The *new* Ascalonian Catacombs

Last night some guildies and I ran through story mode and all three explorable paths of Ascalonian Catacombs. Just hours before publishing this article I did another run of path 1 and path 2. My experience was great and I came out of the dungeon feeling that the encounters were much more interesting. If this is Arena Nets vision for all the dungeons then we are in for a treat. Today I would like to quickly go over these changes to Ascalonion Catacombs and provide you with the strategies we used to clear all three explorable paths. Here is the official list of changes from the patch notes.

    - Improved the skills on the cave troll boss. 
    - Additional ghostly allies will now join Kholer
    - Removed breeders from the spawns during Hodgins’ search for the first scepter
    - Rebalanced the graveling dungeon army to make them more interesting and fun to fight
    - Revamped the Ghost Eater fight to include Detha’s traps
    - Revamped the Colossus Rumblus fight to give him new skills and abilities
    - Revamped the Howling King encounter and made changes to his army
    - Adjusted the health of dungeon creatures and bosses

These changes leave a lot open to interpretation which limits how I can write this article. I can not sit here and tell you facts about what was changed in every case. What I can provide is a narrative account of my group's and my own experience playing through this dungeon for the first time since the patch. Another thing to note is that not everything that has been changed has been recorded in the patch notes. Robert Hrouda had this to say on the forums when called out,
I am not in charge of the patch notes – that’s someone else job, and they decided that the patch note wasn't worth including. Keep in mind we have to translate these things, and there could be several reasons it was not included, from budget to time constraint. I am working with the people who write the patch notes though, to not drop off as many as they have been lately for dungeons.
Not having the full patch notes is kind of frustrating when writing an article like this but last night it led to a sense of mystery. We didn't know what to expect or what exactly had changed. In the future though I for one would appreciate all the details they are willing to give on the changes made and then I can decide to look at them or not.

The party that got it done. From left to right,
Coal Blackroot, Thallorius, Me (Crushtastic),
Arsenic Loki, and Keti Scheewolf
I have now run AC path 1 and 2 twice since the update and path three once. All my runs were with guildies. We did not use voice communication at all instead we relied on party chat. I ended up running with a variety of people but I had two primary groups. The first group consisted of four 80s (a thief, an engineer, a warrior, and a guardian) and a 35 (an elementalist). I couldn't tell you what each build is; however, as a group we had decent DPS and were fairly beefy. The second group consisted of five 80s (two thieves, a ranger, guardian/engineer, and a necro). This group had more DPS but less survivability. I played my thief both times and ran with my Jack-of-all-Trades thief build. I also did a run through story mode. It served as a good warm up on the first night and we breezed through in under 20 minutes. There were no changes to this part of the dungeon so I will move on to the explorable paths.

The planning room. Which plan will you follow?

Spiders, Trolls, and Kholer

Like Queen like spiderling.
The first major encounter of the Dungeon is the Spider Queen. I ended up doing this encounter five times. On the first run we defeated it without issue. On the second run we wiped twice after spawning the Spider Queen before the spiderlings and gargoyles were defeated. We rallied and got it done. Our third attempt had no issues. Run four was with a new group and we had one wipe. Again we reset and cleared it. Run five was rocky but we made it through. The patch notes do not say anything specific changed with this encounter but we felt some things were different. The Spider Queens AoE was much stronger and she spat webs at us. The hardest thing to remember was that the AoE was actually a danger as before you could stand in it without issue. Once my groups had that in mind it was actually quite easy.

The Spider Queens web attack snares Keti.
Another changed we noticed at this point was the big door blocking passage to the rest of the dungeon. This door does not disappear until the Spider Queen encounter is complete. I have never skipped the spider before as the reward it gives is worth the effort so this change actually does not effect me. I didn't even notice it on the first run through.

The Stalker evades my attacks.
Next you fight a group of gravelings which highlight some of their new abilities. They will knock you down and bleed you a lot more and the Graveling Stalker has an annoying evade ability where it turns transparent and is immune to direct damage for a time. This is kind of annoying but all-in-all individually gravelings aren't any bigger of a threat, but whenever they get together in groups they are extremely dangerous as they can chain knockdowns and knockbacks that will leave you crying.

Kholer face tanks like a man.
The next major encounter is Kholer. Kholer is a thorn in the side of a number of people. I have never really had any issues with him. Once you know how to look for his tell (he raises his sword in the air) then the fight is rather trivial. The most obvious change to this encounter is that Kholer now spawns minions throughout the fight. Now it doesn't matter if you pull him away from his spawn location you will always have to deal with some adds. We simply focused the adds down and kept an eye out for Kholer's pull and we did fine. Occasionally someone would go down, we would laugh, and get back to it. Finally, it seems like Kholer performs the pull less often and his spin attack does less damage. I let him pull me in once and stood still during the spin attack and survived with around 100 HP. Overall, this encounter is much easier. We fought Kholer straight up three of the fives times I ran through AC and had no wipes.

On the other two runs the Cave Troll spawned and we lured it to Kholer for a fight. Kholer beat the Troll on both occasions and we cleaned up. We could tell that the Troll had a number of new abilities including a glowing projectile attack which bounces from one target to the next. He also performs a jump with a radial knock back along five directions. I kind of wish they would put the Troll in places that forced your team to fight him. The temptation to lure him to Kholer for a show down is too great for most parties to turn down.

Path One

The next encounter to discuss is Path 1's Burrow Room. The burrows no longer spawn Breeders and instead they seem to spawn higher quantities of the lesser gravelings. I did this encounter twice and both times it proved a challenge. Both times we attempted the "traditional" method with one person defending and the rest taking down the burrows. Of the three or four times we tried this it always failed. As our experienced defender said, "Holy crap there are way more gravelings now." Other strategies that failed; a  two pronged blitz across both sets of burrows, three defenders with two attackers, and two parties for each side of the room. 

Map of the strategy outlined.
Both times we succeeded we had to have strong coordination placing party members where they were strongest. The strategy we employed was actually quite complicated and it will help to give the players names to better describe it. Lets call them A, B, C, D, and E. A, B, and C start on the western burrow and D and E start on the burrow just above Hodgins (top image).

A, B, C quickly destroy the western burrow while A moves on to the next burrow in the chain. B and C stayed behind where the first burrow was to screen the gravelings and finish them off. While this is going on D and E are killing the trash the comes out of the upper burrow without killing the burrow itself. Once B and C clear their gravelings C moves to the eastern side of the room to join D and E. B stays on screening duty (2nd image).

At about this point A will finish off their burrow and will join B and finish off any gravelings in the area. Now the action shiftd to the eastern half of the room. C will continue screening the upper burrow while D and E break off and down the final burrow in the first chain (3rd image).

Once that burrow is destroyed a lot of pressure is relieved. A and B will probably still be dealing with gravelings on the western half of the map while C, D, and E finish up the upper burrow and the one that comes after it. Each time they are leaving someone behind to screen and clear the gravelings that that left over. Once the final mound appears A and B will be in good position to attack it while C, D, and E protect Hodgins from the remaining gravelings (bottom image).

This wasn't easy either time we went through. When we did finally lock down the strategy it felt right and it actually went REALLY smoothly. It might not happen the first time you try. Don't be discouraged. You might need to come up with your own strategy for your party composition. Having the right people in the right place goes a long way.

The Death Beam. Don't get derped.
To wrap up Path 1 we fought the Howling King. The first time I fought him my party cleared it no problem. The second time, however, we had great difficulty taking about 5 or 6 tries to finally crack it. There are a number of things to watch out for in this encounter. Firstly, is the death beam that the Howling King will let loose. It will down you and then keep going til you are dead. Luckily it seems to be very narrow and is easy to dodge. He also performs a small cone scream to those in front of him. The scream does little damage but it will cripple you and put about five stacks of confusion on you. This attack is subtle but deadly. If that wasn't enough to keep you busy there are also fire traps on the ground that are deadly to you and to the gravelings in the encounter.

The strategy going into this was to stay tight as a group and kite him around in a circle through the different fire traps. While that works in theory it usually quickly turned into a cluster with every one kind of having to look out for them selves. If you had gravelings on you then you kited them into a fire trap and they died. If not you put your best DPS on to the Howling King. Eventually everyone got the rhythm of the fight and we got it done. At one point I was the last one up with him at about 10% HP. My party encouraged me to go forward and try to solo it. I got him so close (like a hair away) before a graveling jumped me. Though I tried to get up with Shadowstep I wasn't quick enough and was quickly jumped by three more gravelings and that was that.

Another death beam shot. Notice the fire traps.
In retrospect, I had to think about why my first run went so cleanly and I think it was because we natural fell into a rhythm of having three people on the Howling King while two others intercepted the gravelings. It all happened really quickly and I didn't really even get a chance to see what we did right. The fight is not in any respects trivial nor was the first group any better then the second. Thus, I think there are two strategies in this encounter. One would be an every man for himself style like my second group ended up using. Everyone needs to have strong condition removal and at least one stun breaker. The strategy here is that everyone looks after themselves. Ressing is tricky if you don't have a thief with Shadow Refuge as the gravelings will make mince meat of those reviving. The best bet is to keep moving and if you have gravelings on you burn them in the fire. The other strategy would be to have some players intercept the incoming gravelings BEFORE they get to those DPSing the Howling King. Once agro'd the gravelings are very hard to loose.

Path Two

Next lets talk Path 2. The first encounter in this path is the trap room. Both times the trap room went down smoothly. In both instances, I took on the role of kiting the gravelings while the other four worked the traps. I derped on the second go and let the Breeder get past me. Luckily my party was fast acting and the person with the Breeder's agro joined me kiting and another took over the centre trap. I payed for my derp with my life so at least there was that justice. The first try though I did it no problem. I didn't even go down and usually I do (not that it is a big deal as you just rally of a dying graveling) and I was kiting on my own which I don't normally do.

Bathing in the AoEs.
The major difference in Path 2 was at the end of the encounter. Firstly, the Ascalonian ghosts which attack Detha, while she set up her traps, were much easier. I can not even begin to describe how much less damage they do. I remember standing in an area overlapping with Necromancer AoEs and laughing at how little damage I was taking. Both times we breezed through this part. This was a nice change as usually this is by far the hardest part of the path and probably the dungeon and it shouldn't be. It isn't a boss fight or anything. Thus, this was an excellent improvement.

The "Ghost Shield" buff. Also notice the boss' description.
The Ghost Eater is completely different than before. On the first run through we derped around for quite a while trying to figure out what exactly we had to do. It took about 5 minutes then we had it and finished the encounter without incident. The first thing to notice is the new buff on the Ghost Eater called "Ghost Shield". You know this buff is up when the Ghost Eater looks like a ghost. One of the effects of this shield is to make the The Ghost Eater invulnerable. The other effect is to cause to her to spawn oozes when attacked. Next thing to notice are the guns strewn about the room. The guns have two abilities, a lift and a pull. Neither does anything on its own but when an ooze is lifted it can be pulled. Once an ooze is pulled into range of a trap it will dissolve and provide power to the trap. Three oozes will completely power a trap. Once the Ghost Eater enters the area of a charged trap it will remove the Ghost Shield buff at which point you are free to do damage.

The Ghost Eater in Ghost mode next to a trap.
The second run was dicey and we wiped twice. The main danger in this fight is the AoE attack that the Ghost Eater performs. He will spit out goo that coats the floor doing big chunks of damage. You really need to avoid this. Luckily he will target one person and that person needs to kite the Ghost Eater around while the others take care of charging the traps. I would recommend kiting the Ghost Eater around a pole. That worked best for me. Keeping the Ghost Eater busy is important as the AoEs will block the traps.

When the trap explodes a bright wave of light passes
over the Ghost Eater removing his buff.
As I see it there are two strategies you can employ. Firstly, you can do one trap at a time. The down side to this strategy is that the Ghost Eater can heal. It seems that he will release the oozes when attacked for a short period of time. When that time is up the oozes left will return to the Ghost Eater healing her. If you are quick there won't be problems if not then strategy two might be for you. This involves charging all three traps and then pulling him from one to the next. That should be enough to kill him. The down side to this is that you need to have someone in your party that can kite the Ghost Eater long enough to charge all the traps. I tried doing this for my party with some success. It wasn't easy though.

Some general tips for this encounter would be to have all party members turn off auto attack. Attacking the Ghost Eater while he has his buff up will only cause oozes to spawn that will eventually heal him. Also, assigning party members as either pull and lift before you start and sticking to these assignments will help. Nothing is worse then lifting an ooze at the same time three others do. If your party is extremely coordinated then you might even have two groups with one pull and one lift in each focusing two oozes. My groups simply targeted an single ooze. The lifters lifted and the pullers pulled. Sometimes this was dicey but it got the job done.

Path Three

Finally, we come to part 3. I only ran this path once on the first night after the patch. And unfortunately all my screenshots from the first night didn't actually get taken. I blame FRAPs, FRAPs blames me. Whatever. There isn't much too see in this path that is different anyway. Most of the screenshot below were taken from this video which I have embedded below.

The Lovers room went down with no problems. We just ran from burrow to burrow quickly downing them. We weren't pro or anything and after the first five or so burrows were spinning around looking for the next one. Common sense of targeting the burrow when you see it payed off and we breezed through.

You can see the large AoEs from the roof collapse.
The boss fight with Colossus Rumblus was challenging. We lost a party member right before the fight as well and were unable to replace him due to people being on different builds that night. In the end we did four man him. The main mechanic with this fight is basically the entire roof collapsing in on you and your party. The only place to take shelter from this is near the NPC named Grast who will put up a shield to defend everyone... sometimes. Whether he is meant to shield your group every time I do not know but it seems bugged to me. Right before Rumblus triggers the roof to cave in he waves around and kind of glows green. This seemed perfect for an interrupt but this also seems bugged. I hit him with a number of Headshots and was unable to interrupt the ability even though "interrupted" would display. On the forums Robert Hrouda is calling it bugged.
Hmm, that seems like a bug. It was intended that you could interrupt the howl that caused the rocks to fall. I’ll send that over to our QA and get it verified.
Here the tell that indicated Rumblus
is about to make the roof collapse.
Not sure how something like that slipped past them but alright. My party wiped a about a dozen times trying to crack this one. We even got wiped about 15 seconds into the encounter one time. Positioning is everything in this fight. If you get hit by the falling roof you get knocked down. If you get knocked down and do not have a way to get up you are going to go down and most likely will die. Ressing people is extremely difficult and it is best you just do not go down in the first place. Watch for Rumblus' tell and get near Grast for protection. Then watch out for Rumblus as he has knock backs that can hit you out of the shielded area.

This is where I bring up the third potential bug in this encounter. If your party wipes you will need to rez Grast to even have a hope in your next fight. The problem is Rumblus will most likely be pathing over top over his dead body. Not only that once you do get Grast up he will pull a Leroy Jenkins into the fight at 50% HP. This isn't enough HP for him to survive the entire fight and he will go down again. You either need to get him back up or get dodging because he is your only line of defence. Some how he did go back to full HP for us and that was also the time we defeated Rumblus as we had Grasts' help the entire time.

The final thing to mention about this encounter is that there might be a safe spot outside Grast's shield. While we were playing we noticed a spot under the archway of the ruins that seemed to be devoid of falling rocks. Shortly after spotting this we finished the encounter without getting a chance to test this. I did find this Youtube video of a guy using that spot to his advantage though.

It hasn't been confirmed on whether this is intentional or not but while the rest of the event is bugged I see no harm in taking advantage of this. This is a challenging fight without a doubt. Once the bugs are fixed it will most likely be enjoyable. Being able to interrupt the roof caving in will go a long way. Personally, I wish that the shield ability that Grast performed was in the hands of a player. Relying in an NPC is lame. Instead I feel there should be an item that a player can hold to generate the shield or be a thing sitting in the middle of the room that can be activated.


I think this has turned into the longest post I have ever written (I am also still finding grammer errors. Sorry one man show here!). There was a lot to talk about and I am not done yet! A lot of my guild mates have been asking me, "Is AC easier or harder now?" My answer to them is that it is neither. Some parts are easier some parts are harder. Overall, I would say it is more interesting. The mechanics for the boss fights are challenging and exciting. They definitely keep you on your toes and require cooperation. The only thing I would say this dungeon needs now are more spotlight moments and it would be brilliant.

Meh loot.
Thanks Kholer.
If this is the path that Arena Net plans to take with all the dungeons then by all means carry on. These changes are excellent and much needed. I would also imagine that a number of new strategies will emerge in the next couple weeks that will help everyone in completing these dungeons in record times. The biggest hinderance to running the new AC will be your previous expectations to what the fights will be like. Go into the Spider Queen fight assuming the AoEs are no big deal and you will die. Assuming you can get away running dungeon without a stun removal will get you killed. If you put your brain to the task though and drop your expectations you will be fine. Just do not expect PUGs to know what to do or for that matter to even be aware that the dungeon has changed for the next month. If you aren't willing to put up with a wipe or two then do not run this dungeon until people learn what they are doing or stick with those that you know have completed it post patch.

Sorry about the long post. I hope some of you have made it to this point. If so, let me know what your take on the new AC is? Have you run it? If not, what do you think of my take on it? Does it make you want to find a group and get out there and give it a go? Or does it intimidate you into not wanting to try? Let me know in the comments!

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