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Heart of Thorns: Impressions

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

…if only I could figure out how.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Final GW2 Beta Weekend Impressions

I have had words regarding Guild Wars 2 previously. Based on my experiences mere minutes ago, I am almost ready to recant all of them.

Err… the bad words, that is.

As way of preface, since the Sylvari and Asura were available for the first (and last) time, I decided to forgo retesting that Thief nonsense in Queensdale and focus on the new races. The following points/impressions are in the order that I experienced them, with the ones that inspired my opening lines coming at the end.

Point 14: Sylvari are People Too!

For being walking sentient plant gonads (look it up), the Sylvari speak and threaten like typical meatbags:

Plant tongues? Couldn’t it just… you know… grow back?

That was not even the most interesting bit of shrubbery dialog. This was:

Cue angry conservatives.

I was not even out of the tutorial yet and already I am being told two dude plants love each other. Not that there is anything wrong with that, of course.

Nevertheless, presenting a gay relationship right at the beginning struck me as an unexpectedly bold move on ArenaNet’s part. Every single person that rolls a Sylvari character is going to be seeing this (if they are paying attention), as opposed to hiding it in random NPC dialog.

Then again… is it really all that bold? Sylvari are plant people modeled as pseudo-elves; male elves in videogames are traditionally metrosexual at a minimum. If ArenaNet was really bold, they would have transplanted (har har) this situation over in the human section. But, as far as steps go, this one ain’t a bad first one.

Point 15: Visuals, Jumping Puzzles, and View Points

As far as zone visuals are concerned, the Sylvari thus far take the vegan cake. Alternatively, ArenaNet may have boosted the graphical optimization several notches with this build. Either way, I always have respect for artists who are capable of taking the cliche – plant people living in a giant tree – and still making everything interesting to look at. Remember when you strolled into Northrend during Wrath of the Lich King in WoW, expecting every zone to be snow, snow, and more snow… and being more than a little pleasantly surprised? There is more than enough stereotypical plants to go around here in Sylvariville, but their configuration remains fairly fresh.

A dastardly one at that.

Speaking of jumping puzzles, I am not sure if they are brand new to this build or not, but… there are jumping puzzles now. Hard ones. The one in the screenshot above took probably ~20 minutes to complete (I’m a pro) and even awarded an achievement for making it onto the cliff over on the left. To be honest, I thought the whole thing was a part of the Skill Challenge – the actual challenge was, no joke, clicking on an item in your inventory you got from clicking the bush at the bottom – so I was a little disappointed after the fact.

In any case, another new addition are Kodak Moments View Points: map icons hidden in relatively hard-to-reach locations that start Assassin Creed-esque flybys. Sometimes literally:

Will this be filed under “Homage” or “Parody”?

To be honest, View Points are kinda pointless insofar as they do not reveal anything of note, but I suppose they incentivize climbing on top of things. If you are into that sort of thing. Actually, I do have one minor gripe with that…

Point 16: You Fall Too Fast!

I noticed the instant-terminal-velocity way back in the first minutes of the first beta, but until View Points and Jumping Puzzles were introduced I never had a reason to gain unsafe amounts of altitude. Falling anywhere in Guild Wars 2 feels like you are falling into a black hole. Know how characters sometimes feel “floaty” in MMOs? Imagine the opposite of that. It’s jarring. It may be a minor point, but I was tired of not talking about it like nobody noticed.

Point 17: Necromancers are Boring

While on the character creation screen for Sylvari, one class choice was immediately obvious: Necromancer. Or, well, Engineer might have worked too. If you pick anything else you are squandering the opportunity denied to Draenei Warlocks and Undead Paladins everywhere. Fight the power!

While I breezed through questing as a Necromancer (*cough* ranged are OP *cough*), I never really liked any of my base skills. Sure, it was fun being able to run around with a Blood Fiend, two Bone Minions, and a Shadow creature all by level 10, but everything else felt… meh. Death Shroud as my F1 ability was incredibly disappointing; I do more damage normally, and if it exists solely as a defensive move, well, that still sucks. Overall, the class just seems too damn meta. Dispel buffs, steal buffs, corrupt buffs, use abilities that give yourself debuffs so presumably you can spread them around later… yeah.

Okay, ArenaNet, you have the convoluted PvP interactions down. Now what is a Necromancer supposed to do while questing? Auto-attack + press 2 every 8-12 seconds? Yawn.

Point 18: Elementalists are the Most Fun I Have Had in an Action RPG

In blinding contrast to Necromancers, I feel I need to repeat myself for emphasis: Elementalists are the most fun I have had in an Action RPG. Guild Wars 2 is not strictly an action RPG, of course, but it goddamn turns into one when you roll an Elementalist.

Green check-marks indicate fun abilities.

Necromancer was Press 1 (auto-attack) + Press 2 every ~10 seconds while your pets unfailingly tanked mobs.

Double-dagger Elementalist? Your auto-attack shoots three flame arrows in a spread pattern. Right off the bat you grok the strategic possibilities: the closer you get, the more likely your target will get hit by multiple arrows, increasing the deeps. But maybe you hang back and let your arrows hit the crowd… oh hell, naw! Get in there, boyz! Button number 2 is a channeled dragon breath you can use while moving. Button number 3 is one of my favorite in the bunch: it is a charging jump attack that leaves a trail of fire on the ground while you blow the area up when you land. Nothing says badass pyromancer like one jumping at your face with an explosion. Follow that up with button number 4, which is an AoE fireblast that leaves a ring of fire on the ground that burns enemies who step through it. Flame Wreath this, beotch! Finally, button number 5 is another cone-shaped attack that simply deals extra damage to Burning enemies, such as those who took damage from button(s) 2, 3, and/or 4.

All of that is just double-daggers under the Fire sign. Pressing F2 at any time brings up the Water sign, whose auto-attack is spinning icy hula-hoop of death¹ which passes through all enemies in a line and debuffs with stacking Vulnerability before boomeranging back and hitting them a second time. F3 is the Air sign which, admittedly, is pretty lame aside from the 1,200-ranged charge attack called Ride the Goddamn Lightning. Finally, F4 busts out the Earth sign, with all its fairly Necromacer-ish short-ranged-but-powerful Bleed attacks.

Again, all of that was with the same weapon loadout. Most classes in GW2 have 5 abilities per weapon combo, changing only two per offhand switch. The Elementalist gets six (6) no matter what you switch around. I did not make it to level 10 to check, but presumably I could go from double-dagger to scepter-focus and get 20 different abilities to play around with each time I press the ` button. Other classes may get a similar number of abilities overall (since the Elementalist cannot wield as many different weapon types), but none of them have as much access to these abilities at any time. We are talking about 10 vs 40 here. It’s ridiculous. And even if there is some kind of Elementalist-only weapon-swap limitation, it’s still 10 vs 20.

If it was not obvious by now, check your pulse I had a ton of fun playing the Elementalist. At the same time, the Elementalist is so clearly some designer’s pet project it is not funny… and that worries me. Nothing comes close to this class’s complexity, and I have to wonder at what (eventual) cost. Thieves can press F1 to Shadowstep and get “stolen” one-time-use abilities, Warriors press F1 when their Rage Adrenaline meter fills up, and so on and so forth. Are Elementalists going to be balanced around correct usage of 20+ abilities? Or will they simply be OP as they stab you in the face with their explodey burning rings of fire?

I have already heard grumblings vis-a-vis Elementalists dying practically instantly in PvP, so maybe this issue “fixes” itself. I hope not. I want an Elementalist main and to run some BGs.

Point 19: Asura Females (Can) Straddle the Line between Cute and Uncomfortably Cute

If you were originally put off by the Asura concept art (like I was), feel free to give it a spin:

Wha… no! The pink one-piece swimsuit makes it worse!

If you liked the original concept art look, or are afraid of what your probation officer would say if he walked in while you were playing, ArenaNet still has your back:

Morgan County Parole Board and Mordor Approved.

Luckily for everyone, Asura act more like Goblins/Gnomes from WoW rather than Elin from TERA. And they go back to looking like the cute, cocky nephews and nieces of Yoda from Episode 2 in the main world:

Muuuuuch better.

My Asura was the Elementalist, by the way, so that Episode 2 reference was especially apt.

Point 20: It Will be an Interesting Ride, One Way or the Other

Lest I be confused for someone with boundless optimism in the integrity of the human race, I still have major concerns regarding damn near everything I said previously under the Guild Wars 2 Category tag. Things like unbalanced melee, bad pacing when it comes to Personal Stories/questing in general (the Sylvari starting zone was smooth as butter, but I still had to grind mobs in the Asura zone twice), how Thief, Guardian, and Necromancer gameplay feels pretty bad, suspicions regarding the cash shop and how it affects future game design, and so on and so forth.

In fact, regarding the latter, I was reading a comment to this post over at Keen & Graev’s mentioning being an altaholic. Uh… not unless you pay $10 per slot beyond five. Five slots, eight professions, you do the math. And it is not as though you can roll on another sever either – “guest” anytime anywhere, but it will always be a pain in the ass if your friends rolled elsewhere unless there is an “auto-guest on X server upon login” option. Maybe an extra $15 here and there is nothing as long as it doesn’t happen faster than once a month. But for me, there is no such thing as a friendly, on-your-side cash shop.

Anyway, that is that, my friends. I might have some leftover screenshots, but they will definitely have to wait until next time.

¹ Don’t tell me you never gave a hula-hoop a reverse spin before tossing it down the driveway.