Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

19 November, 2012

A look at Guild Wars 2
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 4:17 PM
(This post has been viewed 15457 times.)

For my birthday, a good friend of mine got me Guild Wars 2. Being the obsessive gamer, I decided to play it. :)

What is GW2 like through the eyes of a game developer? Happily for you, dear reader, I'm here to share that with you.

As I've mentioned before, I have a super-power when it comes to game analysis: I can play a game "for fun" and then analyze it later. Other developers I know have said they can no longer play a game purely for fun, the analytical part of their mind can't stay still long enough for them to enjoy the game. So, I can shift my mindset to that of a "typical player" (well, more typical than I am) to play the game, then dissect the experience later.

I think I might also be reacting to the massive amount of hype surrounding the game. ArenaNet did a good job getting the word out, but some people have continually gushed about the game during beta. This drove up my expectations, so I think I'm a bit disappointed that the game isn't better than what I experienced. Anyway, the tone of this post might come across as being negative. I think the game is pretty good and I'll probably play it a while more, but if it I could find no fault with it I'd put myself out of a job, wouldn't I? :)

I also notice that my analysis focuses strongly on what's missing. Part of this is because of my work with Storybricks, and I've started to think about possibilities of games and NPCs beyond what we currently have. I think of how things could reach the player on a more emotional level, and how it could create a meaningful world. Perhaps this is a bit unfair to a game that's been in development for several years, but this is how my analysis has come out.

My characters

I started with a Charr Guardian. I enjoyed that enough, got up to the 20s by completing the first zone, but wanted to play around with other characters. I picked a Norn Hunter, which was fun enough, but I wanted to try out a few others. I though a Sylvari Elementalist would stick with me, as I tend to like flexible characters (like the Druid in WoW), but something just didn't click. Syl posted her thoughts and said it was a tough class to solo with, so it might not fit with my current playstyle much. This was also the first character I tried jumping puzzles with, but Elementalists are the only class that do not have a trait that reduces falling damage. I tried a Human Necromancer, but found that not capturing my attention as well.

The character I ended up sticking with was an Asuran Engineer. Currently I'm level 63, have joined the Order of Whispers, and have been rampaging through the zones mostly in level order. Thanks to level downscaling, I can still play areas I've theoretically outleveled. But, the combination of ranged attacks and temporary "pets" in the form of turrets is something I've found quite fun.

The Good

Let's start with the positives. What makes GW2 a cut above the rest?

Art Style and World Design

First thing I noticed was striking the game was. The characters are very nice, allowing for a wide range of customization options not only in body shape and options, but also in clothing customization. The ability to customize the appearance of your gear by using other gear is something I've loved from other games; although GW2 does use a "transmutation" type system rather than separate appearance slots as I prefer. Luckily the transmutation stones are pretty easy to get. I also really like the characters, especially the diversity. The Charr characters look distinctive and interesting, obviously quite different from the Asura. Obviously these races draw inspiration from other sources, but they feel a lot more original than the standard races you get in games, or the freaky beasts that seem to make no sense in others.

I also like the painterly style of the art. From the way the fog of war on the world map looks like an abstract painting to the lovely concept art used as loading screens, you can tell the fine art influence on the game. It's a testament to the art team that they were able to take these gorgeous images and turn them into 3D spaces. I find many of the cities to be really interesting to just run around in.

I also like listening to the conversations that go on in the cities. On particular conversation in The Grove between a Sylvari and an Asura talked about the Asura asking questions of a golem and crossing its circuits. "After you asked it the questions about the turtle in the desert, and then asked about its mother...." Had a chuckle at that sly reference. :)

Jumping Puzzles

I wasn't sure how much I'd like these, as twitch action tends to be hit-or-miss in MMOs. I'm a fan of platformer games, having been a fan of the Mario games for a long time, but I'm less enthusiastic about 3D platformers. The jumping puzzles combined the right amount of puzzle solving, exploration, and twitch reaction to keep me happy for the most part. I'm not overly fond about how obscure some of the puzzles are, though. I found myself often looking at walkthroughs to find locations, for example, instead of having to slog through a zone to find the secret entrance covered in weeds that I needed to find.

Of course, there are a few frustrations, even though I enjoy these puzzles. Combat slows you down, making it harder to make the jumps; therefore, it's extra infuriating if you get stuck in combat for some reason as some monster is still trying to track you from half the area away. Also, invisible walls and deceptive jumps feel more like "gotchas" than legitimate puzzles sometimes. It really sucks to line up a jump only to run into a wall, or to break down and look up a walkthrough only to find out that the jump you could have taken was right in front of you.

I also wish there were a way to disable the "dodging out of the way" command when you double-tap a direction. I find myself plummeting off a jumping puzzle often when I'm using small taps to try to adjust my location to setup my next jump. (Edit to add: There is a way to disable it, in the options panel. Hooray!)

Non-combat Elements

I really like that there are a number of non-combat things you can do in some places to fill out a heart. Some of my favorite quests in LotRO were the ones in Hobbiton where you were just helping out the hobbits with the demands of daily life. Of course, it felt appropriate in LotRO because you were low level and in a friendly location untouched by the larger war. Stopping in the middle of a war-torn area to wash a farmer's cows can feel a bit silly.

I find that in most games, I like the option to avoid combats if I want to. To me, it's fun to move around monsters instead of having to fight them all the time. Of course, most games reward you for killing monsters, so this is often not an optimal strategy. In GW2 you really do need to kill, and kill a lot if you want to craft. I'll go into that later.

Social Elements

As someone who tests high for Bartle's Socializer motivation (I often test as an SEK if you're curious), I like what GW2 has done to encourage social interaction. I've advocated for making grouping easier before, so I'm all for this. Allowing people to all benefit from a kill is a great design. I hope this trend takes root, and I suspect it will, as it started with RIFT's grouping system and GW2 took it one step further. My one complaint is that it does seem to remove the last little bit of interaction between people in the same area. Without having to group or even talk to coordinate, other people are transitory. They feel like single-serving party members.

Also, the ability to join multiple guilds is nice. It shows the reality of modern gaming where your loyalties don't necessarily belong to a single group. I think the guild system isn't very well explained, however, and one of my alts who was in a guild didn't represent the guild by default so I was cut off from some of the people I had joined originally.

Also, I still think it would be nice to separate out groups based on gameplay elements and groups who have a more social foundation. I've seen a few guilds recruiting that require you to represent them 100% of the time. Some people are going to be stuck in the old mindset of your guild is everything in a game, but I don't want to be cut off from friends. Having a gameplay focused group for raiding and another semi-permanent structure for socializing would be preferable to having to choose between a demanding guild and my friends.

The Bad

Okay, so what didn't quite thrill me?

Overly Convenient Achiever Focus

Yeah, I understand why MMOs cater to Achievers. But, I find this focus detracts from the experience. As a player, I'm only rewarded for completing a heart, not for helping afterwards. If there are 10 cows to wash and I complete the heart after 5, the rest can rot for all I care. This seems like it would have been an ideal use for the Karma currency, where helping a heart after it's done earns you more karma rather than have Karma just be a third number after experience and money that you earn for other actions.

The convenience factor also hurts the game. While I appreciate the fact that killing 10 enemies while making my way to the quest giver will still be rewarded, I find myself less inclined to try to understand why killing the enemies is important from a story point of view. In fact, I tend to find myself mindlessly going around maps just filling out the symbols. Jump up to get a vista there, wash some cows to fill a heart there, etc. Quiz me on why I was washing the cows later and I'll probably just give you a blank look. The nice part about having to go to a quest giver is that you have the opportunity to read the story, even if you choose not to.

I find it all too easy to fall into the Achiever pattern of behavior, even though Achiever is my least favorite motivation.

The Story

The trend in MMOs has been to try to focus on storytelling, specifically in taking the player through the story written by the developers rather than letting the players tell their own stories from their experience in the game. Star Wars: the Old Republic, The Secret World, and now Guild Wars 2 have all boasted about having a great story for you to play through.

I'm not fond of this trend, and GW2 has done little to change my mind. One problem is that the game seems to assume some prior knowledge. A friend I was with commented about how a few of the points of interest were important from the previous game. Not having played GW1, these references were lost on me. I also don't quite get the references to the Destiny's Edge guild that forms a central part of the story and of the dungeons. Sure, that info is a Google search away and the initial dungeon "story modes" probably fill in details, but I seem to be expected to care about this group even though I only know one of the characters from the early parts of my story.

The other problem is that I really don't feel invested into the characters. Sure, my Asuran Engineer knew who Zojja was, but at the beginning of my story I didn't know why she was important. Perhaps I missed a bit of pre-release information or some cinematic in the game. But, I'd like to feel invested in these characters, to find out more about them outside of the quests where 80% of it is fighting. Perhaps some way to just go hang out with them and talk between quests would be nice.

I find this when I'm adventuring, too. Once I complete a heart, there's nothing left for me there. Sure, the person responsible for the heart will give me stuff in exchange for karma currency, but I don't feel that I've made a friend. Or that I've even really made a change, but we'll talk about that a bit later. I keep wanting to make an emotional connection with the world, but it just doesn't happen for me.

Ultimately, these aren't my stories. This is the story that unfolds while I'm around. The words coming out of my character's mouth aren't mine, but what has been pre-scripted and pre-recorded. I want my own stories. I've had my own stories in other games, but having a cutscene-based story diminishes the importance of the stories I want to experience.

Also, I just get tired of MMO stories trying to add a thrill by threatening character death. In a world where you have common resurrection spells or even more common ways to revive a defeated enemy, death makes no sense. Having my NPC "partner" make a last, desperate stand feels empty because death shouldn't affect him. He should, like me, teleport to the nearest waypoint. It feels like sloppy storytelling to try to add the threat of death to a world where (player) characters simply cannot die.

Character Abilities

GW2 has followed the trend of making characters simpler and easier. You get a total of 5 primary combat abilities, 1 healing ability, 3 utility abilities, and 1 "elite" ability. Your combat abilities change based on weapons you are using, and you can swap out healing, utility, and elite abilities when not in combat. While this makes the character easier to play, it also feels like the strategic options are shallow.

Character development is pretty front-loaded. You start with only one ability for each weapon, and must kill monsters to unlock the second through fifth abilities. With a bit of concentration, you can unlock everything by level 15 or so. After that, you unlock healing utility, and elite abilities with skill points you earn at certain locations. At level 60, I have most of my skills unlocked, except for one expensive elite skill. But, honestly, I've found a few skills I like and have pretty much just stuck with them. It's kind of a hassle to swap out skills, especially in the wild where an enemy could set upon you and interrupt your swapping.

For my Asuran Engineer wielding dual pistols, every combat is pretty much identical. I could write a program to do what I do pretty much every combat:

1. Fire a Static Shot to blind enemy (next attack misses) and confuse them (using skills hurts them).
2. As they approach, fire Dart Volley to do damage and poison them. Darts seem to hit more if they're closer.
2a. Dodge out of the way if they're doing a big attack.
3. Fire my Surprise Shot tool belt ability.
4. When they're close, use Blowtorch to set them on fire.
4a. Maneuver to hit multiple enemies if possible.
5. Drop a Rifle Turret if the enemy is not near death.
6. Drop a Healing Turret if half health or below.
7. Drop a Rocket Turret and Thumper Turret if there are multiple enemies. (These have longer cooldowns, so I save them for multiples.)
7a. Fire off my Rocket tool belt ability if there are multiple enemies clustered together.
7b. Trigger any turret special abilities if enemies are still after me.
9. Continue to fire off any skills that aren't on cooldown.

That's it. Pretty standard stuff, and rather boring when you get down to it. I don't earn any other weapon skills, and I think I've found the utility skills I like.

I really prefer lots of abilities and options. EQ2 was my favorite game for this, where I had a ton of abilities to call upon for my Necromancer depending on the situation. In GW2, I either kill stuff quick, or I wait for cooldowns. I've focused mostly on Condition Damage bonuses, which give my poison and burning abilities a lot more oomph. I may not do much burst damage, but I notice the health bar disappear quick when an enemy is poisoned and on fire. :)

I also don't like how you can't re-arrange the skills on the bar. At least, I haven't found a way to do so. This ties into larger complaint: you can't customize the UI even within the game itself. The minimap will always be in the corner it started in. No moving it!

All that said, I do like the simplified stat options for a character. I like that Might increases your damage no matter what the character is. No more worrying about a few dozen stats, it's very clean. But, the system still suffers from the old problem: is +6 condition damage better or worse than +6 Might?

Servers

We see the difference between theory and reality here. In theory, server is supposed to not be limiting to your character. You pick a home server and your characters are created there by default. For a while you could swap between servers at the drop of a hat. There's supposed to be a system of "guesting", where you could play with friends on another server easily if you were in a party together.

The reality is that guesting doesn't currently work, and they've restricted server swapping because of PvP (World vs. World battles, or WvW) People were just swapping to the winning servers, so they restricted that. The end result is that I can chat with some people but can't play with them, despite this being a touted feature. And, having this across all servers has other problems as well, particularly with the "overflow" servers during heavy usage periods.

The Rest

There are a few more things that I wasn't fond of: the Economy, Levels, and the Static World. These tend to be severe enough that I want to go into a bit more depth in a future post, plus this one is long enough already! I might also try my hand at some PvP before then, but no guarantees.

What do you think? Do these mirror your experiences? Or do you have a different take on things?

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24 Comments »

  1. I've just started on GW2. I will post on it, umm, real soon now(TM). In no particular order:

    * My main is a mesmer (with fabulous red hair, of course). This may well affect my experiences, the mesmer skills are pretty varied.

    * I still weapon switch, as I'm trying to understand the abilities and how best to use them in different contexts. It does matter.

    * I kind of like the simplified hotbar, along with chaining. Maybe in 40 more levels I'll feel differently, though. It did seem like we got through learning all the skills kind of quickly.

    * I understand the question "which is better +6 condition damage or +6 power" to be where the fun comes from. If it were obvious, it would be less of a game, wouldn't it?

    * You didn't talk about events at all. For me, these create the best emotional engagement with the game. It's easy to grasp what's going on, and why its important. You're right that some better individuation/emotionalism a la Storybricks might be good, though.

    * You never explained your claim that tradeskillers need to do lots of killing. I don't quite know what you mean. Are you referring to the level-downing that requires you to fight to harvest?

    Comment by Toldain — 19 November, 2012 @ 4:44 PM

  2. I originally had a third section about "The Ugly" in there, but what I posted already pushed over 3000 words, so I cut that out for another post. I'll pretty it up a bit and post it later this week or the weekend. I could have made the cut a less jarring, I guess. A lot of questions issues are covered there.

    I want to try a Mesmer. Dusty Monk likes his. I'm saving up in-game gold to buy some gems to get another character slot before I roll more alts.

    Here's a site with stat details: http://www.tashadarke.co.uk/2012/10/attributes-and-equipment-in-guild-wars-2/ Can't see why the general information (like Condition Damage increases the damage of burning, poison, and confusion) isn't included in the main game. I was able to play around to find out that Condition Damage was much better for my Engineer.

    Tradeskilling is under "The Ugly" section. It requires a lot of monster drops, which requires a lot of killing. The only thing I've had to grind out was drops for crafting. Given the relative worthlessness of crafting, it was truly a unhappy grind. I'll go into a lot more gory detail next post. :)

    Comment by Psychochild — 19 November, 2012 @ 5:07 PM

  3. I had a chance to play some GW2 this past weekend, thanks to the free trial event. While I only got to play for a few hours, I can see some of what you mentioned.

    The simplified hot bar seems like a feature to me right now, though I did not get far enough into the game for a long term assessment. And, I must admit, the other two similar games I played over the weekend, Rift and EQ2, both tend to overwhelm with skills, so it was nice a nice change to have a "less is more" approach for once.

    I think I echoed your thoughts on groups in my own post today. I am used to Rift's open groups, where you can join up. But once joined, you can see who is with you and where they are, which gives the interaction more substance to me. In GW2 I couldn't tell who was passing by and who was helping out.

    And, I must admit that the achiever focus will likely get me to buy the box at some point. I can be obsessive about that when I let myself, and GW2 seemed to be achiever paradise. I could lose myself in that for quite a while.

    Comment by Wilhelm Arcturus — 19 November, 2012 @ 5:24 PM

  4. One of the best overviews of GW2 that I've read, I think. Very fair and well-argued and I agree with much of it.

    As must be plain from the vast amount I've written about it, I really like GW2 but it is by no means perfect and I second your criticisms of the Achiever Focus and the Story. The former isn't really a problem. Like Wilhelm, I can easily slip into achiever mode. I try not to and generally I succeed, but frankly, if I let myself off the leash and go fill a map or two, yay me, right?

    The story is a much more serious flaw. I have made a serious attempt at the Charr Ash Legion story, getting as far as joining Whispers. I have seven other characters and the furthest any of them has got with the story is level 6. Not only is it prescriptive and wholly inappropriate to have the story there in the first place, it's bloody rubbish! It really is adding insult to injury.

    I can't speak for TOR since I haven't played it, but The Secret World has a story (many stories) that are genuinely *good stories*. I don't feel MMORPGs need stories, but if they are going to give me prose, plot and voice acting on a par with a decent genre novel or indie movie, which TSW does, then I am more than prepared to meet them half way. GW2's story isn't on a par with a run-of-the-mill episode of The A Team.

    I disagree on character abilities. My first level 80 was a Charr Ranger and I did think the choice of abilities for him was fairly obvious, but I now have a Level 74 Asura Engineer and I am constantly in a quandary over what skills to use. The Engineer has a huge arrange of very powerful abilities and choosing 10 of them is very similar to the decision-making process in EQ or GW1 - hard flipping work! I also do not by any means find myself laying down a predictable pattern of attacks as you describe (although I very much did with my ranger). I find the Engineer to be a seat-of-the-pants, spur-of-the-moment kind of character and all the more exciting for it.

    Comment by bhagpuss — 19 November, 2012 @ 5:50 PM

  5. Hmmmm, you should really give one of the other Weapon Kit utility skills another try. :) I understand how you feel about the apparent lack of abilities after you complete your full "rotation", but I think that's mostly due to your focus on turrets. Unlike most other classes, Engineers can't swap for a second weapon set mid combat - but that's what weapon kits like the Flamethrower, Bombs and Grenades are for. They're used just like another weapon set, and bring another 6 abilities to choose from at any given time. Also, unlike other classes, Engineers don't have a cooldown to swap between kits and the main weapon.

    Comment by Macnol — 19 November, 2012 @ 5:57 PM

  6. Some good analysis here, I agree with much of what you're saying.

    The death mechanic in narrative is jarring, but I think you get past it. I wonder how else the story could be told?

    There are a few things that I want to point out that will hopefully be of help to you. You can disable the double-tap dodge in options. You can move the mini-map and chat screen, they are both drag-and-drop. I found the UI to be quite intuitive once I had mapped those two to the top corners of my screen. Also, you can swap out skills directly from the bar by selecting the little triangle above their icon (only applies to skills 6-10); this is less of a hassle.

    I think the achievement motivation is less of a problem when you play in a party, or even a guild. The game works for solo play, but it's so much better with four others at your side. The three technical issues you listed above could have been solved in-game through chat. Maybe you should lean on some other players a bit more and reassess your experience :)

    Comment by Pennie — 19 November, 2012 @ 7:14 PM

  7. I agree with your point of view on almost everything. Specially the story. However there is optional dialog while doing your Personal story if you talk to everyone after the cut-scenes. I found that the dialog filled in on a lot of the extra stuff that you don't quite understand. Also I'm a bit higher level and the story about Destiny's Edge is mostly done in the Story mode of the Dungeons. I played a lot of Asherons Call (When it was new) and the story pretty much worked a lot like how you were describing.

    For the hearts you can actually go directly to the heart person (Before its Completed.) and talk to them. They will give you a bit more of an explanation on why you are doing what you are doing.

    As for the guesting feature, it's there but only partially. If you decide to group up with a friend between Servers (Which is possible) you can just right click their portrait and click the "Join in" option and it will teleport you to where they are. However the full function which would allow you to temporarily log into another server and stay logged in is not in there yet.

    Comment by Katherine — 19 November, 2012 @ 10:13 PM

  8. Wilhelm Arcturus wrote:
    And, I must admit that the achiever focus will likely get me to buy the box at some point. I can be obsessive about that when I let myself, and GW2 seemed to be achiever paradise. I could lose myself in that for quite a while.

    Yeah, as I said, I'm not highly motivated by Achievement. It feels worse than other games, though. Feels like mindlessly shuffling cards or popping bubble wrap rather than playing a game to me. Others will probably feel differently.

    Bhagpuss wrote:
    ...The Secret World has a story (many stories) that are genuinely *good stories*.

    I played a bit of the open Beta, and from what I saw I'd agree. The characterization was a lot better, even though it was strange with your character just standing there. I think part of it is that the NPCs were essentially giving monologues. But, that's probalby better than the alternative where the story is prescriptive, as you point out. The worst example was one part of the story where the NPC asked me if I had an idea for a name of a location, and my character spit out a name without any input from me!

    Macnol wrote:
    I understand how you feel about the apparent lack of abilities after you complete your full "rotation", but I think that's mostly due to your focus on turrets.

    Yeah, but I like the turrets. If I had another slot I'd probably happily add a weapon set. But, the three turrets I use work well for what I do: the Rifle Turret has a short cooldown and the toolbelt ability can be used at any time, the Rocket Turret has a lot more power and AoE, and has a knockdown, and the Thumper Turret make a good temporary tank for fighting a baddie. Which do I give up? Probably the Thumper Turret, but is getting some flamethrower skills really going to help more than the thumper for distracting a Veteran monster? Probably not.

    It's not that I can't fight stuff. I kill pretty fast and efficiently. The problem is that it's boring. There's no variation. There's now "oh shit" skill that you use once an hour or anything like that in other games. Now, perhaps EQ2 was a bit excessive, but there's a lot of room between that and GW2's "thou shalt only have 10 skills" policy.

    Pennie wrote:
    The death mechanic in narrative is jarring, but I think you get past it. I wonder how else the story could be told?

    The point of death in stories is to show threat and sacrifice. Killing someone is a threat, dying for others is sacrifice. Instead of death, pick something else: wealth, freedom, possessions, whatever. Maybe instead of the NPC dying they lose their signature weapon and can't go on, for example. It's really about respecting the rules of the world that you set up (characters can hop to waypoints, even when defeated) with your stories.

    You can disable the double-tap dodge in options.

    Yeah, I noticed that after rolling off a jumping puzzle. Again. I was looking under the control options, not the general options.

    You can move the mini-map and chat screen, they are both drag-and-drop.

    How? I kinda figure out how to move the chat window, but it only lets me put it in the top left corner instead of the bottom left corner. I prefer it on the bottom right. The map, however, I can't move. Any clicking and dragging just scrolls the map. Different key combinations mark the map or drop links to locations in chat.

    I really prefer the way LotRO did UI arrangement: a special command (control-\ by default, IIRC) that showed you all the window outlines that you could drag and drop to your heart's content. Great way of doing it, rather than obscure actions.

    Also, you can swap out skills directly from the bar by selecting the little triangle above their icon (only applies to skills 6-10); this is less of a hassle.

    Yeah, I know that. I want to move the weapon skills (1-5).

    Maybe you should lean on some other players a bit more and reassess your experience :)

    Well, I did join a guild, but I seem to be on at the wrong times. Or, the shiny has worn off. Longasc commented on Google+ that he's gone through a lot of "dead guilds" where people just don't log on anymore.

    Also, the average person won't be grouping up. I'm doing what the average person will do. I really would like the guesting system to work so that I could join some friends and play. Until then, I tackle the world solo.

    Thanks for the comments, all.

    Comment by Psychochild — 19 November, 2012 @ 10:27 PM

  9. Katherine wrote:
    However there is optional dialog while doing your Personal story if you talk to everyone after the cut-scenes.

    Yeah, I noticed that a few times. Problem is, I just didn't care enough about the story to want to do that. As Bhagpuss says, it's not a terribly compelling story in the first place. But, it seems better to try to give more information directly to the player rather than hiding it.

    As for the guesting feature, it's there but only partially.

    I just tried it with a friend. I grouped with him, but there was no option to join him. He said it was working on Sunday. So, maybe I'm just cursed.

    Comment by Psychochild — 20 November, 2012 @ 2:07 AM

  10. "Yeah, but I like the turrets. If I had another slot I'd probably happily add a weapon set. But, the three turrets I use work well for what I do: the Rifle Turret has a short cooldown and the toolbelt ability can be used at any time, the Rocket Turret has a lot more power and AoE, and has a knockdown, and the Thumper Turret make a good temporary tank for fighting a baddie. Which do I give up? Probably the Thumper Turret, but is getting some flamethrower skills really going to help more than the thumper for distracting a Veteran monster? Probably not."

    Nope, the flamethrower is more useful when fighting groups of mobs while you're in a group too. But the grenades or bombs would be a nice substitute - they're great for kiting (bombs are practically made for that, grenades require a little bit of camera work). They have the extra utility of chilling, blinding or confusing your enemy, and you can keep swapping between them when you've got a few abilities on cooldown. Grenades (with the Grenadier trait) also cause a lot more damage than pistols, and have a VERY satisfying toolbelt ability.

    Of course, that depends a lot on your playstyle, it's just that I feel the turrets are in dire need of an upgrade. The only one I occasionally use is the Rifle turret, exactly due to the short cooldown on the toolbelt skill. It's great with the trait that shoots a static discharge whenever you use the toolbelt. :)

    Comment by Macnol — 20 November, 2012 @ 4:04 AM

  11. I find it interesting that you do not directly mention dynamic events, which are supposed to be a important feature of the game. Are they so non distinctive that your experience blends them together with the heart/renown tasks?

    Comment by Nepumuk — 20 November, 2012 @ 4:27 AM

  12. I agree with pretty much all of what you wrote about GW2.

    My experience when I started playing was at first a bit jarring, as I was so used to the more rigid style of games like WoW where you pretty much want to optimize your leveling by grabbing lots of quests and doing them simultaneously, because the "real" game usually starts at maximum level. Plus the difference in combat style took getting used to, just standing there hitting a monster is usually not a good idea :)

    But once I got the hang of it I actually found I enjoyed different combat style, and especially exploration a lot more than I used to, as well as the much more friendly attitude you develop towards other players when you do not have to see them as competition for almost everything you do. Now after playing several characters up to level 80, the leisurely exploration mode has sadly evaporated again, mostly because the heart and dynamic event system is not really that much different from the usual quest-giver style.

    What I dislike most is that currently the GW2 endgame mostly revolves around grinds, at least if you are a PvE type of player. Insane grinds at that, many people spent their time just farming the one level 80 zone before the last update. Talk about repetitive. Now everyone is farming the new dungeon.

    I am also beginning to think that the limit to two (or in some cases even one) weapon set is too rigid, I keep wishing for more options. As it is, either you know ahead of time what challenge you will face or you may find you got a rather sup-optimal weapon setup. On the other hand I still feel there are a lot of skill options on my main character I haven't even touched and thus don't know about, as some weapons mesh together in interesting ways. But I guess many people will fall into the trap of just trying all weapons shortly, and then hanging on to the two they like most and ignoring the rest. I sure did that myself.

    Now when talking engineer, from what you describe I think you may be limiting yourself a bit too much by only using turrets. I tend to run my engineer with three kits as utility skills, as I love the variety that allows for, especially with the very fast swapping between them which an engineer can do.

    All in all not a bad game, but not quite as innovative as marketing might have led one to believe.

    Comment by Bezayne — 20 November, 2012 @ 6:23 AM

  13. A Guild Wars 2 First Impression

    [...] And then Psychochild puts up a much more insightful look at GW2 just a couple hours after me. Share this:Google +1TwitterRedditFacebookLike this:LikeOne blogger [...]

    Pingback by The Ancient Gaming Noob — 20 November, 2012 @ 8:14 AM

  14. If you want more abilities that are tailored to circumstances and don't force you to wait for cooldowns, there are few ways to help.

    Profession choice. The engineer (without a toolkit) has access to the smallest number of abilities of any profession. A toolkit-less engineer has 14 abilities they can use at any given time. Adding a toolkit gives 18. Most professions have 16. An elementalist has 25. My ele alt has a button for literally every circumstance that could ever arise.

    But rerolling isn't particularly attractive. Instead, try out a different playstyle! Unless I'm misreading you, it sounds like you've pigeonholed yourself with turrets, and now don't like the hole you're in.

    Ideas: when my engineer wants to take out a veteran and his friends, I pop on some steal life on crit food, hit the flamethrower, and laugh it up as I set the world on fire with amazing self-healing and damage. When things go bad, I chain together a knockback with a blast, then root, poison, and repeat. Alternatively, swap out the rocket turret, and give the bomb kit a try. Play with some combos (bomb 4 + bomb toolkit is a laugh). Or take a look at your traits, engis can be glass grenadiers of doom or ultimate indestructible tanks. Just by swapping traits. Are any of these better than turrets? I dunno? But they're fun, and changing between playstyles is easy, so why not?

    And this doesn't even touch on the social side of GW2 combat (combos), how some abilities serve multiple purposes simultaneously (as offensive, defensive, tanking, etc). But this comment is getting excessive.

    Hope that helps!

    Comment by Mythbusting — 20 November, 2012 @ 11:06 AM

  15. The Guesting system works most reliably when one member is on an Overflow server: it'll usually let you join to that Overflow. I do hope they get the rest of it running sooner than later, though.

    You also probably should try at least one toolkit, probably replacing both the Thumper and the Rocket, if only in the outside world for a bit. A lot of the Engineer's balance is built around being able to pull out either an Elixer Gun or a Flamethrower. Skills do need a faster UI for changing them around; the Fractals of the Mists dungeons almost require characters to use different utility skills for certain parts, and that's not terribly obvious to most folk.

    Psychochild:Yeah, I understand why MMOs cater to Achievers. But, I find this focus detracts from the experience. As a player, I'm only rewarded for completing a heart, not for helping afterwards.
    The odd thing is that they don't actually want you to play like that kind of Achiever. Heart rewards are usually extremely inefficient, and Map Completion only makes sense for the last few maps, need Skill Points, or if you're working toward a Legendary (poor fools) and need the Gifts of Exploration. The game developers are quite obviously and on-the-record trying to encourage people to focus on Events, to the point where some zones don't even have Hearts at all, and with Events you do get benefits for helping afterwards. There's just not enough Events (or the Events are broken, or don't reoccur enough, or don't overlap correctly with the stuff happening nearby) to really make that work in the lowbie zones.

    Not having played GW1, these references were lost on me. I also don't quite get the references to the Destiny's Edge guild that forms a central part of the story and of the dungeons.

    GW1 occurs 200+ years before the events of GW2, and thus nearly every NPC from the first game is long-dead and political alliances have drifted dramatically, so the references tend to be smaller than that. There's a giant sliced-up stone horn in the Black Citadel that's a reference to a , for example. GW1 Charr were religious zealots that kept women in the kitchen barefoot, rather than the murderous godslayers we know and love today. The Sylvari great tree was basically a peach pit in a side quest in the first game.

    Destiny's Edge have a prequel novel, unimaginately named Edge of Destiny, that gives the full story of how the group formed, and that's about the only source of media mentioning them before GW2. While it gives Zoijja and Eir Stegalkin some depth of character, it's otherwise a pretty schlocky bit of genre fiction and not terribly worth reading, though. I think the design is actually to go into things knowing only that these characters are reasonably capable fighters who others recognize by talking to NPCs, and then as the player progresses through the Story Mode dungeons realizing that they're bickering flawed folk who need a clue-by-four to the ears -- that actually does better without out-of-game knowledge. Not perfect, though, since it's hard to find all the NPCs in towns that reference them, and a lot of folk don't do the dungeons in order.

    It requires a lot of monster drops, which requires a lot of killing. The only thing I've had to grind out was drops for crafting.
    Yeah, that is particularly troublesome. From getting my Mesmer Artificer/Tailor to level 80 and capped crafting, I'd put the cost of just leveling crafting even with grinding all the components -- in addition to not selling dropped items -- at minimum 2 gold, and then end-game equipment is so expensive as to seldom be economical compared to drops or merchant-purchasable gear. The addition of Jugs of Karma only aggravates this: I've gotten enough Jugs of Karma to be able to buy eight pieces of level 80 Exotic gear, but only enough crafting mats to make one piece of exotic armor with tailoring. And it's not clear that Ascended gear will be craftable either.
    Oddly enough, you can level Jewelry and Cooking without monster drops (although getting to gathering nodes with combat is very difficult), and these are the crafting types that make the most sense to try if only for convenience.

    Pennie:The death mechanic in narrative is jarring, but I think you get past it. I wonder how else the story could be told?
    The particularly frustrating thing here is that there are other options: the dying character falls in a fight with a powerful being who is defined by his ability to corrupt and take control or manipulate enemies, so there's a very easy out. That said, a lot of folk found it a touching moment and were glad they didn't need to fight their compatriot's remains (at least for the Order of Whispers; the Priory equivalent isn't as well-written a character), so it's probably a reasonable departure from the genre convention.

    Comment by gattsuru — 20 November, 2012 @ 1:01 PM

  16. Since a lot of people are trying to offer advice: To be clear, I don't hate the skill system, I just think it's overly limiting. I wish it were more customizable and had more options. It works well enough, but when my standard "rotation" can be boiled down to a list so easily it feels a bit boring. I want more variety and more options, and I don't want to have to sacrifice some element of what I've come to rely on as "core" abilities to get more variety.

    Macnol wrote:
    Nope, the flamethrower is more useful when fighting groups of mobs while you're in a group too.
    I haven't done a lot of grouping, but for groups of mobs I find Thumper Turret + Static Shot + Blowtorch = rapidly dying group.

    I might have to play around with bombs more. I like grenades for taking out enemy turrets (like the Dredge ones), but bombs might be nice for a bit of kiting. But, then again, it'd be nice to have access to glue shot without feeling like I'm doing a fighting game special move with the keys. ;)

    Of course, that depends a lot on your playstyle, it's just that I feel the turrets are in dire need of an upgrade.

    I think turrets work well enough. It'd be nice if they had shorter cooldowns, particularly if you picked them up. Sucks to drop a Thumper Turret in a combat only to have the monster decide to attack someone else who is far away; do I leave the turret there and have it be possibly useless, or pick it up and be able to drop it 40 seconds later (IIRC) when combat is probably over? Also sucks when some monster just destroys your newly placed turrets with some of those overpowered AoEs some monsters have. Even when I traited 30% less damage to turrets and auto-repair, sometimes the turrets died way too fast. But, in 95% of situations, they work fine.

    Nepumuk wrote:
    I find it interesting that you do not directly mention dynamic events, which are supposed to be a important feature of the game.

    I talk a bit about those in the next post. It was originally part of this post, but this one got overly long. Spoiler: I don't think they're a terrific addition to the game.

    Bezayne wrote:
    I am also beginning to think that the limit to two (or in some cases even one) weapon set is too rigid, I keep wishing for more options. As it is, either you know ahead of time what challenge you will face or you may find you got a rather sup-optimal weapon setup.

    Yep, this is exactly my feeling. Again, I like the turrets and they work perfect for my playstyle. But, I wish I had more options in combat. I guess another example is in my personal story, when you get into a big fight. You fight mooks, then the big guy shows up. But, I'm still in combat, so I can't swap to another weapon or utility skills, so I'm stuck with the same old skills in a new situation.

    I understand the design philosophy, where they probably didn't want people to feel like they had to continually swap stuff in combat, but it just feels really limiting.

    gattsuru wrote:
    The odd thing is that they don't actually want you to play like that kind of Achiever.

    Yeah, I think this is a side-effect of me being an Explorer type. I want to wander around the maps and see stuff. I want to see what the Heart vendors sell. I want to figure out an efficient way to complete a heart, perhaps without combat. These things tickle my Explorer side. But, when you're wandering around and there's a vista up above, why not try to get up there and get it? If there's a heart nearby, why not complete it? You never know when you'll find something cool as a side-effect. But, for the most part, it feels like I'm just checking things off a list. I'm fully willing to admit this is me, but as I'm taking the game without reading up a lot on strategies and the most efficient way of doing things.

    Destiny's Edge have a prequel novel, unimaginately named Edge of Destiny....

    Ah. The tone of the stories I got was, "Here are some heroes that, obviously, you know well!" I assumed there were some outside references. I guess not. A good story should have given some foundation for why these characters were important, though.

    ...the dying character falls in a fight with a powerful being who is defined by his ability to corrupt and take control or manipulate enemies....

    But, then, why doesn't the enemy do this to player characters? Again, it violates the rules of the world established by the game.

    MILD SPOILER ALERT! I thought the sacrifice in the Order of Whispers storyline felt pretty empty. Yeah, the NPC was cool, but he didn't have enough characterization. I didn't even realize he was "missing" a hand until that point, for example, as it had not been referenced before then! There was nothing leading up to this, no hints that he wanted a "heroic" ending, or that this was something within his personality. No option for me to step in instead of him (of course, I wouldn't truly die, but would be rescued and pulled away after falling.)

    Game mechanics wise, it felt empty given that I had to revive him at least twice during the fighting leading up to that. Why was his last stand fatal, when falling against the mooks wasn't? It's maddeningly inconsistent, and it's enough to drop my willing suspension of disbelief and enjoy the story.

    It just makes the story feel empty when I'm supposed to be part of the story, but I can't really fail and all the important decisions are already pre-scripted and decided for me. I'd rather not have the story than to be railroaded into a linear story like this.

    My further thoughts.

    Comment by Psychochild — 20 November, 2012 @ 2:29 PM

  17. Someone linked to this from Reddit, where there are some interesting discussions as well.

    http://www.reddit.com/r/Guildwars2/comments/13ha3z/a_game_developers_analysis_of_gw2_brian/

    (I assume this is where most of the new commenters are coming from. Welcome! :)

    Comment by Psychochild — 20 November, 2012 @ 2:32 PM

  18. Was linked from KillTenRats a couple years back.

    But, when you're wandering around and there's a vista up above, why not try to get up there and get it? If there's a heart nearby, why not complete it? You never know when you'll find something cool as a side-effect. But, for the most part, it feels like I'm just checking things off a list.
    That's true. It'd probably have helped to have the Explorer-heavier bits like the Points of Interests and Vistas separate from the Hearts, and/or added more to them. As it is, you can 'complete' a zone without even unlocking the zone's full map or having participated in most of the events, but at the same time been required to meander to places you'd normally not have gone and often don't have much going for them.

    Ah. The tone of the stories I got was, "Here are some heroes that, obviously, you know well!" I assumed there were some outside references. I guess not. A good story should have given some foundation for why these characters were important, though.

    They're well-known in the world, and there's a lot of sources describing them if you look in-game or on the web, but it's not really necessary. Agreed that it needs to have a better foundation, though; the Personal Story (and non-event quest) system doesn't really have a good feature for giving information you might well need to know.

    But, then, why doesn't the enemy do this to player characters? Again, it violates the rules of the world established by the game.
    It's strongly implied that the control/corrupt ability is somewhat affected by armor, other protections, strength of willpower, distance, and physical strength -- most significantly, the leader of the Vigil outright states she endured a blast from a different Elder Dragon and had to beat her former-but-now-corrupted warband to death, and they're not sure why it didn't affect her. ((In game mechanic terms, she's also one of about ten non-enemy warriors of "Legendary" grade, while the Heroic Sacrifice NPC isn't. Player characters also don't get caught alone with an unweakened zone-boss grade Dragon Champion.))

    You have to go out and try to talk with those characters, though, or even have to sit in the right place until their passive dialogue occurs, which probably brings us back to your other point. And it could well have been done better.

    It just makes the story feel empty when I'm supposed to be part of the story, but I can't really fail and all the important decisions are already pre-scripted and decided for me. I'd rather not have the story than to be railroaded into a linear story like this.
    That's a good point. There are a lot of places where players have the option of making explicit choices -- in addition to the three Orders, there's a number of places the story branches -- but there aren't many matters where actions rather than words have consequence, and even most of the branches fold back in very quickly even if they honestly should. (Charr characters with the Honourless Gladium background have the option of essentially committing treason, but the only thing it changes it which of two NPCs stand in your home instance.)

    That said, you've put a fairly high standard forward. There's not many MMOs that can or even are likely to want to give that sort of long-term consequences to most actions; I'm not sure even SWTOR really kept things that distant.

    Comment by gattsuru — 20 November, 2012 @ 4:15 PM

  19. (Copied off Reddit from here: http://www.reddit.com/r/Guildwars2/comments/13ha3z/a_game_developers_analysis_of_gw2_brian/ )

    Hey, Psychochild! Upvoting this from a resident of Marion for Gods-know-how-many Meridian years. I like seeing what other game developers have to say. Especially when you note that you don't like something because it's not your style. It's okay for it not to be your style.
    Your section on "story in MMOs" has me sighing a bit, because . . . I am a writer at heart. I like stories and lore and finding all the secret things in the game. I like seeing what the writer of the world made up and worked with to show off. On the other hand? A coherent narrative is really difficult to have in an MMO and still feel unique.
    You mentioned "One problem is that the game seems to assume some prior knowledge." . . . which is because it's a sequel to an established game. Sadly, in that case they always almost have to start assuming you played the previous one(s).
    (Unless you're Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest. Then you can cheat.)
    Can I drop in a comparison with your "Character Abilities" point, to your work with Meridian 59? A game in where you might have two dozen things your character knew, but you only used maybe six except as situation-sensitive tools? There's a spell to protect against fire but only one monster uses it . . . other players do and they have other options. There's a spell to protect against ice but only players may use it . . . and probably won't because it wasn't as strong in their arsenal. Really it boiled down to a boilerplate build of "swing swords until I can get a bow, then shoot arrows until thing die". Throw in magic which would blind (you can't do anything, and can't see what's going on) or paralyze (you also can't do anything but you can still see), which can be used to perma-lock players in a PvP scenario?
    I'm not trying to attack you or the game but it was a significant issue when I went back to it later. It was even more limited in what you would have if you wanted to compete on the PvP scene, despite having many options.
    There were basically three basic templates, and four once expansions introduced illusion magic . . . straight brute fighter, blind/paralyze wizard, or elemental-magic wizard. It didn't have the benefit of "rock paper scissors" either, because of how the game worked. In a proper ambush, the blind/paralyze wizard would generally win with little chance of being killed 1v1 and sometimes 2v1 if they were good. Elemental-magic casters and warriors couldn't do anything if they were paralyzed or blinded, they just had to hope for respite so they could get a return shot in. (Against an opponent skilled in timing, this was a waste of hope, I shall note. You weren't hoping to escape on your own, you were hoping your buddies could chase him off before you died.)
    We could also examine Magic: the Gathering for the illustration of how MASSIVE amounts of options . . . still boils down to roughly 10% of the pool of options being something viable in high-level play. I leave that to more talented players than I.
    Dozens of spells and skills, and the game boiled down to roughly a dozen "viable" skills. And the gods help you if you used the freedom of choice to build up skills/spells which didn't complement each other well.
    Where's the point? It's this: you can be free to choose from a massive pool of options but . . . what does it matter if you wind up settling into one set anyway? Either due to the need to build to support or to counter existing meta-trends, you're going to wind up along certain lines and allowing the player the freedom to not conform . . . is a huge risk because they can either win with it and feel special or lose out and feel like they were idiots.

    Comment by Kereminde — 20 November, 2012 @ 7:01 PM

  20. On a more positive note, there were a couple good things about M59 which have become lost . . . because they were part of an era which has passed. In that game, dying was (relatively) painless or crippling depending on your situation. If you weren't needing to constantly watch your back from other players? Death was almost trivial, almost any set of gear could be replicated in an hour. Reagents to power your spells take two if you have cash stored. Back in the saddle after an afternoon if you're fortunate, or a day if you're cautious.
    For all I talked about a narrow band of viable builds, where you sat in them often didn't matter once your skills scaled high enough (they went from 1-99%, and anything past 85% or so was usually subject to diminishing returns for the effort). Your health and ability to take hits grew truly slow rather than in leaps and bounds, but by contrast you lost only a little at a time. Sure dying young might mean only 15 minutes is needed to get back your lost points and dying "older" meant 15 hours to get the points back . . . but 1 point, even 2 points were often not enough to make-or-break you. Even in a heads-up 1v1 match you could slide by being "close" to the other person in power if you could use what you had well and understood the mechanics better.
    GW2 kinda has the same thing going for it, it's just buried under these statistics and the flashy perks labeled "Traits". The difference is that instead of forging your own character (and potentially making costly mistakes) you are handed the set of skills and told "here is your toolbox, work with it".
    GW1 had . . . a thing. See, in that you could slot almost any combination of 8 skills you wanted chosen from two classes. And in town, you could switch your secondary class at will . . . meaning you really had almost the entire pool of skills to choose from so long as you felt like buying them all. And this . . . this led to a lot of cool skill synergies and innovations. (I'll admit it, the guy who came up with the original 55 Monk? I envy his creative thinking.) But it also led to some people discovering skill synergies which just plain made the game break down, as the testers couldn't really test all the potential skill combinations reliably.
    Do I miss GW1's "build your own character skills" method? Yes and no. I miss certain options but the focus on the skills available to me being limited . . . there's a person who I can't recall who said: "limitations breed creativity more than total freedom". I would not be surprised to hear that was part of the idea behind the more rigid skill set this time around.

    Comment by Kereminde — 20 November, 2012 @ 7:01 PM

  21. (I don't want to copy & paste my Google+ comments. I would comment too much and lose all focus.)

    GW2 is a mix of a lot of fun and also a lot of crap and design ideas that often just don't go together, some core design ideas also feel unfinished and underdeveloped after all the many years.

    Right now I am again loving to play GW2 - but I also had a fair share of frustration. The way they handled events so far, the quality of customer support, the "culling" of the client that always becomes annoying during events when suddenly invisible mobs and players run around. I didn't see even one karkra invaders for several minutes, but could target them at least.

    Hearts and Events are a great idea - but they are also limited to a usually very limited space/zone, there cannot be any overlap of event and heart zones. Then the tasks of the hearts are often very simplistic and after a while very repetitive, the dynamic event chains scripted and often not really that dynamic. I dunno if major events on a fixed timer with +/-30 minutes random are really a good thing, there are already "dragon timers" for the major dragon bosses.

    Then think about the up/down levelling of players that works better than most systems of this kind that I have experienced but that are still lacking. The problems were very evident during Halloween when lowbies, medium levels and high levels played together. So they just didn't dare to abandon the level concept for whatever reasons, but given how much of a damn you can give about gear upgrades while levelling except for upgrading your gear say every 10 levels I ca only wonder. GW1 should have shown that people can be entertained at a rather low max level for years.

    While the tagging and kill contribution system allows for perfectly casual and organic grouping without grouping there is also the drawback that at the same time you also never really connect with other players, they could be NPCs.

    What surprise me is that the video/story sequences are a step back from Guild Wars 1 which had way more cinematic sequences. The dialogue from left to right between two persons, ofc fully voiced, is sooo boring. For me a MMO has to offer a fantastic background/background story, not tell me a story, it's up to the player to experience his story. So a "personal story" with the same 3 choices most of the time for everyone is kinda lame.

    This might work for Mass Effect and Dragon Age and there it is absolutely fine, for online games SWTOR and GW2 should have shown by now that it is crap and only another source of income for voice actors.

    I have serious doubts if GW2 can ever live up to the hype and fulfill at least parts of its wasted potential. But I for sure hope they surprise me positively. I even more so hope that the rather tame "shop" doesn't mutate into something really ugly, STO's latest season is so full of ever more annoying cash grabs that I stopped playing.

    I am looking forward to the next part of your analysis! GW2 is definitely inspiring for designers, but I am afraid it was still a bit too experimental for the masses. I am afraid GW2 like SWTOR aimed too high. Yesterday I compared it to Vista vs Windows 7. Now I dunno how bad people think of Vista, GW2 is not as bad and hated as Vista was, but it also definitely has not yet become Windows 7. I have no proper personal experience with Windows 8, so I will stop my comparisons here.

    Comment by Longasc — 21 November, 2012 @ 2:17 AM

  22. A look at Guild Wars 2, continued

    This is a continuation of the last post about my experiences in Guild Wars 2 [...]

    Pingback by Psychochild's Blog — 23 November, 2012 @ 11:42 AM

  23. Appreciating My Fellow Bloggers

    [...] Professor Beej – 10 of The Most Moving Moments in Gaming History Psychochild’s Blog – A Look At Guild Wars 2 Raging Monkeys – [GW2] Of Lost Shores and Found Hopes Scary Worlds – #ESO: A Look at Elder [...]

    Pingback by Game By Night — 28 November, 2012 @ 11:23 PM

  24. 2013 in review

    [...] I was playing GW2 semi-regularly with a cool group of people (lead by one of the people I play DDO with, even), but the dungeons just didn't excite me much. The lack of character ability variety I felt also just lead to each character feeling like "more of the same" after the first few levels. [...]

    Pingback by Psychochild's Blog — 31 December, 2013 @ 3:51 PM

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