Why was this blog effectively dead for a whole month? Because I was completely absorbed in Guild Wars 2 for almost a whole month. I think that particular flu has passed, though – out of my system. It has left traces, though – lasting impressions, memes, and memories. And it would be a terrible shame to not put all that month into at least one post’s worth of material. So, that’s what this post is going to be – a bunch of musings on GW2 after a month’s worth of exposure to it.
Point the first: Visuals.
Let’s get it out of the way, GW2 is a really good-looking game. Just look at actual in-game screenshots used to advertise it: It is brilliant. It is gorgeous.
It is also a bit of a lie. Nearly all the screens you can find on GW2′s homepage’s screenshots section are taken from carefully constructed compositions and nearly impossible camera angles. That is not what you’ll see while playing. To best illustrate this, I will sprinkle a bunch of screenshots throughout this post that I took on my system. At high settings on nearly everything (except shadows), mind – so it will technically look as good as it can look. And, as you will see, it… doesn’t actually look all that impressive. Why? Well, it is largely due to the camera. It pivots around the centre of your character, and the default viewpoint is looking-downwardforwards. Almost like in an isometric game, really.
Most of your screen is taken by ground textures and AoE marker circles. The effects of attacks are flashy, sure, but that’s another problem – it’s all big shiney swipes and bloomed particles, so much so that you simply don’t actually see your weapons connecting to anything or the arm movements of your character. It’s obscured by all the bling. Now, fair’s fair – the game world does have a lot of cool-looking places and setpieces. All the more shame that you probably won’t see them during normal play. If you want to look even straight forward, your character takes up most of the screen. If you look upwards, most of the screen is obstructed by your character’s pants and butt, while the camera is half-hugging the ground. Oh, I’m sure there are people who want just that – but I’m not among them, and I hate the fact that outside of specific vista points, the game doesn’t let me enjoy the sights without stopping.
Point the second: Other people.
Time after time, I found that the game actually feels surprisingly empty while you are adventuring in PvE. Heck, I normally love that sort of thing, having all the world to myself. But still, the lack of random chatting in world chat, the scarcity of seeing other players in the distance, it all feels weird. Yes, there are times when you see a lot of people – mostly during dynamic events, which really are crowding-centres. Aside from that, it is very empty-feeling. I suspect that the problem is aggravated far more than it should be by a specific quirk – it sometimes takes forever to actually visually display other players on the screen. Take this situation for an example – I’m running to the bank at Lion’s Arch, the game’s one major meta-hub of the server where there’s always a ton of people. At the moment of this screencapture, there should be about 5 NPCs and at least 20 player characters. And yet there’s almost nobody else but me. If I wait for some 20 seconds, then the game grudgingly loads everybody in. There’s some weird delay between “player is in visual range” and “player is displayed”. Maybe it is due to needing to fetch the textures, and colour them appropriately, or something. I don’t know. The point is, this is possibly why the world feels so empty. There might be players in the distance, doing their thing, that you should technically see, but you don’t because of this visual lagging. Unless you randomly choose to stay in one spot, you will probably have no idea you ran past someone at a distance.
Another reason for this feeling of emptiness is the same thing I praised a few posts ago – the dynamically drop-in-drop-out nature of everything. You can choose to help other players, you can chose to not help. You don’t have to party up, you don’t have to coordinate much, you can let your playing do all the interaction for you. Yes, it is great for bringing out the sorely lacking “express yourself through the way you play”, but it is also great at establishing a setup where chatting is unnecessary. And when the game has troubles even displaying people in visual range, a silent chatbox does a lot to make everything feel desolated and devoid of life.
Point the fourth: Enemies.
Well, what about them enemies, you ask. Ofc it has enemies, it is an MMO with PvE stuff. … This is what’s wrong with enemies – there’s too much of them, and they are way too hostile all too often. Guild Wars 2 is a game where exploration, supposedly, is a big factor. You get all sorts of rewards (exp, cash, items, achievement points) for exploring the world, seeing all the vistas, getting to points of interest, delving in caves and climbing mountains, and so on. And it would be great if you weren’t constantly harassed by every damn “living” thing in proximity. Normally, you do not just run through something – you run through something while constantly being under attack and chased by enemies. The higher the map level is, the more prominent this gets, until you reach the PvE endgame map(s) – the land of Orr. The enemy density is very high, their aggression range is also very high, and they have a lot of ranged attacks, including annoying things like rooting your character in place (risen spiders, for instance), stacking insane amounts of damage over time (risen hylek and their poison darts), slowing your character’s movement speed (cripple/freeze), or actually pulling your character way back (the Krait do this a lot, and it sucks major eggs). Exploration is turned into a constant stream of annoyances and aggravations because of the non-stop “you are in combat/under attack” presence.
Point the somethingth: Underwater Combat.
I’ll briefly mention this, for the express reason of saying how bad it is. For one, underwater enemies seem to do a lot of damage to you. More than anything comparable above water. Next, the movement in water is fairly clumsy (you are navigating a 3D environment with controls appropriated for a 2D movement). Heck, the “swim downwards” key is not even bound by default! Furthermore, if you are using short-range weapons (spears, harpoons), then you have to get your character close to the monster. And this is, for some reason, very hit and miss. It is very easy to be too far, too high, too deep, or just not facing in the right direction. If you are using ranged weapons, then – on average – you do very little damage underwater. Worst of all, this is forced on you if you want to get 100% map completion (a lot of static quests are underwater ones), progress your personal story (a bunch of instanced missions are underwater affairs) or just explore everything (lots of places underwater are guarded by hyper-aggressive monsters).
Point the finalth: Degradation-Over-Time.
This.. this is the reason why I’m not really playing the game anymore. It’s the property the game has, it’s a constant, slow reversion from an innovative new take on MMOs to a stale, old, played-out standard typical MMO. As you progress through the game, a few things become more and more prominent: instanced dungeons, crafting, and hyper-bosses on PvE maps. Those are all stupidly, horrendously bad things, and here’s why:
The dungeons are the plainest expression of the developers giving you the middle finger repeatedly. Enemies in dungeons have insanely high hit-points and damage. There’s a LOT of enemies. There are environmental traps of the “do or die” variety. The dungeons are often long. I don’t know who balanced those things, but obviously they tried to give a “super elite hardcore” feeling to them. And, guess what, it sucks. Nothing else in the game prepares you for it, the entire difficulty of the game – on any class – doesn’t even hint at how stupidly unfair the dungeons are. Yes, the story missions have bad balancing too, and tend to favour warrior/guardian classes. Dungeons are a whole another matter entirely. It’s not even that you can learn from your mistakes, so much of dungeon mechanics is related to essentially insta-kill, you are forced to go through a vicious chain of constant deaths just to try again. What is it, in one acronym? DIAS. Do it again, stupid. And the way dungeons are made, it really feels like the developers are calling you stupid.
Crafting.. This is a complete and total money sink. And a waste of time. And, thanks to the item shop, it is a complete net loss across the board. It is always cheaper to sell the individual ingredients than it is to sell whatever they produce. And because a lot of recipes are limited to items that only drop from enemies, they can get expensive real fast. Normally, there is an investment-payout thing. Here, it’s investment-nothing. And the crafting process is not inherently interesting – you just click on recipes and watch progress bars move around. It is, essentially, grinding. You grind enemies for either the materials or the money for materials, then you grind recipes to advance a crafting level, so that you can craft higher-level items that require more expensive materials. All at absolutely no profit, and many times, at a loss. Great, eh?
Now, the hyper-bosses. These.. well, these could be potentially cool. They are the culmination of long, map-wide event chains. They are the places where players come together, collectively take down a super-strong enemy, and get rewarded for it. Except, the execution is not all that great. In fact, it sucks, and solely because of the utter mess than inevitably comes. With 20+ players all attacking the same target, the screen is a complete mess of particle effects and a blob of player avatars. The enemy is probably just twitching without doing much due to constant interrupts. If underwater, the enemy will be absolutely spazzing out. There’s not much place to employ any strategy – it’s always a situation of “just zerg it and mash whatever attacks you have”. And the game cannot really handle that many players attacking one target, it’s fairly obvious. There’s a delay in server responsiveness, in enemy animation syncing with attacks. Worst of all, these enemies, these hyperbosses are often big. Properly big. So big that the normal camera angle doesn’t let you bloody see them – just their legs and lower torso. Especially if you are a melee-oriented build.
That’s what the “endgame” boils down to. Thanks to the 100%-completion mechanic, there is little to no reason to actually revisit a PvE map once you are done with it, and obviously getting to ‘endgame’ means getting through most of them. You are left with repeating dynamic events with big bosses all the time (so… grinding for items/reputation), left with levelling crafting (more grinding), or running though dungeons (raiding, I suppose. If you want to get enough dungeon tokens to get appearance rewards, you will do enough of them to classify as grind as well). Or, you can go do PvP. That’s what you are left with, for Guild Wars 2′s endgame: grinding, raiding, PvP. Sounds familiar? Yeah, that’s your every single MMO trope described in three concepts. If you don’t like to grind, if you don’t like to raid idiotic-hard dungeons, if you don’t like to do PvP, then Guild Wars 2 has nothing to offer to you once you “finish” a character. And because of the converging nature of storylines and PvE maps, there is limited appeal even in completely restarting.
So, that’s that. These are few of the things that I feel really didn’t do any good to Guild Wars 2. At the end of the day, it is still a pretty typical MMO, as far as thing go. It is not revolutionary. It is, maybe, slightly evolutionary, but only in the fantasy-numberbashing-wowlike-MMO subgenre. There’s still hotkeys, there’s still professions etc., there’s still focus on combat and grinding and pvp (wvwvw). It does a few things to play with the variables and mix them up a bit, but it doesn’t introduce any new variables. It is still a pretty addictive game, but as with nearly all MMOs, it starts way better than it ends.
~X2Eliah won’t advertise this on twitter because there is almost nothing actually new or interesting in this post. It’s just a mechanic for him to “get it out and down so it can be put away”.