Saturday, August 8, 2015

Exploring In Heart Of Thorns : GW2

After I finished writing up last night's adventures in the Heart of Thorns closed  open  public  buyer's-only beta it was midnight so I went straight to bed.

Kidding! Of course I didn't. I went exploring. Well, eventually I went exploring. First I followed  the streams of new arrivals down the ramp towards the sounds of a mighty battle because, well, you do, don't you?

It was all very busy in the expected Silverwastes/Dry Top style: big orange circles all over the map and orange prompts in the upper right corner of the screen telling us on where we should be and what we should be doing when we got there. Which would all have been very well only most of it didn't seem to be working. In scenes very reminiscent of my time just about anywhere south of Lornar's Pass or north of  Diessa Plateau a couple of weeks after launch, map chat rang with discussions on whether events were bugged or we were just doing them wrong.

Within a few minutes the consensus view hardened. We weren't all hopeless idiots after all.  Most of the stalled events were, in fact, bugged. Conclusive proof of that pessimistic analysis came as people networked with friends on other maps and found instances where various broken events appeared to be functioning normally. Soon a fleet of taxis was being organized.

"Taxis" are a GW2 player-created phenomenon, whereby parties are created and advertised via the LFG tool for the sole purpose of moving from one Megaserver instance to another. You hop in the group, transfer to their instance of the map, then immediately drop group so someone else can hop in and do the same. It's commonly used for big set-piece events like Tequatl and Three-Headed Worm.

We used to do something very similar back in the pre-Megaserver day, when we'd use the "Guest" system to move from server to server in search of a map where a particular event was actually working. We had to if we wanted to get anything done. For months after launch a very significant number of GW2's signature Dynamic Events just didn't work reliably. Long chains were particularly prone to breaking and some individual events barely worked at all.

When ArenaNet announced recently that they were planning on public testing of only a small portion of the expansion content so as to keep the experience fresh for players when it goes live I had flashbacks. It's a great idea in theory. I'm one of the players who doesn't want his first, lasting encounter with the new content to be no more than a retread of something already made over-familiar by previews.

In practice, however, it's an approach that would require much better internal testing than there's ever been any sign ANet is able or willing to provide. On balance, I still think it's the right tack to take but it's definitely a case of the lesser of two evils. On previous experience and on the evidence of the little we've been allowed to see of Verdant Brink I'd suggest anyone wanting a smooth, polished run through Heart of Thorns, when it arrives for real (this year - believe it), would be better off waiting at least a month or two after launch for the most heinous bugs to be squashed.

It was getting late so I declined to hail a taxi and opted instead to go walkabout. That turned out to be a good decision. I have a lot of apprehensions about this coming expansion, which is stuffed with features that don't appeal to me at all - Guild Halls, Fractals, Precursor crafting, more "challenging" combat, raids - and very light on ones that do. Probably my biggest concern, however, is over explorability.

As a player who routinely tests very strongly on the Explorer scale of Bartle's infamous archetypes HoT doesn't look great, what with the entire expansion taking place in dense jungle filled with hyper-aggressive, overpowered wildlife and featuring a three-dimensionality that requires a mastery-point grind to overcome. It was with considerable surprise and pleasure, then, that I found myself wandering about largely unchallenged for the best part of an hour along valleys and branches and rope walkways filled with non-aggressive boars, behemoths and various stripes of civilized frogs.

Even the creatures that did attack on sight, mostly bats and some new kind of ambulant mushroom, weren't the 'roided up nu-mobs that throw shapes and take forever to kill. Just normal wildlife. It seemed easy enough, pleasant even, to wander about, take screenshots, admire the view.

Chatting to the locals didn't seem to be an option - I hope that's because someone's still writing and recording the dialog, not because all these new frog friends are the quiet type. The big problem with a jungle setting became quickly evident, though: it all looks the same. It's absolutely beautifully rendered. ANet arguably have the best environmental art team in MMOs and they always produce to the highest of standards, but really, when you've seen one rope walkway you've seen them all.

I think there's a real problem with a whole expansion that takes place in the wilderness. I'm hoping that at some point there's an urbanized area of some size and significance (and no, neither a reconquerable area for Guild Halls or a giant frog treehouse is going to count). A lost city, ruined or inhabited, that's what this jungle needs as a centerpiece.

Again, though, as with the first taste of the Personal Story, I like the flavor more than I expected or imagined I would. I did feel able to wander around doing what I wanted without being pushed and shoved into endless Important War Fights all the time. And for all its sameness this jungle certainly looks a lot more visually complex and appealing than the empty dunes and mesas of Silverwastes.

How much more time I'll spend in this beta I'm not sure. I'm definitely not going to start grinding away at Mastery Points just to see how those work (although I got one MP while I was afk writing last night's blog so how hard can it be?). Nor do I plan on working diligently through all the new skills and elites and so forth. I find all these things very hard to concentrate on without a permanent character to hang them on.

More screenshots though? That I can do.


  1. Thanks for your impressions on the beta! Your concerns seem in line with my concerns for HoT, so I'm glad the overall experience seems more positive than I feared it would be. Looking forward to hearing and seeing more about it!

    1. After a longer session in the jungle on Sunday the picture isn't quite as rosy. I think part of the reason some of the map seemed quiet and peaceable was that a lot of the events were broken. When I was on a map where the chains didn't break it was a lot more dangerous.

      I think it seems harder because we don't have the masteries yet, though. The maps will be tuned for that.


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