Category Archives: Guild Wars 2

Finding the Zone

I continue to play Guild Wars 2 every day.

I also continue to make almost zero progress on the story.

That may not be technically accurate. I have completed Living Story Season 3, Part 3, e.g. the Winterberry Farm. I used the remaining gems I had left over from cashing out my gold years ago to purchase the missing LS3 parts (1, 2, 5), and then worked my way through the LS3:P1 to start generating that map’s currency. While I had read that the Winterberry farm is by far the best place to, well, farm things, I had not quite realized how bad the others could be. With Winterberries, all my alts can farm ~50 a day. All the other maps can only be farmed once per account, and I get maybe ~13 currency if I manage to find a zerg. Considering the reward is Ascended-level items (the best possible now and possibly forever), I probably should not complain that it could take me 10-20 days of constant farming to get those rewards. But comparably, it’s much worse.

Farming though, is just a symptom of my larger problem finding a class and spec I enjoy. A problem that I might have actually solved. See, I had chosen the Necromancer as my GW2 main, and actually geared her up pretty far. I still farm Winterberries for my other alts, such as the Thief and Engineer, but the more I play them, the more I realize that the Necromancer is better in every conceivable way.

There are three main areas one needs to concern themselves with in GW2’s combat. The first is survivability. Everyone has a self-heal ability, but it typically has a ~20 second cooldown and a lot of things can happen in those ~20 seconds. Plus, there is nothing worse than sitting at less than half health, desperately waiting to heal again, and having to choose between continuing your attack as normal or dancing around the edge of combat. To this end, it’s extremely nice to have some kind of ability or talent that allows you to gain health by attacking or some other means.

The second area is, well, AoE capabilities. As mentioned before, I very much enjoy the concept and execution of Pistol/Pistol Thief vis-a-vis Unload spam, but that is a decidedly single-target attack. Having to focus on just one mob at a time when there are 4-6 guarding your Winterberry node simply isn’t fun. Plus, it impacts your survivability insofar as unanswered cannon fodder can promote themselves to deadly threats if you ignore them.

The final area is ranged options. I honestly don’t understand how Warriors and Guardians and Thieves do it, but every time I have moved into melee range of a Champion/Legendary mob as part of a zerg, I have ended up eating dirt, hoping someone finds the time to rez me before the end of the event. Beyond the zerg though, and especially in the Winterberry farm area, there are Griffon enemies that take to the skies and rain down an extremely annoying (and surprisingly deadly) AoE in melee range beneath them. My Daredevil Thief deals well with grounded foes, but having to Dodge away and wait for them to land ain’t something anyone got time for.

But then there’s my Scourge. My beautiful, capable Scourge.

Scourge is the Elite-spec for the Necromancer and by far the most powerful character I have played. It has two healing abilities that also create a damage-absorbing bubble, on top of a 5-second debuff cleanse, on top of a debuff-transference skill (from off-hand Dagger), on top of passively gaining 10% of the damage I deal as HP, on top of having a Flesh Golem tank. The AoE capabilities of the Scourge as pretty much the benchmark of all other classes. And, as you might imagine, all of this is at range. Instant-hit range too, I might add.

It all honestly reminds me of leveling Warlocks in WoW. You know, running around DoT’ing half a dozen mobs at a time, and just standing there letting them beat on you as you they die one-by-one, healing you all the while. You can’t quite be that cavalier in GW2 given the level scaling and such, but it gets closer the better gear I get.

So, yeah. I’m having fun in GW2. Just not in a way that progresses the story as of yet.

[GW2] 4Q17

The fourth quarter results are in for Guild Wars 2: 34,903 million Won.

GW2_Chart2

What does the above tell us about the health of GW2? Well… there might be cause for concern.

Revenue for the two quarters encompassing Heart of Thorns was 67,888 whereas Path of Fire is 55,048, a decline of about 19%. A more concerning factor, IMO, is how these last two quarters encompassed the release of mount skins in the Gem shop. Based on anecdotal evidence, e.g. in-game observation and Reddit threads, the mount skins have been one of the most lucrative additions to the Gem store in months. The Gliders released in HoT were cool-looking, but only seen when, you know, actively gliding. Meanwhile, people are on their mounts a good 90% of the time these days. There are 50 total mount skins, and even if ArenaNet severely bungled the distribution thereof, it’s clear that they are hot items.

Despite that, the 4Q17 results barely moved from where they were in 4th Quarter 2013.

GW2_Chart_Bar

Bar Chart, if preferred. (source)

Having said all that, the situation is not dire per se. If you enjoy GW2 as I am at the moment, there is no particular reason why you could not continue for quite some time. Even with a lower player population, you are unlikely to notice a decline, as players are funneled together into event zergs, and the Diablo-esque loot (99% useless) pinatas keep the dopamine high.

What we are likely to notice is exactly what we are seeing today: a renewed focus on fiddling with Gem Store items and services. The Mount skins were a start, but have continued into the Black Lion Chest “upgrade.” The Fashion Wars endgame remains largely P2W, with rewards for actual content-clearing relegated to the junior varsity artists. And everyone is fine with that since there is no “power” being sold… only motivation. And besides, if you farm enough gold and convert it into gems, you can reap the rewards yourself!

Sigh.

The funny thing about it all is the fact that while you can purchase Gems with Gold relatively effectively over time, the biggest cut for GW2 is actually the Gem to Gold conversion. For example, as of the time of this writing, the conversation rate is 100g = 356 gems. However, if you wanted to buy gold, the conversion is 19g per 100 gems. So, basically you get only 2/3rds of the value buying gold. This means that ArenaNet should probably be encouraging more tradable (and thus sellable on the AH) items, rather than a laser-focus on Gem Store exclusives.

As an example, the legendary greatsword, Twilight, is currently selling on the AH for 2750g. If I really wanted that item right now, I would have to buy 14,474 gems and convert it to the necessary gold. That’s $180.92 worth of gems as of today. Or I could decide that that is absurd (it is), and start off on a journey to craft the Legendary myself, which could be a year-long endeavor that requires touching every part of GW2’s content.

Or, you know, buy an similarly cool-looking greatsword (or bow) skin off the Gem store for like $10. Either/Or. It is becoming increasingly apparent which one ArenaNet would prefer.

[GW2] Balanced Gameplay

Yep. Just another day, trying to cap a ruin in Guild Wars 2, when…

Now, I knew I was dead as soon as I saw another player. I’m there to complete my daily quest, the Roamer is there to Roam. That’s cool. What’s less cool was this:

One-Shot

Balanced!

For those playing at home, that’s a total of 29,073 damage unloaded within… what would you say, looking at that footage? One second? One point five? Less? The two actual damage abilities would have left me with less than a hundred HP, if not for the Steal (which teleports the Thief 1500m) or the Lightning Strike, which I believe is a weapon enchant proc.

If you were wondering about buffs, this is a closer look at the Thief:

GW2_Buffs

Possibly fair? I dunno.

It looked like the Thief popped something as he crossed the ridge. Is it captured in the buffs up there? I’m not super familiar with all the icons, and GW2 does not have any feature to look up other characters, so I’m kinda stuck.

Still though… in what particular universe would something like what happened be okay? I’m not in full Ascended gear or anything, but I doubt the gear difference would have gotten my HP above 29k, which is all that matters in the literal second it took to down me. Maybe the particular build the Thief has to use to achieve this level of absurdity makes them less useful in zergs?

To which I would reply: again, how is this okay?

For the record, this occurred last week, so the recent balanced changes were not involved.

Estimating GW2’s Population

About two weeks ago, I was browsing the Guild Wars 2 subreddit and came across this post that estimates GW2’s “active population” to be 3.3 million players. That number seems so impossibly absurd, that I almost did a spit-take. Even if you define “active population” as someone who logs into the game once a month, it still seems way too many.

The methodology behind the estimation involves the following very difficult math:

From /r/GuildWars2 subscriber counts: 165,105 * 20 = 3,302,100
From GW2Efficiency account numbers: 169,052 * 20 = 3,381,040

No, really, that’s it. The estimate hinges on a game developer(s?) on Tumblr, who says 80% of a given playerbase doesn’t ever engage with the community outside the game, 20% of them do, and 5% provide content/posts. And Reddit subs are the 5%. Ergo, just multiply whatever by 20 and you’re good to go, QED.

Incidentally, the /r/wow subreddit has 511,692 subs, which means WoW’s current population is 10,233,840. And /r/FFXIV’s turns into 3.3 million active subscriptions. So there you g…

in fact, you don’t need any kind of rule to estimate subscription game player numbers: you just count the number of subscribers.

this rule, in fact, is only useful for estimating the population of games like GW2.

Of course. That’s not what the Tumblr dude stated, but whatever.

Well, applying the math to /r/PUBG means there are 2.2 million people playing per month… of which a little over half are playing right now, simultaneously, as I type this at 2pm. The reality is PUBG hit a peak concurrent userbase of 3.2 million last month – and the weekly playercount is 20 million (!) – which requires some rather vigorous hand-waving to salvage the Pareto Principle-esque methodology.

In the interests of science though, let’s explore some alternative facts.

One way is revenue. Luckily for us, NCSoft reports quarterly numbers…. quarterly. And they happen to break out how much revenue GW2 specifically brings to the financial table. Here it is, going back to GW2’s release:

GW2_Chart

The number there is revenue in millions of Korean Won. Google tells me the exchange rate is about 1072 Won / $1 USD, so last quarter GW2 had $18.8m in revenue, $12.6m in the previous quarter, and so on. You will notice that the spike there at 4Q15 and 1Q16 corresponds with the Heart of Thorns expansion release (October 2015) and the transition to F2P. The present “bump” in 3Q17 is similarly explained by the fact that Path of Fire was released in September 2017, which sort of straddles the quarters a bit. The question of the hour will be the 4Q17 results, which will likely come out in the next week or two.

Incidentally, Wilhem has posted SuperData’s latest report, which includes the 2017 revenue figure for GW2: $87 million. I’m not sure if SuperData has some sort of insider access to revenue figures before they go public, but… we can work with that. The first three quarters of 2017 add up to 47,928m Won, or just shy of $44m. If SuperData’s number is accurate, that means 4Q17 brought in $43m. That pretty much lines up with the prior expansion: the two quarters HoT released in added up to $62m, and PoF’s two expansion quarters will hit just shy of $62m as well ($43m + $18.8m).

Here is another point of information:

“Guild Wars 2 has proven pretty resilient historically, with about 1.5 million monthly actives,” SuperData Research CEO Joost van Dreunen says. “Since it switched to free-to-play in late August, Guild Wars 2’s monthly active user base has doubled to 3.1 million (October 2015).

Yes, it’s SuperData again, whatever. What is tricky and/or pure conjecture at this point is how to incorporate the above quote into the revenue graph. Can we correlate 4Q15’s revenue and purported monthly active playerbase? Because six months after the expansion, one or both dropped by 46%. Even without the expansion though, revenue stayed in a 19k-22k range for six quarters pre-HoT and that was with “1.5 million actives.” In the five quarters since HoT, revenue hasn’t broke 16k. Is that because the playerbase is declining? Or is the playerbase steady, but filled with more non-paying players now?

Here’s my gut check: GW2 probably has ~1.5 million monthly “players,” and many times less people who actually log on when there isn’t a holiday event/Living Story taking place.

Look, the numbers and the quotes can be massaged to basically say whatever you want. What is considerably more objective is what ArenaNet does. And what they did extremely recently is the following:

Even though world linking has brought world populations closer together, it is impossible for us to get populations and coverage any closer because the current worlds do not give us the granularity needed to do that. For example in NA, Blackgate has decent coverage across all time zones whereas worlds like Crystal Desert have higher peak times and lower off-hour times. Because world linking isn’t granular enough, we don’t have the ideal link that allows Crystal Desert to have coverage that is similar to Blackgate.

This is why, in the new World Restructuring system, we will remove all players from their current worlds, and make new worlds every eight weeks. This will create more granular pieces, which allow us to avoid situations like the Crystal Desert example.

What the above does is make “World vs World” the biggest misnomer since… well, “Guild Wars.” Originally, WvW was Server vs Server. Then there were megaservers in 2014, which are server merges with lipstick on. Then there was world-linking, which was Cluster vs Cluster. With the above change, it’s now pretty much Warm Body vs Warm Body.

Combined the number of times I have been bribed to transfer to more populated map channels in general PvE, makes me extremely skeptical there are millions of people kicking about.

Ultimately though, I think Guild Wars 2 is actually uniquely well-positioned to survive regardless of whether it consists of a million actives or three million tourists. For one, there is no monthly fee, so people cycle in and out all the time. More importantly though, the game is structured to funnel people into zergs no matter the map. This gives the “illusion” of a populated, lively community even if everyone is transient strangers you literally cannot even Inspect. But you know, that’s worlds better than my experience in other MMOs with higher monthly populations that were sequestered away in private realms.

 

[GW2] Noob Tube

Way back in the day, I played Battlefield 2 pretty religiously. During one update or another, they introduced a 1-shot grenade launcher as a new weapon. Considering the grenade launcher didn’t require precise aiming (auto-detonated when it struck an enemy) and it usually instantly killed your opponent, it got a bad reputation: the Noob Tube. If anyone saw you killing people with it, you would be subjected to verbal abuse for the rest of the round.

Of course, the problem is that the Noob Tube was rather effective. The Time-To-Kill in BF2 was short, such that most people had only a moment or two to outshoot an opponent that appeared around the corner. As long as the titular Noob had the Tube ready, they had a fighting chance against even the best veteran – just fire in their general direction and hope for the best. Plus, the firing of the weapon and the resulting explosion also felt rather satisfying, even if you did not kill your opponent.

In Guild Wars 2, I have turned the corner with my interest in the Thief, by virtue of equipping the equivalent of the Noob Tube: Pistol/Pistol (P/P) Unload spam.

GW2_Unload

Extremely satisfying.

P/P is not an approved meta build for Thief DPS. If you bring it into a PvP match, you will be laughed at/accused of throwing the game, depending on which team the abuse is coming from. It is so unsupported by serious players, I don’t think anyone has even bothered explaining whether a Power or Condition Damage build is better. I’m guessing Power because big numbers, but GW2 is sufficiently convoluted that it being Condi wouldn’t surprise me.

But, whatever. Spamming Unload just feels so damn good.

Given my displeasure over stance dancing, this shouldn’t come as a big surprise. But what surprised even me is, again, how fun it is. My Thief is running around with dual pistols and literally unloading both of them into trolls and elementals like some goddamn John Woo fantasy movie. The sound of the skill is satisfying and has weight behind it. If spammed with sufficient speed, the hits are totaled together into a number that quickly breaks five digits. Although the skill is channeled, I am completely mobile throughout on top of it having a decent range. Each attack buffs you such that subsequent attacks hit harder, and the talents I have chosen multiplies that damage further by debuffing the enemy as their HP decreases. There is cadence and staccato and… I really want to press the button again right now.

Of course, it’s likely that Unload is a newbie trap. I will not be invited to Raids or PvP zergs by spamming Unload. Relying on a single ability will not hone my muscle memory in an otherwise stance-dance meta. It is EZ mode, the equivalent of a WoW Hunter spamming Explosive Shot, back when that was a thing. I should feel the shame as one would taking up BF2’s Noob Tube.

…but I don’t. Pistol/Pistol is fun, effective for the content I currently engage in (dailies), and that’s more than enough for me. You can pry this Noob Tube from my cold, dead hands if you dare. UNLOAD SPAM FOR LIFE.

Or until I get bored, or find something else better. Whenever.

GW2 Gameplay Thus Far

I technically have four max-level characters in Guild Wars 2. For a while now, I have played all of them regularly, insofar as I use them to farm Winterberries. The gathering itself is simply pressing a button, but each node is frequently guarded by 3-4 mobs, one of which is usually a Veteran, e.g. equivalent to a WoW elite.

While it is not really a high bar, I do appreciate how differently each of the classes play when encountering the same content. Of course, some are (much) better than others. Sometimes even the weapons the class equips is enough to radically alter the gameplay.

Necromancer

I consider the Necro to be my “main” in GW2, and so I have been spending most of my time playing this class. It was tough choosing which Elite spec to funnel my expansion Hero Points into, but I settled with Scourge. While that decision was based on what research I could find regarding DPS and raid-worthiness, I feel like perhaps my normal gameplay style would’ve been better suited to Reaper.

The big change with Scourge over default Necro is that the Shroud (F1) ability is replaced with Manifest Sand Shade. This feels more powerful – and by all rights is – but it also introduces some clunky, fiddliness. Shroud always felt awkward for me to use, because it was basically an Oh Shit button that sometimes made sense to use as a DPS cooldown. The Sand Shades of the Scourge are more obviously DPS cooldowns, but it requires you to basically pick an area to create a stationary damage field. This clearly works in more known locations like raid encounters, but gets really annoying really quickly as you roam around in the the world.

A running theme throughout my experience with GW2 is that I hate the F1-F5 abilities. In fact, I hate all Stance Dancing in every MMO I have ever played. I ended up remapping the F1-F5 keys to something easier to press, but the Scourge represents a step backwards to me, as it took one button (F1) and turned it into five buttons, three of which you need to press regularly. Meanwhile, Reaper appears to be something more like I was looking for: turning F1 into a straight DPS cooldown, plus increasing survivability from a bunch of disposable pets.

Mesmer

The Mesmer is a class I used one of my level-80 boosts on, primarily because everyone talked about how boring it was to level. That boost automatically decks your character out in passable Exotic gear, so I felt relatively comfortable using her to farm Winterberries. What I ended up discovering was a playstyle that really suits me… providing I can figure out how to deal more damage.

The Mesmer is all about creating Clones and Phantasms, both of which can distract foes and deal damage themselves. In short, they have all of the positives of pets, with none of the downsides, considering they exist for only 10-20 seconds at a time during combat. It also amuses me to no end when I automatically create a Clone when dodge-rolling, as the mobs chasing me break the pursuit to attack something that disappears moments later anyway.

The problem is that while I can create a lot of distractions, it takes a lot longer to actually kill anything. Which might explain the whole “it’s boring to level a Mesmer” trope. I do not have either of the Elite specs unlocked, so perhaps that could improve things. Right now I am using Sword/Pistol and Greatsword, so that could be another avenue to explore.

Thief

I enjoy the Thief, but it is squishy as hell. The straight-forward F1 ability, spammable attacks, the Stealth… there is a lot here to like. From everything I have been reading though, the Elite specs are where it is at in terms of improving everything. I can kill things decently as it is, but I always seem to be hovering around 25% HP by the end of the fight.

Perhaps I need to move away from Dagger/Dagger…

Elementalist

Let’s see… squishy, no burst damage, 20+ skills to keep track of across F1-F4, and stance dancing. Yeah, Elementalist is my least favorite class by far. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even bother using it to farm Winterberries. There just isn’t anything fun about the way it plays.

Others

My other two characters are an Engineer and a Ranger. The Engineer in particular is one that I have always enjoyed – it was my second character created, in fact – but I unfortunately did not spend one of my two level boosts on her. Which might have been a mistake, given how the Thief is turning out. That said, I am accumulating those +1 level books at a decent clip based on my dabbling in WvW, so who knows when she will join the others at the cap.

The Ranger is another class I enjoyed to an extent, but not enough to play consistently. I like pet classes, but I don’t like fiddling with pets; I prefer cannon fodder to a companion in my MMO. That might sound cruel, but in my experience, what actually happens is I find a pet that I enjoy having around, but the optimal pet to use is something else entirely, so I am constantly forced to choose between form or function. Plus, there are usually dozens and dozens of pets to choose from in the first place, so actually picking one is difficult. Give me a generic, useful demon pet any day.

And… that’s it. Can’t really play a Warrior or Revenant until there is a sale on Character Slots.

The Transitive Property (of Grinding)

Extremely recently, all my desire to play Warframe evaporated.

While there is (a lot of) grinding involved, I mentioned several times in the Warframe post that the game itself is very fun to play. And it is. Leaping from wall to wall as a space ninja terminator is an experience not commonly found in gaming today. But here I sit, looking at the icon, and feeling… nothing. At all.

While I was thinking about what might have changed, I realized that I had, moments before, been playing GW2 and grinding Winterberries. Each character on an account can collect around 50 of them a day, and you need 200-500 of them to purchase a piece of Ascended gear. I don’t need Ascended gear for anything in particular, but it’s character progression, and it’s something relatively mindless to do when I don’t feel like doing anything else in particular.

…oh, yeah. Sort of like what I was going in Warframe.

I had been playing both Warframe and GW2 in my gaming sessions up to this point without issue. The change was alluded to in this post, where I mentioned thinking about grinding LS3 maps for the Ascended trinkets. Before that, I grinded some Warframe, then completed some Story missions in GW2. Now that I’m grinding in GW2, I didn’t “need” to play Warframe anymore.

This also explains why my travels in No Man’s Sky met a similarly abrupt end. Well, the NMS gameplay at the point I stopped was more “leave the game running and check back in 30 minutes to harvest nodes” than grinding per se. But if I were looking to replicate the feeling of a slow accumulation of resources, I could do so as a space ninja terminator. So I did. And then I transferred that sensation to the other half of the MMO I was currently playing, closing the loop.

I don’t imagine that “grinding is grinding” is an especially grand epiphany to anyone reading this. Indeed, chances are you are intimately aware of this relationship if you find grinding to be tiresome and hate it in your games. But in all these years, I never quite realized how… transitive the property is. Like, for a moment, I had considered installing Black Desert Online again to give it another shot, but then realized that its entire economy relies on AFK accumulation of resources. Which is a feeling easily replicated in No Man’s Sky, which has a much more coherent narrative (which isn’t saying much). Which is replaceable with Warframe. Which is currently replaceable with GW2.

In a sense, this is a good situation for me. I am getting all my gaming “needs” met in a singular title. This is a terrible situation for other games, however, because I am able to get all my gaming needs met in a singular title. Why would I play something else? This helps explain why zombie MMOs exist, and how it can be difficult to dislodge a market leader once they achieve a critical mass (beyond the fact that a large audience becomes a draw all by itself).

That said, it’s a bit precarious for ArenaNet in my personal situation, because while I am satisfied at the moment, any upset would send me smoothly into the arms of the next title with some sort of grinding elements. And a not-insignificant part of me feels like bouncing from game to game is a more ideal scenario in the first place, as it exposes me to more novel experiences in the non-grinding portions. For now though, GW2 is satisfying enough. Emphasis on “for now.”

Mount Up

As I settle into the routine of daily play, I just wanted to take a moment and express how amazing the mounts are in GW2.

GW2_Mounts

Fantastic animations too.

To be clear, I have only unlocked the Raptor mount at this time. My understanding is that the other mounts behave quite differently, and all have different abilities that they bring to the table. For example, the raptor can leap long distances, whereas some other mounts float above water, others leap vertically up, and there is even one that can fly/swoop around.

Looking just at the Raptor though, GW2 demonstrates a refreshing sense of design that works especially well in its gamespace. The Raptor has momentum and a turning radius. At first, this makes it seem unwieldy and difficult to maneuver. But then I started to ponder why it “feels” like anything at all. The answer is because in other MMOs like WoW, mounts are just reskinned players models. If you have ever flown around in WoW when the mount model fails to render, you can see your character in a swimming animation in open air. That is basically what mounts, flying or otherwise, are in WoW. They aren’t anything.

GW2_MountLeap

Sometimes ill-advised, but leaping is always fun.

The Raptor’s primary movement ability is the Leap, and here again the subtle genius of GW2’s design shines through. The length of the leap is a function of how long you press Spacebar, and the amount of times you can leap is tied to the “Endurance Bar” aka the Dodge bar. In text form, those are merely details. Running along the strikingly three-dimension space GW2 constructs, the mere act of riding the Raptor is great fun. Intermittent leaps, large leaps, traversing canyons simply to see if you can… all of them provide stimulation in a way simply going from Point A to Point B never do. Presumably there are entire maps in Path of Fire constructed to take advantage of these movement capabilities, but the default maps are just as fun.

And did I mention that mounting up is instant? For those that experienced it, the Halloween holiday in WoW (and Druids, I suppose) are the closest we have gotten to instant mounting, and the devs seem ever resistant to changing that, as if the 1.5 second delay is some integral part of the questing experience. Well… given the radical difference in feel between zero and any other number, perhaps they are right. But instant is fun. Now that the last vestiges of non-consensual PvP are gone, perhaps the WoW devs can take a page out of GW2’s playbook on the matter.

In any case, the mount system in GW2 is the best I have played in any MMO. I think Aion might have came close, if you consider wings to be “mounts,” but this definitely takes the cake.

Every Day Jugglin’

With each passing day, I am falling into a familiar trap of trying to juggle all the things in GW2.

My primary objective, always, is to complete the main daily quest. This rewards 2g straight up, not counting any other bonus loot from the component quests, and represents real, long-term wealth. Maybe there are better gold-farming techniques, but this is the best I have at the moment. Thankfully, the daily is not quite as onerous as it once was, between familiarity and Bhagpuss’ guide to completing it in WvW.

The secondary objectives are where things fall apart.

First, I would like to experience all of the story content. That includes the vanilla story and then, of course, the expansions. I kind of jumped ahead on the HoT story because I needed to unlock Gliding, but I do want to get back to the normal order of things at some point.

Second, I want to unlock the Elite specs for the classes I play. GW2 has a pretty asinine system by which you basically have to complete the expansion content before unlocking the Elite spec that came with the expansion, but there are ways of getting around it. Specifically, there are WvW items that drop which you can convert into a currency, which you then use to buy another item, which then randomly completes a Hero Challenge in one of three broad areas. It’s as convoluted and nonsensical as it sounds, but a side-effect is that it’s forcing me to do all the “easy” Hero Challenges, so that my random completion item is more likely to pop one that, say, normally requires a group to finish.

Third, I want to progress my character in general. And, perhaps, this is where things truly fall apart. If I am just doing my thing and notice that there is a Commander on the map with a zerg in tow, I drop what I’m doing and follow the zerg. Not doing so means I will miss out on the free loot of whatever encounter the group is about to breeze through. Plus, considering GW2’s “Mastery” system, it’s kind of required that you join these zergs because otherwise your ability to work your way through the expansion content will be that much harder and longer.

At the same time, I’ve been reading up on getting better gear once you’re at the level cap. Ascended gear is the highest-stat gear in the game, and has been for years. The best way to acquire a bunch of those pieces is to farm the Season 3 Living Story maps on a daily basis. I kinda lucked out because I was logging in regularly during LS3, so I get those “episodes” for free. But I haven’t been doing them, because I’ve been trying to do the Story in order. But by the time I get around to it naturally, I could probably have farmed all the necessary currency to get the Ascended gear, so I should probably be doing that right now. But that means doing even more story out of order, and skipping zergs…

What ends up happening is a pretty classic case of Analysis Paralysis. Unable to choose between all the things, I end up choosing nothing. Well, I choose the Daily, then nothing. Gotta get those dolla bills, y’all.

Heart of Thorns: Impressions

Having (painfully) unlocked mounts in my prior session, I felt ready to unlock Gliders in this one. Once again, I limbered up the Elementalist, and got ready to trek into the jungle.

…if only I could figure out how.

I think one of the most enduring legacies of WoW that no one gives much thought about are the seamless transitions between zones. Guild Wars 2 has big and beautiful zones… inside very defined silos. Mountains and invisible walls grid everything so that the only way to get to A is through the single zone gate B. Assuming you can find said gate.

So, I teleported to the zone next to the expansion content, mounted up, and road my way down the perimeter. Then, 15 minutes later, I looked up where the fuck the portal was supposed to be. Ah, that little brown smudge on the map.

After a cool cinematic, I started working on the directed quests. They referenced a bunch of stuff I never did – apparently I killed some dragons, like you do – but it was easy enough to follow. After a bit of follow-up, I was dumped into the jungle and told to unlock Gliders to progress further.

It’s been several days since that moment, but I still have a look of incredulity all but permanently affixed to my face. Nothing was explained how to unlock Gliders, just that I needed to. No map markers, no quests, no “Hearts,” no dialog, nothing. Hell, even doing searches in Google and Reddit turned up next to nothing. What, exactly, were the devs wanting me to do?

In case you ever follow my footsteps, here it is: to unlock Gliders in Guild Wars 2: Hearth of Thorns, you must mindlessly grind XP in the expansion zone. That’s it. There are no Hearts in the beginning section, so you must rely on Events you don’t know about or Champion trains filled with mobs that will one-shot you without warning. There is a Day/Night cycle in the jungle that ensures a steady stream of Event-ish things to do, but again, you have to complete enough of them to fill your entire XP (i.e. Mastery) bar before you can unlock Gliders and get on with the rest of the story.

It’s tough to imagine a dumber way to design an expansion, but there is still time to surprise me.

Anyway, my dilemma remains. For sure, I do not want to continue doing anything on my Elementalist. Perhaps either of the two Elite Specializations might make the class more fun to play, but that requires gaining 100% of all your standard abilities, e.g. grinding out additional Hero Points. I’m pretty sure that also means hitting up all the Hero Point challenges in all of the default maps, but who knows. That means I’m either going to continue progressing through the vanilla GW2 story on my Necro, or boosting the Necro to 80 and doing the same thing. Not sure if there would be an advantage to the boosting immediately – I’ll have to research if the XP at the cap turns into Mastery XP or whatever.

I dunno. I’m going to have to look at Thief and Mesmer again, as those would be good candidates for my free level 80 boosts. There is also the Revenant, of which I have only looked at in the PvP lobby. Having permanent Swiftness seems cool, but is less relevant now that I have a mount. The Necro is good, and mostly feels good to play, but I’m concerned about the fact that it seems to hold no relevance in group play basically anywhere. Chronomancers, Druids, and Warriors or bust, is what I’m reading.

I suppose it’s no different than any other MMO: the struggle is always finding that class that is both useful and fun to play. And how do you do that, if not playing for hours and hours and potentially burning yourself out with an unfun or non-useful class in the meantime?