23 November, 2012
This is a continuation of the last post about my experiences in Guild Wars 2.
I talked about the good and the bad, time to talk about the ugly, the things that make me weep in anguish that lessons from the past decades of MMO development have simply not been learned.
After a bit of playing, I got my Asura Engineer up to maximum level. I ran a PUG dungeon (Ascalon Catacombs in story mode) and found out my character wasn't very survivable at all. I was a one-hit wonder against most of the bosses; I adjusted my upgrades to focus some more on Vitality. Unfortunately, it looks like I got booted from the instance right at the end as I was watching the end cinematic, so I got no end rewards and didn't even get credit for the dungeon; not sure what happened there, if it was malice from another player or a bug. I did notice that everyone else was racing through the game even though I was trying to watch the cinematics.
For character build, I've swapped out the thumper turret, which was mostly used for emergencies, for the elixir gun. Some fun abilities there and I have something to swap to in longer battles instead of waiting for cooldowns, but my original point remains: there still feels like too few options and my rotation is pretty much always the same.
I also earned enough gold to get 800 gems on the exchange to buy a new character slot. This was a goal I had set for myself to test the bounds of the economy. I go into some of my disappointment with the economy; I think there's a whole other post about this topic, though.
Anyway, on to the complaining!
Crafting is hit or miss for me in games. I was a perpetually disappointed Skinner/Leatheworker in WoW, feeling like my craft never really paid off even when I was a raider. In EQ2, my crafting level was often higher than my adventuring level, although my profession (Sage) didn't feel overly useful other than making some of the best items for my character when I found the proper rare components. In LotRO, I mastered all the crafts on various alts before they raised the maximums with Isengard. In DDO, I'm a reluctant crafter, especially since I play a lot of alts on many different servers so I have to duplicate that mind-numbing grind multiple times to benefit all my characters.
In GW2, I've returned to my WoW experiences: I'm just not fond of crafting as a system. There are two main reasons for this. First, for most professions you need drops from monsters to craft. In some cases you need A LOT of drops. To the point you have to go murder monsters and grind out materials for a few hours. Only Jeweler can progress without monster drops, but you need gems that randomly generate from harvest nodes. For most of my characters, I'm sitting on a bunch of basic crafting materials (leather, cloth, ore, etc), but I'm missing the bits and pieces from monsters necessary to craft items.
The one bright spot to crafting is the "discovery" process. At least for cooking, it's pretty fun to see how the different ingredients come together to make stuff. Of course, this leads to a ton of intermediate ingredients, so I haven't played around with cooking much at all. Cooks are the other exception to needing monster drops, but you need karma-purchased ingredients from hearts for a lot of stuff, and you create a lot of intermediate ingredients that you can't stuff into your collection space, taking up precious vault or bag space.
The second problem is that the economy doesn't support crafters. When my Engineer hit level 60, I went and bought a complete upgrade of all my stuff off of the trading post for a grand total of about 7-8 silver, and did the same at levels 70 and 80. I wasn't getting the top-of-the-line stuff, but I got sizable upgrades. This included full armor upgrade plus 2 new pistols and a new spear gun. There's little point to grinding out crafting if upgrades are so easily available. Of course, I figure there are probably high-level crafting items that are highly sought after that will make the tradeskill somewhat profitable if you stick with it. I'm working up Jeweller to see how things work at top level.
Wow. Where to start? The economy seems to be okay if you're an established player or if you got in early. People brag about having piles of gold. Coming to the game a few months after launch, it's been a nightmare. One big problem is that the economy is shared across all servers. This means that every seller is competing against every other seller. Great if you're a buyer, sucks if you're trying to sell, especially lower level stuff that will be less in demand as people race through the levels.
Economics has been described as the study of scarcity. If we had infinite resources that were available everywhere, there would be no need for economics because there would be no scarcity. This is basically what has happened to GW2's economy. Stuff drops continuously, and you can put it up for sale from anywhere. Players can sell seemingly infinite items and there are no durations on sales, so there are a ton of things up for sale. The only restriction is that you must post items for at least one copper more than the price you can sell it to the vendor for; funny enough, this means the person would be selling it for less than the vendor will buy it for, as the 5% posting fee and 10% sales tax will almost certainly come to be more than 1 copper.
In WoW, the behavior observed was that people would tend to undercut each other by 1 copper. But, while in WoW you might be competing with thousands of other players, in GW2 you're competing against hundreds of thousands of other players. This means that a majority of items that are not disposable or consumable tend to drop down toward the minimum price as everyone tries to undercut each other. The only items that seem to go for any significant amount of money are high-end rare drops.
As I said, this economic model is murderous for crafting. Prices on the trading post usually mean you'll probably get better prices from the vendor. Buying components that normally drop from enemies is a black hole money sink you'll probably never make back through selling finished products. And, even if you do find something that sells for above the minimum price, you'll might log on the next day to find a hundred people have posted items undercutting you, leading to the price dropping significantly below your costs.
Arbitrage is much more difficult, as you're competing with every other person in the entire game with the same idea. The most profitable things to arbitrage are the items that cost a lot. And, given the sheer flood of items, trying to corner the market on something is likely losing proposition, leaving you with an inventory of rapidly depreciating stock. It's also funny looking at guides on how to make money from even just a few weeks ago are misguided; one guide from only a month ago said how a certain drop you could farm would "sell for 40 silver, not a lot" when now that item sells for 2.5 silver.
Let me give a personal example of how poorly planned out it seems the economy is. At level 63, the cost to repair my min level 60 gloves that were damaged by death was 1 silver 24 copper (or 124 copper). The cost to buy the same gloves from the trading post? 70 copper. Let that sink in a moment. And, the old gloves will sell to a vendor for 69 copper, so my repair bills for any commonly available item will be 1 copper piece if I can make it to the trading post. (Or I could salvage the old gloves for crafting materials, but given the cost of the salvage kit use and how cheap the materials might be on the trading post, I am still probably better off selling the item and then buying materials from the trading post.) Anyway, I think this shows a lack of planning and design as far as the economy goes.
I also think there's a problem with inflation as the amount of gold required to buy gems is going up at an incredible rate, almost as fast as I can make money even though I play several hours every day. I'm not sure what sets the price for the gold to gems exchange, but I assume it's based on demand and/or money supply in the world and the rapid inflation is a sign of a lot of money being generated by the high level characters in the game.
I suspect I'll be writing a post about MMO economies soon, going into more depth about the troubles with GW2's setup and how it could be fixed (or at least designed better in the first place.)
On one hand, I think levels can be designed away. I also really enjoy being able to go into lower level areas and still have the content be meaningful. On the other hand, GW2's system feels like an half-hearted attempt to design away from level-focused design. With level scaling, the only benefit of level is to limit progression. It feels like level only tells you what you cannot do, what you cannot wear, what you cannot do during an event. It's there solely to satisfy the Achiever urge to see a number increase. Given that you will downscale in level if you got to a low-level area, though, there's no sense of progression where you can feel more powerful than the content you left behind.
I much prefer either eliminating level altogether, or having downleveling be optional. EQ2's Chronomages are an example of how this could work. You can voluntarily lower your level and then go on a daily quest to get additional goodies. It keeps older content usable by the players while not diminishing the levels they've earned.
As I said before, though, I'm not an Achiever, so I'd be happy seeing the number go away so I can play the game at my own pace.
Static World and Incompetent NPCs
This closes the circle on one of the problems with story: the world is still static in GW2. I might go and kill a bunch of enemies harassing some beleaguered person, and they'll send me a letter about how I "helped", but I go back and still see the enemy there in the same numbers as before. Or, I might kill some horrible beast marauding the countryside to complete an event, but I come back not 3 minutes later to see that same monster marauding the same location with the same event. Or, I might do a series of events where a location is captured for the good guys, only to come back a bit later to find good guy corpses all around and a few monstrous mooks wandering around having re-captured the point I worked to get.
This is exacerbated by the fact that the world feels like it's full of NPCs who couldn't pour water out of a boot with instructions printed on the bottom. It's not unusual to go to an event and find a bunch of NPC "corpses" lying around, where the NPCs couldn't even put up a token fight against the enemy. (Of course, most of them can't "die", unless it's required in the story script.) I suppose it's supposed to make me feel like a big darn hero where everyone relies on me, but honestly it just makes me feel frustrated with the world. Especially funny when my Charr Guardian goes along, a proud member of the Blood Legion who are the fiercest warriors in a species of fierce warrios, but all I see at an event are tons of defeated Blood Legion characters. They're a crack suicide squad, with emphasis on the "suicide" part, I guess.
Ultimately, it never feels like my actions have any real consequence to the world, even though the words on the screen say they have. And what change does happen is temporary. Worse, any change I want to make to the world has to be recognized by the system and part of an event. If I want to re-take a location for the good guys, I have to find the NPC that triggers those events. Given that I haven't found the need to care about any of the NPCs, it feels like my actions ultimately mean little to the world. All the more frustrating since you get a tiny taste of what it could be like.
I've only done a tiny bit here. I went into the WvW area to do the jumping puzzles, but I got ganked for my troubles. :) I did finally get one of the jumping puzzles done, though. In the other, I got my first WvW kill when some poor bastard stumbled into a group of allies.
WvW looks like it has some promise. But, for now I'm enjoying the rest of the content.
So, there's my full impression of GW2. Again, it's a very well-made game. I like the visual style. But, there are a number of flies in the ointment that really harm the experience. I'll likely keep playing for a while. But, we'll see if I'm more interested in developing my characters in GW2 or changing my focus back to DDO.
What about you? What are your favorite things about GW2? Your least favorite? The things you can't believe they didn't learn from other games?