Thursday, September 28, 2017

Saddle Up: GW2

Any good intentions I might have had yesterday about sticking to the storyline or following the plot blew away like dust in the desert wind. Before I lit out for the horizon I did manage to stay on rails for the second chapter, which concluded with the entire city council of Amnoon delegating the decision over who to ally with in the looming God-War to a three-foot tall gremlin in a romper suit.

At least on my screen it did. You may cut a more impressive figure. I chose to take my first pass through Path of Fire on my heal-specced druid on the grounds that it takes an army to kill him. That's working as intended but it does have the unfortunate side-effect of adding an entirely unintentional comedy element to the cut scenes as powerful entities threaten or defer to someone who looks like nothing so much as the winner of the "Ugliest Toddler" competition at a down-at-heel holiday camp.

Without heading too far into spoiler territory, I do find the underlying political assumptions of the current storyline to be both disturbing and hard to swallow. Whoever's writing this stuff appears to have a roiling contempt for democratic process or accountability.

Elected officials are corrupt, incompetent, narcissistic or self-serving by default. Due process is trampled gleefully by strong-willed individuals while those elected or appointed to make decisions race to throw difficult choices into the lap of the Player Character, who they sometimes barely know even by reputation.

It's early days but as yet I see little to no evidence of the reported stronger, more believable plot. It's the usual thrown-together farrago. The voice acting has improved, I will say that.

It's perhaps not surprising, then, that I got distracted even sooner than I did in Heart of Thorns. The structure of PoF, inarguably closer to that of the base game than the previous expansion, strongly encourages it.

So far I haven't seen any clear sign of the kind of map-wide meta that ANet have employed as standard in every single map since Dry Top. Instead we appear to be much closer to the original conception of a vast world exploding with "events", some of which overlap, some of which interact, some of which stand alone.

I make this - most likely inaccurate and uninformed - assessment after around fifteen hours of gameplay. It's going to take two or three times that before I feel ready for a solid "First Impressions" piece. Path of Fire is both packed and sprawling. It's going to take some time getting used to.

Without the story as a crutch I came up with something of my own to lean on as I meandered across the maps. Mounts are a key feature - arguably the key feature - of this second expansion and their very existence, something which would go unremarked in almost any other MMO, has been highly controversial.

ANet rarely state outright that they'll "never" do something. The exceptions so far have been more levels and tiers of gear. They certainly didn't say they'd "never" bring mounts to the game but they made it clear they didn't believe mounts were a good fit for Tyria. And now here they are.

They are "proper" mounts in MMO terms. They increase your run speed and you can see yourself sitting on them which are the two defining criteria of the feature as its generally understood.

Very annoyingly, despite loud complaints in the short beta, the mounts also have momentum. This is
intended to add "realism" but what it mainly adds is motion sickness. It doesn't have much of an effect on me but Mrs Bhagpuss, like many players, albeit a minority, couldn't use the first Raptor mount for more than a minute or two before she had to stop playing altogether.

Partly because of that and partly out of general curiosity I decided to get all the mounts and see if any of them were less wobbly than the others. There is some gating on acquiring them but nothing that can't easily be vaulted.

There are four main types - Raptor, Springer, Skimmer and Jackal. You get one in each of the first four maps. You have to find the vendor - who, it turns out, is always a "Heart" NPC. You also need to meet certain mastery requirements before the vendors will sell to you.

For reasons of cussedness and immersion I decided to get all of them without looking anything up out of game. Then, largely because I'd already decided I didn't much like the way mounts handled, I thought I'd do it all without using the mounts themselves.

It turns out that, despite what the NPCs tell you, you can get by perfectly well for the most part without using any kind of mount at all. There are a lot of places where you are clearly meant to use a Springer or a Raptor but where gliding will do just as well and if you have the kind of ferocious regenerative and healing capacity of my druid, you can outheal most of the poison damage riding a Skimmer is supposed to negate.

I had little difficulty getting any of the mounts. I ran blithely across Crystal Oasis into Desert Highlands for the Springer then backtracked to Elon Riverlands for the Skimmer. To find them I just roamed around lifting the fog of war on my map until the Heart icons showed then went to each as it appeared to see if it had the mount. I did also speak to a couple of "Scout" NPCs for directions, which is probably the first time I've done that since a week after launch.

All three of those maps were a total delight to explore - visually stunning, vast, complex and fascinating. I opened the few waypoints on each then carried to Desolation. Desolation is aptly named. It makes Orr look like an ornamental garden. I would not say it was a joy to explore but it wasn't that hard either. Just wearing on the eyes.

The Jackal mount vendor is on a fragment of a ruined palace floating in the sky because of course he is. The scout nearby tells you quite specifically that you won't be able to reach him without a trained Skimmer or Springer. He's wrong.

There's a tower not too far away that has an external spiral staircase. It's surrounded by poisonous gas and flame traps spew fire at you all the way up the stairs. As if that wasn't enough the force of the jets can knock you off the tower and any wildlife you agro on the way in pursues you all the way to the top.

It took me a while. I got knocked off twice. The first time I was high enough up for the fall to be fatal. I had to use a revive orb for that one - well, I didn't have to but it saved me a ten-minute run back to the tower.

In the end I made it to the top with a veteran abomination and a couple of hangers-on in hot pursuit. They'd finished off the Stone Spirit - something else I haven't used since shortly after launch -  that I'd planted at the bottom of the staircase to act as a speed-bump but it lasted long enough to give me a moment to orient myself before launching myself into the air.

It's a long glide but I made it with a second or two to spare. From the platform below the ruined palace its just a disorienting jog upwards against what seems to be an endless river of sludge to the top. I started off by trying to climb up the guardrail to avoid the flow but it turns out the gas or liquid or whatever it is isn't toxic and doesn't impede your progress so I just waded through it with my head  occasionally disappearing below the surface.

Safe at the summit I spoke to the NPC who trains the jackals. He appears to have been on a recent over-zealous health and safety training course because he point blank refuses to let you try a Jackal without providing evidence you can already handle either a Springer or a Skimmer to its fullest capacity.

There's a Mastery threshold in other words. Since I'd been picking up Mastery points all the way down the maps I did in fact have the necessary points banked. I could have spent them and picked up my Jackal but his attitude annoyed me so I decided to wait a while.

I was satisfied with Proof of Concept. You can indeed get all four of the mounts without having to use any of the mounts. There is a lot of content that does require you to use a mount but as far as I can see it's only in the way you had to use the various "Aspects" in Dry Top.

The Springer is for going up vertical surfaces. The Raptor is for going across gaps. The Skimmer is Poison protection. The Jackal is a key to use teleport gates. They may look like mounts but they are basically the same movement gimmicks we've been using since the Bazaar of the Four Winds.

There is a fifth mount that looks a lot more interesting: the Griffon. This is a "hidden" mount (i.e. unpublicized before launch) that's acquired by means of a collection. I haven't read up on it yet but I have a feeling it might be the only mount I'll end up using regularly, even if all it is really turns out to be is a fancy glider skin.

Especially if that. Gliding is the best form of movement GW2 has. I see nothing so far in this expansion to prove otherwise.


  1. I'm curious to know for those feeling motion sickness with the mounts, just how zoomed in they regularly play.

    I'm used to being completely zoomed out in MMOs, with a free camera and field of view set to max for situational awareness, so the screen barely rocks even when mounted and riding.

    But Half Life 2 totally triggered a rare but bad bout of motion sickness every time I tried the dune buggy level. A more zoomed in camera, narrow field of view, plus barely controllable and unpredictable dune buggy steering (those ramp jumps sucked, especially when you missed and the whole vehicle flipped upside down) and weird acceleration led to my brain absolutely pitching a fit.

    I'd suggest playing with the camera options in GW2 for those suffering from mount motion sickness, in the hopes that it will affect them less.

    1. In other games I've found that the farther out you pull the camera, the less your brain is fooled by the motion but GW2 doesn't allow the camera to pull back far enough to make much difference. First person view might well solve the problem altogether but you can't go into FPV on a mount.

      I played with the camera settings - such as they are - yesterday but GW2 hardly has any camera settings that matter. There are two specific settings for mounts but I couldn't even see that they had any effect at all. I know what will happen: Anet will act as though there's no problem at all for a year or two and then one day, with no warning at all, there will be a line in the patch notes saying an option has been added to switch off mount momentum. By then everyone who cares will have either come up with a workaround or found another game.

    2. What do you have your field of view set to? From watching a "newbie plays GW2" video the other day, it appears the default is absurdly narrow.

    3. I have it maxed. You have to have it that way for WvW (in before "especially if you're on Yaks Bend") to get siege engines to hit targets from positions where they themselves are hardest to reach.

      ANet only made FoV adjustable a couple of years back though. The very tight version you saw was the only option for several years and remains the default.


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