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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?

OTOH: GW2, Part 2

A few days after logging out last time, I crack my knuckles and get ready to head back into… Tyria? Whatever the Guild Wars 2 world is called.

I am feeling so spunky, in fact, that I take a Waypoint directly from the Asura Borg Cube I use as a home-base back to Sparkfly Fen. Nearly two whole silver? I am living on the edge, man. Can’t stop me now. I spot a large blank area on the map, and decide to tackle that first.

YEAH, I SAID “YOU CAN’T STOP ME NOW.”

Nightmare Court mobs in a dark tunnel? I can eat these guys for breakfast. /attack

Pictured: Getting stopped.

I am not going to lie: I almost logged off right then.

In the four minutes between zoning and death, I killed two of packs of two Nightmare mobs. The next group was three linked together, which did not seem insurmountable at first. Unfortunately, one of them was a Necromancer who proceeded to ramp up ranged damage to some ludicrous degree before I noticed. Perhaps I could have squeaked out a victory had I blown ALL the cooldowns, but the certain knowledge that I died within 20 feet of the entrance, the down-leveling mechanic ensuring that trying to explore this tunnel solo would lead to inevitable death, and getting double death taxed¹ on top of it all – within four minutes of logging on – punched through the paper-job I have hitherto made over the cavernous enthusiasm gap that is GW2 combat.

That was a long sentence. Let’s take a breath together.

Last week, I made a somewhat controversial remark that GW2’s combat was not as responsive as WoW’s. “Responsive” was not the right adjective to use, and my follow-up explanation in the comments felt unsatisfying even to myself. The mobility does feel fun. There is a sort of sponginess to the button-presses –> attack result, but even that is not the precise issue. And while my next instinct was to say it feels shallow, it is pretty clear that there is a lot that can go on simultaneously (especially in PvP).

The combat simply feels… insubstantial.

I fully admit this could just be an Elementalist problem. I do not actually enjoy the Attunement swapping mechanic in general, even though I engage in it quite a bit. But I do not think it is just an issue with the class I am playing; I got the same general feeling from my level ~20 alts as well. I can quite literally run circles around most of the mobs I face, avoiding 100% of their attacks without even needing to Dodge. Then you start facing Risen, who comically run around at 300% speed and basically make your mobility moot – I stand and cast in their faces, lest my directional-attacks miss while they continuously readjust. With the ranged Risen and the Nightmare Necromancer that sealed my fate earlier, often it feels like my HP pool just fills or empties randomly with little input or feedback from me.

All that may not even be an adequate explanation of the feeling GW2 combat evokes, but there it is.

Instead of calling it quits, I rez at a Waypoint way the hell away from there.

Largest Heart description ever?

Heading North along the West side of the map, the Shadowform tooltip most verbose Renown description I have ever seen pops up. Apparently another frog-dude (Costi Atl) wants me to feed him, this time by shooting termite mounds with a cannon, grabbing the grub by the tail, killing it in normal combat, picking up the shiny thing it leaves behind, aiming that at the campfire, and then clicking on the fire afterwards. Or you can talk to and then fight with the frog-dudes. Or, I think, kill spiders.

A bit north of there was an Event-camp overrun by Risen.

I don’t know why they even bother having Wooden Planks lying around as weapons past level 10.

This little Event really drove home the insubstantialness feeling I had earlier. Those Speedy Risen may as well be DoTs and my attacks against them a Recount DPS meter. The perma-snared tough ones are more like normal enemies, but again, fighting and killing them brought no satisfaction. While clearing the camp, I starting thinking back to all the skelks, spiders, fireflies, Nightmare Court/Inquest/Bandits/etc etc etc I have killed in the past 65 levels, and how much of a pain in the ass the Kill 15 Enemy Types daily is. Most games have recycled and color-swapped mobs, of course. But, Jesus, it feels like there isn’t a lot of variety in mob types/abilities, and I am heading into even deeper into Risen territory.

Oh. Looks like I died at some point.

After rezzing and coming back and clearing the camp, I switch from Dagger/Dagger to Scepter/Dagger. I leveled 1-20 with staff, 20-40 with S/D, and 40 onward as D/D, so I am pretty familiar with all of them. It is my hope that getting back to a more combo-oriented and sort of wind-up gameplay will make things more interesting again.

The camp Event turns into an escort Event, followed by another escort Event. Two people show up near the start of the 2nd Escort, and it’s nice. Then the Event turns into a Champion fight, and then the two strangers leave without even attempting to engage the Champion. I do likewise. There is never really a sense for how strong a Champion is versus another Champion – some can probably be 2-manned, while others usually need a full zerg. The risk simply isn’t worth the ~2s reward most of the time, especially when so many don’t have chests at the end. Considering this entire Event chain revolved around blowing up this Lich’s tower and then killing him, simply leaving felt incredibly anti-climatic.

I do some more Renown Hearts, fight some more dumb Risen, then log off.

Day 3

At this point, I have read the comments to Part 1, and realize that a lot of people are suggesting that the zones/enemies/storylines get dumber the farther South you go. Good to know. But then I realize I am two Hearts and a handful of other things away from 100% map completion. We get a warning that the servers will be down for maintenance in 60 minutes, but I figure I will be done by then anyway. I zone back into Sparkfly Fen, and head SW.

Pictured: Chekhov’s Bigass Gun

This area looks promising.

In the comments to Part 1’s post, I mentioned the reason why I dislike the concept of timed Events. Inevitably, timed Events break down as follows:

  1. You arrive just in time.
  2. You wait around for it to start.
  3. You miss it entirely.

In this specific instance, I landed squarely into A). No sooner than I talked to Kamma and picked up my quest gun to kill Risen with, an Event popped up to… kill Risen. I do so, completing the Heart in the process. Before I even have a chance to finish looking over the Karma rewards, Tequatl the Sunless shows up without preamble. I do my civic duty in letting Map Chat know the dragon is up.

At first, I head over to the turrets and try shooting a few times. I do not see very many people, and begin to get worried. A bunch of Risen show up and kill the turret and nearly me along with it. I see only a few people at other turrets, and then I see no one at all. A mob of Veteran Risen surround every turret, and then I get one-shot by an exploding Risen while trying to rez some of the NPCs near the big Asura cannon thing.

I rez at a nearby Waypoint, look at the dragon and… wait. Was that a Fireball? There are people down there? I run past all the Risen mobs and destroyed turrets and Asura superweapons and… see a bunch of people whacking on dragon feet. Okay, then. Let’s roll.

At some point, I see extra-large Risen spawn, and I mouse-over – apparently they explode, and also explode on death. Good to know. DPSDPSDPS. I notice someone 20 feet away eat an explosion and go to the downed state. Immediately afterwards, a pile of poison gas settles over them and they die. I run over and try to rez from the edge of the poison cloud. I get a 1-2 seconds of rezzing in before I start taking 2k damage per second from the poison. I back away and start attacking the dragon again, knowing that this person can rez themselves at the Waypoint and be back in half the time anyway. Then this exchange happens:

/facepalm

Do you know when you encounter those people who say things like “Get the government out of my MediCare?” Words fail me to describe how stupid this exchange was. Which was perhaps appropriate for this dragon encounter, as it felt about as difficult as those Prologue events were in the Beta Weekends, back when bosses could 1-shot you.

A minute or so later, dragon dies.

I hardly knew ya.

Somehow, 1.53 silver and 8k XP don’t seem to cut it. There was a big treasure chest, of course, filled with 4-5 blues too… about half as many items as I got in the Risen Event immediately before this one. But perhaps it is an appropriate reward for killing a dragon I never knew existed, nor know what role it played in anything up to this point. Surely, the dragons were talked about somewhere, right?

Between the impending server shutdown and that run-in with the dumbass, I lose all motivation to continue onward and log off.

_____

As you might infer from the tone, I feel the experiment is at its logical end. While I cannot discount the possibility that my enthusiasm was hamstrung from the start (due to endgame concerns), these play-sessions very clearly brought out the perhaps hitherto repressed feelings of… blah when it comes to the combat system. I might enjoy the game more with the Warrior or Thief, or maybe even the Necromancer, but I find myself unwilling to throw away 40+ levels of progress.

My current plan is to simply level up the rest of the way to 80 via Crafting, knock out the all the Story missions, and maybe try to hit all the dungeons. Indeed, dungeons were the one bright spot when it came to enjoying playing my character, even if the specific dungeons I have played thus far have been fairly bad; Caudecus’s Manor in particular is the worst designed dungeon in any MMO I have ever played.

Once complete, I’ll set GW2 aside and move on to other things. I am trying to imagine what would bring me back after that point, but am kinda drawing a blank. Maybe an Elementalist class redesign, or if ArenaNet fixes a majority of those 100+ Necromancer bugs. I dunno.

We’ll see.

¹ The double-death tax being your gear taking damage plus the cost of reviving at a Waypoint.

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.