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

gw2_vista

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.

gw2_falcons

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 ).

gw2_keep

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

gw2-boulder

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.

[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