Monday, June 2, 2014

Traits And Megaservers Reconsidered : GW2

What with The Tourney, Boss Blitz and Bazaar of the Four Winds, the project to find out what leveling up feels like now we have Megaservers and a new trait system fell somewhat into abeyance these last couple of weeks. Before that, my Charr Guardian cruised through Ascalon in short order, completing Plains of Ashford, Diessa Plateau, Filed of Ruin and Blazeridge Steppes before finally topping out in the upper fifties while finishing one of my favorite maps, Iron Marches.

All of that wouldn't have given nearly enough experience so there were some side trips to The Shiverpeaks, where she completed Wayfarer Foothills, Snowden Peaks and Lornar's Pass. More experience trickled in from a few forays into the Borderlands and the odd jolly to visit a World Boss here and there, now and then. Currently she's level 66 and trudging through Fireheart Rise, which, while it has grown on me a lot over the years, still wouldn't make any list I might compile of Places In Tyria You Must See Before You Die.

The whole project has been very instructive. It certainly hasn't turned out as I imagined it might, let alone how I feared. It's not really possible for an experienced player of an MMO to put himself, emotionally, psychologically or pragmatically, in the position of someone who just installed the game for the first time that day but even taking that into account it seems that the hefty changes brought by The Feature Pack have made leveling in GW2 no harder, slower or more tedious than it ever was.

On my travels I have once or twice, no more than that, heard people express the opinion that they were feeling the lack of Traits at lower levels. It's certainly not a topic of conversation that comes up often among the endless rehashing of builds and torrent of "how do I...?" questions that buzz around the ever-busy open chat channels of the Megaserver Maps. At no point so far have I felt either underpowered or restricted in options because of the paucity of trait points. Indeed, it was only as I was writing this and popped into the game to check how many traits my Guardian had that I realized I haven't even spent the last two she received.

Part of the reasoning for doling out Traits so slowly was supposedly to prevent new players from becoming confused and overwhelmed by choice. Even as someone who has never considered Choice to be a Universal Good I was skeptical about that argument. I very much doubt there would have been many players under the original system who threw up their hands in despair when faced with half a dozen options in half a dozen trait lines. That sort of thing tends to go with the territory when you play any kind of RPG, doesn't it?

Just because the old system probably wasn't broken doesn't mean it couldn't be improved, though, and somewhat to my surprise I think the new version is better, at least in some ways. It certainly makes me think much more carefully about which trait to choose and pay much more attention to what they all do than I used to, that's for sure. When you have to decide whether to spend money or do a specific task to open each individual trait it definitely focuses the mind and I've found the experience a lot more entertaining than I expected, in no way the frustrating time or money sink that people (including me) had speculated it might be.

There may be "nice grawl" but there's no such thing as "nice Flame Legion"

It's not all rainbows and roses, though. There are definitely ways it could be and needs to be tightened up. The main drawback remains the rate that traits are unlocked during normal gameplay. It barely happens at all. ANet seem to be aware of this. A recent patch made a good few changes to the detail, reducing over-reliance on Map Completion as a mechanic and increasing the emphasis on killing specific monsters or completing specific events.

It's a start but it doesn't go nearly far enough. After 66 levels, done almost entirely by completing level-appropriate content in the open world, my Guardian has unlocked precisely six traits out of a possible sixty-five (and she bought one of those at the Trainer). I don't think that a system that results in a character having around 90% of her traits still locked when she hits max level can be considered well-tuned.

This is the one I bought. Essential.

The other goal of the exercise was to see how the world felt under the jackboot of the Megaserver. There was a lot of strong feeling about this change when it happened and I was among those who felt strongly. Like most changes it turned out to be less of everything than expected - less of a boon for those that welcomed it and less of a curse for those that dreaded it.

Maps are consistently busier as was intended but maps that don't have a specific, popular mega-event are only busier by comparison to the wastelands they used to be. You certainly won't be trampled by the horde in Iron Marches or Fireheart Rise. Field of Ruin, remarkably, felt even quieter than I remembered it. My concern that the ambiance of the deep wilderness would be lost seems unfounded.

Whatever algorithm they're using to match players with friends/guilds/worlds has arguably improved slightly but my feeling is that there's still some inconsistency baked in that no one quite understands. There was quite an argument in Map chat over it yesterday with some people claiming it worked well for them while others expressed what has been my own experience, that it's at best hit or miss. I generally still have to right-click Mrs Bhagpuss's portrait to get to the same Megaserver Map about fifty percent of the time even when we are grouped. Given that the algorithm isn't managing reliably or consistently to place us together even though we are in the same Guild, on each other's Friends lists, share the same Home World and Language Group and are in the same frickin' Party...well it's not impressing me much.

The Great Jungle Wurm is under there somewhere. And so's my Guardian.

The effect on community has been interesting. I do still see a good few familiar Yak's Bend names around outside WvW and it has an interesting emotional resonance, rather like spotting someone you know in the crowd at a gig. I wonder how much that relies on me having known those names already from the pre-Megaserver days. Would a new player starting now ever even see anyone, outside their guild or WvW, often enough to build up that "know him by sight" kind of relationship? I suspect they might because there are now players from other servers that I vaguely recognize because they turn up at World Bosses at the same times I do.

Unlike the Trait revamp, about which very little now seems to be said, you can still hear people complaining about the Megaserver every day. There's often someone bemoaning its very existence in map chat, cursing its foibles and flaws or wishing for the return of at least one non-Megaserver Map (the consensus would probably be for Lion's Arch). Voices also speak strongly in defense, praising both the convenience and the liveliness it brings to events big and small. I would have expected people to have gotten used to it by now but it seems that it'll take a while longer before we forget how things used to be when we were all off in our own little worlds.

Overall I'd give the Trait Revamp 7/10 and Megaservers 5/10. Neither is as bad an idea as it first might have appeared but both could do with another pass or several with that famous ArenaNet polishing cloth.

1 comment:

  1. It really has to be a bug in the megaserver algorithm for some players.
    I always get in the same map with my girlfriend.


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