Sunday, April 20, 2014

Now We Are Six : GW2

All last weekend there was a special offer on additional character slots in GW2. I kept casting sideways glances at it. I checked the gold-to-gems conversion rate every hour or three. I uhmmed and ahhhed and slept on it and put off making a decision and then the offer went away.

Usually that's a strategy that works well for me. Gone, forgotten. Not this time. A couple of posts back, Isey asked in the comments whether GW2 would now be better from a new player's perspective and I wondered that as well. Syp stirred the pot by quoting an excellent analysis of the situation by Verene at Under A Pale Tree. Verene has a second, detailed post that really nails just how badly this aspect of the revisions to the leveling game would seem to have been handled.

Still, it's one thing to look at a new pair of shoes but the only way to know how well they fit is to put them on and walk around for a while, so yesterday I got my credit card out and gave ANet the first money they've had from me since I bought my second account a few weeks after launch. If it turns out that, as I expect, I absolutely despise the way they've re-arranged the traits then I guess it'll be the exact opposite of sending a message to that effect by Voting With Your Wallet but leaving that aside, so far I'd say it's money very well spent.

It's been months, months! since I leveled my last GW2 character and I really didn't realize just how very much I've missed it. This is the MMO that makes by far the best fist of holding my attention at max level and I thought I was quite content bimbling around with my gang of 80s, but it turns out I was wrong. The moment I finished knocking Duke Barridin's statue into rubble and stepped out onto the riveted metal plate floor at the entrance to Black Citadel it felt like I'd just bought an amazing, exciting, brand new game. To quote Commander Siegerazer, "This is what I live for!".

My plan to make a Charr Engineer fell through yet again due to operator error: I bought the new slot on the same account where my Asura Engineer lives. I already have two rangers on that account; two engineers would be enough evidence to get any doctor to sign section papers, so I made a Charr Guardian instead, on the grounds that I don't have any heavy armor classes on that account, plus my other Guardian is a Sylvari (that'd make a great bumper sticker).

Character creation remains completely unchanged since launch as far as I remember. I'd forgotten just how ugly you can make a Charr look - shattered horns, broken teeth, wrinkled, sagging, aged skin, patchy fur, milky blinded eyes... Not that I went that route, but it was nice to have the option  I'm betting you can't make a female Human or even a Norn that looks ancient, battered and weary the way you can a female Charr.

As I've often commented, for my tastes GW2 characters rarely improve in appearance from the look you can give them at character creation and the starting armor for a Heavy-wearing Charr, dyed a natural copper color, looks as good as just about anything in the game. Even the very first set of 40 copper vendor armor looks fantastic, as does the lowest crafted and dropped gear. I realize that those of us who prefer it have the option of transmuting the look via the wardrobe, but it makes for a poor motivator if eighty levels later you'd pay money to look like you'd were still level one.

The Tutorial's clearly not been converted to Megaserverdom because I was the only one there. It scales perfectly though and I was through in under five minutes and out onto Plains of Ashford. Before I'd even got my bearings some charr farmer was yelling that his cows had escaped so I grabbed a cattle prod to round them up and that was me off and running.

Plans of Ashford isn't on the Megaserver either but there were half a dozen young Charr roaming Gunbreach Hills and Lake Feritas. After an encounter with the Rampaging Skale which led to my Guardian making a tactical withdrawal ("regenerates health" - oh yes, so he does) I decided to run to the bank in Black Citadel to see if there was anything I might use (don't say the T word...) which brings me to the first major issue with the GW2 approach when it comes to starting a new character.

It is flat-out impossible not to twink a new character on an existing account. The best you can do is exercise will-power by not spending or allocating the resources you've been given automatically. Not taking advantage of all the goodies in the bank was easy enough - I'd long since thrown out everything under 80. I looked askance at the Experience Scrolls and Tomes of Knowledge stacked up in there. There were enough to bump my little Guardian instantly to Level 31, which would have let her get straight to the Traits but would miss the entire point of how long and hard the road might feel, getting there.

Those stayed where they were but when it comes to gold, crafting mats, Karma, World Ability Points, Laurels, Wardrobe Skins or just about anything else it's much harder for a fresh recruit to remain virtuous when she has unfettered access to everything the grizzled vets have earned.

If you were sufficiently determined (or demented) there are work-arounds for a cleanish start. You could put all your cash, items and mats in a personal guild bank and disband the new character from that guild, for example. You could keep count of how many WvW ranks your level-up had personally earned, make a note of how much mana she was granted from each Heart, do all the dailies only on that character and count the Laurels and so on. You'd last about two hours before you cracked, I reckon. Less if you actually wanted to play one of your other characters.

So, the new character experience of a player with an established account is by necessity going to be very unrepresentative of the experience a genuine new purchaser of the game will have, even discounting the inevitable inability of the vet to forget what he or she knows. I did seriously consider buying a third account for this experiment, which, short of deleting every character on an existing one, is the only way I can think of to get a genuine fresh start. It might still come to that - god knows it's tempting... but for now I am going to go the "new character on old account" route, report on that and do my best to imagine what it would feel like for a real new starter. 

On that note, whooooahhhhh! Black Citadel! I can't rationally explain why, but the moment I started up that ramp as a fresh level two recruit the entire city hit me as strongly all over again as it did back in beta. It's not like I haven't been there recently, either. I've passed through plenty of times on various characters just last week. I often bank and craft among the Charr. For some inexplicable reason, though, playing a new character made me see it entirely anew. The city is magnificent, the experience wonderful.

That's how I came to spend almost two hours on Black Citadel map completion, something that I can now attest is possibly the slowest possible way to get from level 2 to level 3. Worth every second though, even if I did have to watch a YouTube video for the final two POIs (and watch it four times before I got the final one). And that's with having completed BC on two previous characters, not to mention having done a guide on the Vistas!

Anyone who hasn't fallen in love with GW2 after Black Citadel map completion is probably too jaded to rise from their chaise-longue to sugar their absinthe. It's my favorite place in Tyria and one of my favorite imaginary places anywhere. I had to force myself not to take more screenshots. Not very successfully. Despite, as I said, having already done the full map twice I saw several areas I swear I have never seen before.

That done, I went to the Guardian Trainer to look at what lies ahead. There you can, in an extremely annoying and unintuitive way, browse every trait, Fine, Masterwork and Rare. These are called Adept, Master and Grandmaster in your character's Trait panel, which would risk confusing a new player if he could actually see it, a problem handily solved by having the Trait panel locked until level 30.

I literally shook my head in despair at this point. Not only are new players now intended to wait thirty levels before they can begin acquiring Traits (most of which, according to Verene's analysis, will be out of their reach in any practical sense for far longer than that) but they aren't even permitted to know what's coming. What in the name of the gods that don't exist do they think they are playing at?

Moreover, how, exactly, is a genuine new player going to have any idea that he even can gain Traits through doing content? The Trainer doesn't explain it. He just has all the traits listed as buyable books. The Trait panel, which does explain it, is locked. Surely a new player will visit his trainer out of curiosity (there are plenty of them, clearly flagged), see that Traits cost ten silver and two skill points at the low end and go thirty levels assuming that's the only way to get them.

Of course new players can go to the wiki or any number of outside sources to find out how it works, see what's in store, even play around with builds on trait builders, but what kind of substitute is that for seeing them in game on your actual character? No kind, that's what kind!

I'll save commenting in detail about the asinine choices ANet have made for the ways and means that the traits can be unlocked when those options are eventually revealed. Verene has already made those points anyway (although that's sure not going to stop me weighing in if changes haven't been made by the time I get that panel opened up). For now I'll just settle for saying that locking that Trait panel is idiotic and inexcusable.

To recover from that unpleasant surprise I headed out to Plains of Ashfield to wash away the bad taste with Flame Legion blood. In moments all thoughts of traits were forgotten. I had a rip-roaring time tearing through events and hearts while filling out my dailies without even trying. In under an hour I'd completed the north-west corner of the map, acquired several new weapons and upgrades, dinged five and had more fun than I've had in GW2 for about a year.

As I write this I'm impatient to get back in and carry on. I had to stop last night to go defend the Honor of the Yak which was being severely tarnished by assaults from FA and HoD but really what I wanted to do was carry on leveling, something I plan on spending as much of today doing as I can. Of course, even before the revamp Traits didn't appear until Level 10 so it's too early to see any practical impact from the change. I can say for certain, though, that no matter how hard devs may try to break it, leveling up remains the most fun you can have in an MMO. Any MMO.


  1. Yep, there are reasons why my charr engineer is still hovering around level 12 despite having a dozen experience scrolls in the bank. I enjoy Plains of Ashford way too much.

    I kinda miss the old non-megaservered TC Black Citadel though. Every name on that map was Charr-appropriate, and about 50% of them were RPing. Really helped the immersion along. Now it's more of a mix like any other map.

    I think the traits -should- pop up like heart unlocks when the new player hits 30 and finishes some aspect of the game, like say, personal story which they normally are doing anyway. So in theory, they should be alerted that they can unlock via other means than talking to trait trainers. But I haven't really studied the trait unlocks or experienced how they open yet.

    1. I wish the Megaserver was an option. A nice toggle to switch it in and out as appropriate would be perfect. Unfortunately I guess that would undermine its main purpose, which is presumably to save on wasted resources.

      Very much looking forward to finding out just how the trait system does work. At the rate 'm going I should know by the weekend (going back to work Wednesday will slow things down).

  2. Agree with the conclusion wholeheartedly, leveling is where the best days of an MMO is at - no endgame can beat that thrill of exploration. Black Citadel is a masterpiece of design for sure, if we hadn't been leveling asura with a friend we would probably have made our charr our mains, but we play socially as a priority so our two cats were left languishing in their teens and only very rarely played since.

    It's sad but I had the realisation that the amazing experience of the charr starter zones would soon be replaced by the generic main campaign story and I have very little interest in replaying through that. Anyway I'll leave GW2 on hiatus until they sort out the traiting mess as it really sounds pretty awful to a veteran from the outside.

    1. So far I honestly can't say I've seen anything that would make me feel frustrated if I was a new player (or at least not any more than would ever have been the case). Whether that will hold true for those awkward mid-levels I'm not so sure.

  3. "no endgame can beat that thrill of exploration"

    Not entirely sure about this. First Boss-Kill was the most sublime moment in MMOs for this chap. Not that I'm going through that again. That said, just because my third marriage was a nightmare and I've learned my lesson now doesn't mean we should burn all the churches.

    I would probably fall over and die with excitement if an MMO with remorts was released.


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