Guild Wars 2 – Initial impressions

This past weekend as been very positive so far on the GW2  front.

My initial impressions have been about what I thought they’d be - solid gameplay, fun dynamic events and wonderful vistas (more so than graphics). The art design is top notch and the combat is very fluid/responsive.

I really can’t fault ArenaNet for much of anything at the moment outside of the auction house being down all weekend. It’s been a surprisingly stable pre-release with the overflow servers cleaning up what would otherwise be an ugly situation of over population – there has been no 45+min queue yet. Think the opposite of swtor or wow’s release and you have an idea of what I mean.

The Good

Like I said above, the thing that jumps out to me is the combat system. It’s very fluid, grounded and has many great visual ques if you know what you are looking for. With only 10 abilities on your hot bar at once (most classes have 15 with 2 weapons choices while  Elementalists have 25 with their 4 attunements), the skills are simple to grasp but have complex interactions. Firing bullets though aoe conditions cause the bullets to inflict that condition when they strike an enemy or ally.

It seems to be the epitomy of simple to learn, hard to master mantra. With an eventual spectator mode and match replays, I could very easily see this becoming the standard template for creating esport mmos in the future.

ArenaNet likes to use the term “dynamic events” for everything in their game, but it really seems to come down to two types of events - static heart events and true dynamic world events. Static heart quests are at it’s core just normal questing minus the middle man of telling you what to do (that alone receives an A+ in my book). Instead you wander into a zone and the ui gives you a few objectives to complete. Story is told primarily though heralds which lead you in the direction of these heart events. Whether these stand the test of time will have to be seen but for the most part it is a nice change to streamline questing while also giving multiple paths completion.

No, what really is true progression in the mmo space is their dynamic world events. “Things”, as best as I can describe it, are always happening around you. Centars are attacking a small farming village, frogmen are stealing supplies from a stronghold, npc’s are being escorted to locations to kick off other dynamic events – all with branching events that happen if the dynamic event fails. On a number of occasions I found myself getting side tracked for hours on end following a chain of events, which by the way is something that will happen to you quite often in your adventures. Simply put, there always seems to be something to do.

Other highlights,

  • personal mining, gathering, logging nodes (no completing with other players when gathering)
  • xp for rezzing players
  • beautiful vistas and locals (can’t say enough how the art design in the game is amazing)
  • level scaling per quest area, not a zone wide level (i.e. you might be level 6 for one heart event, and level 12 for the next)
  • underwater questing / combat done right (at least it hasn’t annoyed me yet which is saying a lot)

The mining is an interesting change as it promotes players to work together toward a common goal which they can all be rewarded for. For example I noticed 5 mining nodes inside a cave full of bears/trolls/ettins (whatever they were) and proceeded to hack and slash my way in. Quickly, as I was fighting, more and more other players began appearing around me – assisting me to the prize at the end of the cave.

This wasn’t a mad dash to ninja as many silver veins as possible before the next guy though – no, once we cleared out the cave everyone who helped got an equal share in spoils. These little events by players make for memorable experiences and will ultimately allow GW2 to outpace some of it’s peers between content patches. These micro events, directed by the developers – created by the players, are the reason Eve Online is still a massive success9 years later.

The Bad

It’s hard at this time to critique GW2 as it’s doing so any things right, but even in the honeymoon phase I see a few possible problems cropping up.

While the game does reward you for exploring and participating in dynamic world events (the fun part of the game), most gamers honestly won’t feel rewarded enough and will stick to the “heart events”, which as stated earlier is just questing with out a quest giver. This can lead to direct comparisons to SWTOR (which did story based questing better) or WoW (which has better variation in questing).

An unfortunate side effect of removing the trinity (tank, heal and dps) from GW2 is to keep the game engaging, players must constantly be in danger of dieing. To keep from dieing (without the assistance of a healer) a higher emphasis on personal damage mitigation is required and since there are no tanks, the only way to mitigate damage is by “dodging” (100% immunity for the duration of the dodge).  Since gamers can only dodge twice every 10-15sec, the damage a particular dodge mitigates must be pretty high to put them in any sort of danger.

The result of this mental exercise is that the average gamer will have a very hard time with the spike damage normal mobs can put out while questing. Ettins in my level range can already 2 shot you, and many zone bosses have 1 shot mechanics which makes dodging at the exact moment crucial. Factor in player skill and lag, and you see what I’m getting at. Don’t expect your co-workers, parents, and non-gaming friends to stick with it if you can get them to play.

Finally because of the 10 skill limit, there is no real room for “flavor” abilities, something that LotRO, EQ2 and many other RP based mmo’s have in bushels. Flavor is a funny thing when it comes to mmos though, some love it knowing their avatar has a special niche ability that isn’t particularity useful – but makes the classes unique. An example of this is Mages teleporting in WoW or Hunters using “Eyes of the Beast” – abilities that won’t help you in a raid but are fun none the less. GW is missing that “flavor” for better or worse.

This may not sound completely like a bad thing on the pvp front but a side effect  is skill experimentation will be down (at least initially). You’ll see many classes running around with the same weapons for the first few months before players start experimenting with combo fields. Maybe better talent selections will make for more diverse and exciting builds, but for the beta weekends that hasn’t been the case.

On last point, I’m unsure what the longevity of this game will look like but I’m assuming ArenaNet has thought it through. Will endless questing in high level zones, pvp and explorable mode dungeons be enough? I don’t know. Much like SWTOR though, I’ll enjoy the ride while I can and worry about endgame later.

The Ugly

Still no AH 4 days later (maintenance), long WvW queues and no announcement of a mobile authenticator (or more secure login). Those three are forgivable as it doesn’t interrupt my playing experience currently so I’ll give it time.

Overall GW2′s release has been very successful and gamers can look forward to an overall enjoyable experience. Again combat it tight and fluid, and the world dynamics events add a nice layer to questing which I think you’ll see in future games.

For me personally I’m having a great time playing it (only to level 25 because of work) even though none of my guildmates have tried it out.

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2 Responses to “Guild Wars 2 – Initial impressions”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    lack of skills is not a valid complaint

  2. I would say it is to a lot of people out there.

    Flavor skills give definition and character to classes ~ especially classes that have no classically recognizable archetype. Maybe it’s a toolkit for me actually.

    At a high level, explain the difference between a warrior and a guardian wielding a greatsword. Should warriors of had more shout skills and guardians more symbol skills on their weapons to make them feel different?

    Time will tell but currently I don’t have “skill envy” while on my elementalist or mesmer like when I’m on my mage and druid.

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