Monday, April 29, 2013

Smelling The Flowers: GW2

I'm still playing Guild Wars 2. What's more, I'm still playing pretty much only Guild Wars 2. Oh, I log into other MMOs occasionally. A holiday event in EQ2 here, a trip to The Vault in DCUO there. Nothing that takes more than an hour or so.

Then there are the Betas, some of which I have spent quite a lot of time playing testing and some which I... haven't. Tomorrow Neverwinter opens its doors to the non-paying public and a week or so after that so does City of Steam. Maybe one of those will prise me loose from Tyria but I rather doubt it.

Ursan mentioned in a comment recently that GW2 was winding down. I take that to mean his interest and involvement in it, rather than its development, which continues apace. I certainly expected to be feeling much the same after eight months, but I can't really say that I am. So what is it that makes GW2 so sticky?

It's not World vs World, that's for sure. Before launch there was a strong body of opinion that held WvW up as the sword by which GW2 would live or die. It was an opinion I never shared and while hard evidence on numbers is always difficult to gather in MMOs I think it's widely accepted now that WvW is a niche within the game, not its motive force.

It could be so much more than it is and maybe eventually it will be, but currently WvW isn't much more than a very large, instanced Battleground. The Tier structure is badly thought out and far too inflexible. Individual matches last too long or become stale and predictable far too often. There is no real point to winning. Nothing that anyone could care about ever changes. And to cap all that, the new World XP system is laughably useless.

Nevertheless, I enjoy WvW a lot when I'm in the mood. Taken on its own level it can be enormous fun. We had a magnificent three-way battle for Stonemist Castle last night that Yak's Bend eventually won, for example, and I had a great time. Something like that happens most days. It's meaningless, empty fun, though. When we lost the castle less than an hour later, I wasn't there, I didn't care and I certainly didn't feel guilty I'd not stayed to defend.

You'll believe a Golem can fly!
So server pride isn't what's keeping me logging in. Could it be character progression? Much of yesterday passed in a fervored but fruitless search for suitable Exotic gear for a level 80 Elementalist. Much reading of guides and forums, perusing of crafting recipes and scouring of the Trading Post later I came to the conclusion that it really doesn't matter what she wears.

The same applies to all seven 80s. (Try and keep up, Guardian! You're letting the side down.) Having the right gear may be crucial if you do certain things in GW2, although I struggle to imagine what those things might be, but for what I ask of my characters it doesn't seem to matter all that much.

That's not to say it makes no difference; it does. After a significant upgrade I can clearly see improvements in key areas, Time To Kill and Survivability particularly, that make things easier and more fun all round. What it doesn't do, which it has done in other MMOs, is take a character across the barrier from Can't to Can. I'm not gear-gated from doing anything I want to do so character progression becomes optional content I can pick up and put down according to mood.

What's left? The storyline that's the same for everyone from about level 40 onwards? Worth playing through eight times? It's barely worth playing through once. Not that, then.

Living Story or Personal Story? Some choice.
Social ties? Other than Mrs Bhagpuss I only know one other person who plays on Yaks Bend and he only dabbles with GW2. I "know" more people playing GW2 through blogging than from the game itself (what's happened to The Egg Baron, anyway?). All the same I don't discount the social factor. I do know my server and that hasn't happened for a good few MMOs. I know many, many players by their character names or their distinctive appearances. I have as clear an idea of who they are from the things we do alongside each  other every day, WvW, Dynamic Events, Living Story or just bantering in Lion's Arch, as I have of people I see around my real-life neighborhood. I do feel part of the Yak's Bend culture, which I feel is quite distinct.

Now we're getting somewhere. That's certainly part of what keeps me logging in every day and makes me happy to be doing it. Wouldn't be enough on it's own, though. What's left? Dungeons and the gear grind they bring? Cue sound of hollow laughter. SPvP? Never even tried it. Tyria itself?

Yes, that. That's a big factor. It's a huge world and I haven't seen anything close to all of it yet. Not only that but it's a fascinating, intricate world and one that's astonishingly pleasant to spend time in, perhaps surprising given the level of extreme violence the inhabitants seem to take for granted. I simply like being there in the same way I like being in Norrath and Telon. This despite the all-pervading sense of neglect that's beginning to permeate the game. As J3w3l said recently "Tyria is an amazing place to explore, truly beautiful and yet this key asset towards the game is mostly being forgotten."

So, a community and an environment that feel familiar and comfortable. Is that enough to explain 1800 hours logged in over the last eight months? That statistic is somewhat misleading, of course. I've been logged in the whole time I've been writing this, waypointing from meta-event to meta-event, grabbing the chest then tabbing out to type. I really was playing for the forty minutes it took to smash the crystals and tear the wings off The Claw of Jormag, but then I clocked up another half an hour while I was downstairs making lunch.

GW2 plays very nicely with my PC so I leave it logged in most of the time when I'm doing other things, even playing other MMOs. Still, I must have put in well over a thousand hours hands-on doing stuff in game since launch. That'll be the gameplay. All of it. Exploring, leveling up, fighting monsters and players, sorting bags and bank vaults, jumping up stuff, ticking boxes and filling out dance cards.

Just stand further away from him!
There's a lot of it, GW2 gameplay. Plenty of it is repetitive in that good way we dig. The parts that I wouldn't want to do twice I don't have to do twice. Or once. Pick and mix gaming that wraps perfectly around whatever time I have whether that's half an hour before work or a long weekend. I genuinely look forward to doing my Dailies in GW2 and at the same time it doesn't matter in the slightest if I miss them. No pressure, no compulsion, free choice.

After weeks and weeks of doing the meta-event round I still relish my several trips a day to The Frozen Maw to teach the Shaman that the grawl may be a pain but they're our pain or to assist Rooba with her Pyrrhic victory over the Fire Elemental. Even good old Claw of Jormag, who never comes in under 20 minutes and often takes twice that, and whom I've been pushing off the glacier since September still hasn't gotten old.

The events, small and large and meta, all cycle, most of them too often, yet I greet them each time with cheerful familiarity not weary contempt. In certain places where I often idle I've heard the witty repartee of NPCs scores, hundreds of times and yet I'm somehow always pleased to hear it one more time. It reminds me of growing up listening all day to Radio 1. The same songs come round again and again. I liked it then and I like it now.

And that, I guess, is why I'm still plugging away at GW2. I'm not trying to get anything much done. I don't have any particular plan. It's familiar and comfortable, full of people I'm used to and there's lots to do but little that has to be done. I guess it feels like home.


  1. Hehe, guess I'll explain myself. My biggest motivation the past several months was to gather parts required for the Legendary Sunrise. It's been a looong process, but it was fine since I did what I found fun (Dungeons, fractals, WvW, PvP, occasional PvClawing) and never forced myself to do anything while slowly accruing the resources needed.

    Then this happened:

    Instead of needing 600G more to earn, I suddenly...had everything for my Legendary.

    Which is wierd for me. I'm all about the journey. I have all the parts needed to craft my Legendary, but I just completely and utterly lost my motivation to cross the actual goal line.

    Which is okay, it's no fault of Anet at all. I've done pretty much everything to do in their wonderful world. I still do log in perhaps an hour each day to PvP a little, but GW2's vice grip on my soul has been lifted.

    But that grip sure was comfortable while it was there. While I disagree with many of their design decisions, I in the same boat with you in feeling that...their game is just so, so fun at its core. I remember when the game first came out some people were disappointed that this was just an evolution rather than a revolution. I'd contend that it's been a great evolution to the MMO genre, and am really glad Anet was bold enough to do many of the stuff they've done.

    I have really high hopes for TESO (Partly because no significant information has been leaked to disappoint me yet). But in general, I'm very optimistic about the MMO genre as a whole. WoW, EVE, and GW2 have done wonders in terms of introducing some amazing design concepts and continues to set the bar higher and higher.


    1. Grats!! I guess that's a great example of "be careful what you wish for" though. The good thing about GW2 is that it's designed to be very pick-up-and-put-downable so losing focus on it shouldn't, as it does in many MMOs, leave people unable to catch up when they get the itch to return.

      I think having no specific goal in mind has contributed greatly to my staying with GW2 so long. Mrs Bhagpuss is working on Map Completion at the moment and I wonder if, when she gets it, that will signal some kind of completion.

      In some ways I'm ready to move on but there really needs to be something I want to play more than GW2 when I sit down at the PC after work and right now there isn't.


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