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Dry Watercooler

The latest Dev Watercooler is out concerning major changes in the upcoming WoW expansion, and yet it is one of the most content-free ones I have ever read. I’d say it was all bones and no meat, but you can usually suck some marrow out of bones. But this? This tells us nothing. And so we’re going to have to fill in the blanks with our own rampant speculation.

Stat Squish

There is but one new morsel concerning the Stat Squish (emphasis added):

It’s important to understand that this isn’t a nerf—in effect, you’ll still be just as powerful, but the numbers that you see will be easier to comprehend. This also won’t reduce your ability to solo old content. In fact, to provide some additional peace of mind, we’re implementing further scaling of your power against lower-level targets so that earlier content will be even more accessible than it is now.

That is just about the only possible concern there was with the Squish, so I’m glad it’s taken care of.

Racial Traits

To keep racials more in line with one another, we’ve decided to bring down the couple high outliers, then establish a fair baseline and bring everyone else up to that. We’re accomplishing this by improving old passives, replacing obsolete ones, and adding a few new ones where necessary. Ultimately, our goal is to achieve much better parity among races.

Know what would be really nice? What they consider a fair baseline.

I almost wonder though, if I am parsing that paragraph correctly: is anyone else getting the sense that perhaps activated racials are being left alone? Blizzard did mention Berserking (a Troll racial) as being “extremely powerful,” but I find it difficult to imagine how, say, Every Man for Himself could be redesigned to be equivalent. Unless maybe every race is getting some kind of PvP-ish active racial and then the passives will be the PvE knob. All I can say is that I’m happy this is getting looked at, as I have regretted rolling my paladin as a Draenei since pretty much the beginning – Gift of the Naaru has consistently been the most useless active racial in the game.

Ability Pruning

For Warlords of Draenor, we decided that we needed to pare down the number of abilities available to each class and spec in order to remove some of that unnecessary complexity. That means restricting some abilities to certain specs that really need them instead of being class-wide, and outright removing some other abilities. [...]

One type of ability that we focused on removing is temporary power buffs (aka “cooldowns”). Removing these also helps achieve one of our other goals, which is to reduce the amount of cooldown stacking in the game. In cases where a class or spec has multiple cooldowns that typically end up getting used together (often in a single macro), we merged them, or removed some of them entirely.

Two interesting bits here. The first is a sort of roll-back of the “bring the class, not the spec” theme of the last two expansions. It’s possible that they’re not talking about the sort of active/passive raid buffs that made it easier to get a 10m raid together, but it’s a bit hard to imagine how else it would work in practice. I mean, are we talking about removing Heroic Strike? Slice N’ Dice? Only letting Frost DKs have Dark Simulacrum while Unholy DKs get Necrotic Strike? This is way too vague. But my point is that if these currently-class-wide abilities have any utility at all, only allowing one of the specs have them is going to create a demand for that specific spec. Which is fine in the abstract, I suppose, but it’s definitely a movement away from specs being more of a play-style decision than a mechanical one (outliers aside).

The second part about cooldowns is both welcome and terrifying simultaneously. Some cooldowns are simple macro-bait, but others… well. I hate to fall back on sacred cow terms like “iconic” and “class defining” but some actually are. I don’t think Blizzard would remove Avenging Wrath, for example, but that is almost always paired with Guardian of Ancient Kings. In fact, that’s pretty much the most classic (and visible) example of cooldown stacking I can think of. Perhaps both will stay in the game, but Ardent Defender/Divine Protection will be removed or rolled into Prot’s version of GoAK. What of the many Hand spells though? Lay on Hands? Could we see Devotion Aura go the way of the rest of the Aura spells? I could see Devotion Aura absorbing Divine Protection pretty easily…

At some point though, this is definitely something that can end up hurting.

Crowd Control and Diminishing Returns

The diminishing returns list up to this point has been a study in Rules Lawyering gone amok. “No, no, no. That’s not a Fear, that’s a Horror. And Controlled Stuns are nothing like Random Stuns.” All in all, there are 11 categories and 2 additional abilities that only DR with themselves. Which is not to say that the various categories didn’t serve an important function – making a wider variety of class/spec combinations viable in Arena – but the prospect of being locked in a CC chain almost indefinitely is a high price to pay.

Here is the shakedown according to the post:

  • Removed Silence effects from interrupts. Silence effects still exist, but are never attached to an interrupt.
  • Removed all Disarms.
  • Reduced the number of Diminishing Returns (DR) categories.
  • All Roots now share the same DR category.
    • Exception: Roots on Charge-type abilities have no DR category, but have a very short duration instead.
  • All Stuns now share the same DR category.
  • All Incapacitate (sometimes called “mesmerize”) effects now share the same DR category and have been merged with the Horror DR category.
  • Removed the ability to make cast-time CC spells instant with a cooldown.
  • Removed many CC spells entirely, and increased the cooldowns and restrictions on others.
    • Pet-cast CC is more limited, and in many cases has been removed.
    • Cyclone can now be dispelled by immunities and Mass Dispel.
    • PvP trinkets now grant immunity to reapplication of an effect from the same spell cast when they break abilities with persistent effects, like Solar Beam.
    • Long fears are now shorter in PvP due to the added benefit of a fear changing the players position.

It’s difficult to get a read on how the DR merge will play out right now, especially considering we’ll supposedly see CC get cut altogether from certain classes/specs. At a glance, I can say that melee classes are likely getting the bigger end of the stick here with the removal of Disarm effects + ranged class CC nerfs. The Druid vs Paladin match-up won’t be so one-sided now that we can bubble out of Cyclone. Hunters are getting screwed with Scatter Shot + Freezing Trap being on the same DR. Warlocks are getting especially hosed with their panic-button instant-cast Horror effects diminishing the follow-up Fear, which is itself getting nerfed again anyway. What is that, 10 years of Fear nerfs in a row?

In any case, that’s about all the blood I could squeeze out of that Dev Watercooler stone. I appreciate birds-eye dev articles as much as the next guy (and probably a bit more), but I felt this one was really lacking in specifics. I suppose we’ll start connecting the dots once everything is data-mined on MMO Champ, although by then it’s likely everything will have changed again.

Edit:

Words cannot describe my disappointment.

Quotes of the Time Interval

I am a particular fan of well-crafted treatises, clever turns of phrases, and compelling wordsmithing in general. And in that regard, it’s been a good week:

People tended not to cause too much trouble at the cultist areas in Silithus. We all had stuff to do and some of that stuff involved fighting things that could easily kill us. This meant that we didn’t want a fight, but if one started, we weren’t going to waste time trying to do any more PvE. It instantly escalated into a full-scale war. We didn’t need any sand for that, just something we wanted to do and someone getting in the way of us doing it.

Klepsacovic delivered in that last sentence something more profound than ten-thousand PvP forum posts. Blizzard has been attempting to recapture the lightning for years with successively unsuccessful variations of the sand mechanic, with seeming little regard as to why people chose to fight over the sand in the first place. Namely, they didn’t. Fights chose them, and they chose to meet halfway. No amount of gank-friendly daily quests will bring back vanilla PvP if the players themselves have lost the taste for blood.

So there I am, back home in Abella Cove. The rent’s paid til the end of the world. I’m not going anywhere. Ever again.

With the heroic stoicism of a Norse god staring down Ragnarok, Bhagpuss spins a tale about player housing in Vanguard that almost makes me wish I had played the doomed MMO just so I could lose something in solidarity.

PlanetSide 2 – Six Months Later

So, it has been almost 6 months since I started playing PlanetSide 2. Am I still having fun?

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: …yes.

Everything a sniper likes to see.

Everything a sniper likes to see.

Aside from a brief 1-2 week experiment with Outfits (aka guilds), I continue to have fun despite playing solo. While many of the problems I outlined in my prior article are true regarding organized PvP, they are perhaps a tiny bit less true now. Anti-Aircraft units have not been nerfed, but I am a bit more cognizant of of where they might be and thus avoid them. Or perhaps, given the server mergers, there may simply less people playing.

The biggest “problem” I consistently have with PlanetSide 2 are its break points.

Have you ever sat down at an MMO (or any game) and find yourself easily able to play for 2, 3, 4 hours at a time? That sort of thing doesn’t happen by accident; it’s part of a game’s intentional design. In PlanetSide, I occasionally sit down prepared for a long night of gaming… and then log off after 30 minutes. Finding a compelling fight isn’t necessarily the problem: the problem is finding the next one.

Momentum can stall. Spawning at a Sunderer and throwing yourself into the meat-grinder attack of a base feels awesome. And then you win. Err… what now? Sometimes the attacking force splits up. Sometimes you stay together as a cohesive unit, only to find that the next base you find is empty. It can take 8+ minutes to cap even an empty base. That is eight literal you-only-have-41 million minutes of your life, staring at the wall.

Thankfully, this shit should be changing soon.

Thankfully, this shit should be changing soon.

Part of why I stick with this game though is because of how much communication and iteration there is between the devs and the community. There are major game updates roughly every two weeks. The community asked for test servers so broken mechanics and (new) bugs stop appearing, and now we have a Public Test Server. The devs are pretty active on the Reddit forums, soliciting suggestions and advice.

I don’t think the designers have all the right answers – the devs clearly have some issues coming up with interesting Vanu mechanics, not unlike the issues Blizzard has with the paladin kit – but they are visibly trying. I am excited in particular regarding the upcoming lattice system. Assuming everything works, this could go a long way in fixing the problems with the gaps in engagement I experience after capping a base. And changes to the capping of a base – where destroying the Spawn Control Unit allows an attacking team to actually move on – will lessen the dead time after overwhelming a position.

So… good news all around.

Still such a thrill rushing an enemy base as a spontaneous group.

Still such a thrill rushing an enemy base as a spontaneous group.

If you are curious about the personal effects of Cert-Gate a month later, let me assure you that I don’t feel like it has changed all that much about the way I play. Yes, I have most every upgrade. Yes, I care a bit less about capping empty bases, given that I don’t feel like the 2-5 bonus Certs are worth 2-5 minutes of my time. On the other hand, I naturally have a hard time committing all of some limited resource to something. For example, I have ~2800 Certs left out of my stockpile. There are two guns I could buy with those Certs… but I won’t. Because I know that there will be new shiny things coming out in a few weeks, and I like the option to purchase those instead. But I might not buy those, and instead hold out for the new gun releases after the next batch. And so it is almost as if my 2800 Certs don’t even exist. It’s a bit irrational, but that’s how I roll.

So, yeah, I’m still having fun. PlanetSide 2 isn’t my main game (largely because it can’t be, given the breaks), but it is still a game I constantly think about and can’t wait to play for a bit when I get home. And the best thing? I don’t have to make apologies to anyone for those days when I just don’t log in.

Who is enjoying the MMO single life? This guy.

Unfair Impressions: Darkfall: Unholy Alliance

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. You know you are batting in the Big Leagues when you can bamboozle people into believing you are a member of the Press™ despite running a blog that is barely eking out Google pagerank from an Amazon book review and a bioterrorism article written in 2004 that happened to use the phrase “in an age” in the title. I suppose that this is sort of the gaming blogger dream though, wherein people send you free things and you write about them; instead of, you know, the standard procedure of having to purchase things to write about, like some kind of animal.

Whatever the case, Aventurine has inexplicably included me on their Press mailing list for Darkfall: Unholy Wars, and I am now entitled to the game itself along with 30 days of Press™ subscription for free. Rather than allow this inevitably comical misadventure go to waste, I downloaded and patched the game last Wednesday night.

It is worth noting why this post is labeled “Unfair Impressions”: basically, I have zero interest in Darkfall: UW. In fact, I would say less than zero interest. The sum total of what I know about Darkfall is that it is a full-loot FFA PvP game that some say is the most skillful MMO out there. They also say it’s terrible playing by yourself. Fantastic. Let me wander around, lost and confused, as I endeavor to stay as far away from other people as humanly possible.

Well... they got the 2004 look down, at least.

Well… they got the 2004 look down, at least.

Okay, I’m not going to mention how godawful ugly this game is. Not even once. The screenshots really speak or themselves. And as far as I’m aware, my settings are dialed to the max.

I am in the first town. I’m pretty sure this area is still a sanctuary, but I’m nervous about accidentally left-clicking someone. Okay, let’s follow the tutorial. “Buy an axe.” Alright, let’s see…

Way to maximize useless screen-space while not allowing movement.

Way to maximize useless screen-space.

…good god, is this the vendor interface?

Alright, nevermind, let’s go out to a monster spawn.

Trust no one.

Trust no one.

Halfway across the bridge, I notice a dude standing around. Is he a ganker, waiting for me to cross into no man’s land? Is he AFK? Can I gank him? It seems like a trap, so I shuffle away and swim into the river. My default strategy when I feel threatened is to make killing me as annoying as possible. Not that it ever stops anyone, but I derive the same satisfaction I imagine a puffer fish feels when swallowed by… whatever it is that chokes on a puffer fish before dying to its poisonous organs.

Don't mind me. Please.

Don’t mind me. Please.

Monster spawn time. Cave spiders. I… think they shoot poison at me, but it is hard to tell. There are 4-5 people in the cave killing spiders already. Do they know each other? Is this zone still protected? I give everyone a wide berth and hang out in the cobwebs. I kill a spider and loot its tombstone. Leather. Spider… leather? But wait, my little achievement tutorial thing says I must skin the tombstone. But I already have… or have I? Okay, let’s kill another spider. Except another doesn’t spawn in my area, and now there are more people in the cave and it’s late and I want to play something else.

Alright… how do I log off? I binded myself to a stone in town, so maybe I can hearth back? After searching the painfully bad UI, I see the option. I click on the button and… wait. Still waiting. I get that it would be too easy to escape a ganking if it were quicker, but a full 120-second hearth timer?

Good lord, maybe this was a bad idea.

5.3: That Was Fast

Patch 5.3 is up on the PTR. You can look at the notes here. Nothing too crazy… just the removal of Resilience from PvP gear, gear scaling in BGs and Arenas (!!!), and LFR off-spec rolls (plus increasing chance of bonus loot based on bad luck). You know, the usual.

Loot Specialization

  • Players can now choose to receive loot for a specialization that’s different from their current class role. This feature could be accessed by right-clicking on the character portrait and selecting the option from the drop-down list. Loot specialization is available for bonus rolls, Raid Finder, and Pandarian quest rewards.

Bonus Roll

  • Protection for bad luck streaks have been added to bonus rolls. Each bonus roll that does not provide loot has a progressively better chance to award loot to the player.

PvP

  • Additional information and explanation for the reasoning behind PvP changes will be available very soon.
  • All characters now have a base Resilience of 65%.
  • Resilience has been removed from most PvP gear.
  • Season 13 Tyrannical gear had their item levels increased to ilevel 496, up from ilevel 493.
  • Season 13 Tyrannical Elite gear had their item levels decreased to ilevel 496, down from ilevel 512.
  • Battlegrounds, Rated Battlegrounds, and Arenas now have an ilevel cap. All gear will be scaled down to ilevel 496.

Feels like the 5.2 PTR was just three weeks ago, doesn’t it? I suppose Blizzard wasn’t kidding around (finally) about accelerated release schedules.

Organized PvP

Everyone has heard the phrase “Less is More.” The converse is occasionally true as well.

A few weeks ago, several PlanetSide 2 servers were merged, and mine was amongst them. When it comes to player-generated content, you always need players to be in physical proximity for any of the magic to really occur. So, I should be all for this development, right?

Well…

In games like PlanetSide 2, organized PvP is too often boring PvP. When you look at this picture, what do you see?

Whatever is over there is screwed.

Whatever is over there is screwed.

If you said “a bunch of planes,” you would technically be correct. Each plane is a Galaxy, which is a 16-man troop transport. Dozens and dozens of fiercely-organized players could be spilling out of the sky, with no warning, deftly seizing territory almost behind enemy lines. Cool, right?

Not really. More likely, those dozens of troops will be landing on an empty base, sitting around shooting 1 bullet and reloading to give some free XP to the Engineers resupplying them ammo, until the base is capped and they move on to the next. Capturing anything less than a Bio Lab results in about the same XP as killing 3-5 people. And even if this Outfit lucks out and finds willing defenders, said defenders are likely to give up and respawn elsewhere than throw themselves beneath the tread of an organized zerg. Because… why would they?

When I log into PlanetSide 2, I do so out of a desire to shoot people. Fighting against an organized Outfit does not result in interesting gameplay for me, as I am necessarily foiled at every turn. Unorganized zerg clashes, on the other hand, are fun times – people flock from all around to any given Bio Lab fight – precisely because individual agency exists. It is your individual, focused skill against the seething mass of the average and distracted. Yes, the odds are low that you accomplish anything of consequence given any one of the dozens of enemies can undo your damage. But sometimes they don’t, because, you know, unorganized. And then you feel like the one-eyed man in the land of the blind.

Which brings me back to the Ps2 server merges. Simply put, since the change I have seen a large increase in organized Outfit activity. Which makes sense, of course, given that there are more people in a smaller space. The result is less interesting gameplay to me, however, as I either face an organized resistance or none at all – the unorganized defenders having been squashed or conscripted hours before. There simply isn’t room for a lone ESF pilot flying around, harassing the odd Sunderer. The landscape beneath my wings is either barren or blanketed with vicious Anti-Aircraft units, both scenarios a reaction to a prior sky full of organized terror.

One might imagine that the underlying design goal was for the two organized groups to meet upon the battlefield, fighting tooth and nail, performing novel tactics that can only emerge from such clashing of focused wills. One might also question what the designers were smoking to believe that such things ever occur naturally and spontaneously. Why struggle and possibly fail (!) when you can instead shepherd your Outfit into empty territory after territory, maximizing XP gains for all? Three kills give more XP than a base capture, but its doubtful everyone will have the opportunity to get three kills, assuming you even find that many defenders still sticking around when the dust of 17 tanks looms tall on the horizon.

No, PlanetSide 2′s organized warfare is the WoW random BG premade, seeking easy kills for the easy Honor. To get these Outfits to clash, SOE is going to have to fashion a similar solution: incentivize Outfit vs Outfit gameplay, ala Rated BGs or Arenas. Changing the hex system to a more linear one is no solution to anything. Scratch that, it’s a great boon to finding a fun, unorganized brawl. It is not, however, going to change how Outfits follow the natural inclination of organized warfare in the preference of soft targets to hard.

If anything, the meeting of strength to strength is the most unnatural result of all.

Looking Towards the 5.2 Changes

There are a lot of changes coming in 5.2. Here are the ones I’m keeping an eye on:

Reputation

  • “Work orders will pour into the farm from factions across Pandaria, and completing a work order will earn a reputation boost with the issuing faction.”
  • “You can now earn bonus reputation for your first dungeon and scenario of the day. You can select which reputation you choose to champion by selecting it from the reputation panel on the character screen.”

The above two items have mentally freed me from the self-imposed shackles of dailies, for the time being. Up to this point, my time in WoW has been 100% consumed by dailies – Golden Lotus, Cloud Serpent, Tillers, Anglers, Klaxxi, Shieldwall. Even the days when I ignored Golden Lotus (no real rewards for them or any linked reps for Alch/JC), I still found 2-3 hour play sessions evaporate with nothing accomplished other than rep bar movement. I was back on the Golden Lotus horse due to the lure of the Commendation (I’d love for my tailor alt to get the 28-slot bag eventually), but the day I read these patch notes is the day I stopped feeling like it was required every single day.

There is not any indication to how much reputation is earned with either method, but assuming it is larger than 500, I feel comfortable in focusing more on alts than hitting reputation milestones on the main.

Valor/Justice

  • Heroic Pandaria dungeons now award 100 Justice Points per boss.
  • Scenarios now award 50 Justice Points, up from 25.
  • The cost of Valor Point gear introduced in patch 5.0 has been reduced by 50%.
  • The cost of Valor Point gear introduced in patch 5.1 has been reduced by 25%.
  • The ethereals that offered to upgrade items using Valor or Justice Points have departed Azeroth for the moment.

The big question mark here is whether the current Valor items will still cost Valor in 5.2. It seems a pretty straight-forward answer at first – “Yes, of course” – but look at the implication here. If you have 1200 VP heading into 5.2, chances are that that 1200 VP turns into 1200 JP and then… what? You buy upgraded heirlooms? It is great that Blizzard is actually putting in sources of Justice for people that want heirlooms, but what else are JP good for? I don’t think I have ever seen a patch transition in which the current currency is downgraded but then you need to re-grind the new currency to buy shit you had access to the day before.

On the other hand, one of my guildies was skeptical that Blizzard would reduce reputation gear costs by 50% plus add in the 100 JP/boss gain plus make rep gear purchasable with Justice. And how many new Valor pieces are going to be introduced anyway?

Hopefully there will be some clarification on this issue before the patch.

PvP

  • Conquest gear no longer has rating requirements.
  • Highest tier PvP items are unlocked after 27,000 CP are earned in a season.
  • Weapons that require the 27k CP unlock have said requirement removed inbetween seasons (i.e. in 5.3).
  • Honor weapons are back.
  • Your CP cap for the week is increased by 1,000 for each week you haven’t been hitting the cap.
  • The losers in an Rated BG gain Conquest based on score; close games can award up to 200 CP.

It is difficult to even imagine a coherent complaint about this fairly radical paradigm shift. Blizzard locking weapons behind rating walls was a mistake when they first made it in Season 3, and it has been a mistake every season since. The straw that finally broke my four-year subscription back was when my warlock alt maxed out on non-rating Arena gear; I was permanently “done” with that character’s progression, unless I bribed someone to boost me past the glass ceiling. While I would not look forward to 15+ weeks of Conquest caps from BGs and 2v2 anymore, at least there is no longer a brick wall at the end.

Overall, pretty exciting changes. I’m not following the new raid information particularly closely, because A) there doesn’t seem to be much news out there, and B) it is kind of a moot point for me outside of LFR. And speaking of LFR, I finished all of the available ones; impressions will have to wait for another post.

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.

A Bad Good Idea

Or would this be a good bad idea? You be the judge (emphasis added):

[...] Finally, we’re also going to have players be able to queue against other players [in Pet Battles]. But one of the important values for us with the queuing system is that we keep this very light and very casual. And as a result of that, we are doing everything that we possibly can to eliminate the shame of defeat. One of the things that really keeps a lot of players out of PvP types of activities is feeling bad about when they lose. ‘Cause ultimately, that’s really what drives a lot of people out of it. So we’re trying to do everything that we can to make sure that you do not feel bad about losing this.

We’re doing that in a number of different ways. For one, when you’re fighting an opponent in a match made battle, you’ll have no clue who they are, and they’ll have no clue who you are. So you’re playing this cross-server against who knows who. You won’t see their character name. You won’t be able to talk to them. They won’t be able to talk to you. So there won’t be any trash talking going on as they stomp your face in or whatever. Or you won’t be able to trash talk as you stomp their face in. It will feel a lot more like just some relatively intelligent AI then it would a normal kind of PvP ingame. In addition, not only will you not know who they are or not be able to communicate, but we also aren’t going to tabulate a running number of losses that you had. We’ll keep track of how many wins you had in your own statistics page, so you can always look at that out of curiosity. But the game is not going to record how many times you’ve lost. Again, we are really trying to eliminate all the sort of negative emotions that go along with PvP. So, that sums it up for the pet battles.

I know there are going to be people going into an apoplectic shock after reading this.

Something that should qualify as good good idea:

Could the gear scaling that is being added for challenge mode dungeons be applied in a similar manner for older content, allowing players to go back and play through old dungeons with an appropriately powerful character?

It’s like someone is reading our minds. That’s something that could 100% work for that. What we are starting with for challenge modes is the concept of doing it with the shipping dungeons for Mists of Pandaria. Then we’re going to watch it, see how it plays out and see how things go. Then the idea is if that goes well, we totally want to backdate that to some of our older dungeons. I mean, obviously it will probably be in thing like Scholomance, because that’s coming as new dungeon. But if it works out well, there’s no reason we couldn’t backport that to older dungeons. That could end up being in any of the more classic dungeons that players really like. That’s the kind of tech that we develop at the beginning to know that it could work in other places. Gear scaling that is something that could also work in a scenario if we really wanted to because it’s an instance. We could decide that we could build a scenario for say level 35, it takes place in say Southern Barrens, but then you could also play that scenario at level 90 because we could scale your gear. So in that way we could make content that works for the level up, but also for the max level. So there’s a lot of options of being able with being able to scale gear on players that we can use.

Yes, other games did it years ago. Yes, Guild Wars 2 will be doing it this summer. But just imagine: all the people who loved TBC could (potentially) go back play that content at its intended difficulty! Assuming you could find 24 other people willing to do so, of course.

What’s In a Name?

As a general rule, I try and remain as aloof as possible. It’s partly a defense mechanism against the eldritch machinations of an uncaring, absurd universe. But it is also somewhat necessary in an age wherein marketing departments have weaponized hype and doublespeak like “value-added” as if they are doing consumers any favors. In other words: wish in one hand, shit in the other, and see which fills up first.

Enter Guild Wars 2.

I signed up for the Beta like everyone else, with a current disposition of extreme skepticism. And I still am extremely skeptical. Will it “save” MMOs? Doubt it… assuming MMOs need saving at all. Is the holy trinity dead? As this BFF Report clearly shows, no, not in the sense that there will not be a guy who primarily tanks, someone who heals, etc. Even the whole “freeform” questing bit (which you can also see earlier in the BFF Report) does not necessarily move the needle, as a gamer who responds to ostensive purpose, no matter how flimsy said purpose may be in the abstract. Cave full of kobolds? Who cares? Oh, farmer Joe cares, because the kobolds are stealing the pumpkins? Let me go solve that for you.

That being said, I have been keeping up with the game, reading interviews, and so on. And what I am finding is that the little things are moving the needle all over the damn place. For example, here is Mike Ferguson’s Q&A response on a Reddit AMA interview:

Q: We all saw that enemy players are currently listed as generic invaders, and some are turned off by that. Will there be a toggle option for showing our name if we want to?

A: There’s been a lot of discussion about seeing enemy names in WvW. While I certainly understand the reasoning behind the request to see enemy names, we are fairly firm about not showing names of the opposing teams. I think of it this way, in a war people dont introduce themselves before trying to kill each other. When you are fighting in the mists for your world, you are in the middle of a giant war against two opposing forces who want nothing more than to take everything you own and kill you as many times as they possibly can. That guy who just shot you is not Bob the Engineer, he’s the enemy.

Not showing enemy names in WvW also helps players that are less pvp-oriented feel less threatened about venturing into the battle because seeing enemies as anonymous ‘invaders’ creates a sense that opponents won’t be able to recognize them and pick on them because of their lack of skill in a fight, so they in turn feel more embolded to go out and fight in the first place. Not showing names also makes it so people can feel as if they can ‘hide’ in a fight if need be, but still be around to help out. That’s a pretty critical part of making WvW feel more inviting for people that would normally never think about playing PvP in any other game.

We’ve heard “I usually dont PvP, but I love WvW” again and again from people in our beta, so even though showing names might make for a more competitive pvp environment, we’d much rather create a game that is more welcoming for people that don’t normally play the more hardcore PvP games. If you want to see enemy names and get to know the community of people you are fighting against, competitive PvP is the place to get that sort of thing in Guild Wars 2. WvW is the place where you fight with your friends and show your might against a faceless never-ending horde of enemies. It’s not about taking names, it’s about taking back that tower and claiming it for your guild so it can wave your flag right in the enemies face!

…now that is interesting.

A lot of blogging space has been dedicated to examining the effects of, say, LFG on community culture. For the record, I believe the LFG culture (such as it is) in WoW is merely the natural expression of difficult, group-based daily activities minus the desperation.

But it is fascinating to think about the possible effects of a struggle against an intentionally nameless enemy in GW2. Would people really feel “safer” being anonymous in a wider war? I think Mike Ferguson is onto something. Imagine you are trying to take a tower from a single defender, but he keeps killing you. In my own WoW experience, I feel the standard shame of defeat, but I also feel worse knowing that the defender can put a name to the face, so to speak. If we meet up somewhere else on the battlefield, he might recognize the fail paladin he defeated with ease earlier and go after me first. In my mind, that second possibility is worse than the initial defeat(s).

I know this happens because I did it all the time in WoW BGs. “Hey, there is that Boomkin made out of wet paper. Ha! Look at him run!” Inspiring dread ended up being a lot more entertaining than most of the BGs themselves. Indeed, one of the biggest draws of having a rogue was following someone around and Sapping them repeatedly, then watching their panicked, futile AoE dance afterwards. After they felt themselves safe, that’s when you kill them in a stunlock. Repeat until they just abandon their keyboard after the first Sap.

Take away the name, though? People could probably figure out that the Norn Elementalist who keeps trying to take the tower is the same player. I might even be wary of the nameless Mesmer defending said tower. But at the same time, perhaps we would care less. Perhaps it would make people more inclined to group with their own faction, since that this the only avenue of social recognition – you cannot be known and feared by your enemies, so you seek out the accolades of your server. Only your own team will ever know your name.

It is such a subtle, brilliant change that I cannot wait to see how it works. Not “if,” how.