Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Stand Well Back! Elementalist Coming Through! : GW2

"Not much chance of me going a hundred hours without making a new character somewhere"

Ah, how well I know me! As it happened it was less than a hundred minutes after I wrote the above that I found myself closing the character creation screen in GW2 for the twelfth time. The blank space in the line-up is filled. There's a new Asura in town.

I did think about other races. Charr, obviously; somehow, though, I have difficulty seeing the Charr as spellcasters. I think that has something to do with the Flame Legion and their seemingly infinite supply of "shamans"; most of whom actually seem to be elementalists stuck in Fire Attunement. I'd hate to get mistaken for one of them.

So, no Charr. Since the whole point of buying the new character slot was to get an Elementalist onto the nominated WvW account, Charr was out. Norn I also dismissed immediately. It's probably my least-favorite race to begin with and anyway the other Ele is a Norn. I'm substituting her not cloning her.

Don't think I picked the golem one before...
I considered Sylvari. I do have a mild desire to add a female Sylvari to the roster sometime. Mrs Bhagpuss has demonstrated, repeatedly, and with much variety, just how distinctive and elegant Sylvari can be made to appear, something you would never know from looking at the one example of the race on my roster, a stick-thin male Guardian whose dull green armor seems to grow on him like mouldy bark. It would be nice to have one distinguished-looking character among the gallery of clowns, nuns and ne'er-do-wells that stare out at me every time I log in.

The question is: is this really a good time to bring another Sylvari into the world? What with Scarlet's shenanigans, The Pale Tree in a coma, Caithe running off with the egg and that sociopath Canach curdling beside the least-trustworthy aristocrat in Tyria (a position for which there is much competition, let it be said...), well, the entire race has to be seen as suspect both from the perspective of players and Tyrians alike. After all, when your best option for a role model is Trahearne you know you're in trouble.

So no, not a good time for Sylvari. That leaves Human or Asura. The entire game has clearly been optimized around the human model so they have that going for them when it comes to looks but really, humans are quite dull. I play one in real life (not very well) so it's not much of a come-on to log in and play one in virtuality.

Lack of self-confidence is unknown in Asuran society.
All of which half-hearted option-pondering brought me back to exactly where I knew I'd end up: Asura. They're just so...uplifting. Your spirits rise as soon as you see one. Well, mine do. And there's really nothing to match the sight of half a dozen Asuras boiling off the waypoint  in answer to a map call to Bay, bouncing across the dock and into the water like so many snaggle-toothed superballs. If I'm going to be playing this fresh Elementalist in WvW I want to be a part of that.

The requisite nose-shortening and ear-pinning undertaken, Colleges chosen and projects selected (hoping this time I didn't yet again pick a combination that leads to the same "Personal Story " I got the last three times), it came time, finally, to step into Tyria. The intro/tutorial hasn't gotten any better over the years but it has at least gotten shorter or I've learned to skip. In a matter of minutes the little firebug was standing at the craft stations in Yak's Bend's Citadel going through the bank for xp scrolls.

I would like to level up a character through the new New Player Experience to see just how good, bad or indifferent it feels but  that's going to have to wait. This here is an Elementalist in in a hurry. Just show me the fast lane to 80.

In the bank were several Experience Scrolls, the ones that jump you straight to Level 20. She read one of those first. Then she found a stack of thirty Tomes of Knowledge, which give one level each. She read through the lot. Fast readers, Asura. That took her to level 50.

In theory that should have been that: "Level 50 in Less Than A Minute" but that would be too easy. No, first we have the aforementioned New Player Experience to contend with. Just because you skipped the actual leveling process don't think you get to skip the fifty level "How To" guide.

Every single level comes with a prize. There's a little diamond in the lower right corner of the screen to click and clicking it opens a big "Look What You Won! You Clever Old Thing You!" reward window. There's no avoiding it - you're going to be complimented and backslapped for doing absolutely nothing, over and over again.

It was fun. A bit like watching a home-movie on fast-forward or your life flashing before your eyes as you drown. One of those. Most of the stuff was either useless to begin with or instantly outgrown as the levels chugged on but towards the end there were some decent items. Anyone who's played GW2 will  recognize that a Rare quality Aquabreather is definitely not to be sniffed at!

Fortunately we began by grabbing several bags from the Guild Vault or there might have been an overflow crisis. Even so the available space filled up fast. In an annoying and entirely unnecessary precaution against inflation of the economy all the items are Soulbound, non-salvageable and unsellable so the finale of the "pulling things out of thin air" magic act was the serial destruction of everything she'd been gifted. It did make the whole exercise seem singularly pointless but then the alternative would be to suppress the rewards when you use a scroll and I'm certainly not advocating that. Free stuff is free stuff even when it's free stuff you immediately destroy..

Scraping around the bank we also found a stack of the new xp scraps that drop out of the latest daily chests. They give a couple of thousand or so xp each. I wonder if that scales? Next time I'll use them first just in case it doesn't. She got another two levels that way landing her at 52.

By now it must be apparent even to the casual observer that GW2 has chosen to take a singularly piecemeal and scattershot approach to giving players a leg-up to the end-game it famously doesn't have. Instead of the simple boost-to-90 or instant high level character of other MMOs we get a whole slew of in-game items that do the job in stages and require a deal of micromanagement.

They don't all stack with each other, either, even when they look identical and have the same names. It all smacks of a lack of both forethought and organization but I can't deny that it's more fun than just pressing a "take me to the top or as near as you're going" button. It has the benefit of tactility and that's something I value highly in my MMOs.

Once we'd had all the free levels we were going to get it was dress-up time. Gearing a new character on an established account is both cheap and easy these days. A full set of level 50 Rare armor, weapons and accessories from the WvW vendor certainly doesn't put much of a dent in six and a half million karma.  Runes and sigils from the TP run a few silver. I went with a set of Ogre Runes for the Zerker-friendly stats and the invaluable rock dog proc. I notice a lot of those rock dogs these days. Popular rune. Popular dog.

Lastly came the skills and traits. The leveling process left New Ele with over 50 skill points but that wasn't enough to take everything she wanted so she sped-read through thirty or forty of the four hundred or so skill scrolls piled up in the bank. The necessary trait unlocks cost just a few silver from the vendor.

You'd look smug too if you'd taken an enemy Garrison three times on your very first trip to The Mists.
The much-ballyhooed alternate options for opening traits up via gameplay make no more sense now than they ever have. Less. It's hard to imagine anyone actually heading out to "earn 100% Map Completion in Fireheart Rise" - a level 60-70 map - to open a blue adept trait useable at level 40 that costs 10 silver to open at the vendor, for example. Again these are mechanics that sometimes seem to have been designed by people who have not only never leveled up a character themselves but never even spoken to anyone who has.

In the end though I'm not sure if any of that matters. What does is that, for the hour or two I spent creating and preparing this new character I thoroughly enjoyed myself. There are a lot of ways to have fun in an MMO and doing things the long, slow, or hard way isn't the be-all and-all, much though I and others might bang on about it now and then. Sometimes it's fun to splurge.

If I'd had enough scrolls and tomes and scraps I would certainly have taken New Ele all the way to 80. As it is she's had all the bootstrapping the account and guild bank can offer. The next stage is to let her use up some of the many XP boosters we have lying around. Might even use a Guild Banner or two. And there's always the crafting option.

Level 80 here we come!

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