Sunday, August 2, 2015

Test Department: GW2

One of the supposed perks that comes with a pre-purchase of GW2's Heart of Thorns expansion is "access to all beta weekend events". Although that sounds mighty inclusive, ArenaNet has a very specific understanding of what counts as an event.

It doesn't, for example, include the testing of the new Desert Battlegrounds for World vs World, which is By Invitation Only. It also doesn't in any meaningful sense include testing of the Stronghold sPvP map, which, on occasion, has simply been dropped into the live game for all PvP players regardless of any preference they might have had to the contrary.

Similarly, while only pre-purchasers got to drive a Revenant in the recent weekend event, since testing took place on Live maps everyone got to test out what it felt like to fight alongside someone trying to come to grips with a max level class they'd never played before whether they liked it or not.

It's a very odd way to run a business. I can't imagine it going down too well if Microsoft had decided to activate various features of Windows 10 for all users of Windows 8.1 for a few days to see how they worked before switching them back off and fiddling about with them based on how many complaints they got. How would a football team like it if half way through a match a bunch of people charged onto the pitch wearing roller-skates and joined in? That was pretty much how it felt when the Revenants appeared in WvW.

I guess when you don't charge an entrance fee you can get away with these kinds of shenanigans. If I was a paying customer, by now I'd be starting to have some serious issues with the cavalier attitude to the service for which I was paying but since I'm not I guess I just have to put up with it.

First impressions can be misleading

As the saying goes, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. I have paid up front for the expansion, which means that at least next weekend I get to be the one running around on Live maps getting in everyone's way as I struggle to understand a whole load of new Elite skills rather than being the poor schmoe who has to stand back and watch. Go me! I guess.

Like Jeromai I'm fortunate (if that's the word) in that the first of who knows how many beta weekends falls on a long weekend off work. Should I wish to do so I'll be able to give the whole three days over to "testing" the limited content on offer. We'll see how it goes but I'm anticipating the novelty will wear off a lot sooner than that.

My interest and enthusiasm for HoT waxes and wanes depending on what aspect ANet has hyped most recently. Currently it's at a low ebb. The announcement on the proposed changes to Fractals seemed almost beyond parody. As I was reading it I kept hearing Nigel Tufnel's voice saying "These go to 11".

Then there's the threat promise to bring us "challenging group content". They've been at some pains to stress that we haven't seen any of this yet. It appears to be ANet code for "Raids". The reveal is probably what they have planned for the trailed live announcement of "the details of one of our Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns features" during next weekend's livestream from Gamescom. Can't say I'll be on the edge of my seat for that one.

Don't think much of the view.

They do seem to be mordantly committed to making things slower, more painful and more tedious. Sorry, sorry. Off message. Of course I mean more challenging, fun and involving. As they put it in the request for focused feedback after next week's test:

"Do you feel the need to use your entire skill bar in battles? 
Does teaming up with other players feel more rewarding? 
Do you find yourself wanting to change your skills and traits to overcome encounters?
Warning—creatures will be more challenging than in the existing Guild Wars 2 world

To which I would expect my answers to be

"Why would I want to? 
It already did, thanks.
At the risk of repeating myself, why would I want to? 
If this is something I'm supposed to enjoy, why do you feel the need to issue a warning about it?"

Oh well. As Jeromai, who has already seen and played the Verdant Brink content that will be available for testing next weekend puts it, " felt like more of the same. Which wasn’t -bad-, it was comfortable, familiar, a little bit grindy, but neither was it blow-your-socks-off-spectacular either. It felt like, okay, we’ve had Dry Top, we’ve had Silverwastes, and now Verdant Brink is the next continuation of that. Right. It’s (more or less) playable. I get where you’re going with this. I guess… it’s all right, it’s acceptable".

And this isn't much better.

That is very much what I expected and feared. I enjoyed Dry Top and Silverwastes for what they were, but what they are is levels in a video game. I'm not really very interested in that and it certainly doesn't offer much in the way of replayability beyond the specific rewards that have been attached to it. I'm much more interested in immersion in an imaginary world, something I found, and still find, in most of the games original maps.

It's going to be interesting to take a look at what our future holds but I'm not getting my hopes up. Three years after launch I still spend most of the time I'm not in WvW in The Shiverpeaks and Ascalon. After the expansion launches and I've worked my way through the storyline, which probably won't take long, that's almost certainly where I'll end up once more. Assuming I'm still playing at all, that is.

Indeed, from my perspective, perhaps the most important part of next weekend's beta and the best reason I have for giving it a fair trial is the chance to experience and evaluate the proposed incentives for continuing to play in "Old World" maps: the unfortunately-named Map Bonus Reward System. Call me idealistic but I thought the reward came from the pleasure, even joy, of being in that world. What do I know?

I very much hope that a week from now I'm back here, publicly eating both my hat and humble pie, and gosh-wowing about how great it all is and how wrong I was to be so cynical and downbeat. Place your bets now.


  1. "I have paid up front for the expansion, which means that at least next weekend I get to be the one running around on Live maps getting in everyone's way [...] than being the poor schmoe who has to stand back and watch."

    I see that Anet plan to sell more boxes worked... that explain the beta we are seeing.

    1. If they'd brought out expansions at the rate they produced them for GW1 they'd have had three times that money from me by now. I wanted an expansion two years ago. My problem's with what's in the expansion, not that we're getting one!

  2. Well, they've had about 3 months to further polish and refine the experience. Let's hope for the best.

    I just found it hard to conclude anything about it because as mentioned, it only felt like 25% of a zone. "Needs more" is what I kept ending up feeling, specifically the immersive bits for soloists to go wandering and exploring, because what seemed to be on test was the whole "meta" event for the zone, which does its usual thing channeling zergs from point A to point B to point C, with probably 75% of the zerg lost and not knowing what's going on, just hitting the first thing pointed out to them.

    No Reddit tips or guides as you might expect on a live release, no strong incentive for someone to take the lead and organize for better rewards (it's all getting wiped anyway), really hard to judge how a meta event would feel if it wasn't being seriously attempted anyway.

    Perhaps the extended beta weekend will give more time to attempt stuff like that.

    1. I was going to include something about the limited exposure but I forgot. I might write that up separately. I think it's a good idea in principle but I remember only too well how very, very buggy the mid and high level maps in the original game turned out to be, which had never been shown or tested in the open betas there.

      The whole beta thing is particularly uncomfortable in GW2 because literally every veteran player will be praying like crazy for a Precursor NOT to drop. The fear of it happening is almost enough to stop me taking any active part at all.

      I wish they'd switch all loot off completely for beta characters.

  3. I've been enjoying the sarcasm of this post (in a good way) and can see where it comes from. Personally I'm not interested in beta testing (and as you know, I didn't pre-order the expansion), but to hear how they're dealing with that promise is kinda sour.

    In the end I get the feeling ArenaNet doesn't really know what they want. As you say, those promises sound hollow (then again, they usually in the MMO dev world). I agree that a new leveling zone is a source of temporary joy, but then, what it is that you *would* want to see in the upcoming expansion? (Honest, curious question, no sarcasm intended.)

    That said, as a fellow sucker for immersion, most of my characters are parked in the Shiverpeaks, Kryta or Ascalon, because I enjoy those environments most.

    1. PS Ugh, my apologies for the spelling mistakes. I keep switching sentences around because they don't always make sense (English isn't my first language) and then tend to miss misplaced words. :/

    2. I really like what you might call the "base game" of GW2 - the kind of content that we had at launch. I like the everyday stories of the ordinary people who live and work in the world. Most of the original maps are layered with background detail that permeates every moment you spend there, from the sound effects and ambient speech through a whole raft of scripted NPC interactions that occur regardless of player activity to the Hearts and dynamic events.

      I still hear and see new examples almost every day, even now. The sheer richness of the tapestry is difficult to appreciate unless you spend hour after hour in those maps just wandering about, as I have been doing for years now. By contrast, Dry Top and Silverwastes are massively more focused, purposeful and streamlined. There is very little in either that doesn't directly serve the plot or the reward system.

      My fear is that all of HoT's explorable maps will be like that. It's good design in game terms but it makes for a poor virtual world. All I really wanted was what most MMOs offer up for their first expansion - more of the same. Look at Heavensward for FFXIV and see how blissfully received that's been, or think of Ruins of Kunark or Desert of Flames.

      If HoT was the 3rd or or 4th expansion then I'd be a lot more sanguine about such a clear change of pace and direction but I guess we'll be somewhere around 2025 when those appear at this rate of development and by then I very much doubt any of us will care.

      (And you don't need to apologize for your excellent English, that's for sure!)


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