The latest attempt at Guild Wars came perilously close to another frustrating ending. Here is the recurrent problem: Guild Wars quest structure arranges things around Missions that are the main building blocks of the central storyline. There are also Primary Quests that are interlaced with the Missions and lead you from one Mission to another. Then there are Secondary Quests that are side quests.
Guild Wars progression play is strictly quest-oriented. There is very little room to advance outside of the linear path, and conventional grinding, while possible, is extremely inefficient. There is also no real way to find out what level you should be for any particular quest short of going to the Wiki, and that’s not always illuminating. The only way to know how tough a particular mission or quest will be is to run it, and some of the missions take quite a while to run. When you get to the end after 45 minutes of slog and choke on the final boss, the motivation to do it again, maybe with a different build, decreases with each successive failure.
The mission in this case was Jokanur Diggings, which is the second Mission proper in the Nightfall storyline. To get that far I had to have either reached the Sunspear rank of First Spear, which you can in principle do at a low level, or have attained level 12. Does that mean you should be shooting to be level 12 when you run the mission? Or is it doable at level 9, which is where I was?
It took so long because of a quirk, maybe even a bug, in the way you have to place stone tablets on pedestals during the Mission. At one point you need to have two tablets placed, but after placing one and running to get the other one (and fighting the mobs guarding it,) the first tablet resets by the time you get back. I tried it in a number of different combinations before hitting on the trick — obtain the first tablet, then drop it in front of the pedestal instead of activating it. Go get the second one, and place them one after the other. The mobs in the place all respawn, so you have to fight your way through the same packs multiple times to get the whole thing done.
After all that rigamarole, I couldn’t defeat the final boss with what was by then an all-Hero party. It was one of those weird stalemate things that happens in Guild Wars with some regularity; each side was out-healing the other’s damage output. Because the process of running the mission is not itself rewarding in terms of either loot or XP, and you only get paid out at the end, failing a mission repeatedly feels a lot like hitting a wall.
This is frustrating because Guild Wars is such a linear game. It’s not that it’s difficult or challenging, it’s that there is no alternative route through the game — if you get stuck on a storyline mission and there aren’t enough side quests available to go get another level or two before trying it again, you have hit a virtual roadblock. What’s happened in the past — and my Prophecies and Factions characters are stuck in exactly the same type of situation — is that I’ve lost interest and moved on to something less frustratingly rigid.
In this case, on the second pass, after a mild gear upgrade and a build tweaked to lay more debilitating conditions down on that boss, I took him down with relative ease. It’s possible that I’m starting to get the hand of character builds, an area where GW is vastly different from other MMOs, and if so, it’s about freaking time — I’ve owned the fucking thing since 2007. For now, at least, the Guild Wars run continues.