Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Return To Ascalon : GW2

The Guardian is overpowered. There's no two ways about it. When GW2 began I read several accounts by those who'd taken the class as first choice and I was struck by how easy they made their experiences sound. It wasn't as though I was having a hard time with the Ranger but it seemed Guardians were having a softer ride still.

Despite those reports, as I leveled all the classes Guardian was the one I was least looking forward to. It's a paladin of sorts and paladin is a class I've always found worthy but dull. I left it to the end and when I finally got around to it I coupled it with the race I least wanted to play, that Elf-substitute, the Sylvari. That way I'd get two bitter pills down in one swallow.

As I played one up I can't say I warmed much to the Sylvari as a race. I'm fond enough of my single Sylvari character but I don't think I'll ever make another. The Guardian class, though, turned out to be an unexpected pleasure and now, with added Charr, it's gone beyond a pleasure to a joy. There's no ambiguity over how I want to spend my gaming time at the moment.

This is a crucial week in the Season for Yak's Bend, a match we have to win to stay in contention for a top three placing. Bodies on the ground matter, even indifferently skilled ones, and most evenings I manage a few hours in the Borderlands with the only two classes I can play in WvW with any facility - Ranger and Elementalist.

Duty done, the rest of every day's Charr Guardian day. After Diessa we moved on to Snowden Drifts, filled that out, taking her to 25, perfectly poised for Lornar's Pass, which nominally covers 25 to 40. The final point of interest lit up just after she'd dinged 33, by which time she was surrounded by level 39 and 40 mobs.

In common with other MMOs GW2 has a few ways of reminding you that you're running ahead of yourself. The distance at which aggressive creatures begin to pay attention to you increases substantially once they have more than a five level advantage and there's a level-based sliding scale for glancing blows, which reduce your damage by half. Playing a  Guardian solo it was hard to feel engaged with combat unless the creatures we were fighting towered four or five levels above me.

Even that was well inside my comfort zone. The point at which the "challenge" approximates what I remember as normal leveling play in older MMOs like EQ2 or LotRO comes at a very specific point: six levels above your character level. That's when the unmodified chance of Glancing Blows hits 50% and its what I would consider the sweet spot for enjoyable fights that require tactics, concentration and engagement.

It also appears to be the very highest level-differential at which whoever decided on the rules wanted or expected players to operate. Once you cross that six level gap your "chance" of landing a glancing blow becomes a 100% certainty, which isn't much fun and which, I think, we can safely take as a message from the developers that you've pushed your luck too far.

At this point I should make it clear that I'm very much not one of those people who demand "challenge" in everything or who irrevocably links risk with reward. Nor do I necessarily feel MMOs have become too easy to be entertaining. I agree with Wilhelm when he observes that  "the strongest force in the universe is laziness" and I'm generally more than happy to take the low road.

It's not, after all, as if I'm comparing the experience to, say, Everquest, now supposedly a dumbed-down, weak-beer parody of its former self, yet where, in 2014, playing the best solo class in the game, fully dressed in good, level appropriate gear, near-raid-buffed from MGBs and with a mercenary NPC providing heals, I still have to pay full attention to what I'm doing at all times when fighting mobs several levels below me because not to do so would mean a swift death and twenty minutes recovery time. I'm not comparing GW2 with that. That would be silly.

I'm merely observing that it's perhaps an odd quirk of design that places what feels like a natural, comfortable, easy-but-satisfying level of gameplay right at the very upper margin of the range of the feasible. Or perhaps, as I began by suggesting, it's just that Guardians are overpowered.

You might argue that, since GW2 gameplay is built around a core of loose alliances and informal non-grouped group play, content was never designed for or aimed at soloists; that  although for something like 80% of the time the game's been around, most leveling-by-map-exploration has, by necessity, been a solo activity, it's nothing more than an unintended accident of circumstance and one that the Megaserver is here to correct.

You might argue that if it wasn't for the glaringly obvious fact that almost without exception content in GW2 gets easier the more people there are to do it. Oh, granted, it often takes longer. It's always been fastest and most efficient to complete most group events with a handful of people rather than a zerg or a blob. But unless you equate time taken with difficulty rather than just with inefficiency, more people never make things harder.

Then again, perhaps it's down to the post Feature Pack retuning of sub-80 content that was carried out in recompense for the loss of character-power inflicted by the Great Trait Revamp. It's hard to remember, being so long since I last leveled a character, but it does seem easier this time even without those traits.


Speaking of Traits, at 30 I was finally able to open the window to see what lay in store. I was curious to see if the same "wait and see" approach would leave higher Traits locked away from view but no, once you hit 30 you can see them all. Of course see them is all you can do. I had one Trait point at 30 and at 33 I still have one Trait point. I get another at 36 and the third at 42. Hard to imagine why anyone thought this could ever be a good idea.

Even though you don't have the points to use them, there's nothing to stop you unlocking the Traits themselves, of course. You can now mouse over to see what they are and where you earn them. For example, I can see that to get the Adept level Trait "Master of Consecrations", which "Reduces recharge on consecration skills and increases their durations", I would need Map Completion for Frostgorge Sound, a level 80 map. Or I could pay 10 silver and two skill points to a trainer, which, if I didn't already have the resources required, might take, oh, five minutes rough and tumble on a map my own level. Hmm. Tough one. What would you do?

Scanning down the list it seems to me that as each trait point is acquired almost everyone will immediately go to their trainer and purchase the one they want right now, because even if someone was flat broke it would almost always be quicker and easier to earn the silver and the skill points than to do the forfeit. Indeed, given that many of the unlocks require map completion, you'd have earned everything you needed to pay the fee almost as soon as you started, so why carry on?

Meanwhile, in the background, as players naturally play through content, odd, random Traits will unlock themselves here and there. I already have "Inner Fire" unlocked, for example, because the requirement for it is Map Completion for Lornar's Pass. In three levels I'll even have the second point I need to open the first Major Trait slot and use it.

In operation, as I anticipated, it's not at all a bad system. It's easy to understand and it gives the player choice in how to access it but it seems extremely unlikely to form any kind of framework for providing self-generated, self-directed gameplay. Not only is the Trainer option clearly faster, easier and cheap but the points accrue so very slowly that there's no incentive whatsoever to go out and open Traits in the first place.

Not a disaster, then, but certainly a missed opportunity. Something easily pushed to the background as one pursues the unchallenging but highly enjoyable task of incrementing that number in the bottom-left corner of the screen. My Guardian is now in Fields of Ruin, feeling very overpowered indeed against the level 30 mobs but glad to be back in the warm Ascalon sunshine after days spent shivering in the snow.

Mind you, being overpowered in level-appropriate content didn't help much on the run through 40-50 zone Blazeridge Steppes. Even though she did make it through with nothing worse than singed whiskers there were some very tense ten hit point moments along the way. Thank Dwaya for Renewed Focus, that's all I can say...

Now Ebonhawke, my second-favorite city in the game, awaits. We've already herded farm animals and torn down posters. We even found the famous Pipe Organ and attempted a tune. It's an adventurer's life for sure. Overpowered she may be, or the content undertuned, whichever it is, but there's entertainment yet to be had and plenty of it. If current parameters hold, Map Completion of Ascalon should come somewhere around level 65. For a Charr that's all the incentive required.

1 comment:

  1. Charrdian is best guardian! Welcome to the dark claw-y furry side!

    That gnawing around your ankles is the asura guardian as the second best.


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