Monday, February 25, 2013

Same Same But Different : GW2

J3w3l at Healing The Masses has a piece up about starting a second character in GW2. It's fascinating to read a view of this aspect of the game (indeed the genre) from someone who takes such a diametrically opposed view of it as I do. To me MMOs are entirely about alts and leveling them up; once a character hits the level cap they are pretty much done and it's time to start a new one. That's if I can wait that long.

I have six level 80s in GW2 now, all different classes. I'm currently leveling up a Mesmer who should ding 30 today and after that there's just guardian to go. Well, I say that - in fact since I have two accounts and ten character slots I 'll almost certainly make two more characters and level those up as well. A good deal of my time is spent duoing with Mrs Bhagpuss, who has a similar number of 80s, it being both our intentions to have the full set of all 8 classes at 80.

Are you sure those things are, y'know, safe?
In most guilds I've been in over the years there's been a fairly equal mix of players, some with several characters that they played regularly and others with one Main and, after a good long while, one Alt. It's hardly surprising that many players with one Main often had a highly sophisticated and knowledgeable understanding of the the class they were playing but were vague in the extreme about what most of the other classes in the game could do. The altaholics, on the other hand, while often not being more than solid but unspectacular players of any of the classes in their roster, tended to have a better grasp of  group dynamics and were much more open to and understanding of the flexibility, potential and synergy of classes operating in unconventional roles or combinations.

I'd say that in most if not all of the MMOs I've played for any length of time the classes play very differently indeed. Playing a Disciple in Vanguard, for example, is a totally different experience to playing a druid - you could be playing a different game. Same with playing, say, a Necromancer and even a  superficially similar class such as a Magician in Everquest. The mobs you kill to level up may be the same but almost everything else is completely different.

Deep knowledge, I haz it.
Deep knowledge of the subtleties and capabilities of the class probably isn't needed in most leveling games and solid understanding of and competence in the core class abilities and tactics will see you through most solo and single-group content you meet on the way to the cap. On the harder stuff that comes after that I imagine you may want a real specialist. I wouldn't really know because it's when that stuff comes in that I generally bow out and make another character.

GW2, though, is an extreme example. Not only are all the classes really very significantly different to play, each differs widely within itself. Swapping weapons can be like swapping classes, as can slotting in different traits. I'm not sure I've ever played an MMO where such a range of playstyles can be accommodated on a single character without a respec.

Rift, with its multiple Soul system runs it close, but changing from one soul to another never felt as fluid or intuitive as swapping from Staff to Daggers on an Elementalist or swapping Kits on an Engineer. EQ2 has a ferocious number of classes, over two dozen at current count, but while some vary wildly from each other, the particular subtleties of, say, Dirge and Troubadour or Brigand and Swashbuckler are lost on me.

Life was so simple back then. And we had hats.
The classes of GW2 were one of the aspects of the game that least interested me in the couple of years leading up to launch. All those slow, teasing build-ups to each class reveal that generated such excitement left me cold. I didn't really have a favorite class from Guild Wars but I'd been playing a ranger through Eye of the North to get some Halls of Monuments points (now there's a part of the game that fell into a black hole on release. When was the last time you visited yours?) so when the beta rolled round I went with that.

I stuck with Ranger all through beta, began with it again at launch and didn't make another character until the ranger hit 80. I was very happy with it, it was absolutely the right choice for learning the game and it's probably my favorite still. When I have all eight classes, my ninth character will be another ranger. An Asura this time, because I frequently find that even replaying a class I've played before as a different race makes a huge difference.

Warrior. No, Warrior. Yes, "really"!
Even in MMOs where there is no statistical variation in the races, playing the same content as a three-foot high gnome feels nothing like playing it as an eight-foot tall ogre, no matter that they both be warriors. The abilities and the actions are the same but the perspective isn't and that changes everything. I see the whole world afresh that way, noticing things I never saw before even in places I've been a hundred times.

Playing GW2, at least as a ranger, didn't turn out to be the paradigm shift many hoped, as I pointed out all the way back in beta.It turned out to be a lot of fun all the same, and in the end it did have its share of surprises. I certainly got one when I began to work through the rest of the classes. Engineer was utterly different. The tactics required were so much more complex but when they worked the pay-off was huge. My Engineer could do things my ranger never dreamed of doing. Then I played a Necromancer and discovered what power really means. And so on.

I'm someone who can play through the same content repeatedly and get something new out of it each time. I'm not easily bored and I am easily entertained. Even so, leveling six characters through 80 levels in one game over the course of as many months ought to tax anyone's ability to keep themselves amused. Last night I spent a wonderfully entertaining and enjoyable four hours achieving map completion in Snowden Drifts playing my Mesmer in a duo with Mrs Bhagpuss's new Necromancer. Drifts is a map I first explored in Beta and which I've explored extensively with several characters since.

That I was able to do so says volumes both for the loving care and attention to detail with which the maps have been designed, but especially for the immense replayabilty baked into the class structure of this game. And, of course, to the enormous pleasure to be gained from playing these games with someone you love.


  1. I think this is why people often have the opinion that there is nothing to do at endgame and no sense of progression. If you like a main like myself after a short while you really do have everything.

    I have multiple exotic sets including weapons and armor, a few hundred skill points, maxed crafts, and at one stage I think around 1 million karma which I promptly spent on those kharmas boxes in Orr and yet am already up past a couple hundred k again.

    The game is fundamentally built on alting providing much of the content. How the classes play so vastly different and that decent end game fear us easy enough to attain is a testament to that and that is a great thing in regards to retention for certain players, but where does that leave people who like me primarily just want a main.

    Oh and know thy enemy is one of the pvp ten commandments

    1. I'm as certain as I can be that if I'd stuck to one character I'd be done with GW2 by now other than popping back in to check out any new content drops as they appeared. My ranger actually has almost 100 unspent skill points and somewhere in the region of 200k karma and I haven't really been playing him, just bringing him out to harvest Orichalcum and do Jormag if he happens to be up. Plus he went to Orr to check out the changes. If I'd played him exclusively since launch I can only imagine he'd have been in the same position as you.

      Not sure what there is to be done about it. Some version of this problem arises in every game - usually I'm on the wrong end of it with my playstyle so I'm enjoying it while it lasts.

  2. I'm always shocked when people complain homogeneity of classes, saying that "all classes do damage." It's an incredible oversimplification and makes me sad somewhat, because as you said, the class system in this game is so so so wonderful.

    I personally have 3 80s (Ranger, Thief, Guardian) and working on my Mesmer right now. All their playstyles are so totally different and unique. I switch characters frequently on a whim, because each class has multiple options to deal with different situations. It's wonderful. Keeps the gameplay fresh.

    Also incredibly sweet last sentence you got there.


    1. People see what they want to see, unfortunately. So many people seem to move from game to game doing their best to find a class that plays exactly like the class they played last time round and then complaining that nothing's new. Not that I can throw stones, starting as I did from my glass house of ranger comfort zone :P

      And thanks - I ummed and aahed over whether to include the last sentence, but hey, it's my blog...


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