Sunday, March 2, 2014

Build Or Bust? : GW2

Just a few more days to go before we find out what Scarlet Briar's been planning this last year, although, when you work it out, it's been even longer than that. The Living Story blew in with a whimper January before last, when not a one of us had ever heard of the over-achieving, under-socialized Sylvari who was destined to become, not entirely for the reasons her creators intended, Tyria's Public Enemy #1.

Even now, with the final denouement just around the corner, ANet is playing its hand very close to its chest. The teaser trail tells us next-to-nothing other than that whoever made it probably mains a Charr. The official website announcement is tight-lipped almost to the point of rudeness. Speculation on the official forums has largely run out of steam, the few remaining commenters seeming to agree that everything points to Mordremoth the Jungle Dragon.

One interesting development is that Lion's Arch is now flagged as a Dungeon. I hadn't noticed this until last night, when one of those little pop-ups appeared to let me know I'd completed my monthly requirement for Dungeon Participation. Whether this means anything we shall have to wait and see but it could presage LA's conversion into an open-air dungeon bossed by whatever rabbit Scarlet pulls out of the hat on Tuesday.

I've always liked the concept of open-air dungeons. Everquest had several right from the start with some of them, like The Estate of Unrest and Castle Mistmoore, standing right at the heart of the canon when it comes to dungeoneering. The idea worked very well there and a permanent "dungeon" that's effectively an entire outdoor map arguably plays directly to the strengths of GW2 even more than it did to those of EQ.

Our Leader: Always With Us In Spirit
I haven't had much time or affection for the dungeons or dungeon-like content introduced through the Living Story until now, or at least not until The Marionette appeared. That event, a kind of lane-defence/arena, open world/instance hybrid, ran through two consecutive updates and is possibly my favorite Living Story content so far. Even though my attention was distracted by the shiny, new Landmark alpha I still managed to do the puppet at least once most days and often a lot more than that. I would guess that in the month it was around I did it well over fifty times.

I liked just about everything about it. I liked that it happened every other hour, which seemed exactly the right pace to keep it accessible while allowing plenty of time to do other things. I liked that, when you arrived in Lornar's Pass, you could exercise a degree of choice over just what you wanted to do while still needing to adapt to changing circumstances. You could pick your Lane to get the Warder of your choice, for example, but if the Lane before you failed you'd get theirs again, instead of the one you'd planned for.There were many little wrinkles along those lines that made each attempt feel fresh.

If Evon Gnashblade was in charge this would all have been recycled by now.

The mechanics of the fights seemed to me to be excellent. They all took a while to learn but once grasped were within my capabilities provided I concentrated. Above all, though, the reason I enjoyed the Marionette so much and did the event so often was because of the way outcomes were nested.

Having five separate platforms, each of which needed to succeed at each of the five stages for the whole event to succeed, made for elegant and suspenseful gameplay, suspense that was ratcheted up further by some clever and thoughtful management of the information flow. Inside the arena each team of five could see the other four teams; outside in the Lanes no-one could see any of them. As each platform finished the victorious players would cluster at the edges of their platforms, peering across the barriers to follow the progress of the battles still in play, yearning but unable to help.

As the timer ticked down anxious lane-defenders outside would call for progress reports, hoping the news was better than the silence made it seem. Someone always took it upon themselves to commentate or at least relay the current score. Quite often that someone was me.

If only they'd listened to him!

Another element of the design that pleased me was the random selection of the teams. Other MMOs that feature automated party-building usually need to take into account the requirements of the game for certain classes to be present in a particular ratio; in GW2, at least in theory, any five players should be able to do group content together regardless of class. Despite that, if you give players control they still veer towards something that looks like a traditional group, asking for particular classes or rejecting others, tuning for even  small advantage over particular challenges or opponents.

At the Marionette there was none of that. You got who you got and you got on with it. Oh, the frustration and exhilaration of personal and collective responsibility! How did you perform this time? How did your team perform? How did your Lane perform? Even at the busiest periods how did your Overflow perform? And of course if it all went horribly wrong, as it often did, you could slink off into the snow and come back to try and do better in a couple of hours.

She's a Necro. She doesn't cut anyone slack.

The event became a micro-MMO in and of itself, with its own regular participants and  leaders, strategies and culture, something it had in common with many of GW2's more reliably-scheduled "dynamic" events. It's an aspect of the game as game, rather than as virtual world, that I very much enjoy and ANet seem slowly to be gaining some insight on where the sweet spots are.

Hard though I may have gone against the current Escape From Lion's Arch event as a contribution to the evolution of Tyria as a virtual world, as content in a game I'm pretty pleased with it. Supposedly it's meant to initiate a larger-scale iteration of the kind of player dynamics we saw with the Marionette. I think it has a few more tunings to go before it develops anything like that level of elegance but it's very much another step in the right direction.

Did Scarlet actually tell you pirates to secure the Inns first?

Again the whole thing relies on nested activities and synergies and again the information flow is restricted. A successful attempt to rescue 1200 citizens requires organization but not so much organization that it can't arise organically from the impending sense that success is possible. The presence of a counter ticking up, a timer ticking down and the periodic delivery of a reward at 100, 300, 600 citizens and climbing provide ample information and incentive for players to judge the likelihood or otherwise of the target being met, an assessment that can be subject to sudden and thrilling change as the miasma thickens and what seemed out of reach now draws tantalizingly near.

When Tuesday's update comes we're to be tasked with The Battle For Lion's Arch. Doubtless it's a battle whose outcome has already been decided, but whether that outcome is a city to rebuild or a dungeon to tame I imagine we'll not be done with Lion's Arch for a good long time to come. I'm sanguine either way.

I very much doubt we'll be done with Scarlet Briar for good and all, either and, surprisingly, I'm good with that, too. Now that's something I really didn't expect.


  1. So I reinstalled Saturday and logged in to an apocalypse of stuff flashing in my UI and wings. I thought the wings were on mobs until I re-orientated myself as I'd logged out in LA but not so; Wings are the new No wings.

    I felt pretty pleased when I figured out why it was pestering me about gear I had equipped with 'unassigned stats'. The crappy MF ascended rings that had dropped for me are now zerkers hee hee.

    But my joy was short-lived when I found out that exotics are the new rares and most of my gear is no longer cool.

    After a few hours of just looking around I took to the internet to find out what was going on and that thing is champ trains. Hopped on one for just 20 mins and almost drowned in a fountain of loot. Entropy dropped. Apparently that used to be interesting but no longer is. I sold it for 15g which has gone from ' omfg jackpot' to 'cash on-hand for repairs and waypoints' since I last logged.

    If there is there one thing I love about GW2 it's the loot. No matter what you were doing it's so satisfying trawling through an evening's worth of loot. Stackable loot containers and the scrolling loot display combine in a sickeningly manipulative but bloody entertaining way. If you don't feel good clicking off 50 containers you're either dead inside or Buddhist.

    So all in all I enjoyed myself on Saturday. On Sunday I intended to play again but was overcome by an inexplicable ennui caused by the existence of Ascended Armour. I'm sorry ANet but I just can't face into it, so that's that for now. Maybe I'll be back when I can get hold of a computer that doesn't melt down in WvW.

    But goddamn my Thief still looks fantastic.

    1. You absolutely do not *have* to have Ascended armor of any kind. I didn't have any Ascended at all until two rings popped out of WvW rank-up chests the other night. One of those is still in the bank.

      Other than the issue of players demanding you wear X gear to let you party with them to do Y content it's hard to imagine a circumstance where you'd feel under-dressed in Exotics...yet. Soloing around the world, doing meta-events or Champ trains, even in WvW, I have never once heard anyone suggest that anyone should be "geared up". It's all one big "come as you are" party.

      Subjectively it doesn't seem to make much difference what you wear, either. I haven't even gotten around to putting my Warrior in Exotics yet and the only time I remember she's still in Rares it is when I happen to have the Hero panel open. In terms of terms of gameplay I'd struggle to discern a difference between playing her and playing any of the others who do have all Exotics. She doesn't fall down any more often, or take longer to kill things. Or, more accurately, she almost certainly does both, since the percentages say she must, but I don't notice so it doesn't matter.

      Of course this may not last. All content is still tuned for a game in which Exotics were top of the shop. If new content gets added that ANet have tuned in the expectation that everyone will be wearing full Ascended then perhaps we might begin to feel underpowered. I'll worry about that if and when it happens. For now Exotics will do me just fine.

    2. The only place where I saw difference between rare and exotic was during the Queen's Gauntlet and the Scarlet Mansion timed achievement.

      Although I'm not entirely sure if it was due to the jump from rare to exotic or the jump from random rare stats to bezerker exotic stats with scholar's runes.

    3. There's a bit of a qualitative difference between rare and exotic stats, but there is much difference between exotic and ascended for level 80 gear. Get yourself some level 75-79 exotics for armor, they're cheap and they are transmutable with the plentiful transmutation stones you get from map completion efforts. Don't forget your trinkets, level artificer to 400 or spend some laurels, or just search trading post for ""exotic and "level" 75-80 gear/trinkets. That said, the jump between adhoc gearing and a focused equipment build will be a much bigger boost than simply upgrading rare to exotic.

      If your server opens Orr temples often you can acquire exotic armor with karma.

    4. The performance issue hadn't really occurred to me; I wonder if they'll have to re-scale the zones. I've been running around in rares for ages because I don't want to transmute my zerker exotics which are still kinda cool into any super-cool skins but never got around to getting a second exotic set. I haven't come across any gear elitism either it should be said.

      The issue is the question of 'What would I like to get next?'. Last time the answer was another exotic set and now it's not. I can't lie to myself about the answer, it is what it is. And in this case it's quite a stretch. Legendaries are easy to ignore because they are absurd, this not so much.

      I do love the game when it's just being itself, there is no better MMO to just cruise around zones in. I do like a grind from time to time and I'll be back but for the time being I'll play vicariously through this blog :)

    5. The only places I can see "gear elitism" coming into play is dungeons (MOAR DPS PLEAZ) and maybe roaming with a small enough zerg in WvWvW where the group notices you falling over often (don't be a REZBOT). Pretty much all the overworld content is doable in rares, and a lot of the openworld zergs feature players actively popping AOE might, condition clears, and heals, which will do a lot to keep you upright and shoveling out damage, even in rares.

      As for transmuting the cool masterwork and rare quality level skins (assuming those are level 79 lower), the class appropriate exotic level 75-79 armor on trading post is mostly in bezerker or carrion flavors.


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