Easier Said than Done: The Ascalonian Catacombs, I

by northernbeholder

So, you’re feeling like you’ve got this Guild Wars 2 thing under control. You’ve played through most of your race’s PvE zones.  You’ve conquered story mode in several dungeons – maybe all of them!  You’re confident in your skill selection, your traits, and your gear.  You think it’s time for explorable mode – and then you die.

Explorable mode is not unbeatable. If I can do it (and I’m pretty mediocre at MMOs) you can do it, but it’s not going to be easy.  Explorable is very much a “learn by experience” situation, where “experience” tends to mean “finding out the specifics of an encounter while dying, then planning a better outcome with your new knowledge”. Parties that can think fast and coordinate well (Vent or another VOIP program are great for this) can skip the dying part, so long as they’re slow and cautious.   I enjoy this, personally – it’s like a puzzle, except the solution always involves awesome, brutal combat.  However, not everyone feels this way, so if you’re stuck or just want to avoid some of the initial pain, this guide is for you!

Why should I bother?

Explorable mode really has only two things going for it.  First, if you’re looking for a challenge, it’s the hardest PvE encounter in the game.   If you’re not really into that, each explorable dungeon has associated gear that comes with unique stat sets and appearances.  Successfully completing a leg of an explorable dungeon gives you tokens you can put towards purchasing said gear.

What build should I have?

I’m not really a believer in the whole “you need X specific build to do Y thing.”  I certainly haven’t checked out the forums or wiki for the most optimal setup.  I’ve done what I always do in an RPG, which is picking skills and traits based what sounds cool, useful, or might complement my playstyle.  However, there are a few general tips I can give:

– Have at least one ranged weaponset.  Melee is more powerful, but sometimes you take too much damage to stay in the fight. Having a ranged weapon to switch to will let you still contribute while you wait for your heal to recharge.  Also, some bosses are much easier to deal with at range.

– Bring at least one skill that can remove conditions.  Whether you’re slowed, stunned, bleeding, on fire or poisoned, letting conditions linger too long can impair your effectiveness and come dangerously close to killing you.

– Don’t be a glass cannon, especially if you use melee, unless you can afford a lot of repair bills.  There are no aggro-management mechanics, and you can’t count on the warrior tanking the spawn while you DPS in safety.  Builds that focus too much on power and precision over vitality and toughness are going to die a lot more often, because you can’t blitz dungeon enemies like you can on the overworld.

Who should I bring with me?

Definitely bring guildmates or, failing that, friends that you know you can rely on.  Even more so than in story mode, it’s absolutely imperative for the party to work together and coordinate in explorable dungeons.  While you can grab a random pick-up group (PUG) and do alright, the chances of getting some random idiot who constantly runs off, pulls huge spawns and refuses to work with the group go up sharply.

No, I mean, like, classes. What classes should I bring, and how many?

This is like the “what build should I use?” question.  There’s no right answer. All classes have such a wide variety of weapon and utility skills that they’re all useful in almost any situation. Except necromancers, who should be ashamed of themselves. But, since you brought it up, let’s meet the team from The Smiling Crows that accompanied me in the making of this guide!

Freyja Stormhand is a level 80 Norn warrior.  Warrior is a very flexible class that can fill almost any niche depending on their skills and weapons; Freyja’s choice of sword/shield means she has the dual role of “killing things” and “not dying”. Her high defense and deep HP pool help her to withstand enemy attacks while reviving the fallen or waiting for respawned allies to hurry back – an important factor if  you don’t want a mostly-dead enemy to reset and regain all its health.

Kinnuriel is a level 80 Human elementalist.  He’s the good kind of elementalist, switching between all four elemental attunements with a fluid ease, always with the right one ready for the situation.  His ability to plaster the battlefield with high-damage Area-of-Effect spells makes him the go-to man for cleaning up large spawns and an absolute beast when it comes to taking down stationary targets.  When facing something that moves too fast for AoEs, he buries it under summoned elementals.

Chaile is a level 80 Sylvari thief. Thieves are fantastic to have in dungeons, as they can overwhelm enemies with a ton of conditions such as weakness, blindness, cripple, vulnerability, poison and bleeds – all of which can turn the tide of a fight.  Thieves are also very useful for reviving fallen party members mid-battle thanks to the “Shadow Refuge” skill, which drops an AoE stealth + regen, speeding recovery and turning away the attention of any curious enemies who might want to interrupt.

The Incredible Zizi (left) and Orbixitron (right) are a pair of level 80 Asura mesmers. Like thieves, mesmers apply lots of fun conditions to enemies, and are great to have in a dungeon.  They also have a few specific spells that can be total game-changers: Time Warp, which gives the Quickness buff (not to be confused with Swiftness) to all allies within the field, increasing their attack speed; Null Field, which cleanses conditions from all allies and removes boons from enemies within the field; and Feedback, which reflects enemy projectile attacks back on them.  Well-timed Feedbacks can absolutely shut down bosses with ranged knockdown attacks, because when it’s reflected back on the boss it doesn’t trigger their usual Defiance immunity.

I’d like to point out that this is not meant to be either a recommended or an optimal party composition; it’s simply whoever was both online and willing to help out at the time. The team is basically everyone who was least resistant to my nagging.

Next entry, the fun begins!