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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.”

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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.

Heart of Thorns: Impressions

Having (painfully) unlocked mounts in my prior session, I felt ready to unlock Gliders in this one. Once again, I limbered up the Elementalist, and got ready to trek into the jungle.

…if only I could figure out how.

I think one of the most enduring legacies of WoW that no one gives much thought about are the seamless transitions between zones. Guild Wars 2 has big and beautiful zones… inside very defined silos. Mountains and invisible walls grid everything so that the only way to get to A is through the single zone gate B. Assuming you can find said gate.

So, I teleported to the zone next to the expansion content, mounted up, and road my way down the perimeter. Then, 15 minutes later, I looked up where the fuck the portal was supposed to be. Ah, that little brown smudge on the map.

After a cool cinematic, I started working on the directed quests. They referenced a bunch of stuff I never did – apparently I killed some dragons, like you do – but it was easy enough to follow. After a bit of follow-up, I was dumped into the jungle and told to unlock Gliders to progress further.

It’s been several days since that moment, but I still have a look of incredulity all but permanently affixed to my face. Nothing was explained how to unlock Gliders, just that I needed to. No map markers, no quests, no “Hearts,” no dialog, nothing. Hell, even doing searches in Google and Reddit turned up next to nothing. What, exactly, were the devs wanting me to do?

In case you ever follow my footsteps, here it is: to unlock Gliders in Guild Wars 2: Hearth of Thorns, you must mindlessly grind XP in the expansion zone. That’s it. There are no Hearts in the beginning section, so you must rely on Events you don’t know about or Champion trains filled with mobs that will one-shot you without warning. There is a Day/Night cycle in the jungle that ensures a steady stream of Event-ish things to do, but again, you have to complete enough of them to fill your entire XP (i.e. Mastery) bar before you can unlock Gliders and get on with the rest of the story.

It’s tough to imagine a dumber way to design an expansion, but there is still time to surprise me.

Anyway, my dilemma remains. For sure, I do not want to continue doing anything on my Elementalist. Perhaps either of the two Elite Specializations might make the class more fun to play, but that requires gaining 100% of all your standard abilities, e.g. grinding out additional Hero Points. I’m pretty sure that also means hitting up all the Hero Point challenges in all of the default maps, but who knows. That means I’m either going to continue progressing through the vanilla GW2 story on my Necro, or boosting the Necro to 80 and doing the same thing. Not sure if there would be an advantage to the boosting immediately – I’ll have to research if the XP at the cap turns into Mastery XP or whatever.

I dunno. I’m going to have to look at Thief and Mesmer again, as those would be good candidates for my free level 80 boosts. There is also the Revenant, of which I have only looked at in the PvP lobby. Having permanent Swiftness seems cool, but is less relevant now that I have a mount. The Necro is good, and mostly feels good to play, but I’m concerned about the fact that it seems to hold no relevance in group play basically anywhere. Chronomancers, Druids, and Warriors or bust, is what I’m reading.

I suppose it’s no different than any other MMO: the struggle is always finding that class that is both useful and fun to play. And how do you do that, if not playing for hours and hours and potentially burning yourself out with an unfun or non-useful class in the meantime?

GW2: Re-Reloaded

Oh man, Guild Wars 2. If ever I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship with an MMO, this would be it. My first reloaded post was in January of 2016, and the time before that was back in 2012. It’s now January of 2018, so about as good a time as any to get started again.

Once I purchased Heart of Thorns for $15, I was immediately faced with a dilemma. My dilemma was thus: I had an Elementalist at level 80 and an Necromancer at level ~45. The Elementalist had been my “main” back in 2012, but I became increasingly annoyed with its mechanics and penchant for immediately dying at every available opportunity. At the same time, all my alts were dozens of levels behind, and I had little desire to grind my way through the same zones, so I stuck with a class I didn’t like. Eventually, I said Screw This and leveled the Elementalist the rest of the way to 80 via crafting professions and called it a day.

Now that I was back, it made much more sense to actually play a class I enjoy (for now), e.g. the Necromancer. However, that presents its own challenges. I technically had enough Tomes of Knowledge (+1 free level) to instantly get the Necro close to the cap, and enough gold to get the rest of the way via crafting. But was that what I really wanted to do? Immediately get to the zero-progression endgame? It would seem to make more sense to just level the Necro normally and derive what enjoyment I could from the everyday GW2 experience.

Which is what I did, for a while. I gained about 2-3 three levels from Events and Story quests.

The problem is three-fold. First, at some point ArenaNet changed Daily Quests to all but force you to complete expansion content to complete them. Before, you could slum around starter zones, blow through a few Events, gather some nodes, and then you were done. That may or may not have been before they started giving you straight-up 2 gold for finishing the Daily, I don’t know. But if I wanted to get a free 2g, I needed to have access to the endgame stuff ASAP. Or rely on WvW/PvP stuff, which I wasn’t going to do. So I needed my level 80 available.

The second problem was Gliders. I had the expansion, and unlocking it on one character unlocks it for everyone. Again, you need to be level 80 for that. So… why not just unlock that and be done? Seems reasonable.

The third problem was the kicker though: mounts. Every time I saw someone running around on a mount, it reminded me of how slow my character moves and how many crappy talents/abilities I have to equip in order to slum around at a bonus 33% speed. It got to the point where I no longer wanted to play the Necro at all because, in my mind, the worst case scenario was the expansion not going on sale by the time I hit the endgame, thus ensuring I had a lame experience for months and still bought the “full” price expansion later.

So… I went ahead and bought Path of Fire, and immediately unlocked the Raptor mount.

I say “immediately” but that certainly did not feel the case. I died about half a dozen times on “normal” mobs in the initial story quest, and at least half a dozen more on the “bosses” at the conclusion. If the Veteran Flame Dogs’ health actually reset after each death, it’s entirely possible I would have never completed the scenario. I know that I was a bit rusty on the Elementalist, and I did not have full Exotics in every slot, but I was at level 80 and had level 80 gear everywhere, and knew how to avoid the red circles, and goddamn who were these mobs designed for?

As it turns out, this was just the beginning.

…I mean, yeah. Figuratively too. More later.

Holiday Updates

I got in some quality gaming time in the past few days.

Far Cry 4

As mentioned in previous post, I was having some issues getting into (or really, staying into) Far Cry 4 despite it being better than what else I was playing. I originally attributed this to the breakpoints within the game, but as others deduced in the comments, it might have been from other tertiary concerns as well. After thinking about it, I agree it was not so much the game itself. Part of my “obligation” in playing Far Cry 4 was that it was taking up a lot of hard drive space, and I thus felt like I needed to finish it and make room for something else I had wanted to try.

After the insight, I went back to Far Cry 4 and enjoyed the experience more as I coasted into and past the endgame. I feel like Far Cry 3 is the better narrative experience overall, but Far Cry 4 plays much better and is a much more cohesive as a whole. Being able to get mobility options like the Wingsuit early on really opens the game world up, without being overpowered.

The Talos Principle

In a word: Amazing.

Portal 1/2 are better games overall, but The Talos Principle is the first puzzle game in quite a while to engender a sort of mild existential crisis. And that’s really what puzzle games are for, right?

Inevitably, everyone always seems to point out the most superficial philosophical questions when it comes to games like this – “Can robots be people?” “Are people just robots?” – and then just stop there. The Talos Principle should invite more salient questions though, and did for me. The game’s setting is one in which mankind is slowly dying, and you can read (and listen via audio logs) to how various individuals react to that inevitability. Some fight on to the bitter end, some leave to spend their last days with family, others do a LAN party, and another pair enjoy one final sunset and then commit mutual suicide. Milton, the AI “serpent,” will question your grasp of the meaning of life over the course of the game, and how it can be ascertained, often deconstructing arguments in ways that would lead some people I know IRL into tears.

That is what The Talos Principle should be noted for, not because the player-character is an android. If anything, whether the player’s android avatar is truly conscious in the same way people are is the least interesting question posed.

Anyway, I highly recommend it if you intrigued by philosophy or pathos or puzzles. It gots all three.

Warframe

According to the Search bar, I have apparently never talked about Warframe before. I played it once last year for about two hours, and then dropped it. I was interested in taking a second look primarily because my Amazon Prime account gave me Twitch Prime, which in turn gives free goodies every month, including what I thought was a free “warframe” but ended up being cosmetics. I think.

Warframe is a third-person over-the-shoulder looter shooter. Think “Diablo meets space ninjas” with a generous helping of impenetrable nonsense. It is also about the slickest F2P experience out in gaming right now.

The general idea is that you are a space ninja and need to space-grind ninja-resources across the solar system. Maps are surprisingly well-crafted, although you will be seeing them quite a bit, as each one serves several different gameplay types – sometimes you need to kill X mobs, sometimes you need to do a sort of King of the Hill node capture, etc. As you finish missions and kill bosses and collect loot, you unlock the ability to craft different warframes (aka classes), which come with different movement abilities, attacks, and so on.

I doubt I stick with Warframe for much longer than what I have already played. While it is a lot of visceral fun being able to jump around the map as a space ninja doing cool space ninja things, there doesn’t really ever feel like much of a narrative “point.” When I completed the first story section, for example, the next required me to reactive a Solar Relay to access missions on Venus. The activation though, required a laundry list of different, metagame-related things, like obtaining 20 mods, equipping four of them, etc. While that is a good way to ensure I am playing the game properly, it also meant I had to play several maps for the express purpose of trying to obtain randomly-dropped mods. Each map probably lasts 10 minutes or less, so it’s not a huge ask, but it still didn’t sit well with me.

Guild Wars 2

Even though I had not been playing playing GW2 for quite some time, I kept it installed on my PC and had been logging in once a day in order to accumulate the free goodies ArenaNet gives you. The currency is nice, but the real prize for me were basically the Tomes of Knowledge, which are free levels. The idea was that once I ended up purchasing one or both of the expansions, I’d have the opportunity to actually experience the content on a class of my choosing, rather than having to stick with the Elementalist, which is the only level-80 class I have.

Well, I picked up Heart of Thorns this past weekend for $15. So I’m playing GW2 again.

It’s funny though, the sort of things that go through my mind when playing MMOs like this. For one thing, I really enjoy the Necromancer, and that is the class I wanted to experience more of the game with. Since she was level 45, I could have skipped near the cap with my 34 Tomes. But wait a minute, I could also get an easy 10 levels via leveling up crafting, right? Gotta save those Tomes for when they are more valuable. Probably like never. But, whatever, I have level 400 Cooking now.

As I cycled through my characters just to re-familiarize myself with things, I also noticed that at least three of my characters received a 5-year anniversary present pack. Which, incidentally, meant I got three level-50 boosts. I had already leveled the Necro into level 55 by that point, but it will be good for later alts.

Anyway, I will be playing GW2 some more now. Seeing people running around on mounts really makes me want to pick up Path of Flames, just to make leveling alts easier, but I’m going to hold off for now. Will my GW2 experience be another passing fancy (again)? Will not jumping in with both (expansion) feet cause the game to be another passing fancy? Stay tuned.

Loot Boxes, Supplemental

We already know that Star Wars: Battlefront 2 has loot boxes and that they’re bad, but we can always use more articles about them, right? In the comments of that Kotaku article though, someone questioned the author about what exactly the “moral issue” is when a company is trying to extract money from their consumer base. The author responded with some more general criticisms of capitalism as a whole and the conditions it creates, but when pressed by the commenter again, came back with this:

If you really want the “Heather isn’t fucking around version,” here it is:

Loot boxes are, ignoring the hair splitting of insufferable pedants like yourself, gambling. They are crafted, from probabilities to visual to their contents, to condition individuals and encourage repeated purchase and use. People with addiction problems will be funneled towards a system designed scientifically to exploit them. Kids will open the shiny boxes. They’ll do it with their parents credit cards without understanding the effect. Players frustrated with the grind will throw down money because that’s what the grind is designed for: to fuck you over and take your cash so some executive can take a vacation while the people in the trenches crunch.

If you don’t see what the problem is or if you somehow think this an acceptable state of affairs or what to talk about how it’s some God given providence of the rich to seek further profits at any cost, I don’t know what to tell you because I am so very tired and I just don’t know how to explain to you (or anyone anymore) that you should care about other people.

Yeah, that.

Pretty much the only thing I would add to that is how the rise of “recurrent consumer spending opportunities” has perverted the fundamental design of these games. SWBF2 doesn’t need loot boxes in order achieve some gameplay goal – progression from simply playing the game is more than sufficient to generate fun. The loot boxes exist to make money, and that’s it.

If you don’t care because you’re not going to be playing SWBF2, well… just wait a while. Guild Wars 2 introduced the Mount Adoption License as a method of randomly delivering 30 new Mount skins. Most of the outrage has understandably been directed towards the fact that it’s gambling, especially if you were only interested in a few of the skins (a few of which are for a mount you might not ever get). But here’s the real rub: 30 Mount skins were introduced into the game with zero gameplay elements. These aren’t spoils for defeating a boss, these aren’t the rewards for a long quest-line, these aren’t the goal at the end of a difficult achievement. Nope, they’re just item shop fodder. If each were attached to a task that took an hour to complete, that’s like a month of casual content removed from each individual player.

Do loot boxes make games better? Fundamentally, that’s the question you should be asking yourself every time. A raid boss dropping random gear on a weekly reset creates content by encouraging you to face that raid boss again. A loot box dropping random gear does… what? You do not have to care about other people – although you probably should – to care that loot boxes are fundamentally destroying elegant game design. Instead of developers focusing on tighter gameplay loops or additional content, they care more about monetization opportunities. Which used to be “sell more copies of the game,” but is now “sell random in-game content for cash.”

You know, I never thought we’d see something more abhorrent than on-disc DLC. But here we are.

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.