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Low-Information Gaming

Logged onto Guild Wars 2 today after about 2+ weeks of not playing. Decided to be lazy authentic and not read anything, to better simulate the Joe Q Casual experience.

After a 500mb download, I appeared to be on an island near Mount Something-or-Other, five feet from a Personal Story portal. What was I doing again? Oh, right. I had spent a number of missions getting extra-special explosives to destroy one of those bone ships. I guess no one can be bothered to bring a cannon or trebuchet up in here? It worked last time. Whatever. All I need to do is… swim underwater… past a whole bunch of mines… with Risen all over the place… as an Elementalist.

Heavy sigh.

I am downed almost immediately, surrounded by the most banal MMO mobs ever created, and oscillating rapidly between my ineffectual real attacks, ineffectual downed abilities, and having no abilities being so close to the surface.

By the way, has anyone actually used Water Ability #5 as an Elementalist in anything approaching a useful manner? Even if you aim correctly, it always seems like you hit them 1-2 times and pass through them, dealing less damage overall than you would have just auto-attacking. Oh, good, that Water #5 launched me into a mine. Christ, this gameplay is worse than I remember.

Next step: clear the area of undead.

Err… looks clear to me.

I am not trying to be cute with the picture – there is literally zero mobs of any sort within the green circle. After trying fruitlessly to climb aboard the bone ship and then determine if there are mobs underneath the weird coral formation, I eventually encounter a Risen shark on my way back to the island. Apparently satisfied that a stationary shark 1000 meters from the boat was killed, Tonn decided to plant the bomb. We swam back without much incident.

At this point, the detonator does not appear to be working, and the murlocs naga krait are attacking. Tonn says he will repair the connections, give us the signal, and then says to push the button when the detonator goes green. Now, I am no explosive expert, but won’t the detonator go green the instant the connections are repaired? Nevermind. I kill some extremely small waves of mobs with the help of four other NPCs. “That’s the signal, hit the detonator now!” After a lame explosion, the following happens:

It’s not a spoiler if it’s dumb.

Did my game bug out, or did they literally just show me a bunch of water and haphazardly say that the dude died? No body? No explanation of how or why? I get that the “impact” was probably lessened by the time between I last played GW2 and today, but come on. This is exactly like when What’s-His-Face died at the Place “defending” the Thing (if you played GW2, you know what I’m talking about). There is simply no sense in it. I do not find pointless, off-screen deaths particularly compelling.

Enough of that nonsense.

I use the HotM Express to get to Lion’s Arch to check out the Halloween stuff. There are decorations and… an orange circle. I go there. I click on some NPCs, and suddenly I am a bird. I click on some people and get “points.” Okay. I finally find the NPC that gives you an item that runs on Candy Corn. As far as I can tell, I am supposed to find six people/things that can correspond to the four different buttons on my new hotbar. I talk to the first ghost nearby like I am instructed to. The dialog is pretty incoherent, but maybe that is the point? I keep getting feared away from the NPC by what I imagine to be another player still doing the costume brawl thing. Am I still “flagged?” I dunno.

I successfully talk to the ghost by clicking really fast before I get feared away. Not sure if I “completed” this step so I use the device to see if it marks anything in the quest area. Oops, out of Candy Corn. I watch the player grief people at the ghost for a solid three minutes before I head to a strange icon labeled Commander So-n-So, thinking perhaps this is some new NPC to explain what exactly the fuck is going on.

Talk to a Pumpkin-Carving NPC that says I need to carve an unspecified number of pumpkins before I can get a title or join his order, or possibly both. On my way to the Commander icon I see a toilet paper roll go flying through the air. After clicking on a table, it looks like a Candy Corn monster appears, but I keep walking. Ah, okay. The Commander is simply one of those players who bought the Commander book for 100g; this person is simply AFK at the bank, in somewhat cool gear. I right-click them trying to Inspect and… that’s right. ArenaNet built a game with a Vanity-based economy, and included no way to Inspect other players.

About to log off, then decide to take a screenshot with some random person nearby:

The end (?)

Funny story about that armor I’m wearing. You see, I actually got to level 67 and went the rest of the way to 80 by crafting in town. Afterwards, I sort of arbitrarily chose a set of gear off the AH based on stats that might potentially be good for a support character in dungeon runs. As I equipped everything, I noticed that the color was off; this happens occasionally when you equip gear that has three color zones when you had been using gear with only two up to that point. I was having a surprisingly hard time figuring out which zone was not colored right though, so I changed everything to the same color to figure it out.

Not a bug, but a feature! Well… maybe not so much.

The silver bit that refused to be colored correctly ended up being… the boob window. Or underboob window, I suppose. Or just “window,” on Asura.

In any event, pretty sure I am done with Guild Wars 2. It was probably not fair to make a half-hearted attempt to jump back in to check out the Halloween event while so acutely aware of how much fun I could be having with Borderlands 2 instead. Then again, maybe that is a perfectly fair scenario given the realities of gaming today: it is not enough to be a good game, you have better than every other game someone could be playing at that moment.

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.