Monday, March 4, 2013

Direction Of Travel: GW2

I wanted to slap Saturday's breathless, Herbie inspired gasp of approval up because it occurred to me that a lot of what I write about GW2, both here and in comments on other blogs, not to mention much of what I say out loud at home, may come across as overly negative. If so, that doesn't accurately reflect the experience I'm having in game. I'm having a whale of a time.

I woke up this morning intending to carry on in much the same vein. That was until I read this  excellent piece at Healing The Masses. It helped quite a few things fall into place and made sense of some confusion I've been having lately over why it is that I find myself disapproving of so much about the way GW2 seems to be going yet at the same time having so much fun playing it.

GW2 is turning out to be an entirely different experience than I anticipated, and indeed than the experience I was having in beta and for the first few months after launch. It's no longer the game we were "promised" or the game we were sold and far from breaking any molds or creating any new paradigms it increasingly appears to be looking back to long-established MMO tropes for inspiration.

...and over the next hill? Another hill...
In beta GW2 gave me one of the best open-world exploring experiences I've ever had in an MMO. Skeptical though I remained, it did seem that there was at least the prospect of an ever-changing world.  That optimism continued in the whirl of Headstart and through the first few weeks after launch. Looking back at my posts from that time there's plenty about exploration and the surprises it brings.

Then came the Karka and with them Fractals and Ascended gear and we all know where that went. What hadn't really sunk in with me until today was how much my own expectations have changed as a result of what happened back in November. Effectively, GW2 turned into roughly the same kind of MMO as EQ2 or Rift and my approach to playing it adapted accordingly without my really noticing.

Might have been better if we'd let them win
Most MMOs have an "end game" with which I don't engage. Usually it's raiding, usually it involves a gear grind. Before the Karka the nearest GW2 had was Legendaries, which I took to have been included merely as an ironic nod to the established obsessiveness of some original Guild Wars players. I fully expected 95% of GW2 players to ignore Legendaries completely.

That they seem to have been accepted as a rite of passage by a substantial segment of the playerbase shouldn't surprise me, given that I was there when Epics were introduced to Everquest. Epics, however, were extremely powerful weapons that made your EQ character substantially more capable in combat. Legendaries just look pretty. So, yes I am surprised. Apparently Barbie went Hardcore while I wasn't looking.

Life begins at 40
Legendaries aside, it was with the arrival of a whole new tier of gear that everything changed. It's been discussed to death so suffice it to say that no matter how many new routes to Ascended Gear may be added and no matter how accessible it can be made, the gear grind genie cannot be forced back into the bottle. J3w3l makes this point very clearly indeed. A lot of people are likely to find themselves increasingly boxed in by this one change and the prospects for players playing even the traditional Main and Alt look bleak.

Bleak, that is, if they are the kind of players who value efficiency, who want to be the best they can be, who are, for want of a more elegant term, Min-Maxers. I'm not. Never have been, never will be. And that's part of why I'm still having a roaring old time in Tyria.

J3w3l comments on leveling alts "The different classes are a lot of fun to play even if leveling them isn’t..." but of course for me it is. I love leveling and GW2 offers enormous variety and potential. My seventh run through, Mesmer, is half-way there. She dinged 40 yesterday. I'm already impatient to get her to 80 so I can start my second ranger, an Asura this time, and play him or her up through a lot of the Southern areas I don't really know very well. And since I have no intention of getting Ascended gear for any of my characters, there's no sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach at the prospect of adding another to the roster.

Why would you want to?
GW2 for me has turned into a still-new, still-shiny version of every other MMO. There's an increasingly big part of the game, the part the developers seem mainly focused on and to which players are expected to aspire, from which I have largely opted out. Even though I've had very thoughtful and welcome invitations in the comments here from readers and bloggers like Ursan and Phil to join them in doing some of the content I appear to be missing out on, I haven't taken the offers up so far because I really don't feel I am missing out.

Like many MMOs before, where I had ample opportunities and offers to go raiding, for example, I find I have more than enough things I want to be getting on with already. As Calvin and Hobbes would say, the days are just packed. I still don't like or approve of the direction GW2 has taken, something I may examine in more detail another time, but I absolutely can live with it so long as I keep finding this much content that I'm both eager and able to do.

Don't need to tell me twice!
There are unexpected, possibly unintended side effects to the New Direction. I purely love the new loot changes. It embarrasses me to admit not just that my current gameplay revolves around a completely artificial, un-immersive map-hopping circuit of lag-ridden loot-fests but that I'm loving every minute of it. Everything from studying the timers to riding the event wave to the banter in map chat while we wait to the frame-rate killing firework display when the Boss spawns to the "what's in the box?" reveal - fun fun fun fun FUN!

I have a lot of max level characters to dress. Most of them were in Masterwork greens with a smattering of Rare yellows before this change. Steadily those greens are being replaced by yellows and the yellows I can't use are being converted into ectos to become exotics. Mrs Bhagpuss has looted Final Rest twice, along with a couple of other named weapons. I haven't been so lucky but I open every chest in the knowledge that this could be the time.

It's exciting, it's satisfying, it's entertaining and it's easy. I think it's time I admitted to myself that after a decade and a half that may not be all I want from an MMO but it's enough to be going on with, at least until something better comes along. And if nothing better does come along, well I'm having fun and that's the important part.

Everyone loves fireworks
As for where the game is going, I suspect ArenaNet are painting themselves into a corner with an increasingly restrictive, coercive, hardcore end-game bolted onto a free-wheeling, roistering, genuinely casual-friendly open-world leveling game. Unless they have better solutions than anyone else has come up with so far this is a road that can only lead to a fractured, dislocated playerbase where different interest groups lobby hard for their individual, incompatible aspirations.

Same place as every other MMO, then.


  1. You speak the truth. it's a slow and subtle development, but the game is slowly turning into a different MMO. the issue is partly that while open world is great (and works), it doesn't work longterm if you don't actually offer the playerbase tools to work inside that world, create their own space, content and impact. there are no sandbox features in GW2. so falling back on traditional dungeon&gear grind seems inevitable.

    while you seem to find plenty to do for yourself, I hate to say that I am more and more at a loss whenever I return to GW2. I was hoping the living story would progress but every time I log on, it's at the same stage (I should probably read patch notes). I am not an alt player, I don't craft and I am too tired these days for both daily and gear grinds. so, I think it's fair to say I have a problem :)

  2. The final proof will be if they raise the level cap with their first expansion, or simply add more max-level content of various types. The first choice will prove they have abandoned their original ethic of 'horizontal progressions and variety of content'. If that happens I'll be very disappointed.

  3. I really should send you a basket of cookies for all the links lately, has like doubled my traffic. Might be hard though so have an internet cookie instead (::)

    I am sorry for being so critical as well but like you I really enjoy the little subsection of the game I'm attached to. Just the other night I stayed up to midnight when I had to get ready for work at 5 just because I wanted to defend a tower and was having so much fun doing it.

    Although I may feel the pressure to compete that Ascended gear presents I don't think I'll ever get many Ascended items. I have yet to grind out fractal levels, I don't log in just for a daily and I often forget about it anyway. It's just such a slippery slope though to a game I don't want to play.

    Oh, and you'd be surprised how hardcore pvp players can be over playing dress up, we mostly want the playing field even (except that small subsection of a's).. Just look at the SPvP system and how many people create varying outfits, or lol and the popularity of skins. It could be an equally time consuming approach as gear grinding but without the negatives

    Anyway thanks again for the link and happy hunting

  4. Thanks for the shout-out!

    Ultimately, Anet is a company. I feel that their slow introduction of gear grind is really due to the player base's wanting it. I'm sure they do market research. They probably concluded that in general, the majority of players like long-term, but not TOO long-term progression to work towards. While they probably had their own original vision of a game, it's been heavily influenced by corporate demands and short-sighted player demands. Which is unfortunate but certainly predictable.

    Having said that, I think one of the greatest beauties of this game is how this gear grind doesn't affect players such as you, and the combat system that allows for this. Combat in this game is less about raw numbers but more about knowledge of boss mechanics and positioning/dodging. If something ever BOPs your head and you get a strange itch to do dungeons/fractals, you can do it with your greens and yellows. My first Arah runs were in all greens. Aided by the knowledge and experience of my guildmates, it was very possible. Heck you have videos of people running dungeons naked (Look for AC naked run).

    This is one of the fundamental positives of the non-Trinity combat GW2 has that I feel people don't realize. Because there is no trinity, there is no need for the tank/healer to have a certain amount of gear just to survive. Who needs numbers to mitigate damage, when you can avoid it completely?

    The point is, gear isn't actually required to access content, which makes this game fundamentally different from all other MMOs (At least the ones I've played...)

    When Ascended items first came out, I was enraged. As they added more and more, it simply added more to my annoyance. I am quite the altaholic as well, and I will probably never Ascended'd them out. But I've recently been at peace with this fact. My Ranger, who I mainly open-world PvE with, has all the Ascended gear (Ironic, since it is the easiest content.) My Guardian has all exotics and I can dungeon with her fine. My Thief is mostly exotic, except a few Green trinkets, and I just shanked several invaders in WvW. My Mesmer, who I'm still leveling and have no niche yet, will most likely be in the same situation.

    The whole wonderful world of Tyria is accessible to me, whether I am clad in Greens or Pinks. With this knowledge, I can no longer be angry at the Pink Grind.


  5. Thanks for all the great comments.

    @Syl GW2 was never going to be a sandbox but I am disappointed at the complete absence of housing. After all the fuss over both the Hall of Monuments and the "Home Instance" in the PR blitz leading up to launch, both now seem to have been forgotten.

    In an interview in 2010 Ree Soesbee of ANet said

    "Your home instance will reflect your character's victories, their accomplishments, and the people they meet in the game".

    Not seen much sign of that.

    @Pai Since I like leveling I'll be somewhat disappointed if they don't raise the cap, but you're quite right that it would go against the grain of what they said they were trying to achieve. I've already seen a comment (by Colin Johanson I think...) to the effect that a level cap increase would be acceptable because leveling goes so quickly.

    @J3w3l - You're very welcome and thanks for the cookie - it was virtually delicious! It's always a lot easier to poke holes in things we don't like than to praise things we do, that's part of the problem. And reading someone gushing about how great something is is never half as entertaining as reading a rant.

    @Ursan I very nearly took you upon the dungeon offer but the main reason I didn't was that I realized I would be doing it to get the monthly, which I was doing to get the Laurels, which I would probably just save up and never spend like I do with most currency. At that point I decided I'd be better off skipping the monthly altogether and doing what I actually wanted to do. And ANet rewarded me with a Monthly for March that's MUCH better suited to my playstyle - I've almost finished it already.

    I completely agree about the gear. I manage well enough in most MMOs without getting caught up in gear grinds but GW2 wins the prize for not gating content behind gear.

    1. It's not the leveling speed that's the issue with raising the cap -- it's that it will create a new tier of gear you will need to get in order to be properly geared at max level.

      I've never done the Pink Grind. I'm in all Exotics and do just fine. I will resent, however, being expected to re-gear all my characters again just to meet a pointlessly elevated stat cap.

      If they go down that road they'll have really tossed aside their Manifesto. Which is sad, since that was what got people wanting to play GW2 in the first place... if they head too far down the road of copying the routine MMO formula to try and placate people who want a WoW 2.0, they will literally be selling out, which is just sad.

    2. @ Pai

      People bring up the "Manifesto" when they discuss the vertical progression GW2, but I'm watching the Manifesto video again and no where do I see them ever mentioning vertical progression, or the lack of it. In many of their official statements, Mike O'Brien and Colin Johanson are always careful to say "no" to any future level cap questions.

      I don't want to be pointing you out specifically, but whenever people bring up the "Manifesto," I get the feeling that people are simply projecting their own ideas from experience in GW1 onto this mystical "Manifesto." Now if you could point it out to me, that'll be great. But the only "Manifesto" I know of is the youtube video.

      And none of that WoW 2.0 silliness. This game differs from it in so many fundamental aspects. A gear treadmill (I will hate Anet if they do raise lvl cap) does not make a WoW clone.


      I'm glad to hear you stuck to your guns. Though I will contend dungeons are a very fun (and you're missing out on it!), especially when you do it with a group of knowledgeable people who're willing to work with people instead of just trying to speedclear it.


    3. Oops, can't edit. But I meant Mike O'Brien and Colin Johanson are always careful NOT to say "no" to vertical progression questions.


    4. Actually, it has to do with people feeling that the features of horizontal progression that people liked in GW1 should be built upon in GW2, and not tossed out in order to closer match some status-quo MMO formula. A required gear treadmill and constant level-cap raising are the opposite of how GW1 dealt with 'endgame content'.

      For people burned out from gear-numbers-obsessed type of gameplay, any hint of it gets their hackles up, regardless if that's 'logical' in your opinion or not. Many people got into GW2 to get away from that sort of thing.

    5. It's far from being unrealistic to expect a sequel to a game to preserve some of the gameplay ethics that people liked about the first one. Otherwise calling a radically different type of game 'Guild Wars' would be a misnomer.

    6. I completely agree with you. People are taking their past experiences of GW1, and imagining GW2 to hold to the same philosophy, while bringing up the "manifesto." It's not in the manifesto, stop bringing it up! (Is my point.)

      But vertical progression also existed in GW1 too. Did you grind Sunspear/Lightbringer/EoTN/Kurzick/Luxon titles? Because they are the very definition of vertical progression (small incremental increases in power gained with grind). But here, the philosophy between GW1 and GW2 are quite similar. In GW1, you didn't need those title tracks to access content. In GW2, you don't need any of these ascended gear to access content. It's not a required treadmill at all, and I very much disapprove of when people try to paint it that way.

      Regardless of this one specific topic though, GW2 was always going to be a different beast from GW1. While they talk about "the things YOU loved about in GW1," what they really mean is taking the things THEY loved in GW1, which can mean very different things depending on the player. So while it's completely understandable to flock to this game expecting it to be similar to GW1, expecting it to be the exact same is being naive.


  6. ^ I'm with this guy. Let's get some payday loans. LOL (I get this poop on my blog too).

    This article resonates with me. I was working on a legendary up until the end of last year. When I came back to play after Xmas I just couldn't do it. I looked at the grind ahead of me and just said no. So, I started another character and have been having the most fun since I started playing. I don't care about getting good gear anymore. Pinks aren't even on my radar. Oranges seems like a distant dream. But, honestly, I don't really care. Only people that do are those people grinding everyday in CoF and I pity those people.

    1. Heh! I removed the pesky thing. Getting more of them all the time, unfortunately.

  7. Actually Anet said several times before selling the game an expansion would most likely
    have a level cap raise.

    That is to be expected.

    And anyone playing GW1 know that getting a flat 15% damage weapon or even a 15^50 was very rare in the early stages.

    Ascended gear is a silly addition that raise character power by 0.55% per piece compared to exotic items.

    The worst part clearly isn't the power increasing (simply having a food boost or utility buff or going knights over zerkers or cleric create a much bigger difference) but how you get them and the grind required (another interesting aspect is that it is way easier to get exotics today than 6 months ago).

    They have been improving the ways to acquire ascended items, but crafting via crafting disciplines and regular drops should be part of it.

    I'm optimistic and would be much more worried if the gameplay wasn't fun.

    Champion of the Gods and God Walking amongst Mere Mortals were also crazy grinds in GW1 and I got them but not in six months.

    In 6-12 months, how many laurels will I have? how many tweaks and changes will be in place?

    1. According to Massively today, ANet aren't even working on an expansion. I could have sworn when they listed out all those teams that was one but apparently not.

      Personally, I would prefer a solid expansion with genuine new content (maps, races, classes) to a dribble, or even a flood, of additions to existing content. I'm not actually all that big a fan of monthly content drops - it starts to feel like a series of snacks instead of a decent meal.

    2. I find that hard to believe.
      If they can get an eexpansion out every 12 to 18 months, even at $40 and only selling half of gw2 boxes. that would be major revenue.
      Likewise, if they have 300 peeps working on gw2, the amount of content released and the speed of bug fixes becomes unimpressive.

      It also goes against NCSOFT conference call, although there is always the chance for something being lost in translation.

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