[GW2] Some things are better with other people: personal stories and social exploring

gw2_snow

Is it a picture postcard? Nope, it’s a GW2 vista

I feel that I am settling into a comfortable groove with Guild Wars 2. My Mesmer dude is now level 60 and I think this may be the first MMO I’ve played where I don’t feel any pressure at all to reach max level. I’ve played games where I got bored of the game before that point, but not sure I cared so little about what level my character was as this one.

This is because of the way levelling content and endgame are set out in GW2; they can all involve the same types of activity (economy, crafting, wandering/gathering/PvE, instances, WvW, sPvP, alts) and you can easily play with your friends via the down levelling feature, so levels themselves don’t seem so important.

And the comfortable groove I am settling into is a slow paced one in which I’m as likely to spend my time shuttling between trading post and crafting station as wandering the wilds of PvE or (occasionally) PvP. The trick to making money by trading is mostly just to look for frequently traded items where there is a large enough spread between buy and sell orders that you will be able to turn a profit once you have accounted for trading post fees. The general idea is to avoid selling or buying for the price offered unless you are in a rush, are happy with your profit/price, or there’s not much difference between the sell and buy prices. So every time you sell, undercut by a copper or so. Every time you buy, overbid by a copper or so (if you want your order to be filled more quickly). Or more than a copper if you prefer.

I’ve been trading bags and runes. There are no secrets about both of these being good tradegoods – people always want them in multiple amounts. Although it is worth trading cautiously for a few days so that you can watch the price fluctuations and get a feel for them, given that there aren’t (as far as I know) any auction house addons.

But I do find that my stamina for long PvE sessions is waning unless I have friends or guildies online with whom to chat. Maybe I am too social a being, but I don’t find GW2 really grabs me for long immersive play sessions unless I am following a story quest. On the other hand, it’s great for shorter play sessions. What is more surprising (to me) is that although the game is still pretty new, and buzzing, there are practically whole zones which can still be very quiet. I’m not sure if that is a good thing in a game that only really comes to life when there are lots of people around. Braving the Elementalist has noticed the same thing and notes that it also means levelling is slower in those less populated zones.

Certainly although I have enjoyed exploring the snowy peaks of “whatever zone it is pictured above” on my own, it’s nowhere near as exciting as racing around Bloodtide Coast with Arb, or chattering frantically to guildies while being drawn into huge dynamic events in Harathi with tens of other players running around. Parts of GW2 do feel massive, the trading post for example. But others really don’t. It is a puzzle.

Speaking of puzzles, I tried one of the jumping puzzles in Metrica and got about halfway through before deciding to go and do something else after several attempts. I don’t really understand why people hate them, it’s good that MMOs have content for different types of player. Maybe I will go back sometime for another go.

I have also been working through my character’s personal questline. I have a really good tolerance for offbeat storytelling, so although I don’t disagree with some of the criticisms, I still have liked these quest segments quite a lot and they definitely add to my personal enjoyment of the game. Moreover, it feels that  the mechanics of the story quests were designed to fit the story – so maybe Claw Island isn’t well tuned and can feel like a bit of a mess, but it still told a poignant and exciting story for me. I love that Arenanet tried to do this, even in the places where it doesn’t quite work. It makes the story segments way more memorable. I even quite like Trahearne.

My own character is a bit of a void in comparison, and that’s one thing I really miss from SWTOR. The sense that my character had a personality. Actually, after level 10 I miss a sense of my character’s culture as well, and since he’s human that’s fairly basic.

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Trahearne is standing behind me in this shot, which is why it looks weird

Last time I touched on GW2, I wondered what people made of the WvW. Well, there are major issues.

kiantremayne is very positive about WvW, aside from the queues.

Not sure what Anet can do to alleviate this easily – just raising the pop caps, even if the servers could take it, would make maps more crowded and zergy – but if WvW remains this popular they’d better start working on something. I don’t begrudge others their fun but let me have some too, damn it!

Syncaine links to feedback from his guild on WvW on the official bboards, which talks about some of the issues they are facing in more detail.

All borderlands are copies of each other?? You guys did a great job in the variety and look of all the pve zones, then when it came to your main draw, the feature most people have been clamoring about for years you simply cut and paste the same zone. We all assumed in beta these were placeholder zones and on release the WvW zones would be three unique areas which is how it obviously should be. If someone is looking for uniformity and repetition they have SPVP. The fix for this would be to actually design 4 unique zones which would play out differently.

I was surprised that the borderlands were direct copies too. I still think the WvW is fun as an activity, particularly for players like me who make it more of a sideline, but it did and does have the potential to be better than it is now. And particularly if people want to play and can’t, that’s something that needs to be sorted out. I don’t know how though.

We are also starting to see some more thoughtful reviews of GW2, after a month in. My main conclusion is that I enjoy the game a lot, and the gameworld itself is beautiful and critters are wonderfully animated. I think I will keep coming back for a long time, in between other  games I am playing, and that it’s a great base for Arenanet to add to in future. In particular I hope they do something with the home zones, and I would be happy to see more personal storyline stuff.

There’s a lot of potential here and I think people who like it and stick with it won’t be disappointed. I’m looking forwards to rampaging around with Arb and my guildies some more, although Pandaland is likely to be a preoccupation in the next few weeks.

[Links] Death of an MMO, Obsidian Kickstarter, Backlash for GW2

We are just coming up on one of the traditionally busy times of the year for the gaming industry, and this year is busier than most for MMOs with a slew of big new releases, new expansions and media blitz. You might almost think that the traditional (whatever that means) MMO is not in fact dead.

Unless, like City of Heroes, it is dead in the water. One of the reasons the news about CoH inspires such emotion around many of the blogs I read is that it is an older MMO, from an era where social networking was not as widespread as it is now. Back then, if you played an MMO, it may well have represented a much more important part of your online social life and online support network, at a time when these things didn’t greatly exist anywhere else.

Welshtroll notes some memories about the UK CoH community. Bree thinks about how this will affect how she plays MMOs  in the future, and how she feels about GW2 now. Strawfellow writes about what CoH meant to him and why the news that it is closing has hit him so hard.

What I am left with is a profound sense that no part of my life is sacred from the feeling of loss. Online games used to be my refuge, and now I am acutely aware that this ground is not safe either. It is difficult for me to trust to begin with, and investing myself in a new game will be significantly harder. You never do trust as easily as you do the first time.

Peter @ Markovia also reflects on what it means when a virtual world shuts down that had been active for so long (relatively).

… I’ve heard from people who have grown up there, who have proposed to wives and husbands in-game, or who have introduced their children to it as they become old enough. These people face losing their old haunts, places they often regard as an extension of their hometown. The community faces being torn apart.

<…> this isn’t a game anymore; the ‘game’ aspect of it is, at this point, something of a vestigial organ connected to the body of something much larger.

Unsubject analyses the state of NCSoft to think about why they made this decision.

NCsoft wants big successes, not titles that have limited future potential for growth. If the money might be better off going to ArenaNet (you bet NCsoft wants Guild Wars 2 to an incredible success) or Carbine Studios (Wildstar is on its way) than staying with Paragon Studios, then it makes sense to divert the cash.

Another game that has had a rough ride recently is The Secret World. Funcom announced that the game failed to meet their (crazily high) expectations, and that they have laid off some staff, and the promised monthly update is also running late.

A former Funcom CEO is also under investigation for insider trading.  Tobold suggests that figuring out that the game would not meet Funcom’s expectations and that this would affect share price, and therefore selling ones shares before launch may not indicate insider trading so much as common sense.

But I am sympathetic to all the players who really love the game and hoped for it to have a long and prosperous future. It’s far too early to announce doom and gloom, but clearly things aren’t going to well at the moment, and they’ll have to make do with the players they have.

lonomonkey argues that players who want MMOs to go places other than fantasy need to back new ideas with their money by supporting games like TSW when they are released. I would rather give the industry the message that if they make fun games, I will buy them.

A word from our developers

Alexander Brazie (who is a WoW designer) has a great blog on game design, and his post this week touched a nerve with me.

If you consider the pacing the macro level of a game, dungeon or encounter, you don’t want players to be going balls-to-the-wall nonstop for the entire experience. To cater to their human nature, you want luls, breaks and breathing periods between moments of intensity. Players, however will continue to naturally seek higher and higher levels of intensity until they breakdown from exhaustion.

You need to give them a hint that pushing forward harder is wrong.

Although I think I’m fairly good at knowing when to stop, I’ve definitely played games that felt like the gaming equivalent of a sugar rush. It was exciting, there was so much to do, and I played to where I was (mentally, if not physically) exhausted. So I appreciate efforts by designers to design in this type of lull as a pacing mechanism.

Because sometimes you want chilled out fun and not balls to the wall fun.

Whatever you think of GW2, the trading post/ auction house/ economy is shaping up to be one of the most exciting parts of the game (in my opinion). John Smith, the house economist, writes a great blog on the state of the economy that I hope is going to become a regular update. And incidentally, why don’t other MMOs other than EVE have their own economists?

We’ve noticed several markets that are clearly out of sync in terms of supply and demand. It isn’t interesting or fun to have a market flooded with items that contain very little value, so we’re making adjustments to the game every day. Players can expect to see these markets even out over time.

While adjusting the supply and demand will bring markets closer to non-vendor based equilibrium, there is still the matter of massive surplus of some items. To address the surplus, we’ve created some new, limited-time Mystic Forge recipes that use these items. These recipes create boxes that give chances for gold and some cool items.

It’s the fact that they are making constant adjustments in a way that players can respond immediately (via trading, naturally) that makes this so interesting. The day after he posted this, the ‘massively surplus items’ shown in the screenshot on the blog saw a huge increase in value, presumably because some players decided to stock up so that they could gamble on the new limited-time Mystic Forge recipes.

I realise this won’t be new to anyone who plays EVE, but it is entirely possible that Anet will do a better job of ‘balancing’ the economy than CCP. They also have an easier task because GW2 isn’t a completely sandbox game so they can tweak elements like the Mystic Forge and what is sold by NPCs in a way that CCP can’t. I think it will be interesting to watch, and interesting to play if you are economy-minded. I’m already loving the buy orders.

Smith also discusses economic issues around gold making ‘exploits’ in MMOs, and the karma vendor exploit in GW2.

The game has gotten to a point in size where there is no such thing as a single player discovering an exploit. Exploits come in waves of mass participation and in the end, if they aren’t dealt with, the economy becomes hyper-inflated. After mass exploitation, your wealth is only relative to how good you were at exploiting, rather than your success in the game. This damages the integrity of the game and makes it unfriendly to new and honest players. There have been cases where exploits have severely damaged and arguably killed a game.

Exploits are mostly generated by a mistake on our end and are really hard on players. When an exploit is discovered, players are tempted to participate by the draw of becoming wealthy and out of fear of being left behind the massively wealthy players who do participate. We take a harsh stance on exploiters because this decision should be easy: find an exploit, report the exploit and move on. It isn’t worth the risk to the player or the game.

Let me give you all my money

If you are one of the 36k players who have already thrown some money into the Kickstarter hat for Obsidian Entertainment, you probably know all about Project Eternity.

If you are like me, you got as far as the first paragraph of blurb ….

Obsidian Entertainment and our legendary game designers Chris Avellone, Tim Cain, and Josh Sawyer are excited to bring you a new role-playing game for the PC. Project Eternity (working title) pays homage to the great Infinity Engine games of years past: Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and Planescape: Torment.

… and then gave them some money immediately, before finding out what this game is actually intended to be about or when it might be released (2014 is the current estimate.) I do not pretend that this is either sensible or smart, but what is life without a little risk? I hope it’s more like Planescape than Baldur’s Gate but I won’t quibble either way.

The Kickstarter still has 29 days to go and, amazingly, made it’s $1.1m goal in about the first day. What makes me excited as a player (and pundit) is that with the success of games like Skyrim, GW2, and this kickstarter, I hope the industry is getting a strong message that there is a really solid audience for open world fantasy games and that we would like more of them.

Guild Wars 2 – backlash edition

So the game has now been out for a few weeks, plenty of  time for bloggers to get stuck in and come out with a stronger idea of what they do and don’t like about it.

Syncaine describes the game as ‘enjoyably meh’ and feels that it lacks meaningful decisions. Or at least the sort of decisions and challenges that would feel meaningful to him. It feels as though he can’t quite summon the energy for a full blown rant, but knows that something isn’t right.

Keen explains that he really enjoyed the levelling experience, and talks about what he and his guild are doing at level 80, with suggestions for other players. (Mull around, get bored and/or burned out, write an insightful post about flaws in the game and hop on the next hype train?)

Verene at Under the Pale Tree gives her two week summary and  touches on something Arb brought up while we were playing. The game is like crack for people with short attention spans.

Nearly every time I set out to do something, I spot another thing going on, and then another, and so on and so forth. Suddenly it’s three hours later, I’ve leveled up several times, and I realize I never got to what I was going to do in the first place!

Ravious is looking forwards to giving Arenanet more of his money in return for fun toys, like a pirate outfit that comes with its own emotes (we thought that looked quite fun when we saw it in the store too.) He also writes about his attempts to slow down and smell the roses in game – this is related to what Brazie wrote (see link above) about the natural lulls.

One of the cool things about being British, apart from the Olympics/Paralympics and having a weather system that isn’t trying to kill us, is that “afk 5 mins to get tea” is one of the great universal codes among British MMO players for “need a lull/ slow the pace.”

smakendahead also touches on the pacing of the game.

Dusty writes about roles in GW2 and discusses dungeon tactics. Since my main takeaway from the one dungeon we did run was “That wasn’t really very fun compared to roaming in PvE/WvW,” I’m trying to be open to the possibility that I was just doing it wrong. However, he does conclude that it would be useful to have a plate wearer around to take damage, which doesn’t quite gell with the whole ‘no trinity’ vibe.

Jeromai describes why he loves the underwater environments so much in GW2. I think I’d love them more if they were less full of barracudas.

Doone summarises some of the rest of the feedback from bloggers.

It’s interesting that I don’t have a lot of bloggers on my reader discussing WvW or sPvP in GW2. Feel free to recommend any blogs that cover those in more detail (or if you have written about them, feel free to add links in the comments, I’ll post them up here.)

On another note

Lord British (Richard Garriot) is getting Zynga to publish his new Ultimate Collector game. Don’t hate me but it sounds kind of fun and I think both of them are going to have a big success on their hands. You heard it here first.

Although I will probably be too busy playing on the GW2 auction house.

[GW2] Keeps, Auctions, Boulders, and reasons to WvW

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GW2 vistas are a gift to bloggers looking for pretty screenshots. (This is from Kessex Hills although pretty much everywhere so far seems to have centaurs.)

Bree sums up many of my thoughts about GW2 in a brilliant post which ponders whether the game will prove ‘sticky.’ (Or at least, will it be stickier for her guild than Cataclysm or SWTOR?) I have been playing the game a fair bit and I do enjoy it, I just don’t think I love GW2. It’s not you, GW2, it’s me. I loved WoW and I loved SWTOR and I loved LOTRO but there’s some emotional connection with GW2 that isn’t really there for me. At least not yet. Maybe it’s that although the human lands are expansive, well designed and fun to explore, by the time you enter your third zone of pretty rolling plains with towns under siege by centaurs, they all start to meld into each other. Maybe it’s the wide use of travel portals that make even the connected parts of the world feel a bit disconnected. Maybe I just don’t care enough about my character or the story of their people if there is one beyond fighting off centaurs. I think there is, I just don’t get what it is yet.

The game is undoubtedly fun to play, although I’m not finding combat to be a particular high point, but – ironically in a game where heart quests are literally part of the landscape – for me it lacks heart.

There have definitely been some high points while exploring; the dynamic events do a great job of drawing players together, and some of the heart quests are just unique. I loved the one where you get turned into a pig and hunt for truffles. I’ve spent longer trying to figure out how to get up /that/ mountain or into /that/ underground area in this game than I have for a long time in MMOs. Allowing everyone to harvest every node is another great way to encourage players to explore and putz around with the scenery, and I admire the skill of the designers even while I enjoy clambering around rocks or dodging ghosts to try to find a tomb. It means that moment to moment goals are much more interesting than ‘Next I will complete quest X’.

Me and my Mesmer

I am finding my mesmer (level 38 at the moment) intriguing. I like having lots of clones out, it makes me feel as though I have friends. It is also disconcerting in events with lots of players when I look round and think ‘Hey that guy looks just like my character! Oh wait, it’s my clone.” The basic idea is that you can spawn some clones (which are wimpy) or phantasms (which are better) that may do different things in combat and decide whether to leave them out as mobile DoTs or send them all off to converge on your target and explode. It’s different.

I also like that my dude can dual wield swords and do a bit of damage in melee, it feels stylish and effective. I also feel fairly useful in PvP and am sure the clones are annoying as heck to opponents. They are like very low maintenance temporary pets and if they die you just summon some more.

Other than that, I’m not very excited by GW2 combat so far. It’s fun to be able to get your own combos off or see combos flying around while you are in groups, but even with weapon switching it can feel a bit plodding.

The human storyline was good fun but now I’m a member of the Vigil and … I’m not as interested in the post-30 storyline, maybe because it’s in a different zone and again I’m not entirely sure where it is supposed to be compared with the rest of the world.

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I am also deeply impressed by the attention to detail in some of the critter/ animal animations in this game and have spent far too much time just watching them wander around, stretch, attack each other, and so on. The models are also gorgeous. This picture shows three falcons attacking a rat, which was part of a heart quest. Look at the detail on the feathers,  and how they are posed to strike out with their talons. (I am a bird watcher so I appreciate this kind of thing Smile ).

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Blink and you’ll miss it – this screenshot shows my server actually taking a keep in WvW !!

There are plenty of reasons to try out WvW:

  • It’s fun (subjective)
  • Just about everything you do (that helps your side) will count as a dynamic event if you’re trying to tick some off for daily or monthly achievements, including defence.
  • There are plenty of objectives, including some that are soloable as well as group or zerg type activities. Obviously this depends on how much resistance you receive from the other teams.
  • Plenty of opportunity for xp. Lots of nodes to mine.
  • Supply lines are important. If you like your PvP a bit more tactical, you will probably enjoy this aspect of the game.
  • You can drive a ballista. Or other siege engines.
  • Free teleport to capital cities. Given that travel is a gold sink in GW2, the free port is handy if you need to get back to a trading post or want to do some crafting. Obviously this won’t be very appealing if your server has long PvP queues but its great if they don’t.

I’ve had fun pitching into PvP when I’m bored with centaurs. The realm v realm/ team style play does encourage players from your side to work together, although they may not always do it effectively. I don’t really get where the mists are supposed to exactly be geographically but given that this is server vs server PvP, it’s probably best not to worry about it.

It’s the economy, stupid

I have seen discussion this week about the GW2 economy: Azuriel thinks it is broken, Ravious thinks it is hugely successful. I see large volumes of trade occurring (the front page of the trading tab shows you some numbers) so trade is happening and we’ll call that a win for the moment. The main trade items are low level raw materials and unidentified dyes – cloth is evidently in low supply compared to other craft materials. There are clear gold sinks in the game via repairs and travel costs as well as pricey cosmetic gear that can be bought with gold at high levels.

While there are reasons to craft in the game — for xp, for fun, to eventually be able to make your own legendary gear, etc. – selling crafted gear to other players isn’t likely to be one of them. There may be crafts where a smart crafter can find a niche in the market, but you will be competing with all the other players across all servers in your region. (The trading post may also be cross-region, I’m not sure.) There is a lot more to be said on crafting and economies in MMOs but GW2 doesn’t look as though it will be a particularly rewarding game for crafting fans. I think I preferred the GW1 approach where you just handed your raw materials to an NPC and got crafted gear back, making crafting into its own /thing/ hasn’t really added a lot. Still, its early days yet.

It will also be interesting to watch the exchange rate of gold to gems (and vice versa) to get a feel for how many people are buying gems to convert into gold. Logically, Anet probably want to have plenty of gold sinks to encourage this but without making the game overtly pay to win or demotivating other players.

I suspect that while Azuriel may be right in principle with his arguments, any view that discounts that the vast majority of players do not read blogs or want to put much thought into playing the economy is unrealistic. It won’t matter to the GW2 economy if a minority of players can make loads of gold from it with some work, there will be many more who can’t be arsed.

Boulders and the single instance runner

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We ran a story mode instance yesterday for the first time, huzzah!

I like this screenshot as it shows all the boulders we had been hurling at a boss stacked up in a corner after the boss died. Boulders are good! They knock mobs over. Use the boulders.

I am currently ambivalent about the PvE group content based on this experience. Although it was a story mode instance, only one of the players actually got the story cut scenes, the rewards weren’t really worth the effort, the bosses tactics were fine for an introductory instance, and our tactics tended to involve lots of boulders and death zergs (this is when people keep dying and running back into the fight until the boss dies). I don’t think this was particularly down to our poor play, some of the traps the bosses put down seemed to do a load of upfront damage which didn’t allow for much time to get out of the danger zone.

I enjoyed the actual exploring and trash fights more than the boss fights, and it’s always fun to hang out with the guys and kill things in a group. It would have been nicer to have gotten some rewards from our first instance that we didn’t all sell. I kept the yellow hood (quest reward) for the looks.

Also, for all Anet have attempted to remove the tank/heal/dps trinity in this game, I do hear a lot of people in general chat asking for plate classes to join their instance PUGs.

Does hearing about overachievers demotivate players?

I feel I’m getting way behind all the posts I intended to write this week, time mostly lost between RL and playing GW2 and WoW. As a gaming blogger, it’s not a bad idea per se to spend time in games but I think you’re supposed to pause occasionally (outside meals, work, sleep) to write things up.

I have also been following a course on Coursera on Gamification.  If you are interested in the subject I recommend checking it out, it’s all free. Gamification seems to be a mixture between game design, game criticism, marketing, psychology et al and the syllabus also looks as though it’s going to cover criticisms of gamification and uses for social good.

Anyhow, one of the comments made in a lecture was that players are only really motivated once they get 90% of the way to a goal.

This I suspect is true of a lot of games; it may not hold for a goal you really want  for personal reasons, or if you are just good at motivating yourself. But the idea is that people need to see their goal, see that it is achievable, see what they will need to do to get there, and feel as though they are almost there already. If those things are all in place, chances are you will play ‘just a bit more’. Both WoW and GW2 do a great job with this type of motivation, using stepped achievements and the game environment itself. GW2 is great at tempting the player to explore the expansive game world with the dynamic events, view points, resource nodes and travel points scattered across the landscape.

However, one thing you can guarantee in a new game or new expansion is that  you will quickly hear about players who have reached the level cap, geared themselves up, beaten any raids, and generally zipped through the content while you are still noodling around in the newbie area wondering how to get to that potato patch or access your bank. I wonder if has a demotivating effect by reminding new players that despite the game’s attempts to lead you through in terms of small steps and reachable goals, there are people who are quantum leaps ahead.

I don’t personally find it demotivating when random people I don’t know inform that they are already max level, maxed crafts,  fully kitted out in exotic gear and just working on their legendaries.  Or that they’ve made tons of gold already and exchanged a load for gems while I am still figuring out how to achieve that first gold piece. I made my peace long ago with the fact that I’m not hardcore, not much of an achiever in games, and probably not that good at them either**. But it doesn’t make me engage more with the game either. As well as highlighting all the goals that are far away, it’s tempting to compare yourself with other players in a way that isn’t encouraging.

This may be connected to the 90%, above,  because hearing about overachievers can make a goal feel less attainable rather than more, or the player feel “I am a bad player compared to X, Y and Z, maybe I shouldn’t bother with this game.” This is all in the mind. In the long run everyone who keeps playing will be max level and will probably have as much gold as they can be bothered to grind out. But emotions are powerful, and the feeling of disengaging from a game is powerful too.

Do you enjoy hearing about people who have zipped through a game, or only if they give some useful hints and tips for how you can do the same thing? What about guildies exercising bragging rights? Or have you ever been turned off a game because someone else made you feel that you were falling behind and would never reach your goals?

 

** I know there will be people who I make feel like that too ;/ These things are all relative.

[GW2] Thought of the Day: Plus ca change

In Guild Wars, you could ‘craft’ gear by taking your raw materials to the crafter NPC and exchanging them for crafted goods. In GW2, you can do effectively the same thing and sell your raw materials to the trading post (auction house), then buy the crafted goods, but this time you  end up with a good profit.

This is because, as others have noted, raw materials (particularly metal, cloth, and leather) typically sell for more than the finished pieces. I imagine someone has a spreadsheet noting at what point it’s a better return to just salvage your own crafted pieces rather than selling them.

[GW2]Going with the flow

I am finding it tricky to know what to say about GW2 since a lot of bloggers have covered the same ground. I like the game a lot and so do the people I am playing with; I enjoy the peaceful pace which is particularly fun for explorers and crafters, but the world often lacks ‘meaning’ (as in ‘why should I care?’). This latter is why GW2 won’t have ultra longterm appeal for many players, the genius of games like EVE and WoW being that a lot of their players care enough about progression/ sandbox issues to stay engaged for months or years – I think GW2 will keep a solid core though who love the game the way that it is.

I have also enjoyed the racial quests that I have seen so far, I think they strike a nice balance between having a storyline and letting the player wander round the quest area and talk to all the NPCs – it’s Diablo 3 style storytelling but rather better written. There is also a pleasantly whimsical note to GW2 as if to remind you not to take it too seriously, without going all technicolour on the pop culture a la Warcraft. It’s been awhile since I played a fantasy game that wasn’t afraid to be magical. And as you’ll no doubt have seen from everyone’s screenshots, it is a very pretty game.

So in effect, the prettiness, the lack of grimdark (so far), the peaceful PvE pacing, and the whimsical fantasy make it a very relaxing MMO, especially for soloers. Some of the fights can be tricky, but so far at least those are avoidable. You can earn xp in many different ways so if you are getting frustrated with one encounter, you can always just move on.

I also liked the suggestion Arb had which was not to buy the collectors/digital deluxe edition and just spend the extra money on gems in the store instead. That way Anet still gets the cash (if you wanted to support the game) and you can spend it on cosmetic stuff you prefer or bag space/char slots/ whatever rather than whatever the deluxe perks, which aren’t very good.

PvE Pacing

gw2_monastery

A peaceful view down into the courtyard of a quiet monastery. No one is in sight. It’s probably dusk or dawn from the way the shadows fall across the vineyard. Pink flowers are trailing up one of the walls. If you wandered in here as a player now, you’d be able to look around, interact with the local NPCs and fill up their little gold ‘influence heart’ by helping out with killing the odd enemy, picking stuff, and tasting the beer and giving some feedback on it. You might even spot the vista point (where I was standing for this screenshot) and figure out how to get up there, and hunt around the area for crops, trees, or minerals to collect for crafting. (I call this ‘chilled out PvE when nothing else is going on’.)

But occasionally an event spawns off where the monastery is invaded by waves of centaurs who want to steal the beer. Every player in the area will be notified that an event is happening, a big orange blob will appear on the map to show them where it is, and everyone who shows up is given the objective to stop the centaurs stealing the beer (by massacring them, which is the general event dynamic although there are some more peaceable ones.) The rewards for taking part in an event are decent – good xp, karma points, and some in game cash. So when an event kicks off, people usually hurry to find out what it is and help out. (I call this ‘pile in on a local event PvE’.)

The players don’t always ‘win’. I haven’t seen this particular event being lost, but there are areas of the map where the centaurs can end up in control – which may actually be good if you want to go farm centaurs quietly.

Anyhow, point is that the endearing features of GW2 PvE pacing are:

  • The flow for casual PvE is very very good. By that I mean that while you are wandering around harvesting, exploring, and/or filling hearts you will have plenty of opportunities to keep doing that (ie. more materials nodes will pop up, you’ll see another vista turn up in the map, or another heart) and are also likely to get notified of local dynamic events that you can casually wander off and join for a few minutes if you fancy a fight. If you get bored halfway through you can wander off again. It’s a good mixture of ‘just a few minutes more before I take a break, I’ll just get this vista, and then gather this node, etc’ and not feeling obliged to stay longer than you had intended (which can happen in sandbox games or in instances.) It’s also very easy to take a quick break to answer the door/ get tea/ etc and the teleport points mean that you can pop back to town very easily whenever you want.
  • One of the ways you can tell that the flow is good is by how rarely the game feels frustrating once you are on a roll.
  • The pace of PvE is also good and offers both fast and slow paced action. If you find grouping stressy or prefer to only fight monsters when you are solo, you can pretty much do that by just avoiding the events. Crafting also can give a lot of xp so you could easily just explore, gather, and craft and never worry about killing things at all. I haven’t tried any of the dungeons yet, I assume that dynamic is more like a typical instance.
  • The game works well for small groups or duos. When I’ve been playing with Arb, we’ve happily scampered round the map doing pretty much the same things we would have done solo and felt the rewards were worthwhile. I particularly like how the crafting nodes are all shared, you don’t need to race people for them.
  • I’m only level 18 or so on my character but so far the zones are really quite large, enough that they don’t feel cramped even with the initial rush of players. There is a sense of space. Divinity’s Reach, the human capital, is particularly stunning in this respect.
  • Brilliant attention to detail. A lot of MMOs include far more attention to detail than the majority of players consciously realise (I like to kid myself that players do appreciate this subconsciously though), but even so, GW2 goes above and beyond with the little conversations, critter animations, and minor details that bring the world to life.

How is the launch going?

My experience has been good so far, although I believe the auction house/ trading post is still down and has been since before launch. Others have reported outages, problems with creating and joining guilds, queues for WvW, all of which point to some rocky technical issues. But as I said, our little server is managing well and we’ve found easy workarounds for the guild invites (we just had to get people to relog after the invite) so it hasn’t been an issue. I’m relatively tolerant for rocky MMO launches, I’m sure they are working hard on things and will get it sorted out in a few days.

Note: because Piken Square (PS) is the unofficial RP EU server, it doesn’t have a heavy PvP population which is probably why we never have to queue for WvW. Hopefully as the matching works itself out over the first few weeks, we will end up matched with equally non-hardcore servers because at the moment the PvP scores I have seen tend to involve one server massively dominating the points. It’s still fun to run around and take/defend keeps but will work better (and be easier to get more people interested) when the balance is improved.

My guess is that there are some incredibly huge server imbalances at the moment with respect to PvP, as hardcore guilds tend to cluster so that they can fight with/against each other. I have no idea how Arenanet will resolve this, although server matching seems like a good idea.

If you are ambivalent to PvP, or at least can have fun even if your side isn’t winning, there’s very little downside to picking a less populated server. I am touched to see a lot of roleplaying going on in PS in the cities, when I wandered into pubs or other buildings while exploring. It does make a game feel more ‘alive.’

Characters, classes, levelling and so on

Like many other people, I was amused but not surprised to find that someone reached max level (80) in game during the headstart. At this point in the MMO cycle, I think this is a good sign that casual players will be able to reach max level in a couple of months or so. I don’t entirely agree with Wasdstomp’s irritation with people who claim to take games ultra slow to enjoy them more, but it’s also true that just about anything you do in GW2 will gain xp so given that you are playing the thing at all, you will level up.

At the same time, I’ve noticed a few bloggers feeling that they had to apologise for taking things easy with GW2 and just drifting with it. Since this is pretty much how I play any MMO (wander around, do stuff, play) the main difference I notice is not feeling penalised for veering off the beaten track, since there isn’t really one.

The main character I am playing at the moment is a human mesmer, and I’m mostly running around using the staff with sword/sword as an alternate set for when I want to hit stuff and do more damage. The joy of the mesmer is having about a zillion clones running around the place and annoying everyone (and/or exploding). I think the class may have been designed for anyone who really likes to mess with their opponent’s head in PvP. At any rate, my dude now feels sturdy enough to take out several mobs of his level solo if I play reasonably smartly.

Anet is particularly awful at teaching players about combos. I figure I’ll read up on those when we get round to running instances or get more serious about PvP, because there’s no way I’ll ever learn them from the game itself.

I find it hard at the moment to drag my head out of the game enough to really offer much analysis on the mechanics of the classes. Still, it’s all fodder for future posts!

gw2_escort