Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Show, Don't Tell : GW2

Guild Wars 2 has been around for almost three years now. It promised to break the mold but in the end it broke itself. A mere nine months after launch I had already given up on the promises they'd made. It was easy. I never believed them anyway.

In March 2013, in a post titled Direction of Travel I wrote:

"GW2 for me has turned into a still-new, still-shiny version of every other MMO. There's an increasingly big part of the game, the part the developers seem mainly focused on and to which players are expected to aspire, from which I have largely opted out...As for where the game is going, I suspect ArenaNet are painting themselves into a corner with an increasingly restrictive, coercive, hardcore end-game bolted onto a free-wheeling, roistering, genuinely casual-friendly open-world leveling game. Unless they have better solutions than anyone else has come up with so far this is a road that can only lead to a fractured, dislocated playerbase where different interest groups lobby hard for their individual, incompatible aspirations."

Two and a half years later I think I might just be able to make out the faintest glimmer of one of those "better solutions" in this weekend's Heart of Thorns beta.

Not, for sure, in the fundamentally compromised version of The Manifesto under which we now operate. Remember "It all gets back to our basic design philosophy. Our games aren’t about preparing to have fun, or about grinding for a future fun reward" ? Such delicious irony.

Back in 2013 I was puzzling, as many were, over the addition of Ascended gear and the apparent willingness of GW2's core audience to accept grind-based, acquisitional gameplay, even to welcome it as aspirational. That's now embedded into the framework and here we are, anticipating eagerly the addition of new timesinks in the form of precursor crafting and new, account-bound Legendaries. If that's not the very definition of "preparing to have fun" and "grinding for a future fun reward" I don't know what is.

Then there's Verdant Brink. Good luck not "preparing to have fun" there. If you're the explorer type you'll certainly want to rush straight in and get on with it. It's visually stunning. It also has a war going on, a vicious day/night cycle, psychotically aggressive wildlife and a three-dimensionality that lets you see everything without being able to get to anything. Yet.

The peace and quiet that I lauded previously turned out to be largely unintended. A major event chain on one side of the map had stalled. On Sunday I found myself in an instance where the frogtown sequence wasn't bugged. All hell was breaking loose. That, naturally, was the time I chose to show Mrs Bhagpuss, deeply unimpressed as she was by then with the "Now! Now! Now!" action-oriented frenetic pace she'd experienced so far, that Verdant Brink does have its quieter side.

No it doesn't. It has a few quiet spots, like the Temple, with its magnificently atmospheric lighting or the oddly empty caverns, with their suspiciously climbable fungal outgrowths that don't seem to go anywhere, but pretty much anywhere you might want to go you can expect to fight all the way there and fight all the way back.

We fought. We ran. We died. Often. The novelty outweighed the frustration this time but that can only work once.

To cut ANet a little slack, it really isn't very fair to judge either Verdant Brink or Heart of Thorns on this limited exposure. It's not just unfair in the usual way that first impressions of MMOs are always unfair but more particularly because the whole zone has very clearly been tuned around the acquisition and possession of Masteries. With enough mastery points we'd be gliding past many of these fights, or bouncing on springy mushrooms, crossing the zone in seconds instead of slogging through it on foot, battling for every yard. Or so we imagine, anyway.

Masteries, clearly, will not be optional, not if you want to explore beyond the original game or, as we are now apparently calling it, "Pact Tyria". Without gliding and bouncing there will be parts of The Heart you'll never reach. Well, not until a Mesmer pops in to portal you. And mesmers do love to portal, bless 'em. But on your own? Not going to happen.

It sounds elitist, restrictive, dirigist and my natural inclination is to take agin it but I confess to being swayed by this explanation of why it's being done the way it is:

"We want our in-game progression to be about earning abilities that actually make a difference to what you’re doing in the game by opening up more of the game for you...the things you’re getting with the mastery system are very contextual and impactful for what you’re doing in that region by opening up new content and abilities that are more meaningful than numbers going up. We want you to see the gliding stuff and think, ‘I wanna do that!

(Source MOP interview

That does make some kind of sense and I can attest from personal experience that it's working. A few hours before I read that quote I was hopping about on a tree branch over what looked like a mile-long fall when someone swooped past me on a glider and disappeared into the depths below. And I found myself thinking "I want to do that!".

Until then I'd been looking at Glider Mastery as a bloody nuisance. It was an injury to need the glider in the first place and an insult to have to waste my time grinding points to be able to use it. In that one moment gliding went from imposition to aspiration.

So, maybe they do have some idea what they're doing after all. Hard to believe, I know, especially on previous evidence, but maybe it will all work out for the best. After all, some of us even came to appreciate Scarlet, in the end. 

One beta weekend isn't much to go on but on balance I would say I'm cautiously optimistic. Very cautious and only mildly optimistic but even that's more than I expected.


  1. I'm not sure at what point dynamic events went from "Oh, wow, this is fun!" to "Oh, man, this is tedious." But it did for me, especially in Dry Top. And I was one of the people who adored overworld events.

    I think that's my biggest fear with HoT... just tedium. From what I've gathered, once they got the events working, it just doesn't sound like something fun to me. I remain in wait-and-see mode,and look forward to more of your impressions!

    1. It's all-action, all day and all night in the area we've been allowed to see. I fear that will be the case for the entire expansion but we can hope. Maybe there will be a few quiet corners here and there. I wonder if this one area is all they're going to reveal for the whole of the beta process? I kind of suspect it is.

  2. The beta weekend was the same demo they used for show the expansion. From what I see we were exploring the top zone, the branches. There are two other zones below, the ground and the root.

    I fell dead between that branches to see what is bellow. There is an entire zone below with ruins. You will need gliding for get there fast. And using air currents that go up you will return to top zone.

    So, glider and mushroom jumper are not optional for HoT. But I too want advance legendary crafting mastery...

    1. Hmm. Although I fell down that huge hole several times it never occurred to me we were in the canopy. Not sure how that could work - the whole place was rock, caves, ruined temples...how could that be in the branches? It is called Verdant Brink, though..maybe it's on the edge of a cliff with most of the jungle below?

    2. "maybe it's on the edge of a cliff with most of the jungle below?""

      IMHO, it is the case. The devs said each zone have 3 different areas, branch, ground and underground (roots). I think the HoT starting area is the branch, with a ground area bellow.

      If you look that starting area again you will see we are wandering cliffs with a giant tree forest bellow.

  3. hmm... If I want to fly, I'll log into (non-TLE) Norrath. If I want to grind, I'll do crafting writs. At least I'll be contributing to the guild escrow for the rent.

    I pretty much lost interest in additions to Tyria with Dry Top, and I gave up on making real sense of skills and spells tweaking with their initial trashing of the traits system (the new version doesn't much impress me either, for the trouble). That is, sense of where Anet thinks we ought to go...this year.

    You've chronicled Anet's contradictory behavior nicely these last three years, and I don't see that behavior changing for the better. They seemed to have, however deliberately or otherwise, veered into developing their audience into something radically different from where we all started with this -- in pve, anyway -- and I'm not in it.

    How DBG has so many of us happily engaged in doing nearly the same shit all over again in EQ2 while GW2, to some us, is becoming more of a drag than a romp, I'm not at all sure. Lessons in here somewhere.

    -- 7rlsy

    1. When I was on Stormhold this morning there was a very angry player in General chat berating everyone for a) being so dumb as to pay money to have ten years of content and improvements taken away and b) deserting the "Live" servers to do it. He said "In 6 months this place will be empty and you'll all be back on the Live servers - only there won't be any Live servers left".

      He was exaggerating and probably also trolling but although I argued against him (as did everyone - not a single person agreed with him) I did think he had a point. It is very strange that so many people are willing not only to accept a massively reduced and restricted version but are willing to pay for it when they could have the bigger, unrestricted version for free.

      As for HoT, it's nothing like the expansion I'd have wanted but it's the expansion I'm going to get so I just have to make the best of it. At least it's good to look at. The audio isn't bad either.

  4. Well, the audio in GW2 is usually beautiful and brilliant anyway. We could go on and on about it, eh?

    Wait, am I missing something about that (troll) point? All Access covers the TLEs anyway. At that, subscribers get our monthly allowance, which I used to "buy" fresh character slots for TLE. Was he addressing returning players or altaholics or... hmm. In any case, it does bring up again that question we keep asking -- what do we really (think we) want from these games anyway?

  5. Gliding? That Mastery system sounds interesting.

    I went to Dry Top the other day for the first time ever, and was utterly confused. When I got all this stuff clogging my inventory that sort of looked too important to throw away (but I had no idea what to do with it), I quickly got annoyed. I enjoy the 'normal' exploring experience with gathering materials, discovering PoIs and doing hero points more, at least at the moment. From what I understand, the new expansion area is more like Dry Top then?

    Love those first two pictures, btw, with the lanterns. So pretty!

    1. The new expansion area is a huge forest. IMHO, the starting HoT zone is the limit between Dry Top and the huge forest, where the huge cliffs you see at Dry Top encounter the forest zone.

    2. Thanks. I meant more in terms of gameplay, though.

    3. Players will need commanders (with icons) helping to direct the effort to combat the mobs. Different commanders with different zergs. Dry Top and Silverwastes have commanders directing the players and HoT zones will need them. Think as a huge PvE Heart of Mists zone, where we don't combat enemy players, but enemy mobs.

    4. It's exactly the same gameplay as Dry Top/Silverwastes. Any difference will only be apparent to people who spend huge amounts of time in all of them. I'd guess it will be a lot of fun for a short while when the expansion is new but heaven only knows what it will be like a few weeks later. I hope they have some plans for managing the HoT content over the next three years it takes them to make the second expansion...

    5. Ugh, that's disappointing, then. I can see your concern there. Hope they do indeed come up with something.


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