[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.

gw2_ghost

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.

LOTRO: living the fanfic dream?

Lord of the Rings Online is a game that you either love or hate. This will largely revolve around how you feel about Tolkein’s world. If you love it, you’ll put up with the duller parts of the experience and revel in the fantastic parts. If not, you’ll spend a lot of time being bored and wondering what the fuss was about.

It’s an MMO that you have to treat as an experience as much as a game (ie. some of the gameplay leaves a lot to be desired, of which more later.)

Quick LOTRO update:

My runekeeper reached the dizzy heights of level 21.

On the bright side, she does seem to have come on in leaps and bounds as a soloer. still not great but I feel able to handle 2-3 mobs of my own level, and either win or survive long enough to get away. I still like the general class design but find some of the abilities a tad weak, I don’t really like the amount of time it takes to switch attunement from healing to damage. It’s really designed for use in groups, not soloing (a mob will probably be dead before you’re fully attuned for damage).

On the downside, she is now deeply ensconced into questing in the Lone Lands. It’s pretty dull, to say the least. This is your grandmother’s style of questing. “Kill 10 Lynxes.” “Now go back and kill 10 spiders.” “Now go back and kill another 10 lynxes.” “Now we’d like you to run from one end of the zone to the other and back again.”

People in general have been very friendly, polite, and literate. It’s a game that tends to attract an older, more cooperative crowd. I’ve been offered free crafted goods, help with quests, and company while I ran from one end of the zone to the other. Even the person who asked me for help in a low level quest in a distant zone was polite about it.

Enough Lone Lands, what about Moria?

my burglar

my burglar

So, bored of the Lone Lands quests, I was nudged by my guildies to log my old burglar in and check out some of the new content. She was last seen at level 50 stuck halfway through volume 1 book 8 (if you know what that means, you are probably groaning and remembering that quest).

Harbouring painful memories of the past, I decided to ditch the old content and head straight to Rivendell to pick up on the prelude to volume 2. Note: Volume 1 covers the storyline quests for the original game, Volume 2 is expansion content.

(If anyone is interested in comparing experiences, Zubon@Kill Ten Rats has been checking out Moria also, but unlike me he wasn’t lazy and finished off volume 1 first :) )

I spoke to Elrond who remembered me, touchingly,  and sent me off to help the fellowship prepare for their journey onwards. This led to a series of one man instanced quests in which I was able to go and talk to them, get chatted up by Boromir (any time Sean, your place or mine?), and was finally invited by Elrond to come and see them leave.

It’s well written and convincing and … yes, feels as though you’re there in the film with them. Gandalf even turns to your character as they leave and says that he wishes  you could come also, but they could only take 9. (Silly? Well, maybe a bit, but you’d have to have a heart of stone to be a Tolkein fan and not be even a little charmed at the conceit.)

There is no other game that offers this kind of experience. For all the great things that Wrath does right (and there are many), you feel like an adjunct to the NPCs. In LOTRO, even though you actually ARE an adjunct to the NPCs, you feel as though you personally are part of the story.

The experience is then somewhat dulled because you’re back to regular questing until you get to the next part of the storyline (ie. book 1). It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

Remember those ‘Kill 10 lynxes’ quests I was talking about in the Lone Lands? They’re back with a vengeance. And I grant a special mention to the Pembar questline that sent me back to the same half orc settlement no fewer than 5 different times, from 2 different quest hubs. Often to kill the exact same mobs again and again. That is what regular questing is like in LOTRO, with some exploring for traits thrown in.

I am very very lucky to have a wonderful sister who plays a Captain which means I didn’t have to actually ride down from Rivendell to Eregion — Captains can summon you around the world.

At any rate, I got around to book 1 which again was a brilliant, immersive and well narrated experience. It involved some nicely put together instances, side quests, and again I was deeply involved in the story. The writing is simply superb. Also, when an NPC gets grabbed by a tentacle from a murky pool and tells you to run — RUN!

But the best part is that at the end, you are presented with a legendary weapon of your very own.

Say hello to my little friend

The legendary weapons that level with you are one of the big draws of this expansion. And they are utterly brilliant in concept.

Your weapon gains xp any time you kill something (I am told there are special weapon xp gaining instances at max level also). It also has traits, which are similar to glyphs in Warcraft. Each trait typically affects one of your abilities. So for example, my burglar’s dagger increases the range on one ability, increases the crit chance on another, and so on. The difference is, when your weapon goes up a level — which happens very very fast at low levels — it gets some weapon xp which you can spend to either increase the power of one of its traits or increase its base dps.

Every 10 levels, you can go and have your weapon reforged, which gives it an extra trait. You also can occasionally do quests which reward you with a scroll of naming that lets you add additional abilities to the weapon, such as extra damage to a certain type of creature or a change in the weapon’s damage type.

Suddenly, those grindy quests became a lot less dull for me. I was levelling my cool dagger! And I’m told that eventually you get to name it yourself also.

I find this legendary weapon mechanic far far more fun than it has a right to be in practice. And it is my top pick for ‘ideas that WoW will nick for its next expansion.’

So, in summary so far

I think that Lord of the Rings Online is a game of extremes. They do some things brilliantly, awesomely, incredibly well … and others are painfully lacklustre. So how you feel about the game will depend very much on:

1. Are you so entranced by the good parts that you can overlook the dull parts?

2. How much do you like Tolkein’s worldbuilding? Have you ever secretly wanted to adventure in Middle Earth and meet the NPCs from the books?

To an extent, 1 is true of most games. Just in LOTRO the great bits are so amazingly good, and the dull parts are … amazingly dull.

And now if you’ll excuse me, my dagger is just a few kills short of level 11…