Alright, so, I took part in the Guild Wars 2 beta last week-end and have a few thoughts. Let it be known that I was/am a HUGE fan of the original Guild Wars and felt it to be a near perfect game. Frankly, in terms of balancing, strategy, skill variation, class uniqueness, the designed absence of punitive play (no grinding, spawn-camping etc.) Guild Wars 1 sits among only two MMOGs that I exalt above all others (the other being Star Wars Galaxies, which I praise for its sheer ambition).
I’m not fashioning an eloquently written article here, I’m simply putting my thoughts down on ‘paper’ as it were as to generate a conversation both among my Guild Wars 1-loving peers and those who think Guild Wars 2 is still the greatest thing since sliced Charr.
So, basic breakdown, good v. bad. First the good.
-Guild Wars 2 has maintained unique classes that feel quite style-distinct, and I appreciate this. Being a huge mesmer fan, I’m glad to see the mesmer’s inclusion in particular. The melee-capable side of their mini-wheat is welcome (I still remember trying to make Illusionary Weapon work as a viable build back in the day).
-NO CLASS TRINITY. Brilliant, thank goodness they’ve taken the healing role out, because frankly, it was killing class cooperation and innovation across the board in and among less traditional class types (and I say this for nearly all MMOGs, including the original GW). The great thing here is that the elimination of a healing class isn’t prohibitive of players being able to choose a more supportive role in their party. Every class has the opportunity to tailor their playstyle/skillsets to either being a more offensive, defensive, ranged, supportive etc. type of player. Arenanet is drawing a clearer distinction between support and dumb life-restoration and I like it, it’s going to help foster more creative play and more interesting collaborations between players.
-The environments are all still there. I can enter into Charr or Norn territory and it feels largely as I left it in GW1’s last expansion, Eye of the North. Guild Wars 2 has not lost the beauty of Guild Wars 1, although the style has changed juuuust a little. Either way, it’s still just an attractive game to behold. The scale of various locations is now quite impressive as well as home cities are MASSIVE. In general, a nice carry over of other elements from previous game whether it be geography, enemies, tribes etc. Was nice to see Grawl again too, those buggers.
-The story elements from the books carry over nicely thus far as well. That’s right, I read the books and am looking forward to Ree Soesbee’s third and final instalment in the series (due next year?? say whaaa Amazon?). But being able to see the characters and events that fill in the gaps between games and set up events that you can now personally experience and witness…well, that’s just neat.
-Being able to revive ANYONE. Terrific addition. Doesn’t matter what class you are, what skills you have, you can waltz over to anyone and zip them back to life. Haven’t seen a moment yet when a dead body was passed-over without a res. Everyone was a good samaritan this past week-end.
-WvW/PVP seemed decent from what I heard…didn’t play it this past time around though. I’ll still just leave it under the good category.
-Jumping, swimming, new forms of engagement open up. Underwater combat and exploration—also very cool.
-Live events…not super epic feeling or world-changing as advertised, but being able to jump into an event that’s happening proximal to you and getting some credit for it is kind of a nice deal.
-Punitive play is still mostly absent. Kill-stealing is still an impossible thing to do in Guild Wars 2. Although the original game relied on an instancing model to ensure that kills were indeed earned, this game gives credit to anyone who took part in the slaying of any given beast. Judicious allocation of rewards, I approve.
So here comes my barrage of unpleasantries, which frankly is to be expected given MY super massive expectations. I adored the original GW, which means I was bound to have issues with a sequel. The game is also still in beta, but some (if not most) of these features are here to stay. So forgive me if you think I’m being too harsh, but just remember, I have had a LOT invested in this franchise over the years and have been a player since beta of the original Guild Wars.
Let us attend.
-Firstly, let me say this—Guild Wars 1’s decision to go with an instanced/mission-based world was nothing short of brilliant. If anything could make a world feel both massive, while also making you feel like the hero of that world, it was the instance model. Towns were always thoroughly inhabited, supporting droves of people, and making the game feel like it had a living, breathing population in its city centers. On the flip side, the explorable world and the narrative that propelled you through it was always only inhabited by one or a group of heroes i.e. YOU…and your friends/henchmen. The narrative in this sense then always felt personal. Sure, everyone else was doing it at the same time, but you couldn’t SEE that. The game bestowed a genuine sense of ownership onto whichever player was partaking in a given instance or mission. This is because instances inherently promote a suspension of disbelief for players every single time they step out into the wilderness to continue their own ‘hero’s journey’. Arenanet had taken the Diablo model and artfully scaled it up to MMOG status, and frankly, it was sheer genius.
Guild Wars 2, however, has now elected to go the fully massive route this time around, going with the same model WoW and many other games have adopted, which means you’re always shoulder-to-shoulder with other players who are doing the exact thing you are. You’re a part of a herd. The atmosphere isn’t personal anymore. In fact, it’s sort of carnivalesque. Explorable regions don’t breathe, they’re congested with bodies and carnage and this overpopulation serves to shatter a narrative milieu where you’re supposed to be somewhat, dare I say, special? In GW2, everyone around you is essentially on their own concurrent and nearly identical hero’s journey. It’s a world of heroes, where no one is unique, nor are they really afforded the opportunity to feel so. It’s what Guild Wars 1 managed to conceal SO well—the fact that other players were doing exactly what you were the whole time. With GW2 however, that veil has been pulled away and the game now feels like any other open-world model—a bit sterile and herd-like.
Now, I know, first response here is “oh yeah? what about the personal stories!”. And yes, there are instances just for players which act as missions during which you get to play as the game’s ‘only’ hero or legend. These instances however are awkwardly plotted throughout the game, making them seem like paltry attempts at making you feel special in a world whose gross overpopulation of heroes clearly demonstrates otherwise. Even more inelegant is when you’re among a group of 5 different people who congregate around the same ‘personal journey’ starting location to each commence your identical personal journeys—like a line-up at a grocery till. The gracefulness of the original Guild Wars in this regard lay in the fact that the whole world was built around you going out into the world as the hero. Outposts were stop-overs in that journey. In GW2’s new inverted model, your personal journey is a stop-over intended to offer you consolation, a reprieve from the oppressive anonymity of the open world. Unfortunately, it is little consolation at all, as right now, personal journey episodes feel forced and unnatural.
I know some folks would suggest that one of Guild Wars 1’s biggest shortcoming was promoting collaboration between strangers, and I agree with that criticism. But I don’t think open-world models are the only solution to getting people to play together. For example, not ALL areas need to be open-world areas, I think we can at least start with that concession. It’s not an all or nothing deal. You need to pick the best balanced solution that is most consonant with the gameworld’s narrative milieu while engendering a sense of heroism and ownership for your players both as individuals and as a group. Right now, the best solution I can see for GW2 is to simply reduce population caps for individual regions, to let things breathe a little, but somehow I don’t think that will ultimately be the case given the new overflow system…
-Parties and overflow—kind of a new way of dealing with large-yield server maps rather than dealing with multiple districts. Basically, if you enter a map and it’s reached its capacity, you get sent to a copy of that map where all people who have also been turned away for the same reason, are deposited. It’s called overflow and it’s intended to allow folks to keep playing rather than waiting to queue up for the main map (although that remains an option). This system is occasionally annoying, if only because partied group quite often end up getting split up between main and overflow maps when moving through a portal. Not sure what direction this whole map/server system is moving in, but right now it’s just a bit clumsy. I’m sure they’ll figure this out. That said, I think when I’m playing alone I’d almost prefer a less populated map sometimes. Maybe there’s a solution somewhere in here that lets players find that sweet spot for player individuation.
-Grinding. Yeah, it’s soooort of in here. Guild Wars 1 allowed you to follow a personal journey without needing to stop to level-up by say, tending to the decimation of a few herds of Charr. In fact, Guild Wars was overtly predicated on never needing to grind—you played THROUGH Guild Wars, and sojourns of any other type were voluntary, exploratory, adventurous.
With Guild Wars 2, the main vehicle for narrative progression is the personal journey components, but after completing each one you always find yourself several levels away from being eligible for the next. This effectively places the onus on you to go out and keep yourself busy for a few levels. You can call it questing. Or you can call it grinding. Either way, you’re killing ten rats or something similar. Not always a bad thing, but sometimes, it really puts a damper on your flow.
-The death penalty/armor repair/downed system needs some smoothing out. Not a big fan of having both death penalty AND armor repair frankly. Having both together feels too punitive—especially since the latter is only alleviated at a gold cost, which doesn’t seem necessary. Having just death penalty seemed fine to me, especially with the new expiring penalty model they’ve introduced. I’d ditch armor repair.
The downed-state stuff is also a little clunky and feels sort of futile a lot of the time. I’d say coming up with more compelling down-state skills to perhaps allow for more desperate actions (lunging and grabbing on to the leg of a passing-by enemy to slow them down i.e. inflict crippled condition) might be neat for example. This lets you help your peeps with your dying breath—especially if you know that death is quite imminent.
-Paying to travel to waypoints, frankly, quite uncool. I shouldn’t have to pay to travel to places I’ve already been—I’m already being asked to pay for ridiculous armor repairs and trait books. Speaking of which…
-Paying for trait books. Why do I have to pay money in order to buy access to a skill tree I already have earned points for? And then, I have to do this for every level of trait accessibility? Blatantly artificial obstacles intended to slow-down character progression are unacceptable. If traits are supposed to take longer to max out, then spread out the earning of trait points even further. Or give me a quest that lets me go and find a guru who unlocks my ‘potential’. Don’t make me pay for something I effectively already have and can SEE in my Hero panel.
-Levelling skills. This one’s a minor pain. Although the first few skills on your bar are now dependent solely on the weapon you’re holding, you can’t access the full range of skills unless you’ve engaged in combat with that weapon for a certain period of time. In other words, you’re just pressing ‘1’ for the first while after equipping a new item. Then only 1 & 2 etc. EVENTUALLY, you finally unlock the full range of skills, but let’s be honest—once you’re level 15 and you find a new weapon and want to use it, what’s the motivation to level up the skills for THAT weapon when so much is on the line in terms of actually being effective as a player? There is a disincentive to add new weapons to your repertoire if you need to start from scratch every single time. The skill levelling thing works in the early levels, but thereafter, I should have full access to whatever skills a new weapon affords me.
Right, so in conclusion…I probably sound like I have a lot more complaints than compliments, but trust me when I say I love this franchise more than anyone could probably fathom. I have every single Collector’s Edition for every single version/expansion of the original game. My dissertation is on the subject of Guild Wars. I probably love this franchise more than you do. So do consider the above constructive criticism rather than a scathing disregard of Arenanet’s efforts.
Also, it’s a beta. And I had lots of fun playing it despite anything I may have identified as a shortcoming. So there. That is all. Until the next beta event! :)