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Disposable Professions

As of Battle for Azeroth, WoW professions have become almost entirely disposable.

I noticed this last night as I was puttering around on some of my alts. Three of them wear leather armor, so I was hopping onto each one trying to remember which had Leatherworking. As it turns out, none of them did. So, without much thought, I dropped Skinning on the rogue and then… paused. “Leather is cheap, but those Blood-Stained Bones are relatively expensive.” Then I decided that my druid would likely be more efficient at AoE farming for leather anyway, so I logged onto her and then dropped Enchanting without a pause and gave her Skinning.

If you have not been keeping track at home, Blizzard had been moving towards the Single Expansion Relevance model for a while now. Professions used to start at 1, and you would need to dedicate tens of thousands of gold/hours farming to level them up to 300+ just to get near where current-content gear was. If you kept up, you were sitting pretty, because everyone else just coming back from a break or brand new players had a huge grind ahead of them.

It was not a particularly elegant model, but it still felt… reasonable. Plus, the constant need for old-world mats for newly profession-ed characters meant that lowbies had a good shot at become rich by just gathering herbs/ore as they leveled. There was a whole micro-economy that existed there, including the savvy Auctioneers who were able to throw together a “profession kit” that would allow someone to max out to current content within 30 minutes. The dedication needed to remain in your own professions would inspire people to level alts just to have additional options, who then needed to be leveled and geared and fed a diet of AH materials, and so on, and so forth.

Then things started to change.

The first steps were allowing players to harvest current-expansion nodes even as a starter herbalist/miner. Blizzard made sure that the product extracted was basically junk, or 1/10th of the normal result, but you could at least tap the node. And that was reasonable, especially for the gathering professions, as it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to force high-level characters to be scouring old Azeroth for Tin nodes.

Then came the gimmie recipes for crafters, which allowed them to use current-expansion resources to rank up 400+ levels. One would think that such a feature killed off the old-school profession kits, but all it really did was set a price ceiling at which it was cheaper to just buy new herbs/ore. This was especially true at the beginning of an expansion, when the latest herbs/ore were selling for hundreds of gold apiece.

Somewhere in there, Blizzard also introduced profession books, which would allow you to “relearn” all the recipes you had lost when abandoning a profession.

With BfA, the circle is now complete. Professions are entirely stratified into expansion-specific tiers. Profession bonuses, which were the bane of hardcore raiders, were watered-down and diluted into irrelevance. Once a part of your character’s identity and story, professions are, at most, a (temporary) economic decision. Hell, in the heady days of a new expansion release, it can sometimes be worth the 1000g fee to relearn a profession if you can make ten times that amount in a night of being a temporary whatever. Blizzard helpfully removed most of the dungeon requirements for 3-star ranks, so the barriers has never been lower.

And all of that is probably for the best.

I sat here a while, exploring my feelings on the matter, before coming to that conclusion. I am a huge critic of any game design in which someone can lose on the character select screen, and WoW’s profession bonuses combined with the grind back up to max rank was just another form of that. That is on top of the ~5%/month churn rate which could see your entire MMO population turn over every 20 months. A new expansion is usually released how often, again? It’s just not a good design IMO to require people to pump out thousands of useless pieces of junk to increase a number to a sufficient degree to get to starting line.

Nevertheless, yeah, there is a part of me that had fond memories of the old system. My namesake paladin has been a Jewelcrafting/Alchemist since 2008 and none of that matters. I spent hundreds of hours leveling up a fleet of alts to cover every profitable base each expansion, and now the same thing could be done by one toon and a willingness to drop 1000g.

I am sort of waiting for the day when Blizzard just goes full GW2 and lets you buy extra profession slots for real money and otherwise just be done with the restrictions altogether.

The Last Reset

This week is the last reset before Battle for Azeroth goes Live.

In the three weeks that I have been back playing WoW, it has consumed a rather large part of my gaming time, as it did in the past. I have since reached the level cap with my paladin, rogue, warlock, demon hunter, and death knight. Two additional classes are just barely past level 100 – the priest and warrior – but I have had great fun with playing them, so I plan on getting them to the cap as well.

I am abandoning my mage at level 92, as I tried out all three specs and found them lacking. In fact, it’s pretty awful considering mage is the only class that can’t face-tank mobs, and yet cannot blow them up either. Or maybe WoD is still overtuned post-squish? All I know is that I accidentally aggroed a bunch of crabs in the the beginning Garrison quests, blew all my cooldowns, and still died. I don’t think I’ve died to non-elite mob pulls in… five years? Maybe longer.

Anyway, the shaman is a big Nope for me, Zappiboi notwithstanding, and I never was particularly serious about the hunter in all my time with WoW. I’m probably going to wait until I unlock Void Elves before using one of my three stockpiled instant-100/110 tokens on getting a monk up to speed.

This last reset is going to be somewhat important for me in the transmog department. Specifically, I have been trying to obtain the Tunic of Unwavering Devotion since the release of the Nighthold raid. A similar model drops from a world boss, but it’s one of 11, and the order was completely random week-to-week until recently. I’m not especially confident that Legion raids or the world boss will be soloable on a leather-wearing class at the beginning of BfA, nor do I imagine there being much interest in small-party raiding of old content. If I have to wait 2+ years to obtain these transmog items, well, they are effectively removed from the game as far as I’m concerned.

We’ll see how it goes. I will have six opportunities (3 leather classes + bonus rolls) to snag the chest piece, and potentially another two if the demon hunter tier piece chest (same model) can be used for transmog on other leather-wearing characters.

goals, Lowercase

I have unlocked Legion flying.

The process was not nearly as painful as I was anticipating, primarily because the reputation requirement was only Revered, instead of Exalted. Well, that, and the fact that I had already unlocked Pathfinder Part 1 before I stopped playing last time, in addition to doing some of the beginning quests at the Broken Shore. In any case, flying is as majestic and freeing and worthwhile as it has ever been. Although it annoys me greatly that Blizzard will continue dangling it in front of us, that simply confirms the notion that it is a carrot worth pursuing every time.

Unlocking the Alliance Allied Races was a secondary goal that I may well abandon entirely. The requirement is Exalted with two factions introduced in Argus, and completing all the quests sticks you at the beginning of Honored. While the reputation is a bit easier to grind out nowadays – most World Quests give you both factions’ rep, and at 75 a pop – that is still… an inordinate amount of grinding. Blizzard is apparently sticking to their guns in terms of still requiring Exalted into BFA, which is just further mind-boggling, considering you then still have to level up new characters from level 20. I suppose Blizzard considers this a sort of cosmetic Thing To Do, but it’s bizarre to me that they’d go through the trouble of creating entirely new skins and racial abilities and heritage armor, and then leave it in soon-to-be-dead content with an expansion around the corner.

I mean, it’s one thing to leave in the WoD grind to unlock flying, as that just impacts WoD. But imagine if new players had to grind Cataclysm reputation to unlock flying in the vanilla zones. Six expansions from now, there will likely still be Void Elves running around, provided that anyone gets bored enough to spend 6+ weeks grinding rep.

Instead of that, I have been turning my gaze towards some of my alts. As mentioned before, I only have the one max-level character: the druid. For my other alts, I made sure to do the beginning artifact quests, so they are generally level 102. Thus far, I have only touched two since patch 8.0.

The first was the Demon Hunter. I… just don’t know about this class. The whole double-jumping and free-gliding aspect of it make the class extremely fun from a mobility perspective. From a fun perspective though, the button-pushing aspect leaves something to be desired. I guess technically it’s extremely similar to Rogue mechanics – press A to build up resources to press B – but I think the key difference is that all the attacks feels like the same on the Demon Hunter. Stab-Thrust-Spin feels a lot more varied than Spin-Spin-Spin, even if you’re doing comparable damage.

Alternatively, I could just be annoyed how little self-healing Demon Hunters have (at this level?). I was in Stormheim and there was one of those quests where you have to weaken a mob before using an item on them to make them stop fighting. Which is normally fine, whatever. However, the regen mechanic with Demon Hunters is based on the mobs dying and dropping health orbs, which… doesn’t happen when you don’t kill the mobs. Can’t just bandage anymore either, unless you have a Tailor or buy bandages off the AH. And who carries food around these days?

The other class I played for a bit was Rogue, and it’s as fun as it’s ever been. Stealth, blowing mobs up in a few GCDs, re-stealth and go on to the next one. I’ve stuck with Outlaw thus far because I like Grappling Hook and Pistol Shot, but I do miss being able to Shadowstep to the next mob and basically ninja my way around the world.

In the coming days, I want to give the Paladin, Death Knight, and Warlock another go now that War Mode is a thing I can keep turned off. Also, I have never had a Monk past level 20, so that would seem to be a good target for one of my free level 100 boosts. Don’t know what I would use the other one on – perhaps an Allied Race, if I ever unlock one? – but I’m tempted to boost a Horde character either on my current server or another one, just to get access to the Horde storyline.

Provided, of course, that my attention span for WoW holds out.

PSA: Spirit of Harmony = $$$

This AH tip is from two expansions ago, but perhaps you also completely forgot it was a thing.

Do you know how in 7.1 there is a Blood of Sargeras trader? Well, there was one in Pandaria too. They are located in the Vale strongholds for your faction, out on the terrace. And, as it turns out, their exchange rates are very good:

WoW_SoH1.jpg

Oh my.

Yes, a single Spirit of Harmony trades for 20 Ghost Iron Ore. Which are currently selling for 38g apiece on Auchindoun-US.

So, basically, if Spirit of Harmony are going for anything less than 760g each, then…

WoW_SoH2.jpg

Whoa.

Now, what I will suggest is that you look at your own AH and not go too crazy with this sort of thing. Remember my Titansteel tip from Friday? I’ve sold two pieces, but the others have not yet sold. It’s entirely possible that they never sell at any price. Indeed, pretty much the sole purpose of any of these mats are to craft and sell mounts that have been out for 2+ expansions.

That said, I absolutely bought out all of the Spirits of Harmony below 250g and converted them to Trillium and White/Black Trillium Ore to post in the AH. Depending on sales, I might just toss in some Ghost Iron Ore as well. The profit margins are low considering that Starlight Rose is still ~75g a node, but I hate actively farming herbs and this breaks up the monotony.

Legion Impressions: What’s New is Old Again

Legion is weird.

After all the dilemmas of two weeks ago, I bit the bullet and created a druid on Sargeras-US using my level 90 boost. With the help of some donated +300% potions during the Invasions, I hit 100 well ahead of the Legion launch. The plan? Level as Balance with Restoration as a 5-man backup.

My first impression is that druids might well have won this expansion, at least on paper. Mages might have portals baseline, but the Dreamway can take you damn near anywhere (old world, Wrath, etc), and it’s a pretty place to boot. Plus, any misgivings I might have had with Balance gameplay-wise was erased with the artifact ability. I smile every time I get to cast Full Moon and watch a goddamn moon crash into a bunch of mobs, usually hitting them for 50-90% of their HP with one spell.

Outside of the questing experience though – which is just as good as before – everything feels weird.

As Syp notes, the class order halls feel like a waste of space. Or, perhaps more accurately, a waste of time – just another set of loading screens on my way back to questing. Seriously, my recent routine is Dreamway –> Order Hall for missions –> Dalaran for any profession quests –> Stormwind to AH herbs/ore –> Dreamway –> Order Hall for Flight Point back to questing zone. I suppose there might be a more efficient route in there somewhere, but the point remains that we now have three entirely different hubs with Important Things in them.

Remind me again how this is better than people being stuck in their Garrisons?

Indeed, the whole Order Hall business as Garrison 2.0 is making me scratch my head. I get the fiction of Order Halls. And I even agree that it fits thematically with us being commanders, wielding the artifact weapons of our people. But… why? Why this Garrison business again? The system is a lot more streamlined than before, with only ~5 followers or whatever, and that’s good. But the “gameplay” of three clicks every 2/4/8 hours is a road to nowhere. So much so that Blizzard recently released a companion app that lets you make those three clicks while not even playing the game.

wow_yodawg

It’s a very useful app.

Don’t get me started on Professions. Catch-up mechanisms really needed to exist, lest new players be forever stuck behind old-world material walls. This new paradigm of only needing level 100 skill though (and even then only for World Quests)? Jesus, what’s the point? Skill level is immaterial, old-world recipes are immaterial (outside maybe transmog), old-world mats are immaterial… oh, but the entire design in predicated on being max-level and hitting high reputation levels with endgame factions, rendering crafting alts as functionally useless. Which might well have been the design. But it’s a dumb design, a design that explicitly punishes the very things that Blizzard has been adding to the game for more than half of it’s existence.

So… I dunno. Blizzard probably got a good year of subscription money from me back in Wrath by actually making alt characters useful and engaging. We have now reached the point at which we have the opposite philosophy from the last four expansions. Between that, the fact that Sargeras had 30-40 minutes queues on Tuesday, and that the AH continues to be throttled (presumably due to realm size), I am beginning to question why I spend time playing this game over, say, anything else.

Artifact Concerns

As the release of Legion inches closer, my implicit worries have begun to mount.

Technically, the concerns I have currently are the same ones I brought up a year ago. Namely: artifacts and alts. Having one weapon that you channel all of your power into is conceptually neat. But WoW has long ceased to be about one character and spec; the structure of the game since around Wrath has seemed to hinge on the assumption of alts, or at least dual specs. Just think about all the Account-Bound items and other technology changes that have occurred in the past five years.

So how is Legion going to interact with everyone’s alts?

Based on the Wowhead research I have been doing… it’s hit or miss. My first concern was being stuck with a single Artifact for a single spec out of the gate. What if I’m a healer and want to level as DPS? You are indeed stuck with a single Artifact until level 102, at which point you can unlock the others. However, you are not stuck stuck – there is a sort of gear workaround for alt specs:

What if I chose the wrong Artifact Weapon, vendored my old weapons and want to level in a different spec before level 102?

Your class Order Hall Quartermaster sells item level 740 weapons/off-hands/shields for 100g each. These can serve as replacements if you need them before you unlock all of your class Artifact Weapons at level 102.

So technically you should be able to have a backup set of gear to use if you want to tank/heal/DPS with an off-spec. Obviously it won’t be as ideal as with your Artifact, but it’s something.

Okay… what about gaining Artifact Power (AP)? During questing, dungeons, etc, you end up receiving consumable items that fill an AP meter for your currently equipped Artifact when used. So, it seems like you should be able to quest as DPS and funnel all of these consumables into your healing Artifact later on. That’s pretty good. Indeed, later on you unlock the Artifact Knowledge ability that will increase the AP gained from future consumables. I thought it was a nice touch that these gains aren’t retroactive to your currently obtained consumables, so there is no reason to hoard them for later.

But then we get into the sort of nitty gritty details of World of Altcraft. The amount of AP that you need to get from level 13 to level 14 is more than the total amount you need from 1-13. This makes a nice, conceptual breakpoint at which you can decide whether to hedge your bets or double-down on one spec or not.

That said, there are two problems with this.

First, you don’t always have any control over your circumstances in the game. Your guild might need a healer now, after you have already hit AP14, setting you a painful distance behind in your ability to fulfill the need. Second, there are numerous specs who can actually unlock their 2nd Elite Traits as soon as AP16. Now, “as soon as AP16” really means 33,450 total AP gained, more than 2.5 times as much as was needed to hit even AP14, but still. I haven’t seen all the math amongst all the specs in this regard, but I don’t believe it to be a trivial increase.

Finally, and most critically: what happens when Blizzard nerfs a spec?

If you were an Assassination rogue and got hit by the nerf-bat, it was always technically possible to switch to Subtlety rogue and keep going. Maybe your Best-in-Slot items change based on whether Mastery or Haste is king. But now? At AP18, you are two times further away from even AP16 farmed from scratch. Unless the Artifacts are front-loaded as all hell, you are basically staring down an entirely new endgame, minus all the easy AP gained via leveling. I suppose Artifact Knowledge is supposed to bridge the gap there, but I’m not entirely convinced Blizzard won’t be requiring us to grind dailies for, erm, days or weeks.

[Fake Edit]: A new interview just came out addressing this:

Artifact Weapons
The team will avoid nerfing a spec from being a little too good to the worst so that you don’t feel that all of your Artifact progression was a waste

Time will tell regarding on the Blizzard dev’s team ability to actually do this.

[/Fake Edit]

And don’t get me started on, you know, an actual alternate character. Artifact Knowledge is not Account-Wide, which means you are back to grinding from zero on every other character on your account.

For someone planning on coming back for Legion, I’m a little nonplussed as to what I’m actually going to do. My namesake paladin is right out – Retribution is garbage again from everything I have heard, and I have no interest in Protection tanking. So… what? I haven’t experienced the post-7.0 classes, and now must make a decision on a new main (probably on a new server at that) with a new main spec that I have to invest in at the expense of every other possible alternative.

Analysis Paralysis is a real thing, which often leads to doing nothing at all. Which is still an option.

Facepalm of the Day

I mean… is it really so crazy to imagine that after 2000+ hours playing the same class/spec that a person might just possibly want to try something different? And, you know, not have to spend the exact same (or similar) amount of hours getting that different experience to the same content you wanted to spice up in the first place? I wanted to experience a different endgame when I rolled my alts, not a different leveling/gearing experience.

Does he really think Blizzard wouldn’t bank $1 million overnight by offering paid class changes?

It just boggles my mind. One of your stated goals is to make each class and spec feel unique, and then you become baffled that people want to play more than one. I don’t get it. Is this a joke?

Cheesing Alts

Guild wars 2 is remarkably unfriendly to guilds. The fundamental component of such a collaboration, in my opinion, is the guild bank… something that is sequestered behind a 2500 Influence timewall. After a week and a half, my small guild of WoW expats have just gotten halfway there.

But I get it, I get it. Can’t expect ArenaNet to sell $7.50 bank extensions if just anyone could create a guild and get 50-slots “for free,” small guilds be damned.

The good news for smaller guilds is that you can cheese the Influence system a bit with alts. A guild generally gets 10 Influence for each member that logs in each day. Each of your alts counts as a unique member. Ergo, if you log onto all five characters every day, your guild should get 50 Influence points during the “Attendance Checks.” You do not even have to do anything on that alt; just log on, and then go back to the character selection screen. Done.¹

Now, 50 Influence might not seem like a lot, especially in terms of guild groups rolling through Events – but that is 50 quick Influence points per account per day. Get five friends doing that everyday for 10 days and you got your bank. If you want your own personal guild bank extension, that is a mere 50 days of solo log-ins.

By the way, know what else is counted on a per-character basis? Resource nodes and chests.

Why log-in on unused alt accounts in the middle of a city when you could do so standing next to a Rich Copper Node (etc)? Personally, I have two level 12 alts parked in the Shamans’ Rookery area I talked about last time, such that when I give my guild its daily 10 Influence, I snag 2 silver worth of Copper Ore and then spend 2-3 minutes snagging a Splendid Chest to boot. And then I do it again.

If I was really feeling cheeky, I could go outside and farm the Potato… farm just south of there, snagging the normal chest along the way. Since this is the Norn starting area, chances are good you will get pushed into the Overflow server, which has its own version of resource nodes too. From my testing, it looks like ArenaNet closed the loophole that would allow you to gather from both the normal and Overflow farms. However, these farms are also character-specific, which means any alts parked nearby can loot it individually.

¹ It is entirely possible ArenaNet fixed this. I tried testing today, and it did not appear multiple log-ins caused the counter to increase immediately, like it did previously. Still, I have have a screenshot of our six-person guild’s Influence History tab which shows “7 members logged on for 70 Influence.” I’ll try and do additional testing in the next few days. The resource node/chest thing is 100% legit though.

And on the Seventh Day…

“…He vowed: ‘Forsooth, verily shall ye never again take up an MMO at launch. So sayeth the LORD.'”
-Commonsensthians, 1:1

Given that I fancy myself a topical blogger now, and that my prepaid prepurchase of the prelaunch of Guild Wars 2 was predicated on previewing, this is yet another Commandment that I am probably going to break in the future. However! If you have been waiting to jump into GW2 for whatever reason, let me say that I envy you. The game will either be better, or you will know exactly how dumb it is/stayed.

Stream of consciousness-style:

Characters

I have made characters. Lots of characters.

  • Asura Elementalist, level 19
  • Sylvari Engineer, level 13
  • Norn Ranger, level 12
  • Human Guardian, level 6
  • [Deleted] Charr Warrior, level 3
  • [Deleted] Human Mesmer, level 3

I typically do not play MMOs this way, insofar as splitting my time amongst many alts right away, but GW2 in particular makes me worry that I picked the “wrong” class. You see, I actually enjoyed my Engineer quite a bit, but… well, once I unlock all of the weapon skills, most of these classes just fall apart in terms of interest.

The Engineer in particular gets hit hard because dual-pistols is the only rational weapon choice for leveling; which means pressing 2, 3, 4, backpedal a bit, mob dead. Over and over and over again. For 80 levels. Given the Engineer mechanics, you cannot swap weapons in combat, although you can spice things up by dropping turrets or swapping to a Flamethrower, Landmines, Grenades, etc. But none of those alternate weapons seem to work better than dual-pistols, unless people are accidentally tanking for you. In which case… nope, dual-pistols are still probably the strongest.

Since my friends are now in the mid-20 range, I have been focusing on the Elementalist, which is honestly what I should have been doing all along. I stick in Fire mode 99% of the time, but unlike dual-pistols with the Engineer, it somehow feels different. I think the main thing is how one of the “rotation” buttons requires ground targeting, which necessarily changes from mob to mob, spicing things up (dual-pistols is all straight tab targeting with inherent AoE).

I deleted the Warrior and Mesmer so early for a few reasons. First, the whole Mesmer mechanic of summoning and sacking phantasms/clones did not seem like something especially fun. In PvP? Probably pretty fun, or annoying to the opposing team, which is another way of saying “fun.” The warrior was deleted for much simpler reasons: I died at one of the newbie Events right past the tutorial. Remember how I warned everyone that if you were melee, popular Events would kill you practically instantly? Yeah. If you want to be stuck as a Longbow-Rifle warrior, go right ahead, but I was not looking forward to 80 levels of getting owned in Events when I could be dropping meteors and volcanoes and having fun.

Before deleting either class though, I did take them to the PvP lobby to take a look at their Traits lines (aka Talents) and later Skills. The warrior was pretty straight-forward and boring to me. The Mesmer had some pretty cool ones that got the PvP juices flowing though. For example, how about a wall of crazy magic that automatically turns all your teammates invisible when they pass through it? I was imagining dropping that when storming the bases in Warsong Gulch… until I remembered that this was a whole different game, the invisibility lasts 4 seconds, and this would take a coordinated team effort that isn’t likely to happen unless I am in some PvP guild running premades. Which is too bad, because the Mesmer can also make a portal entrance/exit that can be used by anyone to zip you between the two locations instantly as well.

Auction House Trading Post

As of today, still down.

It does periodically come up from time to time, and I make oodles of coin in that brief window. However, I do recognize that actually making money from the Trading Post will not be a particularly long-term endeavor. Crafted goods were generally selling at 1 copper above their vendor price, which is actually selling at a loss considering the obscene ArenaNet 15% cut. Mats are where it is likely to be at, so to speak, but once the Trading Post opens for real, it will be a race to the bottom against botters and their crippling 72 bans.

Where I made my money this past week was selling the Unidentified Dyes for in the neighborhood of 10 silver apiece, which is pretty astounding. It might not sound like a lot of money in any typical MMO, but keep this in mind:

Pictured: You being jealous.

At the time of this writing, I have accumulated 400 gems in this fashion, all for less than 34 silver per 100. The real money exchange rate works out to $1.25 per 100 gems, so I’ve made a cool $5 selling roughly 1g 20s on one character. In case you need reminded, my highest toon is level 19. Incidentally, that is more than I have made in Diablo 3 for the entire 2-3 months I played.

So when I tell you I am very annoyed about the Trading Post being down for the vast majority of the prior week, that is not “entitlement” speaking. This is SRS BSNS. God only knows what the exchange rate for in-game currency is going to be a month from now.

Hint: not likely 30s per 100.

Dynamic (Death Trap) Events

While I will admit that some of these Events have been interesting gameplay experiences – taking out bandits before they set up poison traps for Skritts, or disabling the traps before the Skritt trigger them is probably not something a traditional MMO quest can do – the vast majority of the ones I played are simply trash farming. Which is great for making money (see above), but does not deviate much from the “zerg ALL the things” stereotype I had from the betas.

And then I started running into Events that are either poorly designed, poorly tuned, or (Badly) Working As Intended.

Pictured: my life, in a nutshell.

Let me unpack that collage of failure for you.

First, I was originally questing in the area to fill up a level 15 Renown Heart. Suddenly – or should I say “dynamically”? – the entire complex was filled with level 16 mobs. I died pretty much instantly. After respawning, I came back inside to see if I could chip away at the Renown Heart still, and perhaps see if there were more players around to take down the Event proper. But then I got confused. The Event says it is level 14. All the mobs are level 16, pat around in groups, and even the ones by themselves were generally chained to another mob 20 feet away. I did eventually find a group of 5-6 players, but I was never able to tell whether they were on the premises the whole time (which might explain the higher-level mobs) or if they came in once the Event popped on the radar.

The very next area North of here was the 15-25 zone, and immediately featured two more Dynamic Death Traps. Remember people telling you to complete Events and then follow the NPC when they run back home? Sometimes it results in some exposition dialog, or even another Event. And sometimes it results in instant death.

Surprise! Boss-level Event after you collected 10 lightning bug asses.

There was zero warning that the very next step was going to be [Group] level boss Event. None. Again, it is possible that there were “enough” people in the general area (that I could not see) that would make a level 16 Champion spawning from a collection quest make sense. I saw one dude, who died with me, twice.

By the way, at the current exchange rate, each death costs me $0.0125.

After respawning and heading in the other direction, I encounter this lovely Renown Quest:

It will be fun, they said.

What exactly a level 21 mob is doing in the level 17 Renown Quest area, I have no idea. But, you know, I am a total pro and (slowly) take these fools out. Heart completed, I notice a Dynamic Event spawn nearby. Given my prior experience getting nickle and dimed to death, I said to myself “fuck that noise” and started heading back to the Renown guy to check for upgrades. I make it about ten feet before this happened:

Not pictured: wireless keyboard sailing through the room.

What a swarm of eight level 20 mobs are doing heading towards a level 17 Event is a secondary concern to why they have to…

…you know, what? Whose mind do I imagine I’m changing here? You are either already drinking the Kool-Aid or you are not, and I am fine waiting for the first bodies to hit the floor.

And it is not as though there isn’t other things I could be doing, like…

WvWvW

Just kidding, perma-queues.

I will say that I am impressed by ArenaNet having free server transfers open during this time when ~70% of all available American servers are Full, even at 4am. I have talked a bit with my friends as to whether we want to bail from Northern Shiverpeaks and go down to a Low pop server, but the downside to that would be lack of people in the world for Dynamic Death Trap Events, grouping in general, and so on. Given the PvP guilds located on this server though, it is quite possible that no one else will ever be able to zone in. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Crafting

By the way, I hate the crafting system thus far.

Hmm… maybe “hate” is too strong a word. It’s boring. You only make items in 5-level increments, e.g. level 5, level 10, level 15, etc. Every recipe is Piece A + Piece B + X, where X is either a mob drop, or a token you create from a mob drop. It creates an illusion of “hundreds of different recipes to discover!” when the reality is that a pair of boots with +Condition Damage on it is not really different from another pair of boots with +Power. Yes, if you were stacking Condition damage or something, it matters.

But do you understand what I’m saying? Within 30 seconds of crafting two different boots, I implicitly knew the recipes for (possibly?) every pair of boots in the game. Six different mob drops –>  six different tokens + six different super-tokens = 12 variations of each item * six levels of the base material (Jute, Wool, Cotton, etc). Looking at the Wiki for Tailoring, it looks like there are 14 token variations instead of 12 at higher levels, but come on.

Anyone remember Spidersilk Boots? I do. Seeing that recipe for a blue item was the precise moment in WoW that I became keenly interested in crafting and doing things with the AH. Contrast that with what I described above; simply rearranging stats around is a Diablo 3-esque crafting system, not an inspiring one. Maybe all the cool crafting stuff happens at higher levels, or at the Mystic Forge. Maybe there are super-secret recipes no one knows about.

Regardless, right now GW2’s crafting system feels like it has been designed by an accountant.

Immersion

One final (positive!) thing I want to talk about today is actually an area where Guild Wars 2 nails down a quality I did not fully understand: immersion.

A lot of people pretend that immersion is some kind of objective term, that the things that pull them into or eject them out of a game are universal Truths. Those people are wrong. Sense of immersion is a personal thing, which should be immediately obvious to anyone who is into fantasy or sci-fi novels but thinks Twilight (etc) is dumb. Different people look for different forms of escapism. Suspension of disbelief is a voluntary action, or at least is informed by your own tastes.

What GW2 has taught me thus far is that I (hitherto subconsciously) place a heavy emphasis on a sense of existing in a 3D space for immersion. It might be easier to show you what I mean:

This impressed me to an almost embarrassing degree.

This fence is Real to me, as it exists in a 3D space and I can interact with it. Namely, by standing on it. You probably do not know this about me, but one of the first things I do in an MMO is find a fence and try and stand on it. Why? Because it tells you a lot about the “depth” game. If the fence is simply a 2D texture papered over an invisible wall, you know there is not likely to be many “real” objects in the game. God forbid if you cannot jump at all.

And I apparently have a thing for fences. Don’t judge me.

While it is also impressive how our feet can actually appear to stand at the correct levels of the fence, I understand that that is more of a “trick” compared to the 3D object itself. A good trick, for sure, but a trick nonetheless.

If I get vertigo in your game, you win.

The above is another one of my favorite screenshots. It looks better in motion, but it feels even better inside my head. GW2 evokes the sense that these floating islands actually exist, that the character I control is not just an elaborate 2D model but an actual set piece moving in 3D space. Immersion success. Indeed, I usually find myself frustrated when I come across a hill in-game that I cannot find some way of climbing straight up, as opposed to going around the “right way.” The hill exists, therefore I keep trying to find that slightly less sloped polygon so I can shimmy my way up to the top. It does not cross my mind that there might be an invisible wall around the hill edge, because invisible walls are for fake-3D games.

And the weird thing is that I’m not even that into platformers.

_____

With all of that off my chest, in the next GW2 post I might spend some time handing out gameplay tips in the same vein as the Quickstart guide. Because while the things I complain about do legitimately annoy me, GW2 has subsumed the entirety of my gaming time since the head start. Which, if I’m honest, is not something that happens very often.

If Guild Wars 2 Succeeds, It Will Be In Spite Of…

With there being just ten days until the prepaid preordered preliminary prelaunch, I figure now is about as good a time as any for a damp GW2 blanket. Not really cynicism for cynicism’s sake, but because there is a bit too much irrational exuberance in the comment sections of otherwise reasonable skepticism. When people start suggesting an MMORPG without a endgame will be fine because MOBA or Counter-Strike, it is time to grab the hose.

And lest anyone forget, the following predictions are based on my experience in all three of the beta weekend events – feel free to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and/or Part 4 for a recap, or just read everything in the GW2 Category for the full experience. I already paid my $60, I am going to be there on the 25th (assuming the servers are up), so it is not as though I want GW2 to fail. I just personally believe that if GW2 succeeds, it will be in spite of…

1. Dynamic Events

Seriously, folks, “Dynamic” Events (hereafter Events) are one of the most over-hyped, under-performing features since WoW voice chat. If anyone in-game talks about Events a month after launch, it will solely be in the context of “Where do I level now?” and “Where are all the Events?” and “I’ve been waiting for X Event to spawn for six minutes now!” and “Lame, the Waypoint I wanted to use is contested.” Events are not Guild Wars 2’s killer app. Events are fun the first time, promote spontaneous grouping in the immediate area, and technically have branching paths, I guess.

Events also scale horribly with a lot of people (melee in particular get hammered by dozens of instantly spawned +2 level mobs), are boring the 2nd/3rd/nth time around, interfere with normal questing/exploring in the area (yay, 20 kobolds just spawned in this cave again), are not easy to find or fun to wait around for, and become just plain tedious when completed alone. Regardless of how successful or not GW2 does sales-wise, it will not take but a few weeks for the playerbase to diffuse across the leveling/zone spectrum, making the outdoor-raid-esque feel of beta Events turn into the Warhammer’s “Forever Alone” Public Quest ghost towns.

You do not even have to have played the beta to understand any of this. Just explain out loud, to yourself, how and why Events are going to be fun for you. Do you sound convincing? For bonus points, elaborate how you figure Events are supposed replace traditional quests as the bulk of GW2’s PvE system.

2. WvWvWvWvWpppfffft

I understand that there will probably be some sort of dedicated segment of the playerbase that thinks WvW is the best thing since Isle of Conquest. And they will be correct, it is an improvement on Isle of Conquest in almost every way!

WvWvWow, Isle of Conquest

Other things better than Isle of Conquest include: stepping on a nail, papercuts on your knuckles, Miley Cyrus’ haircut.

I can honestly say that I do not see the appeal of PvWall. It was fun using a cannon to shoot down a constant stream of anonymous damage against massed chumps, but I would be hard pressed to recall a time when being said chump in a rain of frames-per-second-crushing pain was at all what I wanted to do.

And did you see the screenshot I posted way back in the first beta weekend? Here, let me bring it to your attention again:

Yo dawg, I heard you like “world” in your world pvp, so…

If you zone in with 8-10 friends, or even a small group, I can maybe see it being a nice diversion to go kill a bunch of NPC guards at one of the random outposts and otherwise inflicting maximum annoyance. But knocking on a wall and then killing a Keep Lord and then losing said keep a few hours later after you turn in for the night when the West coast PvP guild logs on? And god help you if you want to do WvW below level 80 – you get leveled up to 80, but neither your gear nor your skills are leveled likewise. I imagine we will all get pretty adept at playing Angry Birds one-handed as we navigate the 2.25 minute graveyard run for the millionth time.

Did all this work in DAoC? I dunno, I’ll take your word for it. Then again, a lot of shit worked ten years ago. Like subscription-based games, amirite?

3. Flat Endgame

I only today ran across these two Youtube videos that answered one of my fundamental questions of what happens at endgame, and it was surprisingly succinct: you continue gaining Skill Points for each “level” you gain past 80. Moreover, you can spend said Skill Points in a variety of ways (you likely will have purchased all the character Skills long before this point) including transmuting mats and… more cosmetic gear. I do not find cosmetic rewards in of themselves particularly compelling, but at least you gain something for sidekicking with your friend’s alt or whatever. Not that you always need a reason beyond their company, but let’s face it, it is better for everyone involved that it is incentivized at least in some small way.

That said, I have a big problem with the argument that the vast majority of WoW players do not see an endgame, and thus GW2’s lack of one is no big deal. Yes, raiding is only experienced by ~20% of the playerbase (although LFR undoubtedly changed all that). However, an order of magnitude more players run dungeons as an endgame activity, satisfying the urge of character progression via Justice/Valor Point purchases. Nevermind farming Honor in random BGs. Ostensively both activities exist in GW2 as well – although there are what, 3 BGs (all Conquest) and 8 dungeons? – but running, say, dungeons over again is going to be the equivalent of WoW’s upcoming Challenge Modes. Does anyone thing this is going to be a long-term retention solution?

By the way, I find the “everyone just rolls alts” rationale amusing considering it cedes the progression point. Gaining levels and better gear is fun, and that is exactly why designers try and transplant that same feeling into the endgame via incremental gear upgrades.

In any case, those are my Guild Wars 2 predictions ten days before the headstart launch. Like I mentioned before, and hopefully you have understood by the title of the post, I am not necessarily predicting GW2’s failure or poor retention or whatever else. It could very well be that the game is a smashing success, breaks the 7th Seal, and ushers us into a dawning Age of eternal bliss. If it does so, it will be in spite of Dynamic Events, WvW, and its endgame, not because of them.

I could be wrong; it has happened before. We’ll just have to see in the next 1/3/6/12 months.