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Path of Thorns

The new expansion for Guild Wars 2 was recently announced as Path of Fire. Clocking in at $30 out of the gate, it is significantly cheaper than the prior expansion, Heart of Thorns. This is good news.

What is less good is the fact that Path of Fire does NOT come with Heart of Thorns.

Q: Is Heart of Thorns included for free when I buy Path of Fire?

A: No. As we said when we announced Heart of Thorns, we always want to give you the option to purchase both expansions for a single price. With the purchase of any edition of Path of Fire, you can add in Heart of Thorns during checkout and purchase both expansions together for less than the combined prices of the expansions. If you already own Heart of Thorns or only want to play Path of Fire, you can purchase Path of Fire separately. (source)

This is an especially brow-raising turn of events considering ArenaNet’s official stance two years ago (emphasis added):

Business Model Clarification

We want to be clear about our business model for future expansions now that we are approaching our first paid expansion for Guild Wars 2. We believe that to keep the game dynamic and vibrant with a constantly growing community, it should be as easy as possible for new players to get into Guild Wars 2. For Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns, we didn’t want the core game’s price to be a factor in a new player’s decision to begin playing Guild Wars 2. In the future, if we release further Guild Wars 2 expansions, we plan to offer all of the prior expansions, the core game, and the latest expansion for one single purchase price. (source)

Business models change, and there has been plenty of turnover in the ArenaNet side of things since 2015. But this explanation of things reeks of sleaze. “Core game + all expansions for a single purchase price” does not parse out into “add another $20 to get HoT and the total $50 amount counts as a single purchase price,” but that is what the Community Managers are spinning it into.

As if things were not bizarre enough, ArenaNet is also making it clear that you don’t actually have to buy HoT to play the new expansion. There is a whole list of things that will work and not work:

Q: Do I need to own Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns™ in order to play Path of Fire?

Owning Heart of Thorns isn’t required to access Path of Fire content. However, some content is exclusive to Heart of Thorns.

  • You must purchase Heart of Thorns to unlock and use the gliding mastery, as well as all other masteries introduced in and exclusive to that expansion. You will be able to complete all of the content in Path of Fire without the use of any Heart of Thorns-exclusive masteries.
  • You must purchase Heart of Thorns to unlock and use the 9 elite specializations introduced with that expansion.
  • Path of Fire includes access to the revenant profession, but not the Herald elite specialization. If you only own Path of Fire, you will be able to create a revenant character and unlock the Renegade elite specialization.
  • You must purchase Heart of Thorns to claim the new guild hall released in Path of Fire, and access the Scribe crafting discipline to fully upgrade your guild hall.

So, basically, if you want gliding or to access one of the 9 elite specs, fork over $20. Well, and I suppose all of the HoT maps (etc) are worth something.

This entire scenario puts me in a mental bind. Up to this point, I had been holding off on buying HoT because I was under the impression that it would be included with the new expansion. I had not been playing GW2 in general very much lately, mostly due to the fact that it was made clear that the Elite specializations that had been released were strictly better than the majority of your other options (as is often the case with new “classes”). GW2 basically only has a fashion endgame so it shouldn’t really matter, but it is hard to get excited about playing a game in which you are limited to objectively worse options. And nevermind that actually purchasing HoT would not give me access to the Living Story episodes I missed, so there is objectively less content available to me anyway.

With Path of Flame releasing in 1.5 months though, I anticipate the new Elite specs to be more powerful than the older Elite specs – designers are simply too incentivised to make shit OP at first. Lack of Gliding will suck, but I never actually had it to begin with, and the designers are promising that it won’t be required for anything in the new expansion anyway. And, hey, some of those mounts seem to be gliding already. So… what’s left? The maps, of course. Masteries that are being promised won’t be required for anything. And… that’s it?

For the people actually playing GW2 on a routine basis, this structure is nothing but upside: they get a new expansion for $30 instead of $50. For new players, it is also probably good, considering they get the base game plus expansion for $30 as well, and won’t really know what they missed in HoT. For anyone else like me, stuck inbetween, there really isn’t anything good about the situation. And while I could easily afford to just throw down for both expansions for “the single purchase price,” the principle of the matter is just odious enough to make me want to delay any decision.

Back-end Expansions

Over the holidays, I declined to purchase either the Heart of Thorns (GW2) nor the Heavensward (FFXIV) expansions, despite them being on sale for $25 and $10 respectively.

In the case of FFXIV, the decision was easy: the expansion’s content is locked at the very end of the base game’s storyline (which is mandatory). While I am going to give the MMO another shot this year, I would be dozens and dozens of hours out from even getting a whiff of the new content, so there isn’t a particular reason to buy-in now.

With GW2, the consider was basically the same, but slightly more strategic. I already have a level 80 Elementalist, so I could technically start into the new endgame content right away. However, I’m 99% sure I’d want to be playing my Necro instead, who just hit level 36. But more than that, we already know Arenanet is working on GW2’s next expansion, and that it’s extremely likely (based on Heart of Thorn’s release) that it will end up including HoT in its purchase price.

In both cases, it was kind of clear that there wasn’t much of a point in buying the expansion without already having an endgame character. Some stuff works earlier on, such as new classes, but for the most part all the new content is back-loaded. Which… makes sense, of course. “Expansion.”

At the same time, as someone who has purchased the base games already, such expansions hold zero immediate appeal to me. If they had immediate appeal, I’d have bought them and felt an obligation to start playing right away. GW2 offers a level 80 boost with Heart of Thorns, so there is at least that, but I’m not even particularly asking for insta-endgame characters here. Just… something. New starting zones or other low-level content, basically.

Hell, I remember Diablo 2’s expansion back in the day added entirely new items to the loot tables across the entire base game. That was actually an instance where I kicked myself for not buying the expansion right away, as I pretty much cleared the normal game and only installed the expansion later (despite my being late to the Diablo party generally). On the other hand, that sounds like a few mobile games I know, where “VIP” status allows you to get loot the plebs never see. Hmm.

Yearly Attempt: Guild Wars 2

I have been playing Guild Wars 2 off and on for the past week or so. And that might just continue.*

My posts about GW2 have certainly been the most contentious ones I’ve ever written. Amusingly though, nothing has really changed over the years. Combat still feels floaty, the art direction is still heavily on the watercolor side (which isn’t bad), the sense of environment scale and 3D space is still among the best in the genre, a coherent narrative is still largely nonexistent, and so on.

The specific issues that hinder any sort of long-term engagement from me are two-fold.

First, I have already seen this before. I hit the level cap of 80 back on an Elementalist ages ago, but I still remember pretty much every zone’s story and “Heart” quest. Combined with the floaty combat and the general malaise that comes from getting 100% of all the skills you will be using practically from the very beginning, killing mobs just doesn’t really satisfy. My Necromancer and Engineer aren’t as bad – I very much enjoy dropping turrets/AoE deathtraps all over the place – but once you have an optimal build… that’s it. It’s tough explaining how that is any different from any other MMO, but it just is. Emotionally, at least.

Second, I don’t have the expansion. I did a bit of research on Reddit and various other forums, and my conclusion is perhaps the most obvious one: the expansion-exclusive Trait lines are the best ones. I can deal with not having a glider or access to the new expansion zones, as the two toons I play are around level 40 anyway. What I can not particularly deal with is that my character would be gimped in PvP (which otherwise gives everyone access to every talent/etc) or WvW. That missing Trait line also changes the entire way the class is played by opening up new weapons to use, so that would go a long way in solving the combat situation for at least a little while.

It doesn’t help that the LFG tool is dead, per the forums, and I don’t have much interest in grinding out Fractals or trying Raids.

I mean, we’ll see. I have been logging on every day to at least get the Daily rewards. I participated in a few of the Events that have cropped up, and those have been mildly amusing. I am having a lot more fun than I did in both attempts at ESO. And, hey, the expansion is technically on sale.

This is one that will need a bit more time in the oven though.

I Get/Don’t Get GW2

Since reinstalling the client a little over a week ago, I think I have spent more time reading about GW2 than I have playing.

The initial issue was as I described: picking a class that I wanted to play. I’m not sure how normal people do this sort of thing, but my standard operating procedure is a combination of getting hands-on while also reading the latest news about said class. Nobody wants to play a class about to be nerfed. The other issue is that you can read about how powerful a given class can be, but if the button combinations required to get there aren’t fun to push, then it doesn’t matter.

GW2_Space

Quite nice.

My original thought was Thief or Mesmer, so I started there. Then after playing a while, I realized something: if you aren’t playing GW2 for the WvW gameplay, why were you even playing? The game’s narrative is background noise, endgame progression is wardrobe-based, dungeons are about speed running exploits, and world PvE content consists of Champion trains and dragon zergs. You don’t even really have anything to look forward to while leveling either, as you can generally unlock every ability you are ever going to use by level 31, even under the revamped system. The only really redeeming feature seems to be WvW.

Or is it?

I’m still conflicted myself. I ended up going Necromancer as a class, which I had avoided at the time because of all the bugs and other issues. As it turns out, Necros are pretty damn powerful if you just ignore pets. Between that and the ability to really annoy zergs of any variety (PvE or PvP) from the relative safety of range, I felt like I had found a better home, class-wise.

Issues remain, however. It’s been three years, but I still remember all these level 30 zones I am going through, and the non-existence of their narratives. Combat feels floaty and insubstantial. The economy has inflated massively, and yet there really doesn’t feel like there is anything of value I can do/gather/create for cash. The more events I go though, the more it feels like I’m just mindlessly grinding for no reason. There might not be a mechanical difference between this approach and grinding out quests in WoW, but it emotionally feels different.

I was about to pack it up for good (again) when, in the course of doing an easy achievement daily to satisfy the 3 achievement daily daily, I just… sort of looked around.

GW2_Trees

Something something forest for the trees.

Those are trees. Duh, right? But looking at them, I began to really (re-)appreciate the sense of space that GW2 manages to generate. Each of those are an individual tree that you can walk around, get stuck on, and use to block projectiles coming at you. Other games might have a higher graphics fidelity than GW2, but I haven’t played one that quite felt the same walking around inside. There is almost a Skyrim-esque feeling to the terrain, insofar as you can reasonably look at an area and decide “hey, I want to climb that mountain over there” and be able to do so. This really comes through in the jumping puzzles, but those are just a byproduct of the underlying design allowing you to play in a remarkably detailed 3D space.

The only skyboxes in GW2 appear to be just the sky.

So, I feel like I “get” GW2 now – it is the best exploration MMO I have ever played. It’s just too bad that exploration isn’t enough for me as a player. I either need a reason to explore, or the ability to do something interesting once I arrive. I’m just not getting that feeling from GW2, and I’m not sure that I ever will. But if I ever get the desire to really walk around in a fantastical fantascape, I know which game to boot up.

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.

Impressions: The Elder Scrolls Online

Over the past few days, I played around 10-15 hours of The Elder Scrolls Online (TESO) and the experience has been… odd. I say “odd” because while in general I found the experience pleasant, the more I played the game, the more I wanted to be playing something else entirely.

I'm pretty spoiled by my 970 card at this point.

I’m pretty spoiled by my 970 card at this point.

There is a lot of interesting things going on in TESO. For example, while there is an option for a more traditional 3rd-person perspective, I stayed in first-person the entire time for its sheer novelty. I also appreciated the dedication to the traditional Elder Scrolls trappings, up to and including the ability to literally steal all the things. Want some Grand Soul Gems as a level 3 character? Just crouch behind the merchant’s cart and pocket (?) them. Finding a random armor rack with a full suit of wearable armor that you could just take and equip was rather delightful.

The progression/leveling system in TESO is interesting as well. There are four classes, each with three class specializations. Beyond that, every class has access to the same dozen or so general specialization lines: Light Armor, Two-handed Weapons, Destruction Staves, and so on. Most of these specialization lines have ~6 active abilities and a number of passives. Your character has a total of five hotbar buttons and one ultimate, and it is up to you to mix and match. Additionally, individual abilities level up with use in typical Elder Scrolls fashion, but once an active ability hits rank 4, it can be “morphed” into one of two mutually exclusive options, which typically adds bonus effects.

While all of the above systems felt satisfyingly crunchy, it reminded me heavily of Guild War 2’s system – limited ability slots, choosing abilities from a wide list, earning Skill Points from exploration (every three Skyshards found in TESO grants 1 Skill Point), and even “leveling up” skills in a sense. In fact, that was my exact problem: the more I played TESO, the more I felt like I’d be having more fun playing GW2. Especially when I started thinking about PvP and three-way battles.

Hell, I’m resisting the almost overpowering urge to redownload GW2 right now.

Not pictured: any combat.

Not pictured: any combat.

Strictly viewing TESO as a sort of pseudo-Skyrim did not assist in keeping my interest level high enough to justify more play time. As tends to be the case, the existence of other players ruins the MMO experience. Apparently mobs drop individual loot so there isn’t any kill stealing, but objects in the world (chests, etc) absolutely disappear if someone loots them. I did not stick around a particular place long enough to see if they respawned, but the bottom line is that there was never a point in time that I was thankful to see another human playing “my” game.

It’s worth noting that I made it to level 10 without seeing even one “kill 10 whatever” quests. In fact, many of the (non-side) quests I encountered were fairly lengthy and involved. Not quite Secret World-level involved, but more than the industry standard. That being said, I found myself actually missing those kill quests, as the opportunity to kill anything was rather muted.

Sometimes I like pushing buttons, you know?

In any case, those are my impressions of TESO. I deleted the 44gb installation yesterday and don’t particularly see myself downloading it again. It wasn’t bad – at least the little slice of the beginning I played – but my New Years resolution is to not play “just OK” games to completion as if I don’t have a backlog of potentially amazing games to play through.

B2P MMO Goes F2P

We kinda knew from an earlier leak already, but it’s now official: Guild Wars 2 is going F2P.

The F2P restrictions can be compared here, or just read this bullet list from Reddit:

  • Does not receive daily login bonus
  • Start with less storage than paid account : 2 character slots, 3 bag slots
  • No map wide chat interaction, can use local chat
  • Cannot post on ArenaNet forums
  • Can only start new whisper conversations once every 30 seconds
  • Can trade and buy common items on TP
  • Can’t mail items or gold to other players, can still send text-only mail to friends
  • Must be level 60 before entering WvW, other unspecified zone/level restrictions
  • They must play to level 10 before leaving the starter zones, to level 30 before using LFG
  • They can play PvP immediately but must get to rank 20 before using custom and unranked arenas
  • Cannot trade gold for gems
  • Cannot access guild vaults

The more I think about it, the more bizarre this announcement gets. First, has there ever been a B2P MMO that went to F2P? I know GW2 is highly dependent on its cash shop for additional revenue already, but this still feels like a weird strategy. Especially in terms of those “restrictions,” which are incredibly lenient when compared to similar offerings. I guess the WvW restriction might prevent easier zerg leveling/karma farming, but the scaling was so bad back when I played that you practically had to be 60+ to do anything of particular note anyway.

The second bizarre thing about this announcement is the timing. Remember two months ago when ArenaNet bundled the base game into the expansion box price and the internet lost its shit? Surely they knew they were going to announce a F2P conversion two months later… right? Maybe they wanted to wait until PAX for the press coverage, but that was still a lot of negative coverage right in the summer months that could have been avoided multiple ways. Perhaps them knowing F2P was coming contributed to their laissez faire attitude at that particular information rollout.

I’ll admit that I’ve been feeling a slight itch to maybe perhaps download GW2 again, especially after I stopped playing WoW. My game experience ended on a particularly sour note last time around, but it might of been because I wasn’t completely sold on the Elementalist playstyle. Plus, you know, since I bought the retail box years ago, I could start it up and be back playing with little issue.

On the other hand, ArenaNet’s commitment to “Living Stories” and one-time events means that I’m not even sure what, if anything, would actually be different a second time around. Lion’s Arch was destroyed and rebuilt, I think? Maybe they added a few more entries to the Explicit Schedule of Villainy? Who knows. For now, I’m much more likely to get into FF14 than GW2 again.

Best of luck to ArenaNet just the same.

Design Conundrums: 1 HP vs 0 HP

The difference between a character with 1 hit point and a character with no hit points remaining is immense. Obviously, right? But as I was musing on the extreme nature of the binary state, I started wondering if there was not some better way to handle the situation.

After some reflection, I am not sure that there is.

First, is there a problem at all with the conventional binary system? I’d suggest there is, at least enough of one to go through the thought exercise. One issue is that there isn’t much of difference between 1 HP and 100,000 HP – you are just as powerful and dangerous at one as the other. Some games might have “Execute” abilities that cause you to care about how many HP you have left, but all that is really doing is making the 1 HP “range” larger or simply making it more ambiguous as to your actual HP state.

The more salient problem with the 1 HP to 0 HP divide is what I’d term the Fail Cascade. Card Hunter (out of beta!) provides an especially stark example of this phenomenon. If one of your characters is reduced to 1 HP, they can still drawn 3 new cards each turn, can still attack at full strength, and can otherwise contribute meaningfully on the battlefield (limiting enemy mobility, being the target of spells, etc). Conversely, a dead character contributes nothing: all their cards are discarded, their body is removed from the battlefield, and you are left with potentially 10 cards to kill the remaining enemies instead of 15 cards. A character’s death is especially brutal in Card Hunter because the abilities you have access to are randomly determined from the cards in your deck. Instead of six chances of drawing an attack card to win the game, you are left with four.

Of course, sometimes the sacrifice of a character can turn out to be a winning strategy. In a 3v3 Arena game in WoW, it might be worth losing a DPS to take out the enemy’s healer in pursuit of an stalling game. In Card Hunter, taking out a Goblin Brute or other dangerous foe is worth it if the enemies remaining aren’t as immediately deadly in comparison. But under most circumstances in just about any other game (including the two mentioned), losing one character is an immediately 33% reduction in fighting capacity, and possibly more painful from a synergy point of view.

Is the alternative really that much better though? We could imagine a game where your health as a percentage is tied to your damage as a percentage; if you are are at 10% HP, your attacks only deal 10% of their normal damage. Personally, I recoiled at the very thought of such a system. Whereas the current design is a hard binary, it at least leaves open the possibility of a come-from-behind victory. If taking damage reduced your ability to deal damage in return, the outcome of most battles would be forgone conclusions within the first minutes of any engagement. Indeed, it is arguable whether we would be trading the binary at 1-to-0 HP for the same binary at the other end of the spectrum (whoever dealt damage first).

Now, I would be remiss if I did not mention the Downed State solution in games like Guild Wars 2 and Borderlands 2. Having played both for a while, I definitely appreciated the extra little window it offered between 1 HP and dead. It is certainly better than the alternatives we have currently.

At the same time though… how different is it really? I can still perform at peak capacity at 1 HP, so my HP totals are 1, 0, and -1 instead of just 1 and 0. The other issue is that I felt as though the Downed state started being an excuse for adding in more “sorta instant death” attacks. If a raid boss in WoW has a mechanic that kills you instantly, it has to give you reasonable warning given how powerful it is. Conversely, an attack that instantly sends you to a Downed State is common in both Borderlands 2 ¹ and GW2. It is a “safe” mechanic to use because it can (usually) be recovered from while still retaining a sense of awe/fear from the player.

Perhaps this isn’t even an issue at all, from a design perspective, as the devs rely on the player to gauge his/her own sense of danger. Personally, I don’t really glance at my HP bar until I start dipping below 80%; once at 50% or so, I start actively playing defensive and looking for ways to replenish HP; at 20% or below, I generally stop caring unless victory is in sight, as I see my demise as inevitable. Thus, my reaction is tailor-made for my play-style, rather than dictated by the devs who might want me to care at X% HP when I don’t, and vice versa.

I dunno. Realism rarely makes for more engaging gameplay, but I sometimes think HP is too abstract.

¹ Technically, there is “health gating” in BL2 which prevents any one attack from killing you instantly as long as you have 50% HP + 1. So, I suppose BL2 has both the tri-HP state plus an execute range.

Guild Wars 2 is Fastest Selling Western MMO

During my futile hunt for Hearthstone Beta keys (c’mon Press™, don’t fail me now), I stumbled upon this GameBreaker.tv article about Guild Wars 2 sales:

With over 3 million units sold in the first nine months of availability, Guild Wars 2 is the fastest selling MMO ever in the western market.

That’s no small feat right there. Riding a wave of acclaim and accolades, Guild Wars 2 has set a high bar for quality, and it has earned them a spot in MMORPG history according to an official ArenaNet press release. 3 million units sold in the game’s first nine months of availability puts it at the top of the record books in Europe and North America according to DFC Intelligence, a strategic market research and consulting firm focused on interactive entertainment.

Technically, it may have been 3 million by January 2013. Either way, this news was mildly intriguing, considering how distant from GW2’s actual release it came.

Still, it got me curious about some other numbers and figures. For example, here is an article from VG247 parsing the latest financials that indicate GW2 box sales are down. Which… shouldn’t exactly be surprising given that that is exactly what happens with any box game, right? Then there is the admittedly anecdotal Digital Dozen feature that NoizyGamer puts out every Tuesday, measuring the Xfire hours logged. The latest pretty much show a 50% decline from December, but it’s still roughly half that of WoW today, hour-wise. So, it is probably safe to say that the game’s population is doing alright and ArenaNet deserves the accolades for its legitimate record-breaking, even if the timing is a bit PR-ish.

I was trying to find numbers on how WoW did by comparison back in the day, but it turns out Blizzard doesn’t like giving out those numbers. The best I could find was this old article from 2009, which stated Blizzard sold 8.9 million retail boxes to date in the US alone. As point of reference, MMOData.net (thank god they’re back) shows that halfway through 2009 the Western numbers were steady at ~5.25 million subscribers. There is no way to know the breakdown between US vs Europe, or even whether the numbers are even intelligible given how it counts both box and expansion sales, but there it is.

Just for giggles though: the 2010 census states there were 205,794,364 Americans aged 18-64. A Pew article says 62% of American adults aged 18+ owned a desktop circa mid-2009. If we do a bit of rounding (a couple ten thousand) and assume that every desktop computer could run WoW (no possible way that’s remotely accurate), we have a pool of 127.6 million potential MMOers of which WoW reached… 6.98% of. Back in 2009.

Take away the people whose computers couldn’t handle WoW and then further reduce by those who have no interest in RPGs (let alone online ones) and then the people with PCs but no broadband and… well, you can start to see why market saturation is/was a legitimate concern.

Outmaneuvered

The one two bright spots I have encountered thus far post-Patch, is the reputation gain from the first heroic dungeon/Scenario of the day. The interface changes which governs this is pretty slick and straightforward. After finishing a Klaxxi work order on the farm, I took my warrior through a quick Scenario, which resulted in decent Shado-Pan rep (due to Commendations) and an actual 463 blue from the bag at the end. From there, I chanced a heroic dungeon as DPS and was pleasantly surprised at a 11 minute queue. Best of all, considering I was already well into Honored with Shado-Pan from leveling with their Commendation, it appears likely that I will hit Revered over the next few weeks without doing a single Golden Lotus daily (as it should be).

The other bright spot was also Reputation oriented, and it has since rocketed up to be one of my favorite parts of the expansion: the Zandalari Warscouts. If you have not been following along, there are now new rare spawns across Pandaria that have a 100% chance to drop Bind-on-Account +1000 reputation tokens for various factions, and sometimes loot bags. I am not talking about the 5-man, 21 million HP rares, but rather the easily soloable 7 million HP ones; they do usually spawn in similar areas. I spent the better part of 2 hours off and on flying around, and ended up with tokens for August Celestials, Golden Lotus, and Shado-Pan x4. The spawn timers for the Warscouts is probably less than an hour.

And this also happened:

I got ganked by Horded before I could kill the 2nd one.

I got ganked by Horded before I could kill the 2nd one.

Remember my quaint hope of getting to Revered in a few weeks? Ain’t nobody got time for that:

42/3000 Neutral with Golden Lotus. Screw those guys.

82/3000 Neutral with Golden Lotus. Screw those guys.

The new daily island on the other hand… good lord.

I wonder if the Blizzard devs truly understand how outdated, archaic, and downright stupid their questing design philosophy looks in a post-Guild Wars 2 world. While running around on the new island, I encountered a group of five Alliance players also doing the daily quests. While all of us were able to get credit for killing certain mobs, the other 95% of the time I did nothing but stare slack-jawed while they tapped and cleared out the rest of the mobs in the area, while occasionally ninja-ing the vases (or whatever) we needed to break for another quest. Had there been 1-2 Alliance, I could have manually invited them to a party so we could actually share in the completion of objectives. Since they were already in a 5-person group however, they became nothing more than annoying obstacles in my way.

Do you remember the response one of the blues gave to the question of why you can’t complete quests as part of a raid group? “Because then the correct way to level would be to join the rolling STV (etc) raid.” Oh, yes, of course! That makes perfect sense. We cannot possibly allow organized grouping in an MMO, lest the player come to the mistaken conclusion that players of their own faction are a welcome sight, there to enrich their lives and make it more social and enjoyable. Heavens no! All other players are competition for limited resources, and two is a crowd already! Can you imagine the anarchy that would reign if each individual player did not kill their full allotment of 13 gnolls? Five people sharing the credit is bad enough!

What a joke.

I can understand that ArenaNet outmaneuvered Blizzard so resoundingly on this issue – seriously, folks, I don’t even play GW2 anymore but you can’t go back to tapped mobs afterwards – and it takes time for an oil barge as large as WoW to turn around. Hell, sometimes the blues indicate they don’t even know how some shit even works, like the original programmers died or translated the vanilla code from alien hieroglyphics or something.

I will even grant that the GW2 system could not simply be implemented wholesale, provided the Blizzard programmers were up to the task in the first place. A lot of the underlying systems would need to be changed, and not even ArenaNet thought a lot of it through. In WoW, for example, even though a 5-person group gets credit for shared kills, only one person ever gets loot, be it round-robin or rolls. The big issue in GW2 is that one mob can drop 5+ pieces of gear (one for each player that damages it), which rapidly inflates the volume of items floating around. By the time I stopped playing, the GW2 marketplace was identical to the Diablo 3 AH disaster wherein both crafting and mob drops were pointless due to the vendor+1c priced goods flooding the market. Then again, it would be much less of an issue for WoW considering 99.99% of all mob drops are useless vendor trash, up to and occasionally including the epics (beyond ilevel cheesing).

To be perfectly honest, I do not know if I ever want to go back to the Thunder Isle. The Isle of Quel’Danas and Tol Barad were fine for what they were, but they were also products of their time. This mob-dense, poorly-routed, arbitrarily designed, anti-social hellhole is two years two late. I had time to ponder all these things as I blithely soloed a 7.8 million HP rare elite on the ilevel 455 warrior (Second Wind is overpowered), watching one, two, three Alliance players go skipping by in pursuit of solitude. After picking up my loot, I sought to join them… only to have the bitter irony collapse in upon itself from the sheer weight of poor design.

Also! Who was the fucking genius who decided to implement crafted PvP gear for a new season, only to hide it behind once-a-day random research, the plate gear of which cannot even start being learned until Stage 3 of the island? Who is the crafted gear designed for? The new PvP players starting three months from now? You can purchase 470 ilevel gear for Honor right now! In every possible scenario you are better off getting farmed to hell and back in random BGs than A) waiting for the myriad of crafters to auction their individual pieces at 1000% profit margins, or B) unlocking the recipes yourself. You are going to replace this crafted gear with Honor pieces anyway, so… what the actual fuck?

Christ on a cracker, I feel like I’m watching a version of the Washington DC bullshit playing out between Blizzard devs and common goddamn sense.