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GW2: Reloaded

I have tentatively begun playing GW2 again. After three years. Here are my (re-)impressions.

Getting back into the game, I am finally beginning to appreciate the concern designers have over the returning-player experience. Remember when Ghostcrawler and friends talked about not wanting to change too many things mid-patch? When I loaded into GW2 on even a low-level character, looking at the Skills page caused a moment of existential panic in which I desired to turn off the game immediately.

GW2Reload_Skills

Just what I wanted: two hours of homework before playing.

Granted, I feel like the GW2 Skill system has always been convoluted nonsense, but it is especially weird now. Weapon skills are now tied to levels instead of weapon use – no more equipping a new sword and having to wail on easy mobs for 20 minutes to unlock everything, ala old-school WoW. So, that’s good. Less good is how the Skill system used to allow you to purchase skills from tier lists, but now they are unlocked in sequential groups. In other words, you usually have to unlock a bunch of crap to reach the skill you want, instead of picking it right away and then not having a use for skill points later. Then there are Specialization paths or whatever. Pick three of six specializations, each of which has three sets of three choices.

No doubt the system makes perfect sense for long-term players, but as someone logging back onto a level 80 character after three years… well, let’s just say that I fully understand why WoW was “dumbed down” the way it was.

Things are now a lot more account-based, which is also interesting. You still have to unlock bag slots per character because $$$, but now even things like gold are shared across all characters. Hell, the shop is even selling additional Crafting slots, so you can have more than the industry-standard two.

GW2Reload_01

Things are looking a little, ah, different.

Magic Find was also turned into an account-wide deal instead of stats on gear. In a rather brilliant economic move, the only way to increase this stat is to destroy magic gear and consume the possibly resulting Essences of Luck in ever-increasing amounts. This neatly solves the Vendor+1c economic disaster GW2 had originally, all while providing an insatiable lust for dropped/crafted gear. Amusingly, it also squares the circle of the increasing amounts of Magic Find generating more magic items, as you simply destroy those too.

Actually, I feel like there is a entire post that could be devoted to this sort of design solution. Not necessarily the elegance of the Magic Find situation, but rather the kind of design which involves every player having a stake in consuming resources. I mean, look at WoW with all the junk greens and blues that drop. People vendor those all day, or possibly get them disenchanted and sell the resulting dust to either Enchanters or people trying to get cheaper prices from Enchanters. It’s easy to flood the market in those situations, because the demand is concentrated in just a small portion of the entire audience. And then, perversely, it’s nearly impossible to find usable gear at any given level because it’s never worth it to list on the AH due to low demand (and high fees). Lose-lose.

Meanwhile, the market for magic items in GW2 is effectively infinite – everyone has an incentive to get more Magic Find. And that’s a trick, because the majority of players will quit playing, never reach the cap, or whatever, but they have nevertheless drained the economy of those goods. It is the difference between everyone learning every crafting recipe drop they come across versus immediately putting it on the AH to be consumed by a much smaller fraction of players. The latter is the status quo, but the former neatly solves most of the issues that crop up in MMO economies without overt gear destruction.

Anyway.

In my brilliant foresight, I apparently cashed out all my gold before I stopped playing three years ago, so I have 1300 gems and like 8g. This is enough to apparently “purchase” Season 2 of the Living Story, which… makes very little sense to me. Did everyone have to purchase the second Living Story when it came out? Is it necessary to play? I’m assuming not, but who the hell knows in this weird-ass F2P Wild West. Given the horizontal progression touted by GW2, I’m not sure of the benefits. Skins, surely. Plus, you know, plot. But anything else?

GW2Reload_Season2

Worth it? I’m guessing no.

It is actually kind of amusing, in a way. People gripe about all the planned obsolescence in MMOs like WoW, but GW2 seems to be the ultimate offender here. Lion’s Arch got destroyed or something, right? I’ve read about it, but I don’t think there is ever a way to see it. Unless it is in the Living Story bundle, perhaps. Someone might be able to breeze through the entire Mists expansion in WoW without leaving Jade Forest these days, but at least all that content still exists. In GW2’s sake, it is straight-up gone like a fart in the breeze.

The likelihood that I play GW2 long-term is effectively zero, as it is with any MMO I fear, but for now, it is something I’m playing. Luckily, I received something silly like twelve level 20 boosters and six level 30 ones, so I’ll be able to get a better feel for the classes without having to suffer through the painful low-level nonsense another half-dozen times.

And, hey, even if I stop playing, the game never had a subscription, so I could just revisit in 2019 and see (or not see, as the case may be) what’s new.

Time and Place

One of the definitions of nihilism is “the belief that nothing can be known or communicated.” I was thinking about this the other day, when I was watching the anime Cross Game. See, I was watching Cross Game because someone had rated it very highly, 9 out of 10, and I am always on the lookout for such recommendations. As I talked about in my review of it though, I personally thought the show was okay… but not a 9 out of 10.

Which is fine, of course, as everyone has differing tastes in entertainment. For example, the acclaimed Breaking Bad series which I stopped watching around Season 2. I’m not sure whether it gets better or not, but I had a hard time getting over the initial premise (I didn’t buy into the main character’s reasoning) and I don’t much care for the whole “double-life tension mechanism” as a whole. I was able to put up with it in Dexter, but that’s about it.

So I then realized that for the people who were deeply moved by Cross Game or Breaking Bad or what have you, I will never be able to experience their same joy. I can certainly empathize with it, and of course I have my own personal joys as well. But in a sense, we’re alone.

And the problem isn’t just what we find meaningful, but also when we were exposed to it.

It should come to no surprise to anyone that one’s favorite games/movies/etc are generally correlated with what they watched first, typically when they are younger. It makes perfect sense after all – games and movies and so on are experiences too, occurring in a specific time and place in one’s life. There is a fundamental difference between playing FF7 back in 1997 when it was bringing the entire RPG genre into the mainstream… and playing it for the first time in 2015. Even putting the graphics aside, one would miss the zeitgeist, miss the novelty of a lot of its systems and character design, missing the power of one of the most recognizable spoilers in gaming history, and so on.

For me, FF7 ties with Xenogears for my favorite games of all time. The majority of that goodwill however is tied up in personal experiences unique to me. I can indicate to you that these two games are my favorites, and perhaps even attempt to explain why, but unless we shared similar experiences back then, the actual feelings would not be transmitted. You will not be able to feel what I felt; in that or any experience.

I am finding this realization incredibly tragic. Not just because my tastes in entertainment are clearly the best, but also because I could not even really begin to understand yours on a coherent level. Why was Cross Game a 9/10 for that person? What is it about EVE that is in any way appealing? Or Dark Age of Camelot? We can use words and arguments and perhaps even sales figures to convey as much as we can, but the words themselves aren’t experiences.

It seems the best we can do while stuck in the back of Plato’s cave, is to desperately use shadows to express to others the objects only we can see.

Derailed

Ever sit down to play a game, and then experience an existential crisis halfway through? I just hit that in Wildstar.

Earlier in the week I had hit level 25, unlocking hoverboards and “tier 4” abilities. With the latter, it basically means I can unlock expanded nuances to the abilities that I have on my bars, if I sink enough Ability Points in. For example, one of my attacks deals extra damage to enemies below 30% HP – the tier 4 unlock changes the threshold to 70% HP. Needless to say, this sort of milestone requires you to sort of comb over your action bar to see if you can find hidden synergies or if the tier 4 unlock makes an otherwise lackluster ability more useful.

On top of that, I was beginning to mentally prepare myself to actually start queuing for LFG. Yes, I have been talking about Veteran Dungeons and the like these past few days/weeks without firsthand experience with them. The primary reason for that is because of the reports I have been reading elsewhere, and the sort of Socratic musing on whether this sort of thing sounded like something I wanted to do in the first place. Given the state of Medic DPS, or more specifically my DPS, I thought I would try healing first. But instead of just jumping in blind and subjecting random people to my ignorance, I thought it a good idea to at least get a feel for healing in PvP.

You can probably guess where this is going.

The two BGs I played were perhaps the most awful experiences I’ve had in Wildstar thus far. And don’t get me wrong, I’ve done a dozen or so BGs on my other (lowbie) characters. Part of the problem is the classical healer dilemma in that you are pretty much useless on your own; if no one actually endeavors to capture flags, or if most everyone is terrible at PvP, you have no way of steering the battle yourself. Wildstar has an extra healer punishment in two more directions. First, the majority of heals are telegraphs just like everything else, which means that that near-dead teammate you are attempting to save will be precisely-dead when they dodge-roll out of the way of your heal.

Second… well, this is probably more of a personal problem, but actually picking which abilities to use is a depressing experience. It isn’t like you can just pick all Support powers and do well. Actually, you can, but without attacks of some sort you won’t be able to prevent flag flipping and such. So you are put into a position where you have to give up actually good abilities for weak-ass attacks, which you end up spamming all the goddamn time because the people you heal are goddamn useless. Just imagine the Exiles as the Alliance, and the blanks fill themselves.

And that’s when I realized that I don’t really like my Medic. Not just healing, which is a total clusterfuck, but… all of it. I enjoy the concept of the class, and even the sort of niche it occupies as an AoE healer. But guys, there is a profound sense of deadening when you realize how utterly shallow the combat system is. I get why Carbine did things this way – the only way the bullet-hell gameplay works is by reducing everything down to 5 buttons – but it puts enormous pressure on those few abilities to be fun to press. This isn’t like WoW where you can go Arcane or Frost if you dislike the Fire rotation. Every (DPS) class is basically a Ret paladin. Enjoy.

Some of this isn’t fair criticism, and I know it. I have precisely zero PvP gear, which likely has something to do with it. Everyone gets bad teams from time to time. I haven’t found an Arena Junkies-esque website to theorycraft the most efficient PvP builds, which raises the likelihood that I was specced poorly. Maybe I should have went 50/50 with attacks and healing, under the assumption that the shorter the battle, the less damage needs healed. Or perhaps I should simply “HTFU” and get back on the horse.

That’s the thing about existential crises though: you just don’t care anymore. Supposedly Medics are being looked at for the upcoming content patch in July, and it’s entirely possible I’ll just log onto my Medic tomorrow like it ain’t no thing. There’s a non-zero chance I don’t log on at all though. Because at the moment, I really don’t feel like playing anything.

FFXII

In the midterm period inbetween steady access to the internet, I decided now was as good a time as any to actually get around to playing some of the PlayStation games I own but never bothered turn on. My first choice? As the title suggests: Final Fantasy XII.

All I can say is… yikes.

To say that I was a Squaresoft fanboy growing up is an understatement of the decade(s). Indeed, Final Fantasy 7 remains my #2 game of all time – and that is despite having first played FF6 on the SNES when it came out. While the “back to the roots” FF9 nearly derailed my fanboism outright, FFX quickly set things back on the right track. Sadly, when I heard that FFXI was going to be an online-only MMO, I pretty much cut ties with the company; I stayed long enough to pick up FFX-2, but that had the dubious distinction of being the only FF game I ever sold back to a video game shop for store credit (after beating it, of course). Looking back, I think my lack of engagement with the series had more to do with college and life changes than feelings of “betrayal,” but regardless FFX-2 was the last FF game I played.

Now, I’m not saying anything necessarily about the gameplay of FFXII. To be honest, in the 30 minutes I’ve been “playing” I haven’t seen all that much of it. And if I recall correctly, FFXII was widely criticized as being non-interactive. But a more pressing concern right now is how awful the game looks on my TV. The default view is double-letterboxed such that it easily loses 15″ off the TV screen. And even then the pixelation is horrendous.

I technically bought FF7 on a Steam sale a while back (because, you know, FF7) and it’s entirely possible I will encounter similar graphical issues. But to an extent I almost see this as an existential threat to older games. Or, rather, older games that were straddling the cutting-edge for their time. Things that seemed ground-breaking for its time in comparison to more sprite-based games have looped around into barely-playable nonsense graphics in less than 10 years.

It kinda makes you wonder though, whether or not this will be a recurring issue as time goes by or if it was a specific moment in computer graphics history. Personally, I’m leaning towards the latter. After all, the original Crysis has held up exceptionally well and even the original Far Cry wasn’t that bad. But have you tried playing KotOR lately? I muscled through that a few years ago, and it left me sore with the effort. It wasn’t even the graphics really, but little things like not being able to pan the camera upwards. It’s Star Wars and you got huge alien cities and you can’t look much farther than the main character’s low-polygon ass.

Breaking the Magic

For the first time in almost four weeks, I played a different game. This is bad news for ArenaNet.

Okay, maybe not really.

I have mentioned before that I dislike playing multiple games: my M.O. is to spend my entire focus on one item, suck all the marrow from its bones, complete it, and then move on. Part of the reasoning behind this behavior is that I have zero expectations I will play a game again. And the reasoning behind that expectation is that much of the fun I derive from playing a game is conquering its systems/logic and experiencing its story, neither of which usually holds up past initial completion. And where am I getting all this replay time anyway?

There are exceptions of course, the Fallouts and the Skyrims and FPS games. Some games I play for the visceral joy of it too. For as much as the hotkey MMO combat style is derided, I do generally find it entertaining. In fact, I would suggest everyone has to on some level right? How else do you stomach 200+ hours in these MMOs?

Anyway, I had wanted to spend some of my gems on Character Slot expansions to give the Warrior and Necromancer another shot. Nope, the AH was down. Again. I almost logged off for the night right then. Instead, I set my jaw, and did my level best to go through the motions. The moment I got my Daily Achievement or whatever it is called, I logged off.

Slouching back in the computer chair, staring at the empty computer monitor, what I was feeling was this:

A clear sign one’s (gaming) dosage needs increased.

Then I realized: “Hey, I have plenty of other games that actually feel meaningful to play.”

Existential crisis averted.

Of course, a roguelike is perhaps not the best rebound game, especially as brutal as FTL can be. Nevertheless, sixteen hours later, I am feeling pretty good about completing Easy four times and moving back to the most misleading “Normal” difficulty ever designed with a straight face. And after that? Plenty of indie games, Battlefield 3 just released their Armored Kill mini-expansion, and hey I bought Borderland 2 for like $36 before it came out. Maybe I should get to downloading that, eh? Guild Wars 2 will merely be the background flavor at best, as I continue slogging my way to 80 and through what passes as a story so I can say I did so.

Although Mists is penciled in on the To Do list, I won’t be there on Tuesday. Probably not. No, no, definitely not. Well… ugh. We’ll see. Best time-frame I can give is: Soon™.