The Final GW2 Beta Weekend Impressions

I have had words regarding Guild Wars 2 previously. Based on my experiences mere minutes ago, I am almost ready to recant all of them.

Err… the bad words, that is.

As way of preface, since the Sylvari and Asura were available for the first (and last) time, I decided to forgo retesting that Thief nonsense in Queensdale and focus on the new races. The following points/impressions are in the order that I experienced them, with the ones that inspired my opening lines coming at the end.

Point 14: Sylvari are People Too!

For being walking sentient plant gonads (look it up), the Sylvari speak and threaten like typical meatbags:

Plant tongues? Couldn’t it just… you know… grow back?

That was not even the most interesting bit of shrubbery dialog. This was:

Cue angry conservatives.

I was not even out of the tutorial yet and already I am being told two dude plants love each other. Not that there is anything wrong with that, of course.

Nevertheless, presenting a gay relationship right at the beginning struck me as an unexpectedly bold move on ArenaNet’s part. Every single person that rolls a Sylvari character is going to be seeing this (if they are paying attention), as opposed to hiding it in random NPC dialog.

Then again… is it really all that bold? Sylvari are plant people modeled as pseudo-elves; male elves in videogames are traditionally metrosexual at a minimum. If ArenaNet was really bold, they would have transplanted (har har) this situation over in the human section. But, as far as steps go, this one ain’t a bad first one.

Point 15: Visuals, Jumping Puzzles, and View Points

As far as zone visuals are concerned, the Sylvari thus far take the vegan cake. Alternatively, ArenaNet may have boosted the graphical optimization several notches with this build. Either way, I always have respect for artists who are capable of taking the cliche – plant people living in a giant tree – and still making everything interesting to look at. Remember when you strolled into Northrend during Wrath of the Lich King in WoW, expecting every zone to be snow, snow, and more snow… and being more than a little pleasantly surprised? There is more than enough stereotypical plants to go around here in Sylvariville, but their configuration remains fairly fresh.

A dastardly one at that.

Speaking of jumping puzzles, I am not sure if they are brand new to this build or not, but… there are jumping puzzles now. Hard ones. The one in the screenshot above took probably ~20 minutes to complete (I’m a pro) and even awarded an achievement for making it onto the cliff over on the left. To be honest, I thought the whole thing was a part of the Skill Challenge – the actual challenge was, no joke, clicking on an item in your inventory you got from clicking the bush at the bottom – so I was a little disappointed after the fact.

In any case, another new addition are Kodak Moments View Points: map icons hidden in relatively hard-to-reach locations that start Assassin Creed-esque flybys. Sometimes literally:

Will this be filed under “Homage” or “Parody”?

To be honest, View Points are kinda pointless insofar as they do not reveal anything of note, but I suppose they incentivize climbing on top of things. If you are into that sort of thing. Actually, I do have one minor gripe with that…

Point 16: You Fall Too Fast!

I noticed the instant-terminal-velocity way back in the first minutes of the first beta, but until View Points and Jumping Puzzles were introduced I never had a reason to gain unsafe amounts of altitude. Falling anywhere in Guild Wars 2 feels like you are falling into a black hole. Know how characters sometimes feel “floaty” in MMOs? Imagine the opposite of that. It’s jarring. It may be a minor point, but I was tired of not talking about it like nobody noticed.

Point 17: Necromancers are Boring

While on the character creation screen for Sylvari, one class choice was immediately obvious: Necromancer. Or, well, Engineer might have worked too. If you pick anything else you are squandering the opportunity denied to Draenei Warlocks and Undead Paladins everywhere. Fight the power!

While I breezed through questing as a Necromancer (*cough* ranged are OP *cough*), I never really liked any of my base skills. Sure, it was fun being able to run around with a Blood Fiend, two Bone Minions, and a Shadow creature all by level 10, but everything else felt… meh. Death Shroud as my F1 ability was incredibly disappointing; I do more damage normally, and if it exists solely as a defensive move, well, that still sucks. Overall, the class just seems too damn meta. Dispel buffs, steal buffs, corrupt buffs, use abilities that give yourself debuffs so presumably you can spread them around later… yeah.

Okay, ArenaNet, you have the convoluted PvP interactions down. Now what is a Necromancer supposed to do while questing? Auto-attack + press 2 every 8-12 seconds? Yawn.

Point 18: Elementalists are the Most Fun I Have Had in an Action RPG

In blinding contrast to Necromancers, I feel I need to repeat myself for emphasis: Elementalists are the most fun I have had in an Action RPG. Guild Wars 2 is not strictly an action RPG, of course, but it goddamn turns into one when you roll an Elementalist.

Green check-marks indicate fun abilities.

Necromancer was Press 1 (auto-attack) + Press 2 every ~10 seconds while your pets unfailingly tanked mobs.

Double-dagger Elementalist? Your auto-attack shoots three flame arrows in a spread pattern. Right off the bat you grok the strategic possibilities: the closer you get, the more likely your target will get hit by multiple arrows, increasing the deeps. But maybe you hang back and let your arrows hit the crowd… oh hell, naw! Get in there, boyz! Button number 2 is a channeled dragon breath you can use while moving. Button number 3 is one of my favorite in the bunch: it is a charging jump attack that leaves a trail of fire on the ground while you blow the area up when you land. Nothing says badass pyromancer like one jumping at your face with an explosion. Follow that up with button number 4, which is an AoE fireblast that leaves a ring of fire on the ground that burns enemies who step through it. Flame Wreath this, beotch! Finally, button number 5 is another cone-shaped attack that simply deals extra damage to Burning enemies, such as those who took damage from button(s) 2, 3, and/or 4.

All of that is just double-daggers under the Fire sign. Pressing F2 at any time brings up the Water sign, whose auto-attack is spinning icy hula-hoop of death¹ which passes through all enemies in a line and debuffs with stacking Vulnerability before boomeranging back and hitting them a second time. F3 is the Air sign which, admittedly, is pretty lame aside from the 1,200-ranged charge attack called Ride the Goddamn Lightning. Finally, F4 busts out the Earth sign, with all its fairly Necromacer-ish short-ranged-but-powerful Bleed attacks.

Again, all of that was with the same weapon loadout. Most classes in GW2 have 5 abilities per weapon combo, changing only two per offhand switch. The Elementalist gets six (6) no matter what you switch around. I did not make it to level 10 to check, but presumably I could go from double-dagger to scepter-focus and get 20 different abilities to play around with each time I press the ` button. Other classes may get a similar number of abilities overall (since the Elementalist cannot wield as many different weapon types), but none of them have as much access to these abilities at any time. We are talking about 10 vs 40 here. It’s ridiculous. And even if there is some kind of Elementalist-only weapon-swap limitation, it’s still 10 vs 20.

If it was not obvious by now, check your pulse I had a ton of fun playing the Elementalist. At the same time, the Elementalist is so clearly some designer’s pet project it is not funny… and that worries me. Nothing comes close to this class’s complexity, and I have to wonder at what (eventual) cost. Thieves can press F1 to Shadowstep and get “stolen” one-time-use abilities, Warriors press F1 when their Rage Adrenaline meter fills up, and so on and so forth. Are Elementalists going to be balanced around correct usage of 20+ abilities? Or will they simply be OP as they stab you in the face with their explodey burning rings of fire?

I have already heard grumblings vis-a-vis Elementalists dying practically instantly in PvP, so maybe this issue “fixes” itself. I hope not. I want an Elementalist main and to run some BGs.

Point 19: Asura Females (Can) Straddle the Line between Cute and Uncomfortably Cute

If you were originally put off by the Asura concept art (like I was), feel free to give it a spin:

Wha… no! The pink one-piece swimsuit makes it worse!

If you liked the original concept art look, or are afraid of what your probation officer would say if he walked in while you were playing, ArenaNet still has your back:

Morgan County Parole Board and Mordor Approved.

Luckily for everyone, Asura act more like Goblins/Gnomes from WoW rather than Elin from TERA. And they go back to looking like the cute, cocky nephews and nieces of Yoda from Episode 2 in the main world:

Muuuuuch better.

My Asura was the Elementalist, by the way, so that Episode 2 reference was especially apt.

Point 20: It Will be an Interesting Ride, One Way or the Other

Lest I be confused for someone with boundless optimism in the integrity of the human race, I still have major concerns regarding damn near everything I said previously under the Guild Wars 2 Category tag. Things like unbalanced melee, bad pacing when it comes to Personal Stories/questing in general (the Sylvari starting zone was smooth as butter, but I still had to grind mobs in the Asura zone twice), how Thief, Guardian, and Necromancer gameplay feels pretty bad, suspicions regarding the cash shop and how it affects future game design, and so on and so forth.

In fact, regarding the latter, I was reading a comment to this post over at Keen & Graev’s mentioning being an altaholic. Uh… not unless you pay $10 per slot beyond five. Five slots, eight professions, you do the math. And it is not as though you can roll on another sever either – “guest” anytime anywhere, but it will always be a pain in the ass if your friends rolled elsewhere unless there is an “auto-guest on X server upon login” option. Maybe an extra $15 here and there is nothing as long as it doesn’t happen faster than once a month. But for me, there is no such thing as a friendly, on-your-side cash shop.

Anyway, that is that, my friends. I might have some leftover screenshots, but they will definitely have to wait until next time.

¹ Don’t tell me you never gave a hula-hoop a reverse spin before tossing it down the driveway.

Posted on July 23, 2012, in Guild Wars 2, Impressions and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. To be honest, I didn’t think that Dagdar’s comment was “gay” in any fashion. It reminded me more of how a close pair of brothers act. Also, it fits in fine with the Sylvari’s “courtly” aspect of their culture. I guess each person will see it as they want too.


    • Hmm. I might be able to buy the “courtly” argument, if only because I recently finished the Game of Thrones books. ArenaNet certainly left it ambiguous though.


  2. Very nice, but you didn’t answer the most important question, the one I think everybody who looks at your picture will have and cannot answer:

    Why are the Asura wearing a belt (with buckle!) on their heads?


  3. The humans need have a ” boundless optimism”: if their last city falls, they are gone (for good, if you play GW1 you will know it, humans made a lot of bad things…). So, no other option, “boundless optimism” or total despair.

    Classes are hard to learn, Anet will need put some tutorial, sooner or later. Each class have its mechanic and its flavour. Necromancer are a pet/dot class, it is fun for who likes it. There is one advice for who do’nt find the class fun: try that same class with other weapon. Necromancer with a staff can make a lot of DoT damage.

    The only classes I don’t played were mesmer and engineer. All other classes I played to level 20. All that classes I tested, playing all 3 BW, were fun, but diferent kind of fun.

    Test all weapons disponible to a class and learn what is the best playstyle for you. If ranger with a short bow is not fun, try it with a long bow.


    It is nice to see what you learned the problem you had last beta was because the piece between the chair and the keyboard have a defect….


    • I tried the staff with the Necromancer, but it was pretty clearly a PvP-focused build. And in any case, all those debuffs are wasted on normal questing mobs.

      Regarding the PS, I am not sure to what you are referring. The Thief is still underpowered, Queensdale is still badly paced, and so on. I am glad that I finally found a class that I enjoyed playing, but it still worries me that I had to go through so many to find one. How many other would dedicate 20+ hours to such an endeavor before simply quitting out of frustration? Ideally, all the classes should be fun out of the box.


      • I was scepter/focus, staff and i thought it was quite interesting.. although i was usually tackling mobs a few lvls higher than myself.
        Staff is the group damage weapon and support, when fighting alone with it it can feel a little disappointing. Also death shroud isn’t just an escape tool, you can pop in and out of it at will with the right traiting and use it like dodge to negate damage spikes.

        I agree with your comment about pacing withing some of the zones.. but there are always other areas of each lvl range.
        I also don’t think every class should be fun for everyone since they all have different playstyles that would appeal to some and not others. Play around in pvp to find the class you like most as you can switch around everything freely. The traits can sometimes make a huge difference.


  4. I played in a GW2 beta weekend back in May. I was VERY excited to try it out and ended up rather disappointed. The combat felt lackluster since there was no resource management all I ended up doing was spamming every ability as soon as it was off cooldown. No reason not to, you know? I never felt like there was any real strategic approach to combat apart from a little positioning and dodging if I felt like it. It also bothered me that a lot of the abilities had hidden cast times, like you’d activate an ability and it would take 2-3 unadvertised seconds before it would do any damage. And that was playing an Elementalist for most of that weekend. You seem to have had a different experience with that class, though. On a more general level, did it not bother you that there was really no reason not to use any/every ability as soon as it was off cooldown?

    It further concerns me that even 2+ months after when I played, the “most exciting” class (that I still found mostly boring) is far more exciting than classes like the Necromancer, Guardian and Thief.

    The movement was also clunky/slide-y, which is a major pet peeve of mine (The Secret World has the same problem and it’s one of my major gripes with the game). I also never felt like there was any reason to explore off the beaten path. Finding an “event” never felt that interesting to me, meanwhile finding a random hidden quest in TSW feels quite rewarding. Maybe it’s the setting, maybe I’m just over “generic fantasy.” I don’t know. Did you feel a push to run around exploring?


    • It is a fair point about the lack of resource management. Then again, up until Cataclysm many WoW classes were the same way – my main was a “9696” paladin tank after all.

      The thing I am keeping in the back of my mind is the possibility (inevitability?) that eventually weapon-swapping and the layering of buffs/debuffs will be necessary in later content. To use an Elementist example, something like using the first Water attack to pile on Vulnerability debuffs, then switching to Earth to stack Bleeds, and finally trying to get a Burning debuff combo off before everything falls off. Or maybe this will be as complicated as it gets, ever. Hard to say at this point.

      As a general rule, I no longer give games “free passes” to be unfun until the level cap, as I did with WoW back in the day. However… well, I never even touched Traits. While those may end up theorycrafted to death upon release, it is more of an issue of a certain combination changing an unfun playstyle to the better. Assassination rogues were boring until (pre-Cata) Mutilate, for example.

      Finally, for what it is worth, movement felt less floaty this time around (aside from instantly falling). I did feel a little lame when I kited two mobs in an extremely tight circle while whittling them down with ranged attacks, but those were level 7 mobs.

      Edit: As for exploring, I am not an Explorer type in these sort of games. I will ransack any old building in Fallout: New Vegas despite having 100k caps, but in MMOs? I generally assume if there is something worth seeing, someone will tell me about it (either the designer or other players); too often I have climbed up somewhere only to find either A) nothing, or B) invisible walls, or C) all the mobs behind me respawned. View Points were probably designed for people like me.


      • I’m hoping you’re right. I hope eventually combat gets better. Either way, GW2 is not a day one purchase for me. It has a lot of promise but I just can’t trust MMORPGs to deliver anymore.

        I’m glad it felt less floaty. That drove me crazy. I wish there was a way for me to verify this without having to actually buy the game first. Maybe they’ll do a trial/demo kind of thing.

        I think the reason I look for exploration in MMORPGs is because I keep hoping someone will nail it, eventually. I remember exploration in Asheron’s Call and DAoC having some real magic to it, but part of that I’m sure was just my overall ignorance of those games when I first played them. I also felt the same way about WoW at first (Fenris Isle comes to mind), but that wore off quickly. I hope someday someone realizes how much players want an expansive, unmapped world waiting to be discovered, not something with every detail planned out from start to finish.


      • Weapon swapping is also very useful in creating your own combos… in certain circumstances some can be quite powerful. There is a great wrap up of them floating around the interwebz too


    • “The combat felt lackluster since there was no resource management all I ended up doing was spamming every ability as soon as it was off cooldown. No reason not to, you know?”

      Every ability except your #1 autocast combo has a situational purpose. You don’t get more dps doing a ‘damage rotation’ because that’s not how skills work in GW2, all you do is ruin your ability to time interrupts/slows/knockbacks properly to save your own behind when you need to. If all you want to do is have solid damage output then your #1 skill does the job just fine, spamming everything is just a waste of effort.


    • The combat felt lackluster? Name some games where the combat doesn’t feel lackluster. I see you mention TSW in your post. You did not find the combat lackluster in TSW? Its all about combat points (which is what WoW has been heading to but they’re just called different and have different mechanics). Every class is unique in its mechanics. You can say you wasted X amount of hours to figure out the right class, sure, but surely you enjoy that part of experimentation in MMO?

      If you played your thief by just mashing whatever was off CD you were playing your thief wrong. Same for any other class I am aware of.

      First of all, it is impossible to mash every CD since you need to decide for 2 “specs” (weapon sets). You can switch between those 2, sure, but other than that your combat options are limited to those 2.

      Second, I’ll give you a hint since it appears you didn’t understand much about the game combat mechanics. On every class, F1-F4 are the keys which bring depth in your class. F1 on a thief is for example shadowstep. On mesmer this means combo points execution from illusions. On an elementalist it gets you in a different elemental state (providing a plethora of further options). You can’t simply mash these buttons on CD. Sure, you can, but you’re not playing efficient then The starting weapon of the elementalist (IIRC the staff) gives a lot of strategic value as well as different playstyle. I remember a line which could slow but provide me movement speed increase. I remember an AoE, and I remember the respec like other classes have with weapon to be similar for elementalist who switches to different element.

      But the most I know about the mesmer. I have leveled this character up to level 20, and I started to play this game with zero expectations except for “another WoW clone / fantasy MMO” which led me positively surprised. First of all, right at level 2, I could not mash whatever buttons I had. I had to learn what they did, and learn combinations of them. What you say also simply wouldn’t work with F1-F4 on mesmer as they’re like combo point finisher. So there’s already some kind of rotation there. Furthermore, there’s some weapons which create an illusion on a successful block. By mashing whatever is on CD you pop your block when the enemy may not attack.

      If the mentioned playstyle of yours was applied in PvP you’d get seriously owned because you apply zero strategy in your rotation. Once you get owned, you’ll want to learn your abilities better and both increase your damage as well as your survival.

      The ability delay could become a serious issue in serious PvP. I’ve seen that kill SWTOR. Thing is, in SWTOR they didn’t fix it after 2 months, nor after 3, or 4, 5, 6, 7, …


      • The combat actually doesn’t feel lackluster in TSW. It’s not perfect by any means, but it can be very engaging depending on your setup. The mechanics aren’t incredibly polished but in terms of actual abilities, with comparable amounts of played time in TSW and GW2 I felt like I moved around much more and had to think about which skill combinations I used much more. In GW2 I COULD (not that I did, but I certainly COULD) spam any old ability, even my default attack with any weapon, and basically kill anything I came up against. My guess is that the combat gets more strategic as time goes on (level 20+) but it’s a really boring first impression and for ArenaNet’s sake I hope they do something about it.

        I understood the combat mechanics fine. That’s the problem. I saw potential for depth but almost no usage of it whatsoever (through about level 15 or so). Even in PvP boosted to the level cap I tried using my abilities “syngergistically” and discovered quickly instead that spamming every ability when it came off cooldown (and using CC abilities here and there) was just as effective at least 90% of the time. Of course, some of that could be that other players were just spamming as well but it doesn’t change the fact that I wasn’t quantifiably more effective by being meticulous and strategic about my choices in combat.

        I didn’t play a Mesmer, but I did play an Elementalist, a Ranger and a Guardian. My combat experience was similar in all three cases. Perhaps the Mesmer is more complicated from the outset, which wouldn’t be all that surprising, but again, the point is that you shouldn’t have to choose a particular class to get a compelling experience.

        And yes, the ability delay will kill it for me. It’s a dealbreaker. I can tolerate it in TSW because I don’t PvP in TSW because PvP is (reportedly) horribly unbalanced and terrible–fortunately that doesn’t matter to me since the PvE is (mostly) fantastic. Unfortunately for GW2, the PvE is fairly standard and PvP is the focus and it doesn’t sound like it’s there yet.


  5. The jumping puzzles were there before; I’m not sure whether there was so many of them though because they used not to be marked in any way. (I. e. vistas were a new thing in this BWE.)

    As for the weapon swapping, there is an elementalist-and-engineer-only limitation indeed. Speaking of engineers, they seems to be on the more complex side too: the special skills depend on what you chose for your healing and utility skills and the kits allow them to swap their weapons for things such as flamethrower etc.

    @adammtlx, I kept getting the delay before any damage on random skills, I wonder whether it was just lag. At least for me, I can’t speak about your experience.


    • I wonder… was the delay due to the sort of pseudo-cast bar many skills have, or are you referring to sort of wind-up animations, or just straight-up lag-looking delays?


    • All skill cast times are tied to character animations, I think this is why some feel delayed.


      • I see, thanks for the info. I actually didn’t investigate it much, I just assumed it was due to lag because it seemed so. ;-)


    • I don’t think it was lag, at least not in every case. For example, one of the Elementalist’s Earth spells is an area of effect spell where you summon a large rock-spike down on your enemies. You cast it, and after you finish you can do whatever else but in the meantime the rock spike spell still hasn’t done any damage because it’s going through this animation. You’d think you’d time the rock’s “falling down” animation with the cast time, but nope.

      Really bizarre design decision. Forces you to time the spell exactly right and basically count off in your head in order for it to hit your target.


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