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[GW2] Balanced Gameplay

Yep. Just another day, trying to cap a ruin in Guild Wars 2, when…

Now, I knew I was dead as soon as I saw another player. I’m there to complete my daily quest, the Roamer is there to Roam. That’s cool. What’s less cool was this:

One-Shot

Balanced!

For those playing at home, that’s a total of 29,073 damage unloaded within… what would you say, looking at that footage? One second? One point five? Less? The two actual damage abilities would have left me with less than a hundred HP, if not for the Steal (which teleports the Thief 1500m) or the Lightning Strike, which I believe is a weapon enchant proc.

If you were wondering about buffs, this is a closer look at the Thief:

GW2_Buffs

Possibly fair? I dunno.

It looked like the Thief popped something as he crossed the ridge. Is it captured in the buffs up there? I’m not super familiar with all the icons, and GW2 does not have any feature to look up other characters, so I’m kinda stuck.

Still though… in what particular universe would something like what happened be okay? I’m not in full Ascended gear or anything, but I doubt the gear difference would have gotten my HP above 29k, which is all that matters in the literal second it took to down me. Maybe the particular build the Thief has to use to achieve this level of absurdity makes them less useful in zergs?

To which I would reply: again, how is this okay?

For the record, this occurred last week, so the recent balanced changes were not involved.

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Estimating GW2’s Population

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GW2_Chart

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

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

Here is another point of information:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

GW2 Checkpoint: Month 1

One of the best 1-month reviews I have read is Julian’s over on KTR. Not so much for the content of the review, but rather for evoking that sort of hollow feeling that I find Guild Wars 2 gives off.

Guild Wars 2 is like bungee-jumping without the cord. It is all fun and excitement on the way down, but there isn’t anything that snaps back and keeps you in the experience.

A lot of the reviews I have been reading (save one) do not do much in the way of differenciating between the game and the MMO aspect. From a game aspect, sure, it will give you more than a 2:1 return on hour of entertainment per dollar. If you are looking for a one-month stand, so to speak, by all means GW2 is your girl. In fact, with all the dynamic events and no-strings attached spontaneous grouping, it is practically a swinger’s paradise.

If instead you are looking for an MMO you can develop a relationship with, one that both allows investment and a perceived return for time spent, you are still basically stuck with pandas or space trolls.¹

But let me zero in on a couple of areas, including the ones I called out pre-launch.

Hearts/Questing

A lot of people talk about the freedom aspect of GW2 questing, of spontaneity. And it is true. But it is a freedom derived from walking around not giving a shit.

It still boggles my mind how little press the complete elimination of quest text has gotten. I have talked about this before, but a month in, these Hearts feel worse than the most banal of WoW’s daily quests. I do not care if you never read quest text anyway, the point is that a writer/designer still had to at least go through the motions. Where are the motions here?

Have you even tried talking to these Renown Heart guys? The dialog interface is awful, and outside of Gravedigger Dumpy, it all feels like it was written by an accountant. Has anyone actually encountered a coherant narrative in the Renown Hearts? I haven’t. And what I mean is have you actually been interested in what is going on beyond the strict gameplay elements introduced? Do you remember any of the NPC names?

This is not about “location-based” questing, this is about questing without context. And if you have filled one meter, you have filled them all.

I have not reached the conclusion of the Story quests, so I shall reserve final judgment on them. But to be honest, most of what I have seen has been phoned in. Story mission difficulty oscillates between trivial and broken, the tone of the narrative is all over the place (one minute everyone is Lawful Good Looney Toons villains, and the next we torture/kill in cold blood), and I have seen no indication that this story is any different than every “dragon terrorizes the land” story ever made. Including and especially the one presented in Cataclysm, which I suppose is unfortunate timing on ArenaNet’s part.

Dynamic Events

As I said last time around:

If anyone in-game talks about Events a month after launch, it will solely be in the context of “Where do I level now?” and “Where are all the Events?” and “I’ve been waiting for X Event to spawn for six minutes now!” and “Lame, the Waypoint I wanted to use is contested.” Events are not Guild Wars 2′s killer app. Events are fun the first time, promote spontaneous grouping in the immediate area, and technically have branching paths, I guess.

Events also scale horribly with a lot of people (melee in particular get hammered by dozens of instantly spawned +2 level mobs), are boring the 2nd/3rd/nth time around, interfere with normal questing/exploring in the area (yay, 20 kobolds just spawned in this cave again), are not easy to find or fun to wait around for, and become just plain tedious when completed alone. Regardless of how successful or not GW2 does sales-wise, it will not take but a few weeks for the playerbase to diffuse across the leveling/zone spectrum, making the outdoor-raid-esque feel of beta Events turn into the Warhammer’s “Forever Alone” Public Quest ghost towns.

At a minimum, I try to complete the Daily Achievement during my play session, which requires 5 Events. For every day of the prior week, I have had to cheese the achievement by logging onto an alt and flailing about in the rapidly reseting starting zone Events because I simply did not encounter five working Events in 2 hours of level 50-60 gameplay. When non-bugged Events do spawn, a handful of people usually appear out of the ether, but the mood is more akin of starving dogs swarming over table-scraps than “oh, hey, here’s another one of those things which the leveling system is supposedly built around.”

Which is just as well in the scheme of things, because the majority of Events are worse than the Renown Hearts under close scrutiny. Kill X waves of Y monster. Pick up Z items and return. Aaaaaaaaand that’s it. Maybe I am doing the wrong Events? If so, go ahead and tell me where I can find these good “Dynamic” Events and how long I would have to wait in that general area to trigger them.

WvWvWvWvWpppfffft

Is there anyone who is playing GW2 who feels like WvW was designed/executed properly? Anyone?

What I will grant is there are a lot more Waypoints than there was in the beta, making the graveyard slog not as bad. And it is nice that they are dropping the bags of loot from dead players at your feet now instead of asking you to drop down from the castle walls to collect your tokens. Then again… why are you asking players to furiously press F as they dodge and strafe in the press of the zerg, with people dying left and right? Is it a cynical design ploy to help throttle the volume of items generated in these encounters, since X% of legitimately earned items inadvertently go unclaimed?

Dungeons

Ho boy. I have completed two thus far, and… I am going to save my descriptions of them (and hopefully the others) for a future post.

By the way, I spent 45 minutes trying to get a party together for Twilight Arbor story-mode two days ago. As in, I was apparently incapable of getting four other random people grouped together. Is the lack of a LFG tool really a boneheaded mistake that every game designer is going to have to make from now on? Because let me tell you, limiting your LFG “tool” to self-flagged people only in that map is bullshit design that should have been laughed out of the office in 2012. Dungeons were already going to be a niche activity no matter what ArenaNet did, but to further drain the available pool down to “someone with an hour to kill, who hasn’t done the Story mode yet, who happens to be on a level 30/40/50+ character in a level 1-15 zone for some goddamn reason, who specifically replies to map chat requests” is beyond asinine.

With free server transfers, cross-server guilds, multiple guilds, and anonymous grouping, “saving the server community” is not even remotely a legitimate concern.

MMO Aspects Aside…

As a single-player game, it is probably worth your $60. Combat is nowhere near as responsive as WoW, character progression basically ends at level 30, and of course there is no endgame. But what Guild Wars 2 does succeed at is simulating an MMO without all that messy commitment. Which is kind of a shame considering how it succeeds in providing incentives for cooperation that most real MMOs curiously lack altogether, or feel necessary to induce via the threat of pain and loss.

In any case, we will just have to check in two months from now and see where things are heading into the holiday season. I am asking Santa for an actual LFG tool in GW2 and for Blizzard to tweak/remove the rather archaic-seeming mob tagging mechanic, myself.

¹ Yeah, yeah, or Tolkein, or rift chasing, or whatever else you are playing long-term.

Can’t Stop the Tide

Sometimes I wonder why I ever took the “RMAH combats gold sellers” argument seriously.

Race you to the bottom.

In that screenshot I took over the weekend, 1600 gems would net me an auspicious 4g 6s 66c for basically $20. The gold-seller was advertising in Map chat that $19 buys 10g. Or, 20s 33c vs 52s 63c per $1. That is a 2.5x better exchange rate.

Maybe these developers are going after the middle margins: the people that might of bought gold from shady websites, but give out a sigh of relief over the legit channels. Or maybe the devs simply looked at how much money was changing hands – and how much was sitting on the table! – before deciding that getting more than a $0 piece of the pie would be profit.

As you can tell by my gem count, I am not exactly complaining here¹. That 1700 amount and the four bank slot additions I have unlocked were all procured via in-game currency. I am level 55. Just sell everything, and you will be fine, I promise.

Well, you will be fine unless you enjoy staying in similar locations or doing the same dungeons. In which case, ArenaNet has “anti-farming” protocols to dynamically (!) lower drop rates of items, and other rewards based on… well, rather opaque criteria. Near as anyone can tell, it is based on the type of enemy one is killing, which causes trouble in the endgame Dynamic Event-driven zones that features waves of all the same type of creature.

Who was this designed for again? Because the botters can simply teleport around the map, and banning them is kinda pointless considering they use hacked accounts anyway. If it is to protect the economy or protect players from themselves – which seems odd given how many tokens/Karma/etc you need for things – the snide comparison between GW2 and the “energy management” iOS/Facebook games becomes dangerously apt.

In other news, I am happy to report WvW is working correctly:

Just in time for 7-day long matches!

According to the official rankings, the bottom three realms are…

1074.472 Northern Shiverpeaks
833.028 Devona’s Rest
634.207 Kaineng

There may or may not have been intentional rank tanking going on; at launch we had some major PvP guild, then they left for two weeks, and now it looks like they have returned? I suppose this behavior will level off once the free transfers are closed and the “real” rankings return. But at some point, I almost wonder what will prevent the various realms from simply win-trading their way across the merry-go-round. The incentives are all there vis-a-vis Karma and currency. And I almost think that would be preferable to the sort of Loss Point domination the system allows along the margins.

Has it occurred to anyone else that perhaps the mythical DAoC RvR experience was a time and place thing?

Regardless of all of the above, the wire keeps on humming away. I even did a dungeon over the weekend, and it was fun! Sort of. I will need to investigate further to be sure.

¹ On some level though, I do consider cash shops a mild form of exploitation. Human beings make irrational economic decisions all the time, and I put digital goods right up there with casinos in terms of ethical business dealings. Let’s not pretend ArenaNet is doing that soccer mom dumping $200 into the cash shop any real favors here.

And on the Seventh Day…

“…He vowed: ‘Forsooth, verily shall ye never again take up an MMO at launch. So sayeth the LORD.'”
-Commonsensthians, 1:1

Given that I fancy myself a topical blogger now, and that my prepaid prepurchase of the prelaunch of Guild Wars 2 was predicated on previewing, this is yet another Commandment that I am probably going to break in the future. However! If you have been waiting to jump into GW2 for whatever reason, let me say that I envy you. The game will either be better, or you will know exactly how dumb it is/stayed.

Stream of consciousness-style:

Characters

I have made characters. Lots of characters.

  • Asura Elementalist, level 19
  • Sylvari Engineer, level 13
  • Norn Ranger, level 12
  • Human Guardian, level 6
  • [Deleted] Charr Warrior, level 3
  • [Deleted] Human Mesmer, level 3

I typically do not play MMOs this way, insofar as splitting my time amongst many alts right away, but GW2 in particular makes me worry that I picked the “wrong” class. You see, I actually enjoyed my Engineer quite a bit, but… well, once I unlock all of the weapon skills, most of these classes just fall apart in terms of interest.

The Engineer in particular gets hit hard because dual-pistols is the only rational weapon choice for leveling; which means pressing 2, 3, 4, backpedal a bit, mob dead. Over and over and over again. For 80 levels. Given the Engineer mechanics, you cannot swap weapons in combat, although you can spice things up by dropping turrets or swapping to a Flamethrower, Landmines, Grenades, etc. But none of those alternate weapons seem to work better than dual-pistols, unless people are accidentally tanking for you. In which case… nope, dual-pistols are still probably the strongest.

Since my friends are now in the mid-20 range, I have been focusing on the Elementalist, which is honestly what I should have been doing all along. I stick in Fire mode 99% of the time, but unlike dual-pistols with the Engineer, it somehow feels different. I think the main thing is how one of the “rotation” buttons requires ground targeting, which necessarily changes from mob to mob, spicing things up (dual-pistols is all straight tab targeting with inherent AoE).

I deleted the Warrior and Mesmer so early for a few reasons. First, the whole Mesmer mechanic of summoning and sacking phantasms/clones did not seem like something especially fun. In PvP? Probably pretty fun, or annoying to the opposing team, which is another way of saying “fun.” The warrior was deleted for much simpler reasons: I died at one of the newbie Events right past the tutorial. Remember how I warned everyone that if you were melee, popular Events would kill you practically instantly? Yeah. If you want to be stuck as a Longbow-Rifle warrior, go right ahead, but I was not looking forward to 80 levels of getting owned in Events when I could be dropping meteors and volcanoes and having fun.

Before deleting either class though, I did take them to the PvP lobby to take a look at their Traits lines (aka Talents) and later Skills. The warrior was pretty straight-forward and boring to me. The Mesmer had some pretty cool ones that got the PvP juices flowing though. For example, how about a wall of crazy magic that automatically turns all your teammates invisible when they pass through it? I was imagining dropping that when storming the bases in Warsong Gulch… until I remembered that this was a whole different game, the invisibility lasts 4 seconds, and this would take a coordinated team effort that isn’t likely to happen unless I am in some PvP guild running premades. Which is too bad, because the Mesmer can also make a portal entrance/exit that can be used by anyone to zip you between the two locations instantly as well.

Auction House Trading Post

As of today, still down.

It does periodically come up from time to time, and I make oodles of coin in that brief window. However, I do recognize that actually making money from the Trading Post will not be a particularly long-term endeavor. Crafted goods were generally selling at 1 copper above their vendor price, which is actually selling at a loss considering the obscene ArenaNet 15% cut. Mats are where it is likely to be at, so to speak, but once the Trading Post opens for real, it will be a race to the bottom against botters and their crippling 72 bans.

Where I made my money this past week was selling the Unidentified Dyes for in the neighborhood of 10 silver apiece, which is pretty astounding. It might not sound like a lot of money in any typical MMO, but keep this in mind:

Pictured: You being jealous.

At the time of this writing, I have accumulated 400 gems in this fashion, all for less than 34 silver per 100. The real money exchange rate works out to $1.25 per 100 gems, so I’ve made a cool $5 selling roughly 1g 20s on one character. In case you need reminded, my highest toon is level 19. Incidentally, that is more than I have made in Diablo 3 for the entire 2-3 months I played.

So when I tell you I am very annoyed about the Trading Post being down for the vast majority of the prior week, that is not “entitlement” speaking. This is SRS BSNS. God only knows what the exchange rate for in-game currency is going to be a month from now.

Hint: not likely 30s per 100.

Dynamic (Death Trap) Events

While I will admit that some of these Events have been interesting gameplay experiences – taking out bandits before they set up poison traps for Skritts, or disabling the traps before the Skritt trigger them is probably not something a traditional MMO quest can do – the vast majority of the ones I played are simply trash farming. Which is great for making money (see above), but does not deviate much from the “zerg ALL the things” stereotype I had from the betas.

And then I started running into Events that are either poorly designed, poorly tuned, or (Badly) Working As Intended.

Pictured: my life, in a nutshell.

Let me unpack that collage of failure for you.

First, I was originally questing in the area to fill up a level 15 Renown Heart. Suddenly – or should I say “dynamically”? – the entire complex was filled with level 16 mobs. I died pretty much instantly. After respawning, I came back inside to see if I could chip away at the Renown Heart still, and perhaps see if there were more players around to take down the Event proper. But then I got confused. The Event says it is level 14. All the mobs are level 16, pat around in groups, and even the ones by themselves were generally chained to another mob 20 feet away. I did eventually find a group of 5-6 players, but I was never able to tell whether they were on the premises the whole time (which might explain the higher-level mobs) or if they came in once the Event popped on the radar.

The very next area North of here was the 15-25 zone, and immediately featured two more Dynamic Death Traps. Remember people telling you to complete Events and then follow the NPC when they run back home? Sometimes it results in some exposition dialog, or even another Event. And sometimes it results in instant death.

Surprise! Boss-level Event after you collected 10 lightning bug asses.

There was zero warning that the very next step was going to be [Group] level boss Event. None. Again, it is possible that there were “enough” people in the general area (that I could not see) that would make a level 16 Champion spawning from a collection quest make sense. I saw one dude, who died with me, twice.

By the way, at the current exchange rate, each death costs me $0.0125.

After respawning and heading in the other direction, I encounter this lovely Renown Quest:

It will be fun, they said.

What exactly a level 21 mob is doing in the level 17 Renown Quest area, I have no idea. But, you know, I am a total pro and (slowly) take these fools out. Heart completed, I notice a Dynamic Event spawn nearby. Given my prior experience getting nickle and dimed to death, I said to myself “fuck that noise” and started heading back to the Renown guy to check for upgrades. I make it about ten feet before this happened:

Not pictured: wireless keyboard sailing through the room.

What a swarm of eight level 20 mobs are doing heading towards a level 17 Event is a secondary concern to why they have to…

…you know, what? Whose mind do I imagine I’m changing here? You are either already drinking the Kool-Aid or you are not, and I am fine waiting for the first bodies to hit the floor.

And it is not as though there isn’t other things I could be doing, like…

WvWvW

Just kidding, perma-queues.

I will say that I am impressed by ArenaNet having free server transfers open during this time when ~70% of all available American servers are Full, even at 4am. I have talked a bit with my friends as to whether we want to bail from Northern Shiverpeaks and go down to a Low pop server, but the downside to that would be lack of people in the world for Dynamic Death Trap Events, grouping in general, and so on. Given the PvP guilds located on this server though, it is quite possible that no one else will ever be able to zone in. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Crafting

By the way, I hate the crafting system thus far.

Hmm… maybe “hate” is too strong a word. It’s boring. You only make items in 5-level increments, e.g. level 5, level 10, level 15, etc. Every recipe is Piece A + Piece B + X, where X is either a mob drop, or a token you create from a mob drop. It creates an illusion of “hundreds of different recipes to discover!” when the reality is that a pair of boots with +Condition Damage on it is not really different from another pair of boots with +Power. Yes, if you were stacking Condition damage or something, it matters.

But do you understand what I’m saying? Within 30 seconds of crafting two different boots, I implicitly knew the recipes for (possibly?) every pair of boots in the game. Six different mob drops –>  six different tokens + six different super-tokens = 12 variations of each item * six levels of the base material (Jute, Wool, Cotton, etc). Looking at the Wiki for Tailoring, it looks like there are 14 token variations instead of 12 at higher levels, but come on.

Anyone remember Spidersilk Boots? I do. Seeing that recipe for a blue item was the precise moment in WoW that I became keenly interested in crafting and doing things with the AH. Contrast that with what I described above; simply rearranging stats around is a Diablo 3-esque crafting system, not an inspiring one. Maybe all the cool crafting stuff happens at higher levels, or at the Mystic Forge. Maybe there are super-secret recipes no one knows about.

Regardless, right now GW2’s crafting system feels like it has been designed by an accountant.

Immersion

One final (positive!) thing I want to talk about today is actually an area where Guild Wars 2 nails down a quality I did not fully understand: immersion.

A lot of people pretend that immersion is some kind of objective term, that the things that pull them into or eject them out of a game are universal Truths. Those people are wrong. Sense of immersion is a personal thing, which should be immediately obvious to anyone who is into fantasy or sci-fi novels but thinks Twilight (etc) is dumb. Different people look for different forms of escapism. Suspension of disbelief is a voluntary action, or at least is informed by your own tastes.

What GW2 has taught me thus far is that I (hitherto subconsciously) place a heavy emphasis on a sense of existing in a 3D space for immersion. It might be easier to show you what I mean:

This impressed me to an almost embarrassing degree.

This fence is Real to me, as it exists in a 3D space and I can interact with it. Namely, by standing on it. You probably do not know this about me, but one of the first things I do in an MMO is find a fence and try and stand on it. Why? Because it tells you a lot about the “depth” game. If the fence is simply a 2D texture papered over an invisible wall, you know there is not likely to be many “real” objects in the game. God forbid if you cannot jump at all.

And I apparently have a thing for fences. Don’t judge me.

While it is also impressive how our feet can actually appear to stand at the correct levels of the fence, I understand that that is more of a “trick” compared to the 3D object itself. A good trick, for sure, but a trick nonetheless.

If I get vertigo in your game, you win.

The above is another one of my favorite screenshots. It looks better in motion, but it feels even better inside my head. GW2 evokes the sense that these floating islands actually exist, that the character I control is not just an elaborate 2D model but an actual set piece moving in 3D space. Immersion success. Indeed, I usually find myself frustrated when I come across a hill in-game that I cannot find some way of climbing straight up, as opposed to going around the “right way.” The hill exists, therefore I keep trying to find that slightly less sloped polygon so I can shimmy my way up to the top. It does not cross my mind that there might be an invisible wall around the hill edge, because invisible walls are for fake-3D games.

And the weird thing is that I’m not even that into platformers.

_____

With all of that off my chest, in the next GW2 post I might spend some time handing out gameplay tips in the same vein as the Quickstart guide. Because while the things I complain about do legitimately annoy me, GW2 has subsumed the entirety of my gaming time since the head start. Which, if I’m honest, is not something that happens very often.

If Guild Wars 2 Succeeds, It Will Be In Spite Of…

With there being just ten days until the prepaid preordered preliminary prelaunch, I figure now is about as good a time as any for a damp GW2 blanket. Not really cynicism for cynicism’s sake, but because there is a bit too much irrational exuberance in the comment sections of otherwise reasonable skepticism. When people start suggesting an MMORPG without a endgame will be fine because MOBA or Counter-Strike, it is time to grab the hose.

And lest anyone forget, the following predictions are based on my experience in all three of the beta weekend events – feel free to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and/or Part 4 for a recap, or just read everything in the GW2 Category for the full experience. I already paid my $60, I am going to be there on the 25th (assuming the servers are up), so it is not as though I want GW2 to fail. I just personally believe that if GW2 succeeds, it will be in spite of…

1. Dynamic Events

Seriously, folks, “Dynamic” Events (hereafter Events) are one of the most over-hyped, under-performing features since WoW voice chat. If anyone in-game talks about Events a month after launch, it will solely be in the context of “Where do I level now?” and “Where are all the Events?” and “I’ve been waiting for X Event to spawn for six minutes now!” and “Lame, the Waypoint I wanted to use is contested.” Events are not Guild Wars 2’s killer app. Events are fun the first time, promote spontaneous grouping in the immediate area, and technically have branching paths, I guess.

Events also scale horribly with a lot of people (melee in particular get hammered by dozens of instantly spawned +2 level mobs), are boring the 2nd/3rd/nth time around, interfere with normal questing/exploring in the area (yay, 20 kobolds just spawned in this cave again), are not easy to find or fun to wait around for, and become just plain tedious when completed alone. Regardless of how successful or not GW2 does sales-wise, it will not take but a few weeks for the playerbase to diffuse across the leveling/zone spectrum, making the outdoor-raid-esque feel of beta Events turn into the Warhammer’s “Forever Alone” Public Quest ghost towns.

You do not even have to have played the beta to understand any of this. Just explain out loud, to yourself, how and why Events are going to be fun for you. Do you sound convincing? For bonus points, elaborate how you figure Events are supposed replace traditional quests as the bulk of GW2’s PvE system.

2. WvWvWvWvWpppfffft

I understand that there will probably be some sort of dedicated segment of the playerbase that thinks WvW is the best thing since Isle of Conquest. And they will be correct, it is an improvement on Isle of Conquest in almost every way!

WvWvWow, Isle of Conquest

Other things better than Isle of Conquest include: stepping on a nail, papercuts on your knuckles, Miley Cyrus’ haircut.

I can honestly say that I do not see the appeal of PvWall. It was fun using a cannon to shoot down a constant stream of anonymous damage against massed chumps, but I would be hard pressed to recall a time when being said chump in a rain of frames-per-second-crushing pain was at all what I wanted to do.

And did you see the screenshot I posted way back in the first beta weekend? Here, let me bring it to your attention again:

Yo dawg, I heard you like “world” in your world pvp, so…

If you zone in with 8-10 friends, or even a small group, I can maybe see it being a nice diversion to go kill a bunch of NPC guards at one of the random outposts and otherwise inflicting maximum annoyance. But knocking on a wall and then killing a Keep Lord and then losing said keep a few hours later after you turn in for the night when the West coast PvP guild logs on? And god help you if you want to do WvW below level 80 – you get leveled up to 80, but neither your gear nor your skills are leveled likewise. I imagine we will all get pretty adept at playing Angry Birds one-handed as we navigate the 2.25 minute graveyard run for the millionth time.

Did all this work in DAoC? I dunno, I’ll take your word for it. Then again, a lot of shit worked ten years ago. Like subscription-based games, amirite?

3. Flat Endgame

I only today ran across these two Youtube videos that answered one of my fundamental questions of what happens at endgame, and it was surprisingly succinct: you continue gaining Skill Points for each “level” you gain past 80. Moreover, you can spend said Skill Points in a variety of ways (you likely will have purchased all the character Skills long before this point) including transmuting mats and… more cosmetic gear. I do not find cosmetic rewards in of themselves particularly compelling, but at least you gain something for sidekicking with your friend’s alt or whatever. Not that you always need a reason beyond their company, but let’s face it, it is better for everyone involved that it is incentivized at least in some small way.

That said, I have a big problem with the argument that the vast majority of WoW players do not see an endgame, and thus GW2’s lack of one is no big deal. Yes, raiding is only experienced by ~20% of the playerbase (although LFR undoubtedly changed all that). However, an order of magnitude more players run dungeons as an endgame activity, satisfying the urge of character progression via Justice/Valor Point purchases. Nevermind farming Honor in random BGs. Ostensively both activities exist in GW2 as well – although there are what, 3 BGs (all Conquest) and 8 dungeons? – but running, say, dungeons over again is going to be the equivalent of WoW’s upcoming Challenge Modes. Does anyone thing this is going to be a long-term retention solution?

By the way, I find the “everyone just rolls alts” rationale amusing considering it cedes the progression point. Gaining levels and better gear is fun, and that is exactly why designers try and transplant that same feeling into the endgame via incremental gear upgrades.

In any case, those are my Guild Wars 2 predictions ten days before the headstart launch. Like I mentioned before, and hopefully you have understood by the title of the post, I am not necessarily predicting GW2’s failure or poor retention or whatever else. It could very well be that the game is a smashing success, breaks the 7th Seal, and ushers us into a dawning Age of eternal bliss. If it does so, it will be in spite of Dynamic Events, WvW, and its endgame, not because of them.

I could be wrong; it has happened before. We’ll just have to see in the next 1/3/6/12 months.

On (or Off with) Their Head(s)

Aside from the things I previewed already, there was another dimension to the Guild Wars 2 beta: the turning of most of the classical MMO arguments on their head. You know the types, the ones that start perennial flame wars on forums? Nearly every single one showed up to the party, and Guild Wars 2 spilled its beer all over them. Stodgy old classics like:

1. Portals ruin exploration and make the world smaller!

Guild Wars 2 features Waypoints which, once discovered, can be instantly teleported to from anywhere in the world for a small fee. Here is a piece of the starting Norn zone:

Flight paths are sooooo 2004.

If portals truly do make the world smaller, you will be looking at Guild War 2’s map from an electron microscope. There were 17 Waypoints in the beginning zone alone; even assuming that number is inflated due to its newbie zone status, the World Completion box indicates there are 477 such Waypoints overall. There were more than a dozen in Divinty’s Reach, the human capital city. And keep in mind that Waypoints make portals feel like a trip to the DMV in a convenience comparison: you actually have to walk up to portals (how quaint), whereas you can teleport to Waypoints from anywhere.

My very first gaming blog post ever (originally posted on Player Vs Auction House) was a guide for people stuck in Dalaran when Blizzard removed the Stormwind/Orgrimmar portals circa beginning of Cataclysm. At the time, I felt like I was pretty clever coming up with a method that got you from point A to point B in seven and a half minutes. And it was clever, when the (solo) alternative could potentially take over ten minutes if you missed the boats. Yes, I’ve heard stories about 30 minute boat rides in older MMOs too.

With the extremely notable exception of WvW, there shouldn’t be an inch of the Guild Wars 2 world that cannot be reached in less than five minutes provided you have been there previously.

I have always argued that you make a world bigger by putting more stuff in it; size should be judged not by distance, but by density. Otherwise we can make a world 5% bigger by having players move 5% slower. Whichever argument reflects the truer nature of things, we will never get a more on-the-nose test case than when Guild Wars 2 launches. We are literally at the bottom of the slippery slope, two steps away from player omnipresence.

2. Points for losing?! Why don’t we just mail them epix?

Log in, press H, collect full suit of (legendary?) PvP gear.

This may not be an entirely fair comparison, as the implicit objection is towards “cheapening” gear progression by making it inevitable. Also, I am assuming that none of us gets uber-gear simply for turning 80 on the PvE side of things. There is something to be said though, about eliminating mechanical rewards (e.g. gear upgrades that increase performance) and focusing almost entirely on cosmetic ones. Will the PvP side of things stay fun enough in the long-run without the “crutch” of progression? Time will tell.

3. Guild leveling was needed to make guilds important again.

You can join multiple guilds simultaneously, no problem. Guild hopping to the max.

4. LFD has destroyed the sense of server community!

Server community? What community?

When Guild Wars 2 launches, you will also have the option to play with your friends on another world with our free ‘guesting’ feature. With guesting, your characters can play on any world where you have friends – with certain restrictions. For instance, you will not be able to participate in WvW while guesting. (source)

I suppose it will come down to how important WvW ends up being to you – I don’t think it’s quite the killer app, as others might – but otherwise there is no other reason for you to “stay” on any particular server. It is not entirely clear if you can “guest” yourself on just any random server, or if you have to be “invited” by friends, or join their party, or whatever. In any event, I would actually suggest this is about as close to “serverless” as a themepark can get.

5. No one talks in LFD, it’s like they’re all mute AI/bots.

Outside of WvW, this was about as chatty as I saw anyone:

Sir Booyah makes a point.

Different servers are different, betas are different than Live, and I don’t even know if that log was from the equivalent of Local Chat or Trade Chat, etc etc etc.

From my experience in the beta however, Milady is correct in being a little apprehensive about the Automatization of the Social. ArenaNet has eliminated kill-stealing and loot-ninjaing, they have incentivized resurrecting one’s fellow players, and they have successfully turned WvW into a Us vs Them affair in hiding the names of opposing players (“Green/Red/Blue Invader” is all you see). Emergent social interactions in Public Questing Dynamic Events have been so streamlined that no dialog is necessary.

And that… is kinda the rub.

I am not a huge fan of the blunt social engineering seen in old-school MMOs – “make friends or never hit level cap,” “play nice or get blacklisted and never run dungeons again” – but I am cognizant of how little purpose chatting in Guild Wars 2 will be, even in the middle of a impromptu 10-person group. Out in the world, it almost felt like I was in an LFD for questing.

In retrospect, perhaps Guild Wars 2 isn’t necessarily turning this argument on its head. What it is demonstrating is that the issue isn’t the random, transient nature of your group in LFD. Rather, it is the lack of necessity to interact that is the cause. Even the most mute LFD group in WoW had to coordinate who was standing in what beam during the 2nd boss fight in Blackrock Caverns, for example. Perhaps high-level dungeons will perform the same role in Guild Wars 2, and perhaps the nature of WvW will lead to the formation of like-minded individuals.

Out in the open world though, other players may as well be bots.

If it was not otherwise clear, I am not implying that Guild Wars 2 necessarily refutes all these classical arguments simply by existing. Rather, it merely appears to openly mock the collective wisdom of forum heroes everywhere. If things turn out well for ArenaNet’s gamble, there will be much soul-searching in the months following release. If not? Well… I’ll think of something.

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.

What’s In a Name?

As a general rule, I try and remain as aloof as possible. It’s partly a defense mechanism against the eldritch machinations of an uncaring, absurd universe. But it is also somewhat necessary in an age wherein marketing departments have weaponized hype and doublespeak like “value-added” as if they are doing consumers any favors. In other words: wish in one hand, shit in the other, and see which fills up first.

Enter Guild Wars 2.

I signed up for the Beta like everyone else, with a current disposition of extreme skepticism. And I still am extremely skeptical. Will it “save” MMOs? Doubt it… assuming MMOs need saving at all. Is the holy trinity dead? As this BFF Report clearly shows, no, not in the sense that there will not be a guy who primarily tanks, someone who heals, etc. Even the whole “freeform” questing bit (which you can also see earlier in the BFF Report) does not necessarily move the needle, as a gamer who responds to ostensive purpose, no matter how flimsy said purpose may be in the abstract. Cave full of kobolds? Who cares? Oh, farmer Joe cares, because the kobolds are stealing the pumpkins? Let me go solve that for you.

That being said, I have been keeping up with the game, reading interviews, and so on. And what I am finding is that the little things are moving the needle all over the damn place. For example, here is Mike Ferguson’s Q&A response on a Reddit AMA interview:

Q: We all saw that enemy players are currently listed as generic invaders, and some are turned off by that. Will there be a toggle option for showing our name if we want to?

A: There’s been a lot of discussion about seeing enemy names in WvW. While I certainly understand the reasoning behind the request to see enemy names, we are fairly firm about not showing names of the opposing teams. I think of it this way, in a war people dont introduce themselves before trying to kill each other. When you are fighting in the mists for your world, you are in the middle of a giant war against two opposing forces who want nothing more than to take everything you own and kill you as many times as they possibly can. That guy who just shot you is not Bob the Engineer, he’s the enemy.

Not showing enemy names in WvW also helps players that are less pvp-oriented feel less threatened about venturing into the battle because seeing enemies as anonymous ‘invaders’ creates a sense that opponents won’t be able to recognize them and pick on them because of their lack of skill in a fight, so they in turn feel more embolded to go out and fight in the first place. Not showing names also makes it so people can feel as if they can ‘hide’ in a fight if need be, but still be around to help out. That’s a pretty critical part of making WvW feel more inviting for people that would normally never think about playing PvP in any other game.

We’ve heard “I usually dont PvP, but I love WvW” again and again from people in our beta, so even though showing names might make for a more competitive pvp environment, we’d much rather create a game that is more welcoming for people that don’t normally play the more hardcore PvP games. If you want to see enemy names and get to know the community of people you are fighting against, competitive PvP is the place to get that sort of thing in Guild Wars 2. WvW is the place where you fight with your friends and show your might against a faceless never-ending horde of enemies. It’s not about taking names, it’s about taking back that tower and claiming it for your guild so it can wave your flag right in the enemies face!

…now that is interesting.

A lot of blogging space has been dedicated to examining the effects of, say, LFG on community culture. For the record, I believe the LFG culture (such as it is) in WoW is merely the natural expression of difficult, group-based daily activities minus the desperation.

But it is fascinating to think about the possible effects of a struggle against an intentionally nameless enemy in GW2. Would people really feel “safer” being anonymous in a wider war? I think Mike Ferguson is onto something. Imagine you are trying to take a tower from a single defender, but he keeps killing you. In my own WoW experience, I feel the standard shame of defeat, but I also feel worse knowing that the defender can put a name to the face, so to speak. If we meet up somewhere else on the battlefield, he might recognize the fail paladin he defeated with ease earlier and go after me first. In my mind, that second possibility is worse than the initial defeat(s).

I know this happens because I did it all the time in WoW BGs. “Hey, there is that Boomkin made out of wet paper. Ha! Look at him run!” Inspiring dread ended up being a lot more entertaining than most of the BGs themselves. Indeed, one of the biggest draws of having a rogue was following someone around and Sapping them repeatedly, then watching their panicked, futile AoE dance afterwards. After they felt themselves safe, that’s when you kill them in a stunlock. Repeat until they just abandon their keyboard after the first Sap.

Take away the name, though? People could probably figure out that the Norn Elementalist who keeps trying to take the tower is the same player. I might even be wary of the nameless Mesmer defending said tower. But at the same time, perhaps we would care less. Perhaps it would make people more inclined to group with their own faction, since that this the only avenue of social recognition – you cannot be known and feared by your enemies, so you seek out the accolades of your server. Only your own team will ever know your name.

It is such a subtle, brilliant change that I cannot wait to see how it works. Not “if,” how.