The Guild Wars 2 Preview for the Rest of Us

With all the bourgeois previews (mostly) behind us, it is time for the Everyman take on the Guild Wars 2 beta.

I was going to split this post up and sell them to you across three different days, but you know what? I think you can handle it. So buckle up, girl scouts, and get ready to earn your Too Long; Read It Anyway merit badges.

Point 0: Selling Games is Hard

I decided to prepurchase the preorder by prepaying on Friday, which admittedly was cutting it close given that’s when the beta weekend began. Credit card in hand, I zipped over to the ArenaNet site and witnessed the impossible: the Guild Wars 2 Digital Edition was sold out.

Yes, an infinitely reproducible digital good was sold out.

Please take... my... money?

Now, obviously, the actual digital data being infinitely reproducible is not the underlying issue; it probably has to do with a concern for beta server populations. As Blizzard can recently attest, the status quo is apparently being shocked that anyone, let alone millions of people, are willing to pay money to be in betas. Perhaps we should take this as a good sign.

I bring this up though, because A) I found it amusing at the time, and B) I simply went off to Gamestop.com and bought the digital edition there. I tried Amazon first, but apparently Amazon, bless their hearts, don’t recognize “prepurchases” wherein you buy products that don’t formally exist yet… and run-of-the-mill preorders don’t come with beta access.

In a way though, I am kinda glad that I bought from Gamestop. Not only was I supporting a retailer who is in open defiance of the increasingly anti-consumer game industry – a retailer, mind you, that was merely selling beta codes and not any actual product (the client was downloaded on ArenaNet’s bandwidth dime) – but ArenaNet also lost whatever X% retailer cut Gamestop takes out. Now that’s a marketing screw-up with teeth.

It’s 2012. Buying games shouldn’t be this hard.

Point 1: PvE is SWTOR meets Warhammer meets Rift

Disclaimer: I haven’t actually played Rift. Also, I don’t care what MMO did what first.

I played up to level 12 as a human Guardian (e.g. paladin), level 8 Norn Ranger (e.g. hunter), level 6 human Thief (e.g. rogue), and level 4 Charr Warrior (e.g. PvP god-mode). If you are like me, none of that probably means anything to you, but I am including it for reference purposes. The important thing is that I spent the bulk of my playtime as a weak-ass melee paladin, which is triply redundant for reasons that will become obvious shortly.

Click the map below for a larger version:

"Dynamic" is a marketing buzzword, like webinar and synergy, that needs to die.

You have probably heard a lot about “dynamic questing” and “revolutionizing the quest experience.” If that sort of thing is in Guild Wars 2 (or the beta), I did not see it.

What happens is you have a main storyline quest that puts you into your own instance ala SWTOR. Each step of said quest greatly outpaces your own level, which forces you out into the world to level up. The general idea is to open your map, go towards the empty heart icons which are “quest hubs” of sorts, and hope you kill enough stuff or encounter enough dynamic events to level you up enough to tackle the other empty hearts. Generally speaking, I was NOT able to complete every hub and dynamic event I came across AND still have achieved the appropriate level to move onward. That is to say, I did everything I could see to do, and I was still 1-2 levels below what the game recommended I should be at to continue the story quests.

Redoing dynamic events or straight-up grinding mobs was certainly possible, but considering this is a game that sells +50% XP potions in a cash shop, I would start getting worried.

A few months ago, WildStar put out a Dev Diary in which they explained how they took the traditional quest log text and pared it down to a Twitter length of < 140 characters. This was derided at the time by Syp at Biobreak as “dumbing down” quests. Guild Wars 2 beats WildStar to the punch by having no quest text at all. The “dynamism” of GW2 questing is that you never have to talk to NPCs: simply walk in their vicinity, glance at the upper right corner to see what they want you to do, and then do one or all of those tasks. Dynamic Events are the same: get notification, head towards orange circle, do multi-part Public Quest.

The first real human quest hub, for example, is at a farm. Once you get close enough, the quest tracker indicates you can water plants, feed cows, or kick in wurm holes. You can talk to an NPC for additional explanation – perhaps explaining the mechanics of watering plants – but it isn’t necessary. Each performance of any of those activities increases a completion meter, which means if you were bored enough, you could complete the whole thing by watering corn. Or if you wanted all combat, just kick in the wurm holes. Every 10 minutes a “dynamic” event of bandits attacking said farm will begin, which is separate from the quest hub itself. On one character, the bandits started setting fire to the bales of hay at the farm, which may have been some indication that an earlier stage of the Event failed, I dunno.

There is (voiced) text in the story quests, but everywhere else reading is at least implicitly discouraged. It got to the point where I loathed to even read what they wanted me to do in the quest tracker – with all this crazy activity happening around me, I felt out of place standing slack-jawed in a field, staring into the upper-right corner of the screen. “Reading? How quaint.” And I am a reading guy!

By the way, allow me to confirm the total marginalization of grouping. Essentially, the only reason why you would need to group in a specific party is for chat purposes and possibly to see each other on the minimap. Otherwise, there is no kill stealing, there is no loot ninjaing, and everyone gets shared credit for everything provided you tag the mob too. Remember the Firelands daily quests wherein a warlock could drop one debuff on everything and get shared credit, compared to melee classes that were largely screwed? Same deal here, same weaknesses.

If you are wondering how Dynamic Events scale with (increased) player participation, the answer is “Badly.” As the number of players increase, the number of mobs ramps up and so do their level. The farm I talked about earlier has a recommended level of 2; with about a dozen level 2 players nearby, we were besieged by LEVEL 5 BANDITS, all of whom had ranged attacks. Needless to say, playing a melee class that requires placing runes on the ground for enemies to stand on was a recipe for disaster (and instant death).

Point 2: Combat System

Speaking of disasters, had I not played a rogue on Sunday, I would have written off all melee classes in Guild Wars 2 PvE. You might want to anyway, just to be on the safe side.

It is not so much that soloing was impossible, it is the simple fact that melee have zero advantages compared to ranged, and every possible disadvantage. Dodging wasn’t necessary for the mobs I encountered in the world, but any time I was in a juiced-up dynamic event, the sheer press of ridiculous damage either killed me instantly or had me frantically trying to kite while ranged players merrily AoEd everything down. Some mobs’ “Dodge this!” cues are more obvious than others, but as anyone with a functioning brain stem can imagine, melee classes have less time to react to them assuming they even notice the animation at all amongst the sparkles and general fisticuffs.

I did happen to face one level 11 elite mini-boss as part of some event with some other players nearby. By that point, I had actually discovered a reasonable weapon setup on the Guardian, and the whole experience might be transferable to dungeons.

Ring around the rosy.

Basically, while six ranged players were dealing damage (and running away when the boss randomly started heading their way), myself and another melee were trying to snare the boss without getting instantly killed by it’s melee. With a Greatsword equipped, I would do a charge/leap attack that Blinded the boss (next attack has 100% miss chance), maybe place a rune down if he didn’t immediately turn around, and then run away. Next was ranged AoE snare via the Greatsword, and right before the snare wears off, pressing the button again causes all those snared to be pulled towards me, AoE Death Grip style. Then running away. I then swapped to my scepter + shield, giving me access to a ranged root and some weak ranged auto-attacks. The shield unlocks a channeled ability which knocks back all hostiles in a dome around me, which I used at one point when a ranged player was trying to rez the other melee before the boss finished him off.

If all that sounded cool, well, it kinda was at the time.

Then I rolled a ranger, and had four or five different snares/roots by level 8. My base auto-attack as a brand new level 1 character was chucking an axe which ricochets off up to five enemies. In short, I could have done anything my Guardian did and more (i.e. actually dealing damage to the boss) with a class that has it easier anyway. ArenaNet apparently took the page (it’s only one page long, after all) from Blizzard’s Cataclysm raid design book in which melee can be replaced by ranged with no downsides. At least there’s no trinity, amirite?

Other than that? Combat in general feels about 85% of WoW, on a visceral level. As means of comparison, I would judge Aion’s beta combat at 50% and Warhammer’s beta (PvE) combat at 60%.

Point 3: Dungeons

Couldn’t test any, given the first dungeon is at level 30.

And, no, ArenaNet will not be having any lower-level dungeons than that.

Point 4: “Battlegrounds”

Whoo, boy.

When you zone into the Mists –  a sort of PvP lobby that includes training dummies, vendors, bank access, various tutorial NPCs, and so on – you are auto-leveled to 80, all abilities/traits are unlocked, and you given a full set of PvP gear. You can purchase additional weapons and gems for free, if you want to try different set ups.

It is, in a word, overwhelming. And you can do it from level 1.

The Guardian *does* have some vaguely interesting area-denial abilities.

Joining a BG requires talking to an NPC and then choosing a specific server to join, which is decidedly retro. Once inside, you will play one of the two (2) BGs they have available until you forcibly leave; in other words, there is not a “leave BG” button at the end of the match. The two (2) BGs they have are both 8v8 Conquest-style maps with three capturable nodes and a different pair of gimmicks. One gimmick is the existence of two mini-boss NPCs which you can kill for a boost of 50 points and a team-wide, 30-second buff. The other map’s gimmick are the trebuchets, which allows you to deal ~50% of a player’s lifebar in damage if you hit them. It would probably be pretty powerful if you coordinated said attack with your team, but you always have the option of destroying the enemy’s trebuchets if you want to deny them the opportunity (and it can be rebuilt later too).

Commenting on PvP combat itself is probably useless, considering how important class balance is in informing the overall tone. However, I have some pretty foolproof (BG-specific) observations thus far.

  1. Don’t play Guardian. Paladins suck, as a general rule.
  2. Warriors are PvP gods. Again, as a general rule.
  3. Expect to be eternally snared, rooted, and otherwise CC’d. For example, Warriors have 2-3 gap closers, 7-second snares (most others are ~3 seconds), and stuns/knockdowns/roots. You can and will be killed in a CC-chain if two people are involved, or down to 25% HP if just the warrior.
  4. Classes won’t be balanced around 1v1, so burst DPS classes (warriors, rogues) will rule most BGs. Remember, it’s only 8v8.
  5. Classes won’t be balanced period, given skill ceilings. That is to say, if Move X is absurdly powerful, expect people to say “Dodge it, noob.” Or imply that you should have chosen a different weapon/skill loadout that “counters” it, with your psychic powers.

Some of that is facetious, some is inevitable.

The other interesting thing is… well, that’s it. You can earn Glory Points (aka Honor) for winning or leading the boards in some category, but I did not get the impression that the Glory rewards are stronger items, just cosmetic ones. For as lopsided and “unfair” that WoW BGs can get with the gear differences, I have always enjoyed having a purpose to play in addition to whatever fun is involved – losing stung less knowing I was still (slowly) crawling towards a new upgrade, and winning felt Double Fine (so to speak).

So, we’ll see how long people can enjoy playing two maps with just one game type with no overt rewards.

Point 5: WvWvWvWvWvWbbbbbbfffftttp

Most everything you need to know about WvW can be summed up in this picture:

Yo dawg, I heard you like "world" in your world pvp, so...

Without anything to enhance your movement speed, it takes 2:25 (two minutes, twenty-five seconds) to run from the starting waypoint to the center of the middle keep. If the keep isn’t “contested,” a second waypoint will be available there if you own the structure, but from what I experienced, a single squad of three dudes is enough to disable the whole thing.

Personally, I don’t know why people enjoy this type of gameplay.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s tons of fun shooting people with cannons or arrows from the tops of walls. But the sort of knock on the keep gates, push enemies back, then… kill the big NPC boss? I mean, everyone’s favorite map in WoW is Isle of Conquest, right? And then all the crazy stupid amounts of FPS-crushing AoE? And how it is both easy to instantly die and impossible to remove the enemy from the field? Sign me up.

To explain what I mean with that last bit, you are probably aware of ArenaNet’s “revolutionary” take on death mechanics. Once you hit zero HP, you go to a downed state wherein you actually gain half your HP back but only have 4 abilities. If you manage to damage an enemy that dies, you rally, and self-rez. If everyone leaves you alone, you can press 4 to self-heal until you self-rez. A cannon can drop you in 2 hits without heals, but it takes 3-4 to “kill” a downed enemy. Enemies can “finish you off” by pressing the Interact button near your body, forcing you out of the downed state and into actual death.

But here is the thing: as long as you don’t release, you can always be revived.

So in the WvW battles I was involved in, there was a “natural” sort of pressing the attack, and then falling back to regroup. Each time though, the dead would patiently lay there, dead, gambling that the front would move back their way in the time it would take to release and run back. And they’re right, it’s typically a shorter to wait. What this also means is that a wiped attack can spontaneously regenerate if one (1) dude makes it to the field and starts rezzing people when no one’s looking. Which is great if it’s your group that died, and it is frustrating beyond measure when an outpost you successfully defended for over an hour falls in the two minutes it took to walk somewhere else looking for things to do.

All that being said, what WILL be fun about WvW is if you have a group of guildies running around with voice-chat. A small, coordinated group of 7-8 people can cause a LOT of havoc away from the zerged zones, perhaps behind enemy lines even. You may not be able to hold anything, but it will at least force the enemy to muster a task force to retake their own structures.

By yourself, though? Boring as hell. Unless you happen to be in a cannon with the enemy at the gates.

I could do this for hours. And did.

Final note: you are leveled to 80 while in WvW, but you only get the equipment and skills you zoned in with (there are vendors and banks inside though). This wasn’t a problem in the beta, of course, but I can imagine WvW being next to impossible against any group of actual level-capped players (and their level 80 gear). I suppose you could be on Supply duty – run to set of boxes, click, run back to structure that needs repaired, click, repeat – or even potentially manning the cannons, but it seems bizarre to make such a point about leveling someone to 80 only to make gear matter.

Conclusion

I might have some more to say about the other systems inside the game (crafting, etc), but that will have to wait.

Rather than suggest it’s worth $60 right now, let me just say I am not unhappy with my prepaid preorder prepurchase, at this time. Of course, it is “worth it” in the sense that there is no subscription fee, and thus I am grading it against (potential) hours of amusement per dollar, rather than any sort of long-term MMO rubric. In some respects though, I don’t feel comfortable judging the game right now either way, simply because I have seen less than half the classes, and none beyond level 12 (of 80, PvP doesn’t count). I somehow muscled through the low-level paladin experience in TBC for Christ’s sake, and no one would posit the 1-84 gameplay as being indicative of anything in comparison to endgame WoW, right?

So, I remain fairly ambivalent, albeit looking forward to the next beta weekend.

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Posted on May 1, 2012, in Guild Wars 2, Impressions and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. João Carlos

    Azuriel, all classes except guardian are ranged.
    Warrior can use bow and rifle, thief can use dual pistols. So, only guardians will have problems at PvP, but that can easily change at beta (they can just add bow to guardian or make scepter a more effective ranged weapon)

    • Guardians had ranged attacks too via the staff or the scepter, but let’s be honest here: aside from perhaps thieves with pistols, warriors are meant to be a melee class.

      But let’s say I agree with you, that “all classes are ranged.” That doesn’t make the situation any better. All that does is admit ArenaNet was unwilling or unable to balance a whole dimension of their combat system. “Your class can equip eight melee weapons, but don’t use any of them, melee is broken.” Why add melee at all if ranged is going to always be better?

      It’s beta, things can change, of course. However, what numbers can they realistically tweak here which solves the underlying systemic issue? Melee has less time to react, and less options period. It’s a tough nut to crack.

      • João Carlos

        “[…] warriors are meant to be a melee class.”

        Who made it law? I was having too much fun with my warrior equiped with two hand sword and rifle at PvE…

        And a funny fact… you can run and shot with rifle… and change weapon with one click.

        I do’nt tryed PvP, but worked very well with my warrior at some pve events.

      • You’re right, there is no “law.” A game could have the paladin class be the one who sneaks around with daggers, and Archers only wield whips. Up could also be down, and black could be white.

        Point being, there are 19 different weapon sets the warrior can use, and TWO of them are ranged. When 89.5% of the weapon code you spent programming is made superfluous by the systemic weakness which forms the backbone of your combat system (e.g. Dodging), and the game nevertheless made it all the way into beta, it’s time to get nervous. Having melee do more damage than ranged, or melee take less PvE damage, or allow melee to Dodge more often, doesn’t address the actual problem that it’s more difficult to evade as melee (less time to react, more chance to miss animations etc).

        We’ll just have to see how ArenaNet ultimately reacts. I hope it’s obvious that letting melee simply attack from ranged all the time is seen for the half-assed punting that it represents.

  2. You don’t have to select a specific battleground server from the NPC, there was a button on PvP tab to “join a battle” which queues you for something random. I believe there are a lot more maps/modes planned for release.

    There was an NPC outside the first dungeon that would instantly boost to level 30 to facilitate testing that. It wasn’t obvious or widely communicated though.

    • I used the “Join a battle” button and it put me in a 2/16, basically empty lobby. Some seriously old-school Counter-Strike memories there.

      As for the auto-level NPC, the forums indicated that the NPC only did that for those with Press betas passes; I did not bother to check for myself, though.

  3. One of the best blog entries I have read in a long time. Thanks for putting this together.

  4. Reblogged this on york g33k and commented:
    One of the better reviews of GW2 (beta).

  5. played elementarist PvE and it was fun for me. Depending on sitution, you can easily switch from burst damage (fire ele) to burst healing self and AoE (watter ele). Played warior also but my feeling was that elementarist is betters in terms of damage/survival.

  6. ArenaNet did put out a statement on their facebook page that they were sold out because they wanted to limit the number of people at the start of the weekend. I played a Norn Guardian till 14, which was interesting.

    I enjoyed taking down smaller sized mobs, and there was much visceral pleasure to be had by knocking them with the greatsword/sword. Of course, events were quite laggy for me, which meant I had to switch to staff/scepter-shield. Just curious, but did you explore everywhere? I found at least some events underwater as well.

    • I mean, it’s fine wanting to limit the number of people in the beta (see my Blizzard jab), but that policy simply meant that ArenaNet lost X% of a $60 sale to GameStop instead of getting all the money themselves. I’m sure that GameStop probably had a limited number of “copies” they could sell too, and I’m also sure it was a contractually supplied number so they couldn’t “reclaim” the 5000 or whatever. Still… well, it’s ArenaNet’s loss and GameStop’s gain in this situation, when it really didn’t need to be.

      As for exploring, I did see an interesting, semi-hidden cave full of children in the human zone, but when nothing happened inside I assumed that not everything was implemented yet; so I basically didn’t explore all that much. Although I did get some screenshots on the tops of the mountains I could actually climb.

      Personally, I’m not a huge Explorer type, although I can appreciate some good geography when I encounter it.

      • I definitely think they should have stated that upfront when the beta invites started streaming in. Right now, I prefer to buy my games digitally mostly because retailers aren’t always stocked with the latest game titles.

        I depended on local chat for the finding the nooks and crannies of the zone.

  7. “I mean, everyone’s favorite map in WoW is Isle of Conquest, right?”

    Heh, and how. I /afk’d out of it on sight, whenever it popped, deserter penalty and all. Not keen on AV, either. Really not a fan of ‘storm the castle’ PvE/PvP hybrid vehicular nonsense, at least in the MMO implementations I’ve seen so far.

    Thanks for this, very comprehensive. Love the action flowcharts. Personal buy rating downgraded from ‘meh, maybe’ to ‘ugh, maybe not.’

  8. Long story short you got me interested in GW2 (especially due to the game mechanics) and I have bought a copy of GW2 online, and I was able to do so at the GW2 website. Thank you for your posts (and the recent one on D3), keep it coming.

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