If you’re coming from another fantasy MMO, then the concept of dungeons won’t be anything new to you. They’re still the instanced, group-based PvE zones you know and love. There are differences in how dungeons in Guild Wars 2 are designed, however, and understanding those differences will greatly increase your enjoyment.
First and foremost, without the holy trinity of other games, you don’t have dedicated tanks, healers and damage dealers. Instead, everyone needs to be accountable for their own health and well-being. Some professions bring a lot of support and utility to the fight depending on their build, but you can’t sit back and put your life in someone else’s hands the way you can in other games. Without tanks, everyone needs to contribute to managing aggro, enemy positioning and crowd control. This responsibility won’t fall upon a single player (the traditional tank) while everyone else just focuses on their optimal damage rotation. That kind of gameplay is static and stale, and has no place in the next generation of MMOs.
The second major difference is that each dungeon is split into two distinct experiences: Story Mode and Explorable Mode. The main goal in this article will be to explain the differences in those two modes, increase your understanding of their place in the game, and help you enter them with the proper expectations.
Story Mode is your level-appropriate, story experience. The content is meant to be enjoyed as soon as you are high enough to enter and participate, and the difficulty is scaled to accommodate 5 players of that level. It’s designed on the assumption that players will clear it once, and then move on.
You’ll unlock your first Story Mode dungeon at level 30 with Ascalonian Catacombs. While this may seem a little late in the game for an introductory dungeon experience relative to other MMOs, there’s good reason for it. In Guild Wars 2, even basic dungeon delving is aimed at delivering a real challenge. By level 30, you’ll have unlocked all of your utility skill slots, including your first elite skill. A certain level of profession mastery is therefore assumed. You’ll also no doubt have experimented with several weapons (or kits, for engineers) available to your profession by that point, and understand the role each plays in your arsenal. You’ll need this level of understanding and mastery to be successful.
The list of all dungeons and levels their Story/Explorable Modes are available is as follows:
- Ascalonian Catacombs – Level 30/Level 35
- Caudecus’s Manor – Level 40/45
- Twilight Arbor – Level 50/55
- Sorrow’s Embrace – Level 60/65
- Citadel of Flame – Level 70/75
- Crucible of Eternity - Level 80
- Honor of the Waves – Level 80
- Arah – Level 80
Story Modes can be conquered as soon as you are high enough level to enter them.
Explorable Modes are different beasts entirely. Explorable Mode dungeons are set after the events of Story Mode took place. You’re essentially returning to the same dungeon in order to delve deeper into it and face more difficult and far deadlier evils. Each Explorable Mode offers 3 different paths that scale between easy, medium and hard difficulties, but even the easiest path is far more challenging than Story Mode. The assumption is that players will return here repeatedly to farm collectible armor sets and to experience each path.
The main point to keep in mind, and this is extremely important, is that Explorable Modes are considered part of the endgame content of Guild Wars 2. Since you’ll always be scaled down appropriately to the level of the dungeon, and since loot drops scale up to your actual character level, they are just as viable to go back and play through at level 80 – regardless of the level you can first access them.
You unlock your first Explorable Mode at level 35 after you’ve cleared Ascalonian Catacombs on Story Mode. That said, just because you can enter it at that level doesn’t mean you should. It all comes down to what kind of player you are. If you’re seeking the ultimate challenge, then by all means, go right in. Beta or not, Explorable Mode Ascalonian Catacombs at the minimum level was tougher than most raids I faced in other MMOs. I can only assume that others will follow the same pattern, and they aren’t for the faint of heart or the easily discouraged.
Conversely, there is nothing wrong with treating Explorable Modes like endgame. Giving yourself a few extra levels as a buffer before heading in will help. Sure, you’ll still be scaled down to the appropriate level, but a level 40 who is scaled down to 35 is always going to be more powerful than a fresh level 35. This small advantage could be the difference between an enjoyable experience and a frustrating one in the early dungeons.
My advice for most players is to look at the minimum level you can access each Explorable Mode, and add a few levels to it (where possible) before entering. Obviously this won’t be possible for the top tier of dungeons, but by then you’ll hopefully be familiar enough with the difficulty spike that you’ll be prepared for it.
Collecting gear sets from these dungeons is one of the activities ArenaNet expects players to engage in as endgame. They’ll scale the difficulty accordingly. Understanding what you’re in for up front will help you get the most out of the experience. We’ll see you in game soon!