Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Picking At The Threads : GW2

I'm just glad I have the week off work, that's all I can say. Although, come to think of it, that's hardly the most apposite turn of phrase, because there's quite a lot I could say about yesterday's Feature Pack Patch. The main problem would be knowing where to start. Or more likely when to stop...

Let's try and keep it short, unlike Anet, who opened nine dedicated comment threads in the hope of containing the howls of anguish from nerfed berserkers, crashed trains and other disgruntled customers. I'll stick with their categories.


Some people were really stoked for this. I wasn't one of them. GW2 is one of those annoying MMOs where you step out of character creation looking, there or thereabouts, like a regular Joe or Jane, at least in the context of the imaginary world you're about to explore, only to find yourself descending the spiral staircase of surrealism until you end up in a Daliesque daze, dressed like the third runner-up in an Ace Frehley lookalike competition. The recent flurry of screenshots from TESO on various blogs serve as a disturbing reminder of just how garish and tasteless GW2 has become. Roll on WildStar so we can go back to feeling all sophisticated by comparison, like we did back in 2012.

Never mind the ethos, what about the implementation? Not bad. Slightly odd that you can only access the Wardrobe from the bank, but given it works the same way as the Crafting and Mini bank tabs that kind of makes sense. Also odd to hear the little zinggg! sound every time you salvage some eminently forgettable item, thereby adding an equally forgettable appearance to the invisible, intangible wardrobe, when all you meant to do was grab a scrap of Luck, but, hey, it's a nice little sound sample, don't mind hearing it twenty times a minute. And of course as the Wardrobe fills up you'll hear that sound sample less and less often. Probably going to miss it in a few days.

With the five free Transmutation Charges and the twenty or so I got from converting the old stones and crystals clogging up my bank I now have about five times more conversions in hand than I've used in total since the game began, so I think I'm set. It's neat that they're now a Currency, too. What with that and Wardrobing all the unused skins I was hoarding, even though I knew I'd never use them because if I did I would have to play blindfolded, I've regained a dozen or more bank slots. On balance I approve of the Wardrobe although probably not for the reasons I'm supposed to.

Well, that was hardly keeping it short. Must do better. On to

PvP Reward/Gear/Ranks/Maps

Don't PvP. Pass. Wow, that got things back on track!

World Boss Synchronization

Immediately after the patch last night I logged in, arriving in Wayfarer Foothills just as The Frozen Maw was starting. I helped send the Shaman packing, grabbed my rares and retreated to Krennak's Homestead to try and make sense of my new Traits. Ten minutes later Brogun started yammering on about the Grawl and the whole thing started up again. And ten minutes after that. And ten minutes after that...

When Brogun kept getting as far as destroying the Svanjir totem then declaring the threat over and stumping back across the snowfields to reward himself with a fine ale everyone on the map assumed the event had bugged. Not so. Oh no, that would be infinitely preferable to the truth. After the cycle had repeated several times I went to check the immense patch notes , which I'd been avoiding on the grounds that I wanted to get in and play sometime before the sun came up. Here's the relevant section:

"If the event to destroy the dragon totem has succeeded when the boss is not activated, Scholar Brogun will declare victory and return to Krennak’s homestead without fighting the shaman."

In other words, in order to make this whole fixed schedule work, ANet have chosen to have the pre-events run on a continual loop (in the case of The Maw literally once every ten minutes). It's like watching Groundhog Day on fast-forward. I have yet to go see for myself but apparently the same is true of Gamarien's stroll, the Karka Queen pres and for all I know every other series of events that could, potentially, result in the appearance of a chest-dropping Boss.

Even in a "virtual world" that already resembled nothing so much as a series of animatronic tableaux, this takes some beating. It's one of the most openly cynical revisions to content I think I have ever seen in an MMO. Pragmatic, yes, I'll give them that, and at least it works, unlike the changes to the Shadow Behemoth event, which were supposed to increase the difficulty in preparation for the upcoming Megaserver population focus, but which initially made the event very hard to complete with the unmegaservered map population we still have and then bugged out entirely, so the event is currently not completable at all.

The feedback thread on World Bosses is extremely critical. Indeed, all the threads I read were. The forums have a reputation for negativity but in this case almost all of the commentary is well-reasoned, coherent and seems justified. I won't re-hash all the valid points in detail, such as the effect fixed timers have on people with jobs and families or the prohibitive costs of the Guild Event option that might otherwise be used to restore some flexibility. They're all there on the thread if anyone's that interested. I'll just observe that I don't think you'd be taking too much of a punt if you bet on quite a few tweaks to some of these "Features" in the coming days and weeks.

Guild World Events/Megaservers/WvW

Bit of an odd bundle. There are four people in my guild and one of them doesn't play any more so we won't be starting any Events. Pass.

The whole Megaserver thing hasn't really made itself evident yet. Whichever maps are using it aren't ones I've been on, or if they are then the population of GW2 really has taken a nosedive. The only place I did see it working was when I passed through the PvP lobby on the way to Lion's Arch Vigil Keep (they really need to put a new sign on that Asuran Gate), where I saw a large number of people standing around, presumably trying to work out what the hell had happened to their Traits or whatever it is that PvP people use. I'll take a rain-check on commenting on the Megaserver functionality until I actually see some.

As for WvW, that was one unalloyed positive for me. I'd been saving all my drips, tastes, and thimbles just for this day. I even had a keg. Drinking them all was good fun, even if every rank chest was stuffed with nothing but greens (I got one Exotic between two accounts and about 25 ranks and that was a speargun...). Ended up Rank 204 (I think it was) on one account and 115 on the other. Now I just have to decide where to spend the points.


ANet made two threads out of that but I've conflated it because I don't have anything to say, at least not yet. I was mostly already using full sets, not mix-and-match, and a cursory check suggests nothing much has changed. Browsing the Rune thread, the word that comes up most often seems to be "underwhelming", while the Sigil thread barely gets started at all and even when it does it mostly contains off-topic comments.  Confirms what I always suspected: no-one gives a damn about Sigils.


This is arguably the biggest Feature in the Pack. A full revamp of the Trait system, everything from the traits themselves to when and how you acquire them. Sitting on nine level 80s, all of whose traits have been grandfathered in, it doesn't seem terrible, just very confusing. I began this post by saying I was glad I have the week off work and this is why - it's going to take me a week to get all these traits sorted out.

The new interface is okay. Kind of a sideways move. I wouldn't call it an improvement but it's easy enough to follow. Being able to chop and change Traits infinitely, instantly, at no cost certainly removes all of the usual pressure these kinds of revamps bring, that of making a horrible mistake that will haunt you or cost you or both.  I found myself quite enjoying playing around with "builds", if you could dignify what I was coming up with such a description.

It's not really my thing, though, nor Mrs Bhagpuss's. We decided we'd just bang something in for now and wait til the theorycrafters come up with a new meta.Then we can ignore it and feel superior follow the herd.

Reading the forum thread, however, the most poignant and heartfelt comments came from new players, all of whom felt thoroughly shafted by the new system. This comment by Robert sums up the issues very well and looking at it from the outside it's hard to argue with his conclusion "If this is somehow supposed to make the game more enjoyable for new players, I fail to see how this is accomplished.. Sadly, for me, the opposite is true."

I'm very tempted to buy a new character slot, go try it for myself, see how "bad" it really is. It's too long since I leveled up and I never did get around to making that Charr Engineer I wanted. I suspect that the new, slower version of leveling, with its requirements to unlock traits by doing content might suit me rather well. I also think I'd be in a very, very small minority if that turned out to be the case and I fear this move could be commercial suicide when it comes to persuading new players to stick with the game.

The new Elite traits that my characters will have to unlock if they want to use them don't  look like being any kind of an issue. Two reasons: firstly, most of them look like they wouldn't warrant a slot anyway and secondly the price to buy them from the trainer is much, much cheaper than I was anticipating. I was guessing at 50g per unlock. I wouldn't have been surprised to see it pegged at the same as a Commander tag - 100g. When I got to the trainer it turned out to be 3g. Three! Oh, and 20 skill points. My ranger has nearly 500 of those, plus another 200 skill scrolls in the bank. Not seeing a problem there, other than it spikes the whole idea of going out to search for the things as a form of new content. Why the hell would anyone bother if they're only 3g a pop?

Profession Balance

Yada yada yada...

Every MMO does this all the time. Never worth getting worked up over. If you enjoyed something it got nerfed. If something was broken it didn't get fixed. A's still better than B, C's overpowered and D is gimped. Next time round move one place to the left. I treat class changes on a need-to-know basis. If something seems weird in play I'll investigate. Otherwise they  generally pass me by.

That's the gist of it although there's a lot more grain in the detail. There's the derailment of the Champion trains and the Contested Waypoint debate for a start, and dyes, but the change that got Mrs Bhagpuss the most irritated was one that's barely been mentioned anywhere: consolidation of Daily Achievements.

She took it as slap in the face for casual players, a demographic to which she somewhat confusingly aligns herself despite her thousands of achievement points, hundreds of WvW ranks and eight level 80s, half of them already kitted out in full Ascended. This pruning of dailies that limits choice and drops the old standby, Gathering, is more of a slap in the face of the hardcore than the casual, I'd say, since they're the ones chasing the Laurels, and whether it really will take longer to do the dailies now I'm not sure but, hardcore or casual, I can't say that I'm any more thrilled at being funneled into fewer areas to do them than Mrs Bhagpuss is.

Looking at the Feature Pack as a whole I'd say it's exactly what ANet claimed - an expansion-size patch with none of the content you'd find in an actual expansion.It's a bit like going to the cinema and having to  sit through all the commercials, trailers and safety warnings without ever seeing a movie.

I read the motivations behind the whole enterprise as a combination of three things:
  • A desire to drive substantially more business through the Gem Store
  • An attempt at avoiding the negative marketing hit that comes from server merges
  • The perennial inability of MMO developers to leave anything well alone.
I imagine having to do a lot of the background work to re-tool the game for the Chinese market has something to do with it, too. Probably gave them ideas. Oh well, if nothing else it gives us all something to talk about other than why we aren't playing TESO.


  1. You've complained about GW2 cosmetics before and that's one of your rants I can't support. :P GW1 was all about shiny stuff as well.. same shiny gloves, firery gloves, fire swords, whatever, just with worse graphics. This was a thing about this game series so honestly, your expectations weren't realistic if you wanted things to look gruff and drab like TESO.

    But anyway, this statement: "Looking at the Feature Pack as a whole I'd say it's exactly what ANet claimed - an expansion-size patch with none of the content you'd find in an actual expansion."

    SO spot on!!

    1. It just occurred to me that the TESO aesthetic I'm praising is entirely based on low-level gear. GW2 also looks pretty nice at low levels. For all I know, when the TESO end-game screenshots start rolling in everyone will have wings and fiery hats and shoulderpads like the deck of an aircraft carrier too. If not it'll be about the only MMO I can think of that doesn't.

      The thing that annoys me most is that my 80th thief looks fantastic. That came up in a previous discussion here on this topic. It's just a shame I can't play a thief to save my life. Although come to think of it, with the new Wardrobe, surely I should be able to get any Medium-wearer to look like the thief...unless she only looks that good because she's human...

      I better go experiment....

    2. Even pre-Wardrobe, it's always been possible to transmute any medium armor for any profession that uses that weight. You could convert everybody to using any low-level looks you prefer, if you wanted.

      For my female warrior alt, that was what I checked first thing because I was -not- happy that what seemed like 75% of the high level armor had either pronounced metal boobs or looked like lingerie in metal. I had to find at least one look, mix-and-matching any skins, low-level or not, that I was okay with, before deciding she could be a keeper.

      Charr armor though, is an entirely different issue. Nearly everything but heavy cultural looks terrible, for any weight class, and stuff clips through or eats tails, horns, ears... *argh*

      That might be part of the problem you're having, knowing you favor a charr ranger as one of your main characters.

    3. The Charr issue is the most annoying, definitely, and it's made so much worse by the evidence of my Beta screenshot folder, which I currently have as the random source for my desktop background. Every day I get to see several shots of my first Charr ranger from beta looking better than my Live character has ever looked.

      I'm not sure if they changed how the armor appeared over the course of the late development cycle or whether there were just armor pieces available then that didn't make it to Launch, although, since I do know that the trilby hat, the single best-looking item ever available for Charrs, didn't make it out of beta, my suspicion is on the latter.

      I have to come clean and admit, though, that the reason I haven't already transmuted a lot of max-level Exotics to a lower-level look is because I didn't want to spend the money, either real or virtual. For some reason the new wardrobe system seems more appealing in that respect - not sure why - so I'm going to have another look and see if I can come up with something more aesthetically pleasing.

      On the plus side, Asuras look ok in just about anything, no matter how outlandish, because they look ridiculous to begin with. Until they pull back those thin, leathery lips and show their predator teeth, that is.

  2. Many of the sigils that were "on crit" are now "on hit". That is fantastic for condition builds or low crit builds.
    Many of the rune sets that were " on being hit effect applies" had a significant improvement in activation chance (though some have a higher internal cool down now).

    Reddit threads seem mostly happy with the update. Myself, hadn't realized how much some of the world boss events play into my PVE roams until yesterday. Apparently I wasn't playing the game the way the redditors are playing. I probably won't see any world bosses again.

    1. I'm going to have a good look at Sigils today. And runes, probably. So much to take in. I know their rationale was that dribbling the changes out piecemeal across the year hadn't been well-received but this really has gone to the other extreme. I'm nowhere near assimilating all the changes yet, far less the implications for every character.

  3. We'll that's that then. All my characters now use Abyss dye instead of 'something that was a kinda black'. Fun times. Abyss looks okay on leather which was something of an unexpected bonus, sadly the Rascal chest has two options, Too Much Abyss and No Abyss. Not that 'Too much Abyss' is something that seems to trouble anyone else.

    Every time I accidentally unlock a skin it's going to make it slightly harder to find the good skins in my wardrobe. I hope you can kick them back out of the wardrobe.

    Took me all of 60 seconds to rule out the new traits as something I care about. The thief leech one I'll probably pick up for troll builds. Sadly picking it up is not going to be the adventure it was back in the day. I can be all up in that Grenth dude's face within 20 seconds of him being up, granted he can be a bit of a bugger that one.

    Dutifully read through every Sigil and Rune to draw the conclusion 'no change'. Although it was eye-opening seeing how much some of these things sell for these days.

    I got off lightly myself (the benefit of apathy) but evidently they have found a way to make a loser out of everyone in this patch. It's a mess really, a mess with a wardrobe.

    1. I have one Abyss Dye in the bank and one Midnight, along with half a dozen other rares. I could never decide who should get them but I also couldn't bring myself to sell them so they have just been sitting there for months. You'd think that now, with them being account-wide, I'd just be ble to use them but oh, no...

      Now I can't decide which account should have them.

  4. I didn't get to end game in GW2 (level 40ish before I got bored..) and curious of your thoughts on the changes towards a "new" player perspective lens - is the game better off?

    Always neat to look at it from different angles. I am reinstalling for fun =)

    1. Good question. I very nearly plonked down the 640 gems for the special offer character slot but I just wasn't convinced I'd have time to level another character. I am very curious to see how t feel now, though.

      The major changes affecting new characters (and really anyone under 80 since the grandfather rights they promised seem to only apply to pre-existing 80s not all levels) are:

      No traits at all until level 30,

      One trait every six levels from 30 to 66.

      Two points every six levels from 66 to 80.

      All traits have to be unlocked. You get none for free. There are two ways to unlock: doing specific content, detailed on the UI , which I believe can be in all parts of the game - open world, Dungeons, WvW, sPvP, Personal Story - or buying the traits from a trainer. To buy all traits up to 80 costs 43 gold which I consider very cheap. You would *easily* make that just selling crafting mats you get as normal drops between 1 and 80.

      Leveling with no or few traits represents a significant loss of killing power, so to compensate the difficulty levels of all sub-80 maps and of the Personal Story have been reduced.

      Every comment I have so far seen from both new players leveling their first character and experienced players leveling alts have been some variation on "leveling is harder", "its more grindy" or especially "it's boring" or "it's not as much fun".

      I suspect that for old-timers hardened by the seriously slow progression of EQ, DAOC or even, relatively, vanilla WoW, this will come as a welcome relief from the usual fast-forward pace of modern MMOs but until I try it for myself I can't be sure of that; I always did find the stretch from around 60 to 80 quite slow going in GW2 so I wouldn't welcome that taking any longer.

      I have one unplayed character that could try. She's currently stuffed to the gills as a bank mule but if I can clear her bags I'll try to give it a go and report my experiences.

  5. God dammit Anet just give me goddamn new races and professions and areas.

    I'm starting to get impatient. It's driving up my expectations for Living Story S2 even more, and that can only lead to disappointment.

    I used to be convinced that Anet had all kinds of new stuff being prepared in the background, but as days pass and as (admittedly substantial) features that I don't care a whole lot for gets rolled out, I'm not so sure anymore.


    1. They went through a phase of dropping heavy hints about teams working in the background on secret GW2 projects that *might* be expansion related but that all seems to have gone quiet now. I do think it's bizarre. They've sold over 4 million boxes to date - they could clearly expect to sell at least half that of an expansion, probably more, and yet they insist on fiddling around with all these half-arsed workarounds that satisfy no-one.

      It's almost as if they don't want our money.


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