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Heart of Thorns Complete

In other GW2 news, I finally buckled down and completed the Heart of Thorns expansion story. Which is a bit weird, because I never finished the main GW2 story in all the time I’ve played the game, but whatever. The primary impetus was not necessarily seeing any kind of plot resolution, but because you can unlock an Ascended weapon at the very end.

Okay, yeah, this is cool.

 

The story experience of GW2 is interesting in general. Unlike a lot of other MMOs, your character is fully voiced and actually present at all the story moments that occur. While for some people this can pull them out of the game, I’m more than fine with it. In fact, it was oddly soothing for me, as the Commander always knows what other people are talking about, even when I do not. I mean, of course that is the case, but sometimes there can be large gaps inbetween plot points simply because you get swept up in some Map event chain.

Well… at least it wasn’t just me.

Indeed, I was recently wandering around unlocking stuff when I got swept up in a Mordremoth battle. This is technically the big dragon you are trying to kill in the expansion, so it was a bit weird engaging it before I had even reached the point story-wise when that was possible. The fight was crazy expansive, and I was forced to learn the mechanics on the fly, as it featured many instant-death mechanics. Ultimately we were successful, and I got a lot of shiny loot that was immediately thrown in the garbage, because Good Game Design.

Then I went back did some quests to find my friends kidnapped by Mordremoth, so I could figure out a way to kill him.

Those are real rocks you can stand on, by the way.

 

Along the way, I encountered a lot of bugs. Out in the open world, bugs can be super frustrating, but at least you can do something else. When you’re trying to complete a story though, getting force-disconnected at the end of a 25-minute story instance means starting all over. And there’s not any loot along the way, so it’s a total loss of your time. So while I appreciated the cinematic experience, this is not a exposition vehicle I want on the road.

I’m wrapping things up with Heart of Thorns, but there is something I definitely cannot say enough about GW2: it evokes a sense of space and depth and environment better than any other game on the market. I did find some invisible walls while I was messing around with mounts – which weren’t implemented until the next expansion – and all of the maps are sharp rectangles… but man. Not just the skyboxes, but the level of detail on the terrain is a sight to behold.

So beautiful that it almost feels wasted…

I would take any random corner of Tyria against the best, staged screenshot in WoW any time.

Unrewarding

Aside from sidescrollers and Fallout 76, another game I have been spending my time with lately has been Guild Wars 2 (again). Each time I come back to this game, I am utterly amazed at how unrewarding it is, at almost every level.

One of the much-touted features of GW2 is its horizontal gear progression. There have been two expansions released, but no level cap increase, and the most powerful gear has not really changed. Technically, there have been new sub-classes added and the optimal gear for them drops only in the that expansion content, but for the most part, you can be done with gearing permanently rather easily.

This makes for some extremely odd reward mechanisms.

GW2_Junk

Play for an hour, get 16 bags of junk loot.

Basically, GW2 showers you in random bags of useless loot at every stage of any activity. We’re talking Diablo-levels volume of drops, every one of which is utterly useless to anyone anywhere. Seriously, I doubt there is a single level 80 person out there that has ever picked up something off the ground and equipped it. Much like with Diablo 3, it’s much easier to simply hit up the AH once you get that final ding and just buy a full suit of Exotics with some of the free daily gold.

Ascended is the next (and final) gear tier above Exotics, and most of them come from longer-term grinding. The Living World Season 3 “episodes” are the go-to place to grind these items, and usually takes 100-125 currency to purchase something. While you can sometimes get 10-20 depending on luck/group events, the casual player can expect maybe 5 currency a day. Aside from Winterberries, which is what everyone should be farming, as it’s the only currency you can farm on multiple alts and funnel to a main.

I am not opposed to the slow accretion of currency to purchase things. Slowly gaining something gives you a sense of purpose, and having a defined target helps you plan your activity. You may not get stronger today, but you are one step closer to getting stronger tomorrow – and thus the time you spent playing was meaningful. It’s possible to get discouraged if the goalposts are too far out, but it otherwise works well as a system.

In contrast, the random loot GW2 hands out feels wildly out of place. Pointless to sell on the AH – the price is generally set to vendor +1c – the main thing you do is salvage it for materials and Luck… which increases your Magic Find stat… which results in more gear flooding into your bags. Now, sure, there is always a 0.00001% chance you get some amazing drop or whatever that might be worth something. But you can’t play around that. In fact, the odds are so low that I cannot even imagine a gambling addict being satisfied.

I don’t know. Is there anyone out there (other than Bhagpuss) that plays GW2 and enjoys opening dozens and dozens of little bags of loot and immediately scrapping them all? At this point, the only reasoning that makes sense to me is that ArenaNet does this specifically to drive real-money sales of extra bag/bank slots. I have seriously never seen such dedication to vendor junk.

Responsible Use of Social Media

As reported by PCGamer, the International Game Developer Association (IGDA) is using the ArenaNet firing of Jessica Price as an opportunity to question game companies about their social media policies. Specifically, they have a list of a few dozen questions that game devs should be asking their employers. These are good questions to ask. My suspicion though, is that – much like anyone employed anywhere in the last 20+ years – these policies are already on the books.

So, experiment time. Next time you are at work, please look up your own company’s Responsible Use of Social Media policy. It might be listed under Professionalism/Code of Ethics, and/or Professional Code of Conduct instead. A lot of the time these documents are internal-use only, but here is a refreshingly plain-language example from Adidas (PDF). Relevant bullet-points:

  • Respect your audience. Don’t use ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity, or engage in any conduct that would not be acceptable in the adidas Group’s workplace. You should also show proper consideration for others privacy and for topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory (like religion or politics). If you are in a virtual world please behave accordingly. We all appreciate respect.
  • Think about consequences. Imagine you are sitting in a sales meeting and your client brings out a printout of a colleague’s post that states that the product you were about to sell “completely sucks”. Talk about a tough pitch. So, please remember: Using your public voice either internally or externally to trash or embarrass your employer, your customers, your co-workers or even yourself is not okay – and not very smart.

Here’s a page from 2009 talking about the the LA Times’ policy. Relevant:

SOCIAL MEDIA GUIDELINES
Social media networks – Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and others – provide useful reporting and promotional tools for Los Angeles Times journalists. The Times’ Ethics Guidelines will largely cover issues that arise when using social media, but this brief document should provide additional guidance on specific questions.

Basic Principles

• Integrity is our most important commodity: Avoid writing or posting anything that would embarrass The Times or compromise your ability to do your job.

• Assume that your professional life and your personal life will merge online regardless of your care in separating them.

• Even if you use privacy tools (determining who can view your page or profile, for instance), assume that everything you write, exchange or receive on a social media site is public.

• Just as political bumper stickers and lawn signs are to be avoided in the offline world, so too are partisan expressions online.

Now, Jessica Price has been quoted many a time as saying that she brought up her social activism during the hiring process at ArenaNet, and that they supported and encouraged her to continue. I will believe that on face value, as I can certainly imagine ArenaNet doing so.

Here’s the one, crucially important detail: Price was not fired for expressing feminist views or activism. She was fired for the much more mundane reason of insulting her employer’s customers.

Polygon has another article up lamenting Price’s firing as “reinforcing gaming culture’s worst impulses.” Considering it was Price who called a completely harmless, inoffensive streamer a “rando asshat” for daring to question her expertise – on top of specifically stating she does not have to pretend to like anyone – you’d be excused if you originally thought the article was defending Deroir.

Actually, you wouldn’t be excused, because the article is such poorly written garbage that any editor should be embarrassed for having it published:

[…] ArenaNet’s president, Mike O’Brien, issued a statement on Guild Wars 2’s forums stating that “two of our employees failed to uphold our standards of communicating with players.”

O’Brien’s statement is actively dangerous; it takes at face value bad-faith arguments made by aggrieved people online who may or may not be players. “Their attacks on the community were unacceptable,” O’Brien wrote of Fries and Price. “As a result, they’re no longer with the company.”

It’s not an accurate statement, and the precedent it sets is a bad one for gaming. Fans and developers bristling at each other on social media is a common fact of gaming, but what makes this situation so unique is O’Brien’s inability to act like an adult.

Ah, so it was O’Brien’s inability to act like an adult that is the real problem here? Next paragraph:

It might be a controversial thing to say right now, but Deroir’s original tweet wasn’t overtly offensive. Players who think they know more than they actually do about development are common, and the belief isn’t always rooted in sexism. But Deroir’s lack of empathy for what happened throughout this controversy is notable, as is his claim that he’s a feminist. For that to be more than a word in a tweet, he should have understood how his tweet came off, and where Price’s anger came from.

The root of Price’s anger is completely immaterial to anything. Again, check your own company’s Responsible Use of Social Media policy. Is there any provision in there for “long history of systemic oppression?” I doubt it. That’s not because there isn’t a long history of systemic oppression, mansplaining, or microaggressions. It’s because they don’t matter in context. An explanation of a behavior is not an excuse for it. Price berated a customer, and she was fired for doing so.

The fundamental error from the Polygon article though, is this buried sentence:

Price’s response makes perfect sense in that context, and is the sort of social media venting that is hardly seen as scandalous in 2018.

People lose their jobs for less all the goddamn time, especially in 2018.

I’m bringing this all up again because I legitimately believe nearly every other company would have done the same thing as ArenaNet in this scenario. In fact, I reached out to Polygon to get a copy of their own policies on the matter. If they respond, I will either update this post or write another one. In the meantime, you can look at their Community Guidelines, which includes:

Personal attacks: Don’t attack or insult another user. It’s not helpful and it doesn’t make Polygon a friendly place. This includes referring to other people as trolls, fanboys, sheep, white knights, etc. If you’re thinking of using a specific term such as a racial or derogatory insult, think again about why that’s a bad idea, and don’t do it

Maybe Polygon would be fine with one of their editors talking about “hurt manfeels” and “rando asshats” when responding to their readers, industry sources, or business partners. Perhaps they would have let it slide, or gave Price the opportunity to apologize or retract her statements (assuming she would).

I guess we will just have to wait and see, because this sort of thing is more a matter of when, not if.

Employees always represent the company they work for, 100% of the time. Right now, most of us skate through life just fine either because of anonymity or because companies lack the resources to constantly monitor our social media activity until and unless it shows up in the papers. Polygon can blame “toxic fandom” and GamerGate for increasing awareness of Jessica Price’s tweets, but none of that actually accounts for why the story caught fire in the first place: Price’s words being legitimately outrageous overreaction. That’s why the calls of concern over a scary future in which GamerGate can get anyone fired are so ridiculous. She wasn’t fired because of social justice or feminism, she was fired for publicly berating customers.

When your brand is dependent upon transactional relationships with dedicated fans, belittling one who has his own in-game NPC is probably not the best of ideas.

The Price is Wrong

It’s been a few days since the drama, but I wanted to reserve a piece of internet real estate to talk about the Jessica Price fiasco. It’s fine if you don’t know who that is, or what the drama is about. All you really need to know is the following sequence of events:

  1. Jessica Price talks about the challenges with narrative storytelling in MMOs.
  2. Popular streamer and GW2 content creator, Deroir, suggests that solutions can be found doing things a different way.
  3. Jessica Price responds with the following:

Today in being a female game dev:

“Allow me–a person who does not work with you–explain to you how you do your job.”

like, the next rando asshat who attempts to explain the concept of branching dialogue to me–as if, you know, having worked in game narrative for a fucking DECADE, I have never heard of it–is getting instablocked. PSA.

Since we’ve got a lot of hurt manfeels today, lemme make something clear: this is my feed. I’m not on the clock here. I’m not your emotional courtesan just because I’m a dev. Don’t expect me to pretend to like you here.

The attempts of fans to exert ownership over our personal lives and times are something I am hardcore about stopping. You don’t own me, and I don’t owe you.

Within the day, she was fired.

The reason I wanted to lay this all out is because the reality-distortion fields are being engaged and the entire debacle is being framed as a new Feminism vs GamerGate front. And that’s incredibly dumb, and sad, and arguably dangerous. Jessica Price was fired because she was behaving as a noxious asshole in an official capacity. Full stop. We don’t even have to examine whether it was “mansplaining” to interact with Jessica’s social media post, because there isn’t a scenario in which her response is ever appropriate.

And instead of talking about that, we’re talking about this:

Price is worried about the precedent the firings set. “The message is very clear, especially to women at the company: if Reddit wants you fired, we’ll fire you,” she said. “Get out there and make sure the players have a good time. And make sure you smile while they hit you.”

That’s a Kotaku link, but the framing of the debate is also being set by Polygon (emphasis mine):

Jessica Price, who was fired by ArenaNet last week for arguing with fans of the company’s Guild Wars 2 MMO, said she feels betrayed by how the company “folded like a cheap card table” when confronted by toxic fandom. In an interview with Polygon, she talked about the meeting in which she was fired, and castigated ArenaNet managers for their “highly unprofessional” reaction to a social media controversy.

That kinda makes it sound like Price was heroically standing up to the school bully, and unfortunately got caught in the Zero Tolerance policy for fighting back.

Instead of, you know, reading literally this:

Really interesting thread to read! 👌 However, allow me to disagree *slightly*. I dont believe the issue lies in the MMORPG genre itself (as your wording seemingly suggest). I believe the issue lies in the contraints of the Living Story’s narrative design; (1 of 3)

When you want the outcome to be the same across the board for all players’ experiences, then yes, by design you are extremely limited in how you can contruct the personality of the PC. (2 of 3)

But, if instead players were given the option to meaningfully express *their* character through branching dialogue options (which also aren’t just on the checklist for an achievement that forces you through all dialogue options), (3 of 4 cause I count seemingly…)

then perhaps players would be more invested in the roleplaying aspect of that particular MMORPG. Nonetheless, I appreciate the insightful thread! (End)

And responding with:

Jessica Price:

thanks for trying to tell me what we do internally, my dude 9_9

Deroir:

You getting mad at my obvious attempt at creating dialogue and discussion with you, instead of just replying that I am wrong or otherwise correct me in my false assumptions, is really just disheartening for me. You do you though. I’m sorry if it offended. I’ll leave you to it.

Jessica Price:

Today in being a female game dev:

“Allow me–a person who does not work with you–explain to you how you do your job.”

And yet this is somehow Reddit’s fault, as if the notoriety of the thread detailing Price’s behavior was spontaneously generated (or artificially manufactured), and not the natural result of her shockingly aggressive behavior. Suppose there were bots involved, perhaps unleashed by GamerGaters who are somehow huge GW2 fans and capable of mobilizing within hours. The most they could do is increase the thread’s visibility, after which it seems easy to imagine becoming self-perpetuating.

I don’t like anything about this entire scenario – it feels like a permanent loss to chaos and entropy. This unforced error gives those in GamerGate a free win, when their general philosophy is abhorrent nonsense. And here I am, also defending corporations and their ownership over the social media profiles of their employees, even when “off the clock.” Like when Price writes “make sure you smile while they hit you,” I want to ask if she has ever worked a goddamn day in customer service or retail in her entire life. Yeah, that’s the job. I’ve worked at places for years in which hanging up on a customer was a fireable offense the first time you did so.

I don’t know what the takeaway on all this is. I am not a culture warrior, but I do believe in social justice. I’m a bleeding-heart liberal, but I can’t muster any sympathy for Price. Maybe I’m not as good as I imagine myself to be. But if that person has to read what was actually said and come to the “Reddit got me fired” conclusion? Then I don’t want to be that guy. Price deserved the boot.

Finding the Zone

I continue to play Guild Wars 2 every day.

I also continue to make almost zero progress on the story.

That may not be technically accurate. I have completed Living Story Season 3, Part 3, e.g. the Winterberry Farm. I used the remaining gems I had left over from cashing out my gold years ago to purchase the missing LS3 parts (1, 2, 5), and then worked my way through the LS3:P1 to start generating that map’s currency. While I had read that the Winterberry farm is by far the best place to, well, farm things, I had not quite realized how bad the others could be. With Winterberries, all my alts can farm ~50 a day. All the other maps can only be farmed once per account, and I get maybe ~13 currency if I manage to find a zerg. Considering the reward is Ascended-level items (the best possible now and possibly forever), I probably should not complain that it could take me 10-20 days of constant farming to get those rewards. But comparably, it’s much worse.

Farming though, is just a symptom of my larger problem finding a class and spec I enjoy. A problem that I might have actually solved. See, I had chosen the Necromancer as my GW2 main, and actually geared her up pretty far. I still farm Winterberries for my other alts, such as the Thief and Engineer, but the more I play them, the more I realize that the Necromancer is better in every conceivable way.

There are three main areas one needs to concern themselves with in GW2’s combat. The first is survivability. Everyone has a self-heal ability, but it typically has a ~20 second cooldown and a lot of things can happen in those ~20 seconds. Plus, there is nothing worse than sitting at less than half health, desperately waiting to heal again, and having to choose between continuing your attack as normal or dancing around the edge of combat. To this end, it’s extremely nice to have some kind of ability or talent that allows you to gain health by attacking or some other means.

The second area is, well, AoE capabilities. As mentioned before, I very much enjoy the concept and execution of Pistol/Pistol Thief vis-a-vis Unload spam, but that is a decidedly single-target attack. Having to focus on just one mob at a time when there are 4-6 guarding your Winterberry node simply isn’t fun. Plus, it impacts your survivability insofar as unanswered cannon fodder can promote themselves to deadly threats if you ignore them.

The final area is ranged options. I honestly don’t understand how Warriors and Guardians and Thieves do it, but every time I have moved into melee range of a Champion/Legendary mob as part of a zerg, I have ended up eating dirt, hoping someone finds the time to rez me before the end of the event. Beyond the zerg though, and especially in the Winterberry farm area, there are Griffon enemies that take to the skies and rain down an extremely annoying (and surprisingly deadly) AoE in melee range beneath them. My Daredevil Thief deals well with grounded foes, but having to Dodge away and wait for them to land ain’t something anyone got time for.

But then there’s my Scourge. My beautiful, capable Scourge.

Scourge is the Elite-spec for the Necromancer and by far the most powerful character I have played. It has two healing abilities that also create a damage-absorbing bubble, on top of a 5-second debuff cleanse, on top of a debuff-transference skill (from off-hand Dagger), on top of passively gaining 10% of the damage I deal as HP, on top of having a Flesh Golem tank. The AoE capabilities of the Scourge as pretty much the benchmark of all other classes. And, as you might imagine, all of this is at range. Instant-hit range too, I might add.

It all honestly reminds me of leveling Warlocks in WoW. You know, running around DoT’ing half a dozen mobs at a time, and just standing there letting them beat on you as you they die one-by-one, healing you all the while. You can’t quite be that cavalier in GW2 given the level scaling and such, but it gets closer the better gear I get.

So, yeah. I’m having fun in GW2. Just not in a way that progresses the story as of yet.

Estimating GW2’s Population

About two weeks ago, I was browsing the Guild Wars 2 subreddit and came across this post that estimates GW2’s “active population” to be 3.3 million players. That number seems so impossibly absurd, that I almost did a spit-take. Even if you define “active population” as someone who logs into the game once a month, it still seems way too many.

The methodology behind the estimation involves the following very difficult math:

From /r/GuildWars2 subscriber counts: 165,105 * 20 = 3,302,100
From GW2Efficiency account numbers: 169,052 * 20 = 3,381,040

No, really, that’s it. The estimate hinges on a game developer(s?) on Tumblr, who says 80% of a given playerbase doesn’t ever engage with the community outside the game, 20% of them do, and 5% provide content/posts. And Reddit subs are the 5%. Ergo, just multiply whatever by 20 and you’re good to go, QED.

Incidentally, the /r/wow subreddit has 511,692 subs, which means WoW’s current population is 10,233,840. And /r/FFXIV’s turns into 3.3 million active subscriptions. So there you g…

in fact, you don’t need any kind of rule to estimate subscription game player numbers: you just count the number of subscribers.

this rule, in fact, is only useful for estimating the population of games like GW2.

Of course. That’s not what the Tumblr dude stated, but whatever.

Well, applying the math to /r/PUBG means there are 2.2 million people playing per month… of which a little over half are playing right now, simultaneously, as I type this at 2pm. The reality is PUBG hit a peak concurrent userbase of 3.2 million last month – and the weekly playercount is 20 million (!) – which requires some rather vigorous hand-waving to salvage the Pareto Principle-esque methodology.

In the interests of science though, let’s explore some alternative facts.

One way is revenue. Luckily for us, NCSoft reports quarterly numbers…. quarterly. And they happen to break out how much revenue GW2 specifically brings to the financial table. Here it is, going back to GW2’s release:

GW2_Chart

The number there is revenue in millions of Korean Won. Google tells me the exchange rate is about 1072 Won / $1 USD, so last quarter GW2 had $18.8m in revenue, $12.6m in the previous quarter, and so on. You will notice that the spike there at 4Q15 and 1Q16 corresponds with the Heart of Thorns expansion release (October 2015) and the transition to F2P. The present “bump” in 3Q17 is similarly explained by the fact that Path of Fire was released in September 2017, which sort of straddles the quarters a bit. The question of the hour will be the 4Q17 results, which will likely come out in the next week or two.

Incidentally, Wilhem has posted SuperData’s latest report, which includes the 2017 revenue figure for GW2: $87 million. I’m not sure if SuperData has some sort of insider access to revenue figures before they go public, but… we can work with that. The first three quarters of 2017 add up to 47,928m Won, or just shy of $44m. If SuperData’s number is accurate, that means 4Q17 brought in $43m. That pretty much lines up with the prior expansion: the two quarters HoT released in added up to $62m, and PoF’s two expansion quarters will hit just shy of $62m as well ($43m + $18.8m).

Here is another point of information:

“Guild Wars 2 has proven pretty resilient historically, with about 1.5 million monthly actives,” SuperData Research CEO Joost van Dreunen says. “Since it switched to free-to-play in late August, Guild Wars 2’s monthly active user base has doubled to 3.1 million (October 2015).

Yes, it’s SuperData again, whatever. What is tricky and/or pure conjecture at this point is how to incorporate the above quote into the revenue graph. Can we correlate 4Q15’s revenue and purported monthly active playerbase? Because six months after the expansion, one or both dropped by 46%. Even without the expansion though, revenue stayed in a 19k-22k range for six quarters pre-HoT and that was with “1.5 million actives.” In the five quarters since HoT, revenue hasn’t broke 16k. Is that because the playerbase is declining? Or is the playerbase steady, but filled with more non-paying players now?

Here’s my gut check: GW2 probably has ~1.5 million monthly “players,” and many times less people who actually log on when there isn’t a holiday event/Living Story taking place.

Look, the numbers and the quotes can be massaged to basically say whatever you want. What is considerably more objective is what ArenaNet does. And what they did extremely recently is the following:

Even though world linking has brought world populations closer together, it is impossible for us to get populations and coverage any closer because the current worlds do not give us the granularity needed to do that. For example in NA, Blackgate has decent coverage across all time zones whereas worlds like Crystal Desert have higher peak times and lower off-hour times. Because world linking isn’t granular enough, we don’t have the ideal link that allows Crystal Desert to have coverage that is similar to Blackgate.

This is why, in the new World Restructuring system, we will remove all players from their current worlds, and make new worlds every eight weeks. This will create more granular pieces, which allow us to avoid situations like the Crystal Desert example.

What the above does is make “World vs World” the biggest misnomer since… well, “Guild Wars.” Originally, WvW was Server vs Server. Then there were megaservers in 2014, which are server merges with lipstick on. Then there was world-linking, which was Cluster vs Cluster. With the above change, it’s now pretty much Warm Body vs Warm Body.

Combined the number of times I have been bribed to transfer to more populated map channels in general PvE, makes me extremely skeptical there are millions of people kicking about.

Ultimately though, I think Guild Wars 2 is actually uniquely well-positioned to survive regardless of whether it consists of a million actives or three million tourists. For one, there is no monthly fee, so people cycle in and out all the time. More importantly though, the game is structured to funnel people into zergs no matter the map. This gives the “illusion” of a populated, lively community even if everyone is transient strangers you literally cannot even Inspect. But you know, that’s worlds better than my experience in other MMOs with higher monthly populations that were sequestered away in private realms.

 

[GW2] Noob Tube

Way back in the day, I played Battlefield 2 pretty religiously. During one update or another, they introduced a 1-shot grenade launcher as a new weapon. Considering the grenade launcher didn’t require precise aiming (auto-detonated when it struck an enemy) and it usually instantly killed your opponent, it got a bad reputation: the Noob Tube. If anyone saw you killing people with it, you would be subjected to verbal abuse for the rest of the round.

Of course, the problem is that the Noob Tube was rather effective. The Time-To-Kill in BF2 was short, such that most people had only a moment or two to outshoot an opponent that appeared around the corner. As long as the titular Noob had the Tube ready, they had a fighting chance against even the best veteran – just fire in their general direction and hope for the best. Plus, the firing of the weapon and the resulting explosion also felt rather satisfying, even if you did not kill your opponent.

In Guild Wars 2, I have turned the corner with my interest in the Thief, by virtue of equipping the equivalent of the Noob Tube: Pistol/Pistol (P/P) Unload spam.

GW2_Unload

Extremely satisfying.

P/P is not an approved meta build for Thief DPS. If you bring it into a PvP match, you will be laughed at/accused of throwing the game, depending on which team the abuse is coming from. It is so unsupported by serious players, I don’t think anyone has even bothered explaining whether a Power or Condition Damage build is better. I’m guessing Power because big numbers, but GW2 is sufficiently convoluted that it being Condi wouldn’t surprise me.

But, whatever. Spamming Unload just feels so damn good.

Given my displeasure over stance dancing, this shouldn’t come as a big surprise. But what surprised even me is, again, how fun it is. My Thief is running around with dual pistols and literally unloading both of them into trolls and elementals like some goddamn John Woo fantasy movie. The sound of the skill is satisfying and has weight behind it. If spammed with sufficient speed, the hits are totaled together into a number that quickly breaks five digits. Although the skill is channeled, I am completely mobile throughout on top of it having a decent range. Each attack buffs you such that subsequent attacks hit harder, and the talents I have chosen multiplies that damage further by debuffing the enemy as their HP decreases. There is cadence and staccato and… I really want to press the button again right now.

Of course, it’s likely that Unload is a newbie trap. I will not be invited to Raids or PvP zergs by spamming Unload. Relying on a single ability will not hone my muscle memory in an otherwise stance-dance meta. It is EZ mode, the equivalent of a WoW Hunter spamming Explosive Shot, back when that was a thing. I should feel the shame as one would taking up BF2’s Noob Tube.

…but I don’t. Pistol/Pistol is fun, effective for the content I currently engage in (dailies), and that’s more than enough for me. You can pry this Noob Tube from my cold, dead hands if you dare. UNLOAD SPAM FOR LIFE.

Or until I get bored, or find something else better. Whenever.

GW2 Gameplay Thus Far

I technically have four max-level characters in Guild Wars 2. For a while now, I have played all of them regularly, insofar as I use them to farm Winterberries. The gathering itself is simply pressing a button, but each node is frequently guarded by 3-4 mobs, one of which is usually a Veteran, e.g. equivalent to a WoW elite.

While it is not really a high bar, I do appreciate how differently each of the classes play when encountering the same content. Of course, some are (much) better than others. Sometimes even the weapons the class equips is enough to radically alter the gameplay.

Necromancer

I consider the Necro to be my “main” in GW2, and so I have been spending most of my time playing this class. It was tough choosing which Elite spec to funnel my expansion Hero Points into, but I settled with Scourge. While that decision was based on what research I could find regarding DPS and raid-worthiness, I feel like perhaps my normal gameplay style would’ve been better suited to Reaper.

The big change with Scourge over default Necro is that the Shroud (F1) ability is replaced with Manifest Sand Shade. This feels more powerful – and by all rights is – but it also introduces some clunky, fiddliness. Shroud always felt awkward for me to use, because it was basically an Oh Shit button that sometimes made sense to use as a DPS cooldown. The Sand Shades of the Scourge are more obviously DPS cooldowns, but it requires you to basically pick an area to create a stationary damage field. This clearly works in more known locations like raid encounters, but gets really annoying really quickly as you roam around in the the world.

A running theme throughout my experience with GW2 is that I hate the F1-F5 abilities. In fact, I hate all Stance Dancing in every MMO I have ever played. I ended up remapping the F1-F5 keys to something easier to press, but the Scourge represents a step backwards to me, as it took one button (F1) and turned it into five buttons, three of which you need to press regularly. Meanwhile, Reaper appears to be something more like I was looking for: turning F1 into a straight DPS cooldown, plus increasing survivability from a bunch of disposable pets.

Mesmer

The Mesmer is a class I used one of my level-80 boosts on, primarily because everyone talked about how boring it was to level. That boost automatically decks your character out in passable Exotic gear, so I felt relatively comfortable using her to farm Winterberries. What I ended up discovering was a playstyle that really suits me… providing I can figure out how to deal more damage.

The Mesmer is all about creating Clones and Phantasms, both of which can distract foes and deal damage themselves. In short, they have all of the positives of pets, with none of the downsides, considering they exist for only 10-20 seconds at a time during combat. It also amuses me to no end when I automatically create a Clone when dodge-rolling, as the mobs chasing me break the pursuit to attack something that disappears moments later anyway.

The problem is that while I can create a lot of distractions, it takes a lot longer to actually kill anything. Which might explain the whole “it’s boring to level a Mesmer” trope. I do not have either of the Elite specs unlocked, so perhaps that could improve things. Right now I am using Sword/Pistol and Greatsword, so that could be another avenue to explore.

Thief

I enjoy the Thief, but it is squishy as hell. The straight-forward F1 ability, spammable attacks, the Stealth… there is a lot here to like. From everything I have been reading though, the Elite specs are where it is at in terms of improving everything. I can kill things decently as it is, but I always seem to be hovering around 25% HP by the end of the fight.

Perhaps I need to move away from Dagger/Dagger…

Elementalist

Let’s see… squishy, no burst damage, 20+ skills to keep track of across F1-F4, and stance dancing. Yeah, Elementalist is my least favorite class by far. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even bother using it to farm Winterberries. There just isn’t anything fun about the way it plays.

Others

My other two characters are an Engineer and a Ranger. The Engineer in particular is one that I have always enjoyed – it was my second character created, in fact – but I unfortunately did not spend one of my two level boosts on her. Which might have been a mistake, given how the Thief is turning out. That said, I am accumulating those +1 level books at a decent clip based on my dabbling in WvW, so who knows when she will join the others at the cap.

The Ranger is another class I enjoyed to an extent, but not enough to play consistently. I like pet classes, but I don’t like fiddling with pets; I prefer cannon fodder to a companion in my MMO. That might sound cruel, but in my experience, what actually happens is I find a pet that I enjoy having around, but the optimal pet to use is something else entirely, so I am constantly forced to choose between form or function. Plus, there are usually dozens and dozens of pets to choose from in the first place, so actually picking one is difficult. Give me a generic, useful demon pet any day.

And… that’s it. Can’t really play a Warrior or Revenant until there is a sale on Character Slots.

The Transitive Property (of Grinding)

Extremely recently, all my desire to play Warframe evaporated.

While there is (a lot of) grinding involved, I mentioned several times in the Warframe post that the game itself is very fun to play. And it is. Leaping from wall to wall as a space ninja terminator is an experience not commonly found in gaming today. But here I sit, looking at the icon, and feeling… nothing. At all.

While I was thinking about what might have changed, I realized that I had, moments before, been playing GW2 and grinding Winterberries. Each character on an account can collect around 50 of them a day, and you need 200-500 of them to purchase a piece of Ascended gear. I don’t need Ascended gear for anything in particular, but it’s character progression, and it’s something relatively mindless to do when I don’t feel like doing anything else in particular.

…oh, yeah. Sort of like what I was going in Warframe.

I had been playing both Warframe and GW2 in my gaming sessions up to this point without issue. The change was alluded to in this post, where I mentioned thinking about grinding LS3 maps for the Ascended trinkets. Before that, I grinded some Warframe, then completed some Story missions in GW2. Now that I’m grinding in GW2, I didn’t “need” to play Warframe anymore.

This also explains why my travels in No Man’s Sky met a similarly abrupt end. Well, the NMS gameplay at the point I stopped was more “leave the game running and check back in 30 minutes to harvest nodes” than grinding per se. But if I were looking to replicate the feeling of a slow accumulation of resources, I could do so as a space ninja terminator. So I did. And then I transferred that sensation to the other half of the MMO I was currently playing, closing the loop.

I don’t imagine that “grinding is grinding” is an especially grand epiphany to anyone reading this. Indeed, chances are you are intimately aware of this relationship if you find grinding to be tiresome and hate it in your games. But in all these years, I never quite realized how… transitive the property is. Like, for a moment, I had considered installing Black Desert Online again to give it another shot, but then realized that its entire economy relies on AFK accumulation of resources. Which is a feeling easily replicated in No Man’s Sky, which has a much more coherent narrative (which isn’t saying much). Which is replaceable with Warframe. Which is currently replaceable with GW2.

In a sense, this is a good situation for me. I am getting all my gaming “needs” met in a singular title. This is a terrible situation for other games, however, because I am able to get all my gaming needs met in a singular title. Why would I play something else? This helps explain why zombie MMOs exist, and how it can be difficult to dislodge a market leader once they achieve a critical mass (beyond the fact that a large audience becomes a draw all by itself).

That said, it’s a bit precarious for ArenaNet in my personal situation, because while I am satisfied at the moment, any upset would send me smoothly into the arms of the next title with some sort of grinding elements. And a not-insignificant part of me feels like bouncing from game to game is a more ideal scenario in the first place, as it exposes me to more novel experiences in the non-grinding portions. For now though, GW2 is satisfying enough. Emphasis on “for now.”

Mount Up

As I settle into the routine of daily play, I just wanted to take a moment and express how amazing the mounts are in GW2.

GW2_Mounts

Fantastic animations too.

To be clear, I have only unlocked the Raptor mount at this time. My understanding is that the other mounts behave quite differently, and all have different abilities that they bring to the table. For example, the raptor can leap long distances, whereas some other mounts float above water, others leap vertically up, and there is even one that can fly/swoop around.

Looking just at the Raptor though, GW2 demonstrates a refreshing sense of design that works especially well in its gamespace. The Raptor has momentum and a turning radius. At first, this makes it seem unwieldy and difficult to maneuver. But then I started to ponder why it “feels” like anything at all. The answer is because in other MMOs like WoW, mounts are just reskinned players models. If you have ever flown around in WoW when the mount model fails to render, you can see your character in a swimming animation in open air. That is basically what mounts, flying or otherwise, are in WoW. They aren’t anything.

GW2_MountLeap

Sometimes ill-advised, but leaping is always fun.

The Raptor’s primary movement ability is the Leap, and here again the subtle genius of GW2’s design shines through. The length of the leap is a function of how long you press Spacebar, and the amount of times you can leap is tied to the “Endurance Bar” aka the Dodge bar. In text form, those are merely details. Running along the strikingly three-dimension space GW2 constructs, the mere act of riding the Raptor is great fun. Intermittent leaps, large leaps, traversing canyons simply to see if you can… all of them provide stimulation in a way simply going from Point A to Point B never do. Presumably there are entire maps in Path of Fire constructed to take advantage of these movement capabilities, but the default maps are just as fun.

And did I mention that mounting up is instant? For those that experienced it, the Halloween holiday in WoW (and Druids, I suppose) are the closest we have gotten to instant mounting, and the devs seem ever resistant to changing that, as if the 1.5 second delay is some integral part of the questing experience. Well… given the radical difference in feel between zero and any other number, perhaps they are right. But instant is fun. Now that the last vestiges of non-consensual PvP are gone, perhaps the WoW devs can take a page out of GW2’s playbook on the matter.

In any case, the mount system in GW2 is the best I have played in any MMO. I think Aion might have came close, if you consider wings to be “mounts,” but this definitely takes the cake.