Monday, 18 February 2013

Sunday In The Park: GW2

Over many years, on many forums and in the comment threads of many long-suffering blogs, I have banged on about my belief that any MMO can be either sandbox or theme park depending on how you choose to approach it. For all that I hold this to be self-evident, however, I have little in the way of personal experience to offer to back it up. The plain fact remains that I don't really know what a Theme Park is. In fact, before I learned the term through its use in gaming, if it meant anything to me at all it would have been something like this.

Such a lack of personal experience of the original has always left me at a disadvantage when the term gets thrown around in relation to MMOs. I could dimly apprehend its relevance but nothing resonated with my own playstyle, which tends towards the chaotic. I act often on whim and sometimes on whimsy. I create my own goals, pursue them for as long as they interest me then drop them without a second thought.

I am not, nor have I ever been, in the habit of slavishly pursuing any path set out for me by a game or its developers. The concept of moving from ride to ride, waiting patiently or impatiently for each to start, whirling around and around until the music stops then staggering off towards the next is alien to me. Well, it was until yesterday.

Last Friday my Thief dinged 80, the sixth of my Guild Wars 2 characters to reach that milestone. Rather than jump straight back on the horse with my Mesmer or Guardian I thought I'd goof around for the weekend. I spent all Friday night and Saturday morning sorting the bags and bank vaults of six characters. Then for an encore I organized the guild bank.

There were a lot of weapons and pieces of armor strewn around and in the course of tidying it all up it became apparent to me that I had a lot of level 80s dressed in level 50-70 gear. At best. I spent most of the rest of Saturday on the Trading Post, buying and selling. People will buy anything. I was amazed. Throw any old rubbish on there and it's snapped up in seconds.

Anyway, by late Saturday evening all six 80s were in what I would consider to be basic level 80 starting gear with upgraded Masterwork or better in every slot, but between the lot of them they could barely muster an average of one Exotic each. Now, I don't believe I they need Exotics to do anything I'm likely to ask them to do but I was enjoying playing Barbies so I decided I'd spend Sunday farming Rares to convert to Globs of Ectoplasm so that I or Mrs Bhagpuss (who has all craft trades maxed) could make whatever I fancied. That's how I came to see the true horror of the MMORPG Theme Park Experience in action for possibly the first time in my life.

GW2 has a number of open-world events that conclude with the dropping of a chest the size and appearance of a commercial freezer. Inside this chest can be, but rarely are, Rares. Not counting the Temple events in Orr there are six of these chest-droppers. Three feature lieutenants of the Elder Dragons: Claw of Jormag, Tequaatl the Sunless and The Shatterer. The other three are The Frozen Maw, Shadow Behemoth and Fire Elemental. They keep to a strict schedule which you can find handily recorded, tabulated and regularly updated at the Guild Wars Temple website.

People use this like a railway timetable. Each event has a margin of error, presumably in an attempt to create some spurious sense of spontaneity but in practice all of them pop at numbingly regular intervals. If you keep an eye on the timers you can waypoint from Frostgorge Sound in the Far Shiverpeaks to Sparkfly Fen in the Steamspur Mountains before bouncing back up via Queensdale to Wayferer Foothills and you won't be alone.

On a busy Sunday the resemblance to what I imagine a real Theme Park to be like was unmistakeable. A few minutes before the earliest point at which an event could begin people would begin to gather and mill around, becoming increasingly fractious the longer they had to wait.

With the exception of Tequaatl, who just appears at the ominous cry of "There's something in the water!", all the events require some chain of pre-events to be completed. If these are right at the main location, as they are for The Claw and The Maw, the whole zerg sets to with a will. If they happen somewhere out of sight, as at The Shatterer or Shadow Behemoth, everyone shuffles around where they stand, complaining that someone ought to be doing the pre-events.

Someone always is, and they are the ones who often miss out on the main event because of their public-spiritidness. By the time they hoof it over to the where the action is, the action isn't. The ride has stopped and everyone has has moved on.

The dragon driven out, the Maw quiet once more, the air is filled with the wailing and gnashing of teeth of the disappointed chest-openers. "Nothing but blues" is the common refrain. In Frostgorge you could get crushed in the scrum at the nearby vendor as everyone rushes to unload their worthless rubbish. Anyone lucky enough to pull a Rare out of the box is honor-bound to link it in Map chat, mostly to prove it really can happen. Sometimes the class clown will throw in a link to a Legendary. How we laughed.

I did this most of the day. The only event I didn't do was the Fire Elemental. Never done that. I did the Shadow Behemoth for the first time (the first several times) thanks to reading The Egg Baron's recent fine walkthrough. It's been bugged as long as I can remember but it's working fine now. I did The Maw, which pops about every 30 minutes or so, many times; Claw of Jormag and The Shatterer a couple and Tequaatl once.

I got half a dozen or so Rares, a couple of which were upgrades that I used. I blew the rest up for Ectos. It was a fun way to spend Sunday, but it really brought home to me how mechanical and gamelike GW2 can be. This morning I read J3w3l comparing the open world of Firefall to GW2 "...every time I try to level in GW2 it is just ticking off the check list of stuff to do so I can progress to the next zone. Fill in that heart, see that vista", she says. "It could have been an amazingly large, open and complex world but now it feels entirely compartmentalised."

It certainly can feel that way. Usually I don't even notice it but yesterday was a true glimpse into the Dark Side. ANet have said they intend to add more events so that any given event is seen less frequently. I would suggest they also remove Chest rewards from events completely. Increase the chance for better quality loot from any event instead. Encourage people to do events because they are interesting, intriguing, odd or amusing, not for the slim chance of a yellow weapon to destroy to make an orange one. Make it more about the park and less about the rides.

Still and all, I did have fun.

10 comments:

  1. Camping events in GW2 is very much like peeking behind the Wizard of Oz's curtain. If you simply wander through an area once or twice and are surprised by whichever events are in progress, GW2 has all the magic or an apparently dynamic, living world. Once you start looking up triggers and schedules and working the events efficiently, the magic goes away (but your loot per hour goes up).

    It's the curse of the MMO world that players insist on both peeking behind the curtain and bemoaning the loss of magic.

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    1. I'm pretty good at holding two contradictory ideas in my head simultaneously so mostly I can be aware the little guy behind the curtain exists while still only seeing Oz The Great and Powerful. This Sunday was an extreme example where I took it so far that belief just couldn't be suspended any more.

      I don't plan on making a habit of it but I can see how easy it would be to slip into that way of playing - like you say, your loot per hour really does go up...

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  2. I think the main problem is most people don't know how to play any other way but very goal-directed and themepark.

    They'll quit if there were no obvious rides because they'll say, "Oh, I've seen the park, world completed it already. Done, thanks, bye. And your game sucks cos there's nothing to do..."

    I'm just glad there are nonobvious things to do in GW2 still, for those who care about them. I've been making it a habit to wander more lately and just enjoy the illusion, even roleplay a little to help it along. I regaled another player about Asuran plans for world domination for the sheer fun of it the other day.

    Looking behind the curtain for the shiny just makes things miserable after a while.

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    1. There are still an extraordinary number of things to find in out-of-the way places that are just pure explorer fun. I found a rabbit in a bottle in Ebonhawke yesterday.

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  3. I was running a newly minted Norn Elementalist around Wayfarer Foothills over the weekend and was astounded at the number of people at the Maw event. It certainly wasn't like that in December.

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    1. The Maw seems much more heavily attended than the Shadow Behemoth. It's very easy to find, lots of other events go on around it, and of course everyone got a reminder of its existence when the Living Story kicked off last month. I can't remember if the low-level events always gave level 80 loot to downleveled 80s or whether that happened with the general loot change - maybe that had something to do with it?

      Does anyone do the Fire Elemental? I've never even seen it.

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    2. The Fire Elemental is actually my favourite of the lower level boss events. Not only it is situated in scenic Metrica Province, the destroyed reactor is an interesting place by itself.

      And the boss often requires you to dodge and support other people that get on fire or hit by the "waves", unlike on Behemoth and Maw events where it is mosly "shoot the target mindlessly". Unfortunately, the event has been somewhat simplified compared to the launch and beta. I'd instead prefer to have a greater reward for a difficult battle, but I can see where they are coming from. Nevertheless, I could only suggest you try it.

      - Skyve

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    3. I did the Fire Elemental for the first time tonight. The changes to loot mean it suddenly makes economic sense to waypoint from anywhere to do one of these events.

      I was surprised to find out that of my two level 80 Asuras only one had the necessary waypoint, the other one having barely set foot in Metrica Province at all. The event itself was pretty good, I thought, although the pre-events go on a lot longer than the Maw or Shadow Behemoth, so most people would probably give those priority.

      My favorite of the three is Shadow Behemoth, just for the spectacle.

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  4. I still remember the days (oh so long ago) of grinding out Karma on the Plinx event in Orr. Every day it was the same people and we would all stand around on the same rock waiting for the same event to start. You could set your watch to that event. Everyone knew exactly where each mob would spawn. They were essentially dead before they even appeared. Part of me kind of misses standing there waiting for Plinx to peak his head out from above that cliff... but, I guess in the end it was good they fixed that. There are other rides in the park :P

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    1. It really is amazing how quickly things seem to have happened long ago. Changes that are barely six weeks old seem lost in the mists of time.

      The Maw is often like you describe Plinx. The whole chain is, I think, five separate events but sometimes I can't get from one to the next before it's been completed. Even the final boss can be almost down before I can run back from the last portal closing and he only stands about 50 yards away.

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