down. Don't want to use it, just change it
One of my biggest wishes is to have a way of saving certain weapon choices / combinations. The weapons I use and how I combine the off-hands, is often driven by the type of content. My approach to questing vs. instances vs. PVP vs. WvW is different. I need way more than two pre-saves.
HUNTING THROUGH MY BAG FOR WEAPONS gets old. Specialty bag or not, the amount of gear drops is crazy high which is a good thing, except finding "my" weapon is often annoying. A simple solution would be to implement another hotbar players can use to link any item. Food is another one I often forget to use - "out of sight, out of mind".
Toggling my weapons should toggle my utility skills. When I hot-swap weapons, I'm adjusting my combat strategy for a reason. I want my utility skills to toggle too. They can provide an opt out for players who like the way it works now.
I find less value all these utility skills I'm being forced to purchase before I can access the elites, when only 4 can be active at any given time and I can't change them when they're on cool-down. Swapping when you toggle back and forth between your two weapons sets, would at least expose more of them for use and make them more... well, useful!
Lastly, I should be able to change utility skills when they are cool down. Pretty please!! I shouldn't be able to use a new one in that slot while it's on cool down but there's no reason I shouldn't be able to change it out.
All in all, Ascalon Catacombs was a fun instance. I'd do it again, when I have two hours to spare and nothing else to do. For now, however, there's so much content at my disposal that I'm relunctant to re-run things I've already done. The levels are melting away very quickly and I haven't stepped foot in PVP or WVW since the Beta Weekend Events!