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Sidequestless

My early-level experience in FF14 has not been as painful as it felt previously. There are all manner of reasons why this might be the case – psychological, emotional, a more fun class, etc – but I suspect that a large part of it has to do with the increase in Main Story Quest (MSQ) XP. Which is weird, because I’m pretty sure that was already active the first time I played.

The difference is that I’m actually taking advantage of it.

I’m sure this will change down the road, but essentially I am skipping everything but the MSQ quests and still hitting the necessary milestones to continue adventuring. It feels a bit off to stroll into a new town filled with exclamation marks and roll out with just one quest on the log, but it also feels… liberating? “Oh, you want me to kill 6 whatevers on the ass end of the Earth? No thanks.” At my level (which has jumped up to 15 now), those sidequests reward around 1100 XP whereas the MSQ will dump 6500 XP on your head for walking 10 feet and talking with another NPC. Plus, the story feels a lot more coherent without all the narrative breaks.

The downside is… well, not experiencing any sidequests. Which I am both happy and sad about.

Sidequests are an interesting game design mechanic. Pretty much every RPG has them, and they are almost entirely used as pacing. Filler, in other words. Of course, if you actually find the combat/exploration/etc in the RPG engaging, then sidequests are actual, legit content. Plus, if the designers go the extra mile, sidequests might become more interesting than the actual storyline. A good example of that would be the Mass Effect or Witcher series, wherein the supporting characters and their interaction with the main character is most of the appeal.

In MMOs, sidequests are almost always chores to be completed. “Kill 10 whatevers.” “Talk to these NPCs.” “Go here and click on the shiny thing.” Some are more memorable than others, some engage in world-building, others sew the seeds of interaction with new story characters. But the vast majority are pointless busywork. And that’s the rub, right? Skipping the busywork means skipping the few gems out there.

Of the FF14 sidequests I did before focusing exclusively on the MSQ, 99% of them were filler. At the same time, I would have been sad to miss the ole “cold as a dead whore’s crotch” exchange:

The above is why I typically complete all the sidequests in MMOs: for those brief slices of amusement, in the middle of so much bland white bread.

Alas, I no longer have eight hours of uninterrupted gaming time a day, so decisions have to be made. And that decision is to largely skip sidequests. I have long heard that SW:TOR has made a similar move regarding deprecating sidequests to streamline their “fourth pillar,” and I wonder if there has been a similar loss in incidental storytelling. It is not even as though they can keep the “good ones,” because sometimes it’s the weird throwaway sidequests that end up being the best.

I’m not sure there is a real solution here. I suppose FF14 deserves some credit for at least having the possibility of people clearing these sidequests later, via leveling up other classes (which changes your level back to 1). Although with all the XP bonuses and such you get now, I’m not sure if that’s enough.

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It’s Raining Epics

Last Thursday, I sat down and decided to run some World Quests. And I got these:

wow_epix

/humblebrag screenshot

Those are ten epics, with ilevels at or above 840, along with three relics.

That ilevel is above what you can get in LFR, and at least matches what you would get from Mythic dungeons. While more organized content like raids and Mythic+ still beat these pieces – including offering more exciting options, like trinkets – I did have a WQ epic proc all the way up to 880, which is just shy of Legendary status.

WoW_Epix2.jpg

Bit of an upgrade.

Remember when people complained about the ability of noobs to queue LFD and eventually get tier set pieces after dozens of runs? Pepperidge Farm remembers It feels almost quaint. While you can’t exactly pick specific pieces of gear off a vendor, all of these were 100% guaranteed drops from quests, some of which took less than 5 minutes to complete. No dungeons required.

Don’t get me wrong, the WQ system is exactly what is necessary to get me to continue playing WoW at the level of commitment I am willing to put forward. But it is starting to dawn on me that this is the most loot-laden expansion yet. I feel that even Warlords of Draenor pales in comparison to this.

Legion Praise

As Shintar pointed out in the comments last time around, almost all of my coverage of Legion thus far has been either AH or complaint-related. And that’s fair – it has. I suppose we all just sort of take it for granted that WoW’s general gameplay is genre-defining and spectacular in most every way. Indeed, that engaging gameplay is precisely why we complain: if only X or Y could be fixed, we’d feel better about getting lost in the oblivion of killing mobs for hours.

Well, for this post, I won’t take it for granted. Legion is vastly improved in almost every way.

For one thing, all mobs everywhere are multi-tap capable. You know, that thing that Guild Wars 2 (and presumably others) have been doing for 4+ years already? Between the multi-tap mobs and the multi-tap resources nodes, the very fabric of open-world social dynamics has changed in Legion. Members of my own faction are no longer competition. Demon Hunter zipping around and collecting all the quest mobs in the area? Cool, let me just toss a Sunfire into that pack and get credit and looting rights to everything.

Granted, I might be more miffed if I were a spec without easy AoE.

There have been a lot of concern over the Great Ability Prune this expansion, but I have largely enjoyed having action bars back. More conditional and/or specialized buttons raises the skill cap, sure. At the same time, what is actually important is the feeling one gets pressing what buttons one has. If you only enjoy pressing 1-2 buttons of your 12 button rotation, what good is that?

In this regard, Legion is a massive, massive leap forward in most of the specs I have played. I smile every time I cast Full Moon on the Balance druid. Grappling Hook on the Outlaw rogue is fucking magical. You never quite realize how beaten down you have gotten over the years in regards to terrain until you gain the freedom to actually “teleport” up a hill you would otherwise have to traverse around. And speaking of Outlook rogues, Pistol Shot as an ability just feels so good. The sound, the action, the proc, the utility of having a ranged, technically spammable attack is perfect.

I have not spent much, non-Invasion time with the other alts, for reasons I kinda already got into with my complaint posts. What I will say though, is that the simple existence of class-specific content is an extremely good motivating factor in getting said classes leveled up and/or at least played some to see it. I didn’t like Unholy DK gameplay during Invasions, for example, but when I heard that the Lich King is involved in the artifact quests? Sign me up. It might only be an hour or two of specific content (and some locations are shared), but it is more than has existed for quite some time.

Leveling zones have been spectacular this expansion as well. It normally goes without saying, but I really do appreciate how much care Blizzard takes in not being as predictable in the art design department. Remember Wrath of the Lich King and the Northrend continent? Everyone expected every zone to just be all snow and zombies all the time. And while there was a lot of snow and zombies, you also had Grizzly Hills and Sholazar Basin and so on. In a similar vein, there is kind of a expectation in Legion for… well, Legion everywhere. Demons and green fire and Chronicles of Riddick-esque architecture. Not so much, actually. I started out leveling in Highmountain, and things have pretty much been up (har har) from there.

While I have not hit level cap just quite yet, I have high praise for the scaling leveling tech. There is more content than necessary for reaching 110 – which is good – but would typically present an issue within the zones themselves once you outlevel them. “Do I see the conclusion of this quest chain now, or come back later when it’s trivial?” I remember that being a major issue in Wrath in Grizzly Hills, as that was a zone I wanted to spend more time in, but outpaced the content available. Between the scaling mobs and scaling rewards, this is not an issue anymore.

I will admit though that there feels like a bit of a loss in the tangible feeling of level progression department, insofar as mobs are almost always the same level of difficulty. Sometimes it feels liberating coming back to older zones and having the run of the place, you know?

Quest-wise… this is WoW. People often complain about having to kill 10 whatevers in MMO quests, but that’s kind of why we’re playing a game with 10 million hostile whatevers, right? Besides, those sort of quests are filler and/or padding for the actual story/plot quests, which have been fantastically meaty from a lore standpoint. So much so, in fact, that I suspect the quest writers have been reading a bit too much Game of Thrones. Gods, demigods, Aspects… no one is safe. I legitimately wonder what Blizzard is going to follow this expansion up with – the old (figurative and literal) pantheon seems to have swept away, so they’re either wrapping things up or making room for new guys.

In any case, there it is. Legion is a lot of fun. I have complaints for days and days about all manners of things, but it comes from a place of frustration with wasted potential. That AH business, for example, would easily keep me entertained for 3 months if they fixed the throttling.

Alas, it is what it is. Which is 90% good, even if the 10% gets all the attention.

Wildstar Annoyances

Everything ain’t flowers and sunshine, cupcake.

Competitive Questing

It is kind of funny how the release of a game nearly two (!) years ago can so profoundly impact your expectations for all future games, even if you no longer play the other one. Specifically, Guild Wars 2 pretty much forever ruined the “traditional” approach to implicitly competitive questing, and it’s hard to tolerate anywhere else now, especially in Wildstar.

As some might point out, you can technically get quest credit for killing mobs in Wildstar as long as you tag it before someone else lands the finishing blow. Not in the WoW tagging sense, but the “just any attack at all” sense. The problem is that there is a profound lack of all the other supporting social mechanisms. Resource nodes are still exclusive. Quest nodes are still exclusive. Challenges train you early on to hate other human beings, even if you could be tagging mobs together; most mobs at these early levels die much too fast for you to tag them anyway, and meanwhile each dead mob is one less chance for you to actually complete the Challenge. To say nothing about melee classes usually not being able to tag in time, or how hard it is to do so as an Esper.

There is also the implicit annoyance/benefit of walking into one of the many quest caves, following in the wake of what must be The Butcher on a rampage. On the one hand, thank you stranger for clearing out all these mobs. On the other hand, err… I kinda wanted to play the game too.

Terrible Chat Interface

“Addons will fix it” is never an excuse for anything, much less something as important as a chat interface. I was singing the praises of the /Advice channel being integrated by default, and that is indeed good. What is not at all good is the fact that there isn’t a way to reply to Whispers without specifying whom. Every. Time. I just wanted to say hello to the guy who, you know, just whispered me. Having to click their name in the rapidly scrolling chat box is awkward as hell.

The workaround right now is simply joining a party with them, as your chat box defaults to your last channel entry. Why Carbine decided to not do the same for Whispers (specifically defaulting to the last person you whispered), I have no idea.

[Fake Edit] After playing around with it some more, another workaround is to use the Circle functionality. Because we should be taking cues from Google+…? I’m joking, the idea of having multiple “Guild-lite” social structures is pretty good; I could conceivably have a Circle with ex-Auch players, another Circle with the bloggers whom sort of directed me to this server in the first place, and still be in a hardcore guild if some aneurism left me a constant craving for pain and drama. In any case, chatting with multiple people via /c1 is just like chatting in a party. It’s just a shame that I cannot add accounts to Circles – what sense does it make to being able to Friend someone’s account, but having to add all their alts to your Circle individually? Just give us the option, Carbine.

Underdeveloped Mentoring

Did you know there was a Mentor system in Wildstar? You know, an in-game means to down-level yourself to go play with your friends? Me either. If I had not recalled that bit of trivia from half a year ago, I would not have scoured the web in search of the means to do so.

So, Pro Tip: target a party member and type /Mentor. Alternatively:

Right-click > Group > Mentor Player

Right-click > Group > Mentor Player

As far as I can tell, there is no other in-game explanation for this, for god only knows what reason. It certainly isn’t automatic like in Guild Wars 2, which I suppose can be good for carrying friends through group quests or whatever. I haven’t really been able to ascertain how much XP is penalized (if any) for doing this, but at least there’s a mechanism for making playing with friends less painful.

Phasing

One of the downsides of playing with friends though is the hard phasing. Right from the start, you are going to have to click Sync Group whenever you join someone’s party just to ensure you are in the same world instance. Which sort of begs the question for why there aren’t just megaservers, but whatever.

From there, we were confused a bit upon reaching Gallows, as I got a notification that the Mentoring would revert due to being “too far away” from my friend. Turned out the NPC town of Gallows was phased, and so he disappears from my world any time he’s within 10 yards of the place. Quests that take you “off world” also basically just teleport your friends away.

It irks me that these ex-WoW devs will have to re-learn the same goddamn lessons their peers ran face-first into years ago. And, hey, if you are going the hard phasing route, couldn’t you have individual resource nodes too? Or at least individual quest nodes.

Resource Node/Tools

This next one is an incredibly easy fix, either by Carbine or hopefully an addon later on, but it annoys me that it’s a thing in the first place. Basically, gathering professions require a specific gathering tool to be equipped before you can harvest a given node. I have chosen the equivalent of Mining and Laser-Lumberjacking. But here’s the thing: the game won’t automatically switch between tools. You have to manually click on the appropriate tool to go between mining Iron to cutting down a tree. Err… what?

If the goal is to discourage people from having two gathering professions, well, good job. Otherwise, it’s just goddamn annoying.

Salvaging Wat

One quest of particular note during my brief time with the beta was the one which asked you to Salvage an item. It was noteworthy in its clunkiness. Sadly, not much has changed.

As far as I can tell, the only way to Salvage things is to click on an icon in your inventory, which brings up a Salvage window… that then asks you to cycle through your entire inventory. Wut. Why can’t I, oh I dunno, just right-click to Salvage things? Drag them into box maybe? Make it a toggle like with Disenchanting in WoW?

If the game does have these things, they are doing a terrible job at communicating them.

Public Event Nonsense

Finally, I’m not sure whether I have seen a worse implementation of Public Events in an MMO. I’d call it “half-baked,” but that implies a portion of it has indeed seen the inside of an oven, which does not appear to be the case.

While questing with my friend, the path led us near one of the marked Public Events on the map. “Alright, let’s go see what these are about.” When we arrived, we joined in killing an Elite, which ended up being the capstone to the Event. Nothing dropped, no notification of anything, and the quest markers was pointing to an empty field nearby. “No worries, we probably need to start it correctly.”

After waiting about two minutes, the NPCs respawned and the Event began again. So we collected boxes, dropped some mining bots, killed some mobs, spawned the Elite, and then killed it. Aaaaaaand nothing. Literally nothing dropped at any point. There wasn’t even an indication that the event ended, other than the NPC camp disappearing in a cloud of dust. We eventually figured out to click on the Public Event text in the sidebar, and I was presented with this screen:

Hey, thanks for tracking precisely how much time I wasted.

Hey, thanks for tracking precisely how much time I wasted.

Err… wat.

I mean, on the one hand, okay. I can understand if their Public Event system is to only award things to people who contribute the most. It’s profoundly anti-social, and even Warhammer gave people in the middle a shot at getting loot, but whatever. What is less excusable is the lack of any indication of anything. And, you know, the fact that I actually did appear to be a top contributor. This is just a newbie zone Public Event, yes, but both my friend and I have come to the conclusion to not waste our time with these things again. One shitty experience with a game mechanic at the very beginning can poison the entire mechanic going forward.

___________

That is about where I’m at with things. I just dinged 12 13 on my Medic yesterday, so I’ll soon see how Adventures, Dungeons, PvP, Housing, and Mounts work out. I have been reading about how group content is leading to rather crazy amounts of Renown gain, which is an alternative currency you can use to purchase things like Mounts and such.

I have to say though, some of these classes are just obscenely underpowered compared to the others. Rather than Mentor my Medic down to level 8, I switched to my level 7 Engineer to play with the aforementioned friends. Jesus Christ, guys, it is so bad. It might not feel that way if that’s all you have known, but I challenge you to roll a Medic or Spellslinger and tell me Engineer belongs in the same game. What’s worse is that at level 8, you’re three levels away from getting anything approaching another DPS ability. You get Shitty Shotgun, Tickle-Me-Elmo Electricity, a reactive Crit attack that can’t really trigger off anything, and two Dumbass Bots that will aggro all the things. If the level 11 ability doesn’t blow my fucking mind, I might be forced to put on the waders and start mucking around the official forums.

Guild Wars 2: First Blood

So apparently I still pre-own Guild Wars 2.

Have you ever received a rebate check for a product you do not remember purchasing? That is about how I felt towards this Beta Weekend part deux. “Oh. This is still a thing, isn’t it?” I asked myself, rhetorically. “Better get on with it, then.”

When we last left our brave adventurer, I was on Point 5. So…

Point 6: You will never be as cool as me

Exhibit A:

Badass GW2 character, i.e. me

Go ahead, you can stare.

I was tempted to leave that glamor-shot in its full resolution – you know, for the ladies – but it is already dubious as to whether the RSS feed can handle this level of BAMF, let alone with an extra thousand unfiltered pixels. Horatio Mazuma simply has that effect on people.

Point 7: Combat still feels… meh?

I spent a lot more time playing as the rogue Thief this time around, aka Horatio, and I am beginning to doubt the… legitimacy (for lack of a better term) of the combat system. When running around with double-daggers, your five skills are:

  1. Auto-attack.
  2. Heartseeker: Leap attack; more damage the less HP target has.
  3. Leaping Death Blossom: jump behind enemy, inflicting 3 Bleeds.
  4. Dancing Dagger: Ranged snare that bounces between 4 enemies.
  5. Cloak and Dagger: Inflict debuff and then stealth for 3 seconds.

Sounds cool, right? And it is. There is a kind of intuitive logic to those abilities, a sort of rhythm when you use them. Something woefully missing with many other weapon “combos.” For example, bust out a sword + pistol and you get:

  1. Auto-attack.
  2. Infiltrator’s Strike: Shadowstep to enemy, press again to teleport back to original location.
  3. Pistol Whip: Stun, then stab with sword.
  4. Black Powder: Basic shot + blinds nearby enemies.
  5. Head Shot: Basic shot + interrupt.

Those might sound alright, but in practice it just feels weird. None of those have a feeling of rotation or synergy, and it feels especially awkward to me when I couldn’t use Infiltrator’s Strike to “charge” to the next enemy because the return teleport option doesn’t go away for a long time. I suppose that this weapon combo may be better suited for PvP than PvE, now that I think about it. All I know is that the combat felt bad during this time period, and felt similarly bad when I was on the warrior unlocking other (possibly PvP) weapon skill sets.

Incidentally, the “play melee at your own risk” warning applies the same as before. I joined a “group” of players for a nearby event on two separate occasions with melee characters, and both times the mobs suddenly gained 2+ levels to “compensate” for the number of participants with predictably bad results. Nothing quite like running a level 6 event and then have a swarm of level 8 ghosts instantly spawn and mow down the front ranks.

Indeed, the more I experience the combat system in general, the less legitimate it comes across. Presumably you are supposed to be circle-strafing all the time to avoid positional damage, right? Or at least actively Dodging. But I am finding it incredibly difficult to ascertain the difference between a “Dodge this or else!” attack and a run-of-the-mill claw to the face attack. The mobs with a breath weapon? Sure, that’s simple. However, I am not in any particular mood to start memorizing the arbitrary Poker tells of a hundred different fantasy monsters when I am grinding XP yet again. In fact, let’s talk about that too.

Point 8: Quest Contortionist

By which I mean: the questing in Guild Wars 2 is disjointed.

You are given a “My Story” plot-driven series of quests which, at first blush, appears to be the “point” of the PvE game. There is some murder, some intrigue, a little treason, and enough hooks to get you to want to see where all this is going. But… you can’t. After finishing a quest wherein we decided to gather evidence against a particular government official, I found that the next step of the quest was 1.5 levels away. So… yeah. I opened my map, looked for a “quest heart” in my level range that wasn’t already filled in, and teleported to a field I knew bandits frequented so I could start farming the 0.5 levels I needed to gain before I could reasonably complete the quest hearts I found. Apparently there is an expectation that you will be filling in every heart and every Event in the area, or perhaps supplementing the XP gaps with WvWvW.

Or purchasing the +50% XP potions from the cash shop. Just sayin’.

Thing is, I did not care about these stupid farmers with their Israeli Settlements in centaur country. None of that had anything to do with the plot against the crown, which I was just in the middle of solving. Why am I out here again? There is zero connection. This is not equivalent to the sort of expansion-wide story arcs of WoW; this is literally a quest saying “I think Minister Wi was involved. Go gather evidence from that cave (Recommended level: 8).” And instead of doing that, I need to kill the spiders infesting the apple orchid because pies.

Point 9: Sharing is Caring

Remember how individual looting was the sort of wild-idea innovation that felt so good that you wonder why so many MMO companies did not jump on it earlier? Well, I have another one of those: individual resource nodes.

Genius!

If the picture is not clear enough, both myself and the esteemed Luke Duke [Ass] are mining the same Copper Ore node. As in, both of us are getting the customary 3 ore from this node. What makes this noteworthy is that to reach this node, we had to defeat 5-6 giant spiders to get there. Had this been, say, WoW or many other MMOs, I would have either glanced warily at my competition and went elsewhere, or attempted to ninja the node while Luke Duke [Ass] was occupied with spiders. Instead, we each had a common cause, a reason to work together, to get to the same exact location. It was 1+1 = 2, rather than the zero-sum game it typically is.

_________

More impressions about crafting and other miscellaneous items will have to wait.

The Guild Wars 2 Preview for the Rest of Us

With all the bourgeois previews (mostly) behind us, it is time for the Everyman take on the Guild Wars 2 beta.

I was going to split this post up and sell them to you across three different days, but you know what? I think you can handle it. So buckle up, girl scouts, and get ready to earn your Too Long; Read It Anyway merit badges.

Point 0: Selling Games is Hard

I decided to prepurchase the preorder by prepaying on Friday, which admittedly was cutting it close given that’s when the beta weekend began. Credit card in hand, I zipped over to the ArenaNet site and witnessed the impossible: the Guild Wars 2 Digital Edition was sold out.

Yes, an infinitely reproducible digital good was sold out.

Please take... my... money?

Now, obviously, the actual digital data being infinitely reproducible is not the underlying issue; it probably has to do with a concern for beta server populations. As Blizzard can recently attest, the status quo is apparently being shocked that anyone, let alone millions of people, are willing to pay money to be in betas. Perhaps we should take this as a good sign.

I bring this up though, because A) I found it amusing at the time, and B) I simply went off to Gamestop.com and bought the digital edition there. I tried Amazon first, but apparently Amazon, bless their hearts, don’t recognize “prepurchases” wherein you buy products that don’t formally exist yet… and run-of-the-mill preorders don’t come with beta access.

In a way though, I am kinda glad that I bought from Gamestop. Not only was I supporting a retailer who is in open defiance of the increasingly anti-consumer game industry – a retailer, mind you, that was merely selling beta codes and not any actual product (the client was downloaded on ArenaNet’s bandwidth dime) – but ArenaNet also lost whatever X% retailer cut Gamestop takes out. Now that’s a marketing screw-up with teeth.

It’s 2012. Buying games shouldn’t be this hard.

Point 1: PvE is SWTOR meets Warhammer meets Rift

Disclaimer: I haven’t actually played Rift. Also, I don’t care what MMO did what first.

I played up to level 12 as a human Guardian (e.g. paladin), level 8 Norn Ranger (e.g. hunter), level 6 human Thief (e.g. rogue), and level 4 Charr Warrior (e.g. PvP god-mode). If you are like me, none of that probably means anything to you, but I am including it for reference purposes. The important thing is that I spent the bulk of my playtime as a weak-ass melee paladin, which is triply redundant for reasons that will become obvious shortly.

Click the map below for a larger version:

"Dynamic" is a marketing buzzword, like webinar and synergy, that needs to die.

You have probably heard a lot about “dynamic questing” and “revolutionizing the quest experience.” If that sort of thing is in Guild Wars 2 (or the beta), I did not see it.

What happens is you have a main storyline quest that puts you into your own instance ala SWTOR. Each step of said quest greatly outpaces your own level, which forces you out into the world to level up. The general idea is to open your map, go towards the empty heart icons which are “quest hubs” of sorts, and hope you kill enough stuff or encounter enough dynamic events to level you up enough to tackle the other empty hearts. Generally speaking, I was NOT able to complete every hub and dynamic event I came across AND still have achieved the appropriate level to move onward. That is to say, I did everything I could see to do, and I was still 1-2 levels below what the game recommended I should be at to continue the story quests.

Redoing dynamic events or straight-up grinding mobs was certainly possible, but considering this is a game that sells +50% XP potions in a cash shop, I would start getting worried.

A few months ago, WildStar put out a Dev Diary in which they explained how they took the traditional quest log text and pared it down to a Twitter length of < 140 characters. This was derided at the time by Syp at Biobreak as “dumbing down” quests. Guild Wars 2 beats WildStar to the punch by having no quest text at all. The “dynamism” of GW2 questing is that you never have to talk to NPCs: simply walk in their vicinity, glance at the upper right corner to see what they want you to do, and then do one or all of those tasks. Dynamic Events are the same: get notification, head towards orange circle, do multi-part Public Quest.

The first real human quest hub, for example, is at a farm. Once you get close enough, the quest tracker indicates you can water plants, feed cows, or kick in wurm holes. You can talk to an NPC for additional explanation – perhaps explaining the mechanics of watering plants – but it isn’t necessary. Each performance of any of those activities increases a completion meter, which means if you were bored enough, you could complete the whole thing by watering corn. Or if you wanted all combat, just kick in the wurm holes. Every 10 minutes a “dynamic” event of bandits attacking said farm will begin, which is separate from the quest hub itself. On one character, the bandits started setting fire to the bales of hay at the farm, which may have been some indication that an earlier stage of the Event failed, I dunno.

There is (voiced) text in the story quests, but everywhere else reading is at least implicitly discouraged. It got to the point where I loathed to even read what they wanted me to do in the quest tracker – with all this crazy activity happening around me, I felt out of place standing slack-jawed in a field, staring into the upper-right corner of the screen. “Reading? How quaint.” And I am a reading guy!

By the way, allow me to confirm the total marginalization of grouping. Essentially, the only reason why you would need to group in a specific party is for chat purposes and possibly to see each other on the minimap. Otherwise, there is no kill stealing, there is no loot ninjaing, and everyone gets shared credit for everything provided you tag the mob too. Remember the Firelands daily quests wherein a warlock could drop one debuff on everything and get shared credit, compared to melee classes that were largely screwed? Same deal here, same weaknesses.

If you are wondering how Dynamic Events scale with (increased) player participation, the answer is “Badly.” As the number of players increase, the number of mobs ramps up and so do their level. The farm I talked about earlier has a recommended level of 2; with about a dozen level 2 players nearby, we were besieged by LEVEL 5 BANDITS, all of whom had ranged attacks. Needless to say, playing a melee class that requires placing runes on the ground for enemies to stand on was a recipe for disaster (and instant death).

Point 2: Combat System

Speaking of disasters, had I not played a rogue on Sunday, I would have written off all melee classes in Guild Wars 2 PvE. You might want to anyway, just to be on the safe side.

It is not so much that soloing was impossible, it is the simple fact that melee have zero advantages compared to ranged, and every possible disadvantage. Dodging wasn’t necessary for the mobs I encountered in the world, but any time I was in a juiced-up dynamic event, the sheer press of ridiculous damage either killed me instantly or had me frantically trying to kite while ranged players merrily AoEd everything down. Some mobs’ “Dodge this!” cues are more obvious than others, but as anyone with a functioning brain stem can imagine, melee classes have less time to react to them assuming they even notice the animation at all amongst the sparkles and general fisticuffs.

I did happen to face one level 11 elite mini-boss as part of some event with some other players nearby. By that point, I had actually discovered a reasonable weapon setup on the Guardian, and the whole experience might be transferable to dungeons.

Ring around the rosy.

Basically, while six ranged players were dealing damage (and running away when the boss randomly started heading their way), myself and another melee were trying to snare the boss without getting instantly killed by it’s melee. With a Greatsword equipped, I would do a charge/leap attack that Blinded the boss (next attack has 100% miss chance), maybe place a rune down if he didn’t immediately turn around, and then run away. Next was ranged AoE snare via the Greatsword, and right before the snare wears off, pressing the button again causes all those snared to be pulled towards me, AoE Death Grip style. Then running away. I then swapped to my scepter + shield, giving me access to a ranged root and some weak ranged auto-attacks. The shield unlocks a channeled ability which knocks back all hostiles in a dome around me, which I used at one point when a ranged player was trying to rez the other melee before the boss finished him off.

If all that sounded cool, well, it kinda was at the time.

Then I rolled a ranger, and had four or five different snares/roots by level 8. My base auto-attack as a brand new level 1 character was chucking an axe which ricochets off up to five enemies. In short, I could have done anything my Guardian did and more (i.e. actually dealing damage to the boss) with a class that has it easier anyway. ArenaNet apparently took the page (it’s only one page long, after all) from Blizzard’s Cataclysm raid design book in which melee can be replaced by ranged with no downsides. At least there’s no trinity, amirite?

Other than that? Combat in general feels about 85% of WoW, on a visceral level. As means of comparison, I would judge Aion’s beta combat at 50% and Warhammer’s beta (PvE) combat at 60%.

Point 3: Dungeons

Couldn’t test any, given the first dungeon is at level 30.

And, no, ArenaNet will not be having any lower-level dungeons than that.

Point 4: “Battlegrounds”

Whoo, boy.

When you zone into the Mists –  a sort of PvP lobby that includes training dummies, vendors, bank access, various tutorial NPCs, and so on – you are auto-leveled to 80, all abilities/traits are unlocked, and you given a full set of PvP gear. You can purchase additional weapons and gems for free, if you want to try different set ups.

It is, in a word, overwhelming. And you can do it from level 1.

The Guardian *does* have some vaguely interesting area-denial abilities.

Joining a BG requires talking to an NPC and then choosing a specific server to join, which is decidedly retro. Once inside, you will play one of the two (2) BGs they have available until you forcibly leave; in other words, there is not a “leave BG” button at the end of the match. The two (2) BGs they have are both 8v8 Conquest-style maps with three capturable nodes and a different pair of gimmicks. One gimmick is the existence of two mini-boss NPCs which you can kill for a boost of 50 points and a team-wide, 30-second buff. The other map’s gimmick are the trebuchets, which allows you to deal ~50% of a player’s lifebar in damage if you hit them. It would probably be pretty powerful if you coordinated said attack with your team, but you always have the option of destroying the enemy’s trebuchets if you want to deny them the opportunity (and it can be rebuilt later too).

Commenting on PvP combat itself is probably useless, considering how important class balance is in informing the overall tone. However, I have some pretty foolproof (BG-specific) observations thus far.

  1. Don’t play Guardian. Paladins suck, as a general rule.
  2. Warriors are PvP gods. Again, as a general rule.
  3. Expect to be eternally snared, rooted, and otherwise CC’d. For example, Warriors have 2-3 gap closers, 7-second snares (most others are ~3 seconds), and stuns/knockdowns/roots. You can and will be killed in a CC-chain if two people are involved, or down to 25% HP if just the warrior.
  4. Classes won’t be balanced around 1v1, so burst DPS classes (warriors, rogues) will rule most BGs. Remember, it’s only 8v8.
  5. Classes won’t be balanced period, given skill ceilings. That is to say, if Move X is absurdly powerful, expect people to say “Dodge it, noob.” Or imply that you should have chosen a different weapon/skill loadout that “counters” it, with your psychic powers.

Some of that is facetious, some is inevitable.

The other interesting thing is… well, that’s it. You can earn Glory Points (aka Honor) for winning or leading the boards in some category, but I did not get the impression that the Glory rewards are stronger items, just cosmetic ones. For as lopsided and “unfair” that WoW BGs can get with the gear differences, I have always enjoyed having a purpose to play in addition to whatever fun is involved – losing stung less knowing I was still (slowly) crawling towards a new upgrade, and winning felt Double Fine (so to speak).

So, we’ll see how long people can enjoy playing two maps with just one game type with no overt rewards.

Point 5: WvWvWvWvWvWbbbbbbfffftttp

Most everything you need to know about WvW can be summed up in this picture:

Yo dawg, I heard you like "world" in your world pvp, so...

Without anything to enhance your movement speed, it takes 2:25 (two minutes, twenty-five seconds) to run from the starting waypoint to the center of the middle keep. If the keep isn’t “contested,” a second waypoint will be available there if you own the structure, but from what I experienced, a single squad of three dudes is enough to disable the whole thing.

Personally, I don’t know why people enjoy this type of gameplay.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s tons of fun shooting people with cannons or arrows from the tops of walls. But the sort of knock on the keep gates, push enemies back, then… kill the big NPC boss? I mean, everyone’s favorite map in WoW is Isle of Conquest, right? And then all the crazy stupid amounts of FPS-crushing AoE? And how it is both easy to instantly die and impossible to remove the enemy from the field? Sign me up.

To explain what I mean with that last bit, you are probably aware of ArenaNet’s “revolutionary” take on death mechanics. Once you hit zero HP, you go to a downed state wherein you actually gain half your HP back but only have 4 abilities. If you manage to damage an enemy that dies, you rally, and self-rez. If everyone leaves you alone, you can press 4 to self-heal until you self-rez. A cannon can drop you in 2 hits without heals, but it takes 3-4 to “kill” a downed enemy. Enemies can “finish you off” by pressing the Interact button near your body, forcing you out of the downed state and into actual death.

But here is the thing: as long as you don’t release, you can always be revived.

So in the WvW battles I was involved in, there was a “natural” sort of pressing the attack, and then falling back to regroup. Each time though, the dead would patiently lay there, dead, gambling that the front would move back their way in the time it would take to release and run back. And they’re right, it’s typically a shorter to wait. What this also means is that a wiped attack can spontaneously regenerate if one (1) dude makes it to the field and starts rezzing people when no one’s looking. Which is great if it’s your group that died, and it is frustrating beyond measure when an outpost you successfully defended for over an hour falls in the two minutes it took to walk somewhere else looking for things to do.

All that being said, what WILL be fun about WvW is if you have a group of guildies running around with voice-chat. A small, coordinated group of 7-8 people can cause a LOT of havoc away from the zerged zones, perhaps behind enemy lines even. You may not be able to hold anything, but it will at least force the enemy to muster a task force to retake their own structures.

By yourself, though? Boring as hell. Unless you happen to be in a cannon with the enemy at the gates.

I could do this for hours. And did.

Final note: you are leveled to 80 while in WvW, but you only get the equipment and skills you zoned in with (there are vendors and banks inside though). This wasn’t a problem in the beta, of course, but I can imagine WvW being next to impossible against any group of actual level-capped players (and their level 80 gear). I suppose you could be on Supply duty – run to set of boxes, click, run back to structure that needs repaired, click, repeat – or even potentially manning the cannons, but it seems bizarre to make such a point about leveling someone to 80 only to make gear matter.

Conclusion

I might have some more to say about the other systems inside the game (crafting, etc), but that will have to wait.

Rather than suggest it’s worth $60 right now, let me just say I am not unhappy with my prepaid preorder prepurchase, at this time. Of course, it is “worth it” in the sense that there is no subscription fee, and thus I am grading it against (potential) hours of amusement per dollar, rather than any sort of long-term MMO rubric. In some respects though, I don’t feel comfortable judging the game right now either way, simply because I have seen less than half the classes, and none beyond level 12 (of 80, PvP doesn’t count). I somehow muscled through the low-level paladin experience in TBC for Christ’s sake, and no one would posit the 1-84 gameplay as being indicative of anything in comparison to endgame WoW, right?

So, I remain fairly ambivalent, albeit looking forward to the next beta weekend.