Friday, 18 April 2014

Burning In : GW2

Project Megaserver moves on apace. After the initial announcement (Level 1-15 maps) and the subsequent, fuzzier revision (lower population maps) we now have some actual hard information. This thread lists the maps using the new Asuran technology so far.

Here's the first batch:
  • The Grove
  • Heart of the Mist
  • Black Citadel
  • Timberline Falls
  • Southsun Cove
  • Rata Sum
  • Straits of Devastation
  • Fields of Ruin
  • Brisban Wildlands
  • Hoelbrak
  • Iron Marches
  • Blazeridge Steppes
  • Dredgehaunt Cliffs
 Assuming that they did indeed go with the least-populated maps, that's quite an interesting list. All the racial starting cities except Divinity's Reach plus most of the mid-level wilderness maps, suggesting a dearth of interest or activity outside of starting areas, max-level maps and the human heartlands. Just about exactly what you'd expect, given that most of the maps on that list were already sparsely populated three months after launch. And of course no-one in their right mind goes to Southsun if they can avoid it.

The first serving went down well enough that we got seconds very quickly:
  • Lion’s Arch
  • Lornar’s Pass
  • Kessex Hills
  • Diessa Plateau
  • Metrica Province
It's perhaps surprising that Diessa and Lornar's weren't included on the first pass, but I guess proximity to the alway-busy Wayfarer Foothills, Lion's Arch and now Gendarran Fields have helped keep the numbers up. Having Durmand Priory based there can't have hurt Lornar's either. Seeing Lion's Arch on the list is sad. It really does seem to have lost focus after the Terrible Events. I was skeptical whether Vigil Keep would work as a stand-in hang-out but load times for Gendarran Fields would seem to prove me dead wrong on that one.

See? I told you Diessa wasn't all brown!
Kessex Hills doesn't seem to have benefited much from the makeover it got from the Toxic Alliance. It was always a scrappy map and adding reeking fumes and tough, annoying mobs and events was hardly likely to improve matters.

Metrica, on the other hand, always seemed quite a happening place but then I generally only go there when the Fire Elemental's up, which I guess isn't a representative sample. It's curious that it's the only starter zone to go Mega so far. It's not like you don't see a plethora of Asura skittling about everywhere. I'd have thought Plains of Ashford would be less-used.


Enough theorizing. Time for experiment. Late last night, just coming into NA prime time, I took a jog from Wayfarers Foothills into Diessa Plateau to see if I could see any difference. Diessa has always been one of my favorite maps. I wrote about it during beta, although reading it back now it does suggest my initial reaction was less affectionate than it became later on. I've certainly spent a lot of time there on and off ever since so I must be quite fond of the place.

Who says you have to stand well back to fling a fireball?
Diessa was never bustling. The eternal Meatoberfest celebrations in Butcher's Block, right up against the Wayfarers border, always attracted a few visitors but even when the game was relatively new you could cross the map without bumping into much more than the occasional young Charr discovering his heritage. Your chances of getting enough people to down the Champion Giant in Nageling or open the mini-dungeon at Incendio Templum were poor indeed.

Not any more it seems. Within half an hour I'd done three Hearts (with their much-improved completion UI as noted by Syp), several Meatoberfest events, killed the Nageling Giant and even finished the really annoying Dredge event in Bloodcliff Quarry that always used to fail with too few people. In everything I was accompanied by a whole bunch of friends-I-hadn't-met-yet. Didn't see a single name I recognized from Yak's Bend.

Not that I felt out of place. The whole time I was there a Mesmer was porting all-comers to the very difficult vista and skill point at the Breached Wall and map chat was buzzing with cheerful, excited chatter. It was all very jolly if a little bit uncomfortable, a bit like the last day of term when your year tutor lets you bring in games. I wouldn't go as far as to say it was like launch week all over again but it certainly did make the whole map feel alive in a way it hasn't for a very long time.

Rock Solid Work, Name Deleted.
(Not actual name although there must be someone called that)
Today I popped down to Dredgehaunt Cliffs, a great map with some complex event chains that can be very challenging with low numbers, to see if the same magic was working there. There were people around, I can say that much. Not a huge number but enough that every event I tried found me fighting alongside two or three other players. People were constantly calling events and Champions and linking waypoints. It felt a bit less frenetic than Diessa. I liked it.

So, on the basis of those two snapshots and with the weight one should always allocate to anecdotal evidence, my conclusion is that it would seem the Megaserver is doing what it was intended to do. I'm not about to declare it "awesome" like Heartless but my first impressions are definitely positive, more so than I expected.

It's going to take some getting used to, though, and the benefits may be arguable in certain situations. I logged my engineer in earlier. He happened to be in Metrica right next to the Thaumanova Reactor and by chance it was only ten minutes before the Fire Elemental's new two-hourly slot. Crowds were gathering.

Stop shoving at the back!
There were so many people that the pre-events spawned Elites and Champions and I still couldn't get a shot off fast enough to get credit on anything as we walked the Clean 5000 around. The five-minute whirl in the reactor room was purely surreal. There were twenty or thirty of us scudding about trying to shoot things while as many or more lined the walls like the crowd at an arena. Actually, not "like". They were the crowd at an arena.

By the time the Elemental appeared I would estimate there must have been at least sixty players crammed in the room. The timer for the event runs fifteen minutes but I doubt the  "fight" lasted thirty seconds. Overnight FE has changed from a very, very challenging encounter for a few determined individuals to a trivial, challenge-free loot drop for a zerg.

With Megaserver populations that's going to happen to every event with a fixed timer and loot worth having. It risks putting us back almost exactly where we were a year ago when, even after all the difficulty passes, most World Bosses still melted in seconds when a huge zerg arrived. Except this time, with Megaserver technology, a huge zerg will always arrive.


Spectator Sport
I'm not saying that's a bad thing or a good thing but it's certainly a thing. Short of upping the standard World Boss difficulty to at least Karka Queen level, if not Teq/GJW, it's hard to see how it can be prevented. Always assuming someone wanted to prevent it. Honestly, I've done all these bosses so many ways now - easy, hard, small group, zerg, even solo - I really don't care any more. Most of them are mostly fun most ways. I'll just take them however they come.

After FE died, though, it should be noted that there were quite a lot of complaining comments in map chat. Some people couldn't get there before he died, some couldn't do enough damage to get credit, some just thought it was a lot less fun than it had been with a lot fewer people, some wanted to do it on their own servers and not some unnamed overflow, as they saw it. When I left five minutes later the post-match analysis was still going on.

Oh well. Never going to please everyone. At least it works. That alone is more than I was expecting. Looking forward, nervously, to seeing the new tech rolled out to those few maps I actually spend time in. Whichever those are. There must be some other than Wayfarers and WvW...

2 comments:

  1. GW2 is kind of between a rock and a hard place here. Their events require some people, but not too many people. Personally, I've always preferred fewer people than more, but when there's too few to even play the game as designed, then that sucks too. Event scaling needs to work a lot better than it does now.

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  2. Fire elemental on TC has pretty much always looked like that. :P

    I was kinda culture shocked when I guested to Ferguson's Crossing during the Kessex Hills Living Story and found only five people on the map, there was actually time to wait for everyone to slowly make their way to the champion (mostly because no one wanted to be the first to start it and get pasted on the ground.)

    I think for most people though, there's a distinct preference for and social safety in zergs. The solo roamer/explorers are few and far between, so that subset loses out in favor of new player stickiness - actually having people to explore the open world with, like what we had during launch day crowds.

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