Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The View From Ehmry Bay or What's Wrong With This Picture? : GW2

A while back, when ArenaNet had the first of their 75% Off! sales, we each bought a third GW2 account. Since the coming of the Megaserver it really makes little difference which server you choose at character creation unless you plan on making some kind of serious run in the three-realm World vs World stakes.

Nevertheless it's not something you can opt out of nor is it something over which you have an entirely free hand. Here's a screenshot of the North American server list taken at 2pm UK time today, Tuesday. That's nine in the morning on the U.S. East Coast and six a.m. in the West. On a workday.

There are several Worlds that I have never seen other than full during my European play hours so I can only imagine they are permanently unavailable. As far as I'm aware, you can neither create a new character on a Full server, nor transfer an existing account there.

It seems rare for any server to fall below "Very High" these days.The rather well-handled, ongoing PR push for Heart of Thorns seems to have brought back a lot of lapsed players, while heavy discounting has filled the starting areas with eager ingenues. The ever-open-door policy of "Buy Once, Play Forever" means that no-one can ever really stop playing, only take a sabbatical, and almost every day sees the return of a flurry of names from the past.

Since we already have two accounts on Yaks Bend it seemed superfluous to add a third. I had already decided to concentrate all my efforts there onto a single account anyway as a result of the increasingly common and, to me, increasingly irritating trend of MMORPGs to move to an account-based model.

It's been so refreshing recently to return to playing EQ2, where each character has to stand on his or her own two paws rather then being towed along, willy-nilly, on the coat-tails of others. Even there the creeping specter of unearned perks looms, what with Heirloom items shared across the account, Daily Veteran Rewards being credited to the account not the character and experience bonuses being given for the account based on how many max level adventurers and crafters it has. Still, as yet it's a far cry from the Player-as-Unit model that GW2 suffers.

So, with all that in mind, I rolled my new account on Ehmry Bay, a server I still remember fondly from its brief moment of glory as Yak's Bend's Little Brother in Season One. I took a little tour before deciding, rolling on lower-ranked servers Devona's Rest and Ferguson's Crossing, but life in Tier 7 and Tier 8 looked just a bit too sedate.

EBay, as it has always, inevitably, been known, turned out to be a charming second home. In EU hours we generally have, at most, a single commander running and his "zerg" rarely adds up to more than a dozen even on a weekend. Most times gameplay in the Mists feels more like single-group play than zerging, with all three teams fielding single figure forces. It's all very 2012.

It feels refreshing, re-taking towers with a single, regular ram placed dead-center of the gate or marching to take a Keep with all of two alpha golems and half a dozen ground troops. Everything takes longer, the pace is stately, there are some amazing fights and even as a lowly uplevel I always feel both welcome and useful.

Good for me, but not, presumably for ANet, who can hardly wish for half of their servers to be providing content that appeals only to a fraction of one percent of the population. That, though, is scarcely the full picture.

World vs World is and has always been intensely volatile. Guilds move servers en masse, seeking all kinds of advantage or change, from the elusive "Good Fights" and the perennial, doomed attempts to set up the perfect environment to turn WvW into GvG - Guild Vs Guild - to a straightforward wish to just win a damn match for once or for their guild to be something other than cannon fodder in the pecking order.

Tier 2 has been a roiling cauldron of machinations and Machiavellian plots ever since we beached up there at the end of Season Three. There have been alliances, spies and trolls, concerted efforts to force Yaks Bend back into the outer darkness whence we came and, latterly, a grudging acceptance of the status quo. The hotly-tipped Yaks Bend Implosion never happened. We thrive on pressure. Meanwhile, around us, servers have been bandwagoned only to see the wheels fall off time and time again.

Currently Dragonbrand, who made it to T2 and looked for a while as if they'd push out Sea of Sorrows, are reportedly in freefall back in T3, their expected destination somewhere south of T5. Rumor is their ambitious guilds have gone to Henge of Denravi, something that seems likely given HoD's sudden surge, although for certain some came to The Bend.

This did not end well.
Maguuma, meanwhile, erstwhile home of some fragment of the infamous Goonswarm Federation, one-time worshippers of the Flame Ram and trainers of The Grub, always the least predictable, most volatile of servers, having crashed and burned for the how-many-is-it-againth time, is once again on the rise. They're burning through the tiers like a runaway sun on their way back to their supposed spiritual home in T2. Fear them.

It all makes for rough seas for small boats. Yaks Bend, being made of battleplate steel around a spent uranium core, takes the buffeting with grim determination and something almost like joy. Inside that bubble it's entirely possible my vision is warped. Having seen things from no other perspective in the 30 months I've played until now it's been very interesting to observe the action from EBay.

In the short time I've been there we've weathered HoD and Maguuma, neither of whom were a barrel of laughs, although I admit to always enjoying a match against the Magpies so long as I know they're going to be off fighting someone else the week after. With those forces of nature in effect I hadn't realized how much stronger than us Crystal Desert were, so it came as a shock to be knocked around by them like the inflatable dummy of a salaryman's boss for the last two weeks.

And then. And then this week we drew a wildcard and dropped a peg to face Sanctum of Rall and Anvil Rock in T6. I can't say we're having it entirely our own way, and indeed according to our Glicko score, which has fallen a little, we really should be doing better than we are, but suffice it to say that, when I logged in this afternoon, we owned everything. Everything.

Genius At Work.

This sort of thing happens a lot more often than you would expect. In order to render the whole affair less static and predictable, ANet long ago added a "wild card" system, whereby each Friday, when the new match begins, an algorithm runs to decide who will face whom. There's a very small chance for Worlds to be promoted or demoted not by merit but by luck. I say it's a small chance but it seems to happen surprisingly frequently. There have been suggestions that the "algorithm" is actually Colin pulling slips of paper out of a hat...and then swapping them around until he gets a result that amuses him...

When it does happen, however, the result is very often the same. The team that drops a tier steamrolls the unfortunate pair it meets - especially so if some unlucky world also got a wildcard up. What's more, because of how the Glicko system works, that server needs to steamroller without mercy because if it doesn't win by a wide enough margin it will lose standing in the rankings and begin to slide. 

It all tends to point up the extreme differences in coverage and population between the tiers, a very real problem of which everyone is already all too aware. A weak T2 server destroys the strongest in T3 and so on. Only when a server slumming it on a wildcard in the tier below chances to meet a bandwagon server bullying its way up do sparks fly and that doesn't happen very often.

When the expansion arrives we know we are getting new maps and new mechanics with them. We have been told there will be greater emphasis on and rewards for defense. For a while, as everyone comes to grips with the new environments and rule sets, there will be opportunities. The tectonic plates might even shift enough to crack open a passage into the closed shop of T1.

Aw, Bless!
If the underlying scoring system isn't addressed, from Glicko to Transfers, chances are such changes will be fleeting. For those of us enjoying the fights and feeling server pride perhaps that may not matter all that much but it won't do anything at all to improve the reputation of World vs World for those already jaded with its shortcomings.

That does at least represent some kind of hope for improvement, way off in the future somewhere, beyond the still-unanounced  launch of HoT. While we wait all we can do is make our own entertainment. Hence the plotting and the churn.

This would seem to be the ideal time to keep the masses happy with bread and circuses. A WvW season, derided though they always are, still gets people fired up. Surely one can't be hard to organize? In the absence of root-and-branch reform I'd take a meaningless competition with useless rewards. For now, anyway.

As yet there's no sign. It's now been more than six months since the last Season and several months since the ineffectual experimental rule change that was supposed to be the first of many. Like most aspects of GW2 other than the Gem Store and the failed eSport offerings in sPvP, everything seems to be on hold until HoT arrives. Whenever that might be.


  1. *Third* player account... wow. I have resisted the temptation to create multiple accounts for the games I play so far. Out of curiosity: is it common for you to have multiple accounts in the MMOs you play? Or is it GW2-specific, because for instance it's cheaper to buy a new account with 75% than extra character slots (I have no idea), or because the server you're on is account bound rather than character bound in this game?

    (Sorry if this is a bit off-topic: I haven't had the chance to try some WvW yet, so I can't really say anything meaningful about that.)

    1. In the Age of Subscriptions I only ever had one account per game although sometimes Mrs Bhagpuss would stop playing a particular MMO and I'd carry on, in which case I'd occasionally use her dormant account as well. It wasn't until SOE dipped a toe in the water with the Freeport server that we both made second accounts for a game we were actively playing.

      That was because we wanted to start over from scratch under the new ruleset. Then there was an...interesting...time after competitive voting was introduced to EQ2 for decorators. As a result of that we ended up with over half a dozen accounts, all of which were played for a while when I briefly got into multi-boxing. They're all dormant now bar two but who knows when they might wake again?

      GW2 was a different story. At launch the game was a lot less Account-based than it is now and we worked out very quickly that the most economical way, by far, to have all the characters we wanted and plenty of storage would be a one-off purchase of a second account. We've both played two accounts for the life of the game and it's worked out very well, although as time goes on and ANet move more and more functions away from per-character and towards per-account its not quite as attractive as it was.

      The third account was a whim based entirely on the amazing value of 75% off. I wasn't planning to use it seriously but of course I went and made a character that I really like so I've been using it more than I expected. Mrs Bhagpuss already has a level 80 on hers and is leveling up the next one. In the end though, even if I don't use it for anything else, it represents fantastically cheap storage compared to any of the other options and I am a total packrat!

      Also - added Ravalation to the Blogroll and my Feedly :)

    2. Thanks for the extensive elaboration! And for following my blog (even though I'm not a pro GW2 player). :)

      I feel a bit conflicted about how servers work in GW2. For instance, I picked a European server to play on because my friends play on that server. I thought initially it was just for my character, and not for my whole account. Then last week I wanted to meet up with another blogger who had his character on an American server and that wasn't possible. Normally, I'd be able to at least create a new character and put that on his server, but that doesn't work in this case, because everything is linked to accounts.

      (This may have come off as a bit of a rant, but that wasn't my intention. I'm generally very impressed with the possibility to visit cross-server. It's just a shame I'll never be able to meet up with my American friends unless I buy another account.)


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