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Thursday, October 4, 2012

Guild Wars 2, a month plus some

Guild Wars 2 represents an oddity for me; it's the first time I have been able to keep myself off the hype train preceding a major release. Ironically, the result of me essentially becoming unaware of it until just before release is that I do not seem to be suffering the same feelings of disappointment as some other bloggers. I feel as though people build these games up to be some great thing, to offer them a sense of wonder they felt long ago (that frankly can never be replicated), and then they find any reason to hate the game when it fails to provide that. After the break, a few improvements I think the game could use, and some comments on the common criticisms.
Improvements, lets talk positive

I'll keep these in outline form, mainly because I do not claim to know what ArenaNet has planned for down the road.
  • At least 1 more weapon per class. I like the variety most classes have but as I play each I always feel like something is missing...perhaps this is intended, but it does feel like a downside. Here are a few of my suggestions, mainly from the classes I feel most comfortable commenting on.
    • Warriors: Off-hand dagger, providing a more duelist feel akin to sword, but focused on disabling rather than counter-attacking
    • Thieves: Off-hand sword, which would give them a few tank-esque abilities more in line with a "duelist"
    • Rangers: A rifle...mainly because I think it is silly that they can't use it, but perhaps it could be a condition or AoE heavy build.
    • Elementalist: I am poisoned by WoW, but I'd like to see them get a sword; perhaps as their more support oriented weapon (Yes, I know Water does a lot already).
    • Guardian: Longbow; their ranged options are sorely lacking and flat out bad. If the point of GW2 is to break the trinity, each class needs SOME dps option
  • Events need to be MORE visible. One zone allows you to see events from nearly half the zone...more need this. I notice when bloggers talk about event's feeling rare, it's probably because their path kept them out of sight. Events are everywhere and numerous, but easy to miss. Expanding the "event alert" area would reduce this.
  • Gem store expansion. One criticism of the Gem store is that the exchange rate is terrible. Currently I think that is because ANet has been too generous in making the gem store items findable in the real world. They need more, things like Name Change and Character Customization need to hit the store. Anything that pulls gems out of the market, increases their value.
  • Wub vee Wub: One issue with this right now is that it often entails a lot of running, a sudden death, and then a slog back to the fight. This gets old fast; they need to offer the capability to speed up transport a little, while still allowing one side to over-extend itself. Furthermore, the "Commander" concept as it is is dumb. 100 gold does not mean the person has any idea what they are doing or even hints at them being a good leader. Commander needs to be a title either earned by time (with a limits of how many can claim it at once) or competition.
  • Declarations; monster, especially bosses, need to be a BIT more obvious with some of their declarations. Some of those large dragons can be hard to follow; especially if one is in melee and I have been floored by attacks I COULD have dodged, if I were psychic and knew they were coming
  • LFG improvements. Something needs to be done, maybe not an LFD or Dungeon Finder, but something to make it easier to find people to group with so that I can click a button and play.
Airing the Complaints

I am not looking to trash talk my fellow bloggers; I like and agree with most of them most of the time. But from some of them I feel a certain "hipster" vibe; a drive to hate the game merely because other people like it or because it didn't conform to some envisioned idea of a grand unification theory of MMOs. I will do my best to avoid creating Strawmen, but if I miss or inappropriately characterize an argument please point it out in comments. So here we go!

"It has no endgame..."

Perhaps not, but this depends on what you define as an endgame. Does it have a metric ton of dailies one has to run to stay competitive? No. Does it have a raiding scene? Sort of, the explorable dungeons are challenging and have to be run repeatedly to get the best rewards. There is no raiding, but there might be later on.

What you CAN do at endgame is explore new zones (and actually have them be reasonably challenging as opposed to running around 1-shotting everything, to be discussed below), you can try and craft a legendary (which requires a great deal of work), do the dungeons, do events in the 80 zones, PvP...the list goes on. I think the problem with this criticism is that there is not a lack of endgame; there is a lack of SPECIFIC endgame. In other words, the game stops telling you where to go or what to do next, and relies on you figuring out what you want to get out of it.

This in part comes from the lack of a subscription fee. With WoW, I felt pressured to get my $15 out of it each month, which often relied on doing a lot of dailies and LFD to meet some self-imposed "minimum". At this point with GW2, any hours I play are just adding onto the value of the $60 I spent.

"Hearts and Events are just quests..."

This is somewhat true, they are the substitute for quests but what sets them apart is that they are a step away from "Go to the ! and then kill 10 rats". Now the player has some choice in how they help this poor soul. Events are meant to give the world some feeling of transition or change, to make it feel a hint more alive and they certainly do. I arrive at a town and it is under siege by centaurs that I have to fight off first...unlike in WoW where "under siege" means there are 5 quests in the courtyard that all want me to "kill X horde soldiers" and "Destroy X catapults". GW2 is not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction; with the next major milestone being a system akin to the Left 4 Dead AI director + Events + a sort of story-randomizing program that generates stories (There was a thing like this I read about a while ago...Storycliqs or something, I couldn't find the site)....and the final goal being an AI that simulates being a Game Master for the players. Lets be fair on the way, a step is still a step. Tobold had a similar idea a few weeks ago, basically that the "evolution" will take us towards an AI GM.

I suppose a quantity argument could be made but a quick cursory count of the human starting zone's events here leaves me at approximately 50 Events and 17 Hearts. Counting Elwynn Forest's quests on WoWhead (removing duplicates such as the ones that are the 'same' quest but listed differently for each class) I end up at about 54, so really the games have "approximately" the same number of quests per zone.

"You only get 10 abilities..."

This is also true, you get 10 active abilities, but they can be mixed and matched for hundreds of combinations...and to be honest, how many of your character's abilities do you find using in WoW? A cursory addition of my Death Knight is that he uses at 7 with some level of consistency, MAYBE 12 if I stretch the imagination, and many of those are highly situational. In GW2 all 10 of my abilities see use...though I could also argue, that with weapon-swaps, you have at least 15 (or more if you are an elementalist). Furthermore, each class has a gimmick which adds to toolbelt. The closest I can think of a class only having 10 is the engineer, who, without any Kits on his/her belt, would have 14.

"The game doesn't actually encourage you to be social..."

This comes from the belief that by not being in "competition" with other players or forced to form groups, you actually are encouraged to treat them more like pieces of environment. This may be true, but I can say with certainty that I never made a lasting relationship with a player I was in direct competition with. All my lasting friendships came from meetings in towns, in dungeons, or in other neutral places. Never did I become friends with someone who sniped a material node out from under me or was killing the same quest mobs I was after.

I will agree that GW2 does not turn introverts into extroverts, but for the first time in an MMO I do not view other players as opposition or inconveniences. Another player is a welcome sight; I have already made more friends out in the GW2 world than I ever did in WoW.

"The economy is terrible..."

I addressed this in a previous post, but as far as MMO's economies the one in GW2 appears just fine. The Gem store has its issues, but I applaud ANet for making them obtainable in-game. In every MMO I have ever played the low-level crafted items and magic items are dirt cheap, and anything common or not used in a desired recipe will be priced low. This comes as no surprise to me and it shocks me that it surprises others. There are things you can make money off, but you are in a desert made of copper ore and blue items, you can't expect to sell them at a profit. The "water" of rare crafting materials, armor upgrades and ideal-stat greens actually do sell (I've sold pieces for upwards of 50 silver). The devaluing of crafted items is a result of how MMO's handle crafting, and aside from EVE (which is its own beast) I have never seen an MMO make crafting at anything but max level a profitable activity. That said, I plan to do a series of posts about crafting in the future, stay tuned for that. 

Further, having the economy be all on one-server benefits the consumer, not the producer; it reduces the likelihood of the "small server monopolies" that were common in WoW; where a server's economy health was mainly tied to its population, and "goblins" often specifically chose low population servers for that fact.

"The combat isn't reactive..."

If we are saying that the encounter's aren't as complex as WoW's that's a fair criticism, and but I do feel like many of the GW2 dungeons have some interesting fights and situations that a person might want to try before judging. Not only that, but "isn't reactive" compared to what? SWTOR? WoW? Both are games where during leveling a person can basically sit still and spam a priority rotation (hell, you can do this against most bosses). GW2 requires dodging, kiting, crowd-control in almost every fight. Playing my thief I feel more like I am in a 2D fighter than an MMO. With my elementalist I am constantly moving around to give the best position and where I stand MATTERS. I am finding it hard to believe that SWTOR or WoW are "more" reactive or intense than GW2; especially given my experience with the aforementioned pair.

"There's no story..." or "The story is bad..."

This is one I am not really going to touch because I do not feel personally qualified to judge it outside of being 'someone with an opinion' (those are rare!). Frankly, I don't find the story thus far to be any better or worse than what I encountered in SWTOR or WoW, and the voice acting gets the message across. Sure it's not going to win an Oscar, but it's a level higher in immersion when the NPC's talk to my character directly as opposed to me ignoring scanning quest text to see what is happening. 

"Downleveling means I never feel powerful..."

A common complaint I have seen is the claim that one's character never feels "more powerful" because you can never drive-by a wolf and hit it for 6000 times its health because it's level 1 and you're level 80. But to me, the "downleveling" system feels more "realistic". Every Undead zombie I encounter will be approximately the same power level. A wolf in one zone is just as tough as the ones in another zone despite a 40 level difference. Levels still gate "where" you can go, and one can gauge their power by what zones you are high enough level to visit.

I feel like those leveling this criticism are just used to a WoW paradigm, but in Guild Wars 1, players spent a majority of the game at "max" level so never really increased in power throughout. Furthermore, this downleveling is pivotal to making the game work. Imagine how much of a disaster it would be if level 80's could come to the newbie zones and stomp their way through all the events, denying newbies experience.

Instead, this system means that I can take any of my characters and play with my friends, which to me is vastly more important than being able to solo a low level instance or stroll through a newbie zone like some kind of demigod.

After playing this, the "power difference" issues in games like WoW, where a high level player can stomp through low level zones, feels like more of a relic to me; a paradigm that only existed because we didn't yet have something better.


Being fair, I know this post comes off as me rushing to ANet's defense clad in my fanboy attire. Yet I do not deny that the game has issues; the lack of clear endgame goals can be confusing, the lack of raiding I miss. There are still plenty of bugged skillpoints and events that stall. The economy has some bumps. There are some issues with being able to farm. Some classes do need some balance tweaks. Those are all legitimate complaints, but speak more towards "tweaks" than the fundamentals of the game (that determine if it is fun in the long-run) which would justify the game being irreparably bad. If bugs doomed a game, Skyrim would have failed its way to the center of the Earth. Much like Skyrim, if you can look past the minor issues in GW2, the fun is there.

The game has its faults, and those are fair game, but I also feel that this vibe of "I hate it because it was hyped" is unfair. If you aren't enjoying it that's fine, but so many of these reasons feel like someone's vain attempts to justify that they just don't want to enjoy it.

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