[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

[SWTOR] Flashpoints, romances, endgame [spoilers]

instancespinks

So Spinks is now level 50, and I think I’ve completed all of the flashpoints apart from Directive 7 (which is cool but looooong – I dropped out before we got to the end, but the guys were able to finish it) and Kaon Under Siege, which is the newest one. I’ve found them fun in general (although there’s massive hate on for Colicoid War Games, which is just an odd instance – think vehicle fights), especially the more story based flashpoints like Boarding Party/ Foundry and Battle for Ilum/False Emperor.

These pictures show:

  1. On the left, the downside to killing mobs by flinging them off high places. I’m standing on a beam, looking down at dead mobs who are way out of my reach …. and who have loot on them. Oops. However, force push is the best power evah! Flinging people off things is great.
  2. This is the equivalent screenshot to the one everyone took in Wrath of their character sitting on the frozen throne. Since Spinks is modelling a shiny black and silver set of badass armour here, she doesn’t show up too well on the leather-upholstered throne. Also it’s perhaps not the most ladylike pose, but who cares?

The levelling game in SWTOR has been one of the best CRPG experiences I’ve had in any game since Planescape. This game is no Planescape, but I don’t think the Bioware storytelling model has ever worked better. You have the multiple origins of DAO, the ‘you are a god/dess in mortal form’ of ME, and combat is genuinely more fun than either (for me at least). However flawed, the dialogue wheel has added some fun to the game, and so have the companion stories. I’ve enjoyed the various jumps in difficulty, but mostly I’ve loved feeling like a badass sith warrior and pretty much just abusing power in all of its forms.

It’s been a blast.

Endgame was always bound to mess up the nice smooth lines of story flow. There’s no interesting story way to really explain running dailies, PvP in the same battlegrounds, or regular flashpoints … or even why there are hardmodes in the world at all. The Ilum instances in particular include massive spoilers for the Ilum storyline, but you’re allowed to go run them as soon as you hit the appropriate level. They’re not gated by whether you have got to that part of the story.

Bioware pretty much have to do this, because plenty of players will not want to keep questing when they get to 50 just to get access to an instance. However, it does mean that you could innocently agree to an instance run with your guild and get massively spoiled on story.

Companion romances also have the potential to mess up the story flow. Unlike in DA2, where the progress of the romances was tied deeply into the plot, in SWTOR the romances proceed based purely on your level and the companion’s level of affection.

So, for example, you could be in a situation where the levelling storyline runs that your companion attempts to betray you, where the romance storyline for that companion is that you’ve just married them. And there’s not really much dialogue to explain either how that’s affecting the relationship or why it didn’t. (This has been a massive source of complaints on the Sith Warrior forums – I’m a RPer so I’m used to tying myself in knots to explain why my character has done fairly inexplicable things, but this one was a doozy.)

Actually, while the romances have been fun, it does my head in to imagine my character being happily married at all, and the thought of her having kids … (I’m not kid-averse, but she’s a badass sith warrior with poor impulse control, this is not perhaps the stuff of good mothering. Besides which, surely she’d rather be trashing the universe?) The marriage thing feels a bit tacked on, like a Lucasarts nod to conventional morality. ie. you can be as evil as you like, but if you have a permanent relationship, it should end in marriage/ commitment.

The DA2 relationships worked better, for me. But hey, it was still a bit of fun. Especially since the Sith Warrior romance with Quinn plays out more like an extended comedy sequence than a romance anyway. I did laugh at the conversation where he noted, “Now that we’ve agreed to get married, you could call me Malavai?” Just because it raised the spectre of ‘what on earth was she calling him in private if not his first name?’ Too much information on my character’s private life there, perhaps :)