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