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Beta Reviews Me


Guild Wars 2 beta. There are things to love and others to improve upon. I will share both what I liked as well as some constructive feedback. I had not played since PAX West 2011 and it really hit me how much the game had jumped forward in this second closed beta. This has made me more optimistic about ANet’s iterative process–that they want to release a very polished build of Gw2 for when the game goes live.

I had the same first impressions I did after watching The Dark Knight in theaters–overwhelmed at first, but started to get feeling back into my brain as things settled in. This brings me to note before anything else  tutorials in GW2 or the deceptive lack of them. While everything is there in regards to what any new player needs to learn, it is done so seamlessly through use of the personal storyline and actual combat game play (without directing text) that I barely noticed the game at first was teaching me how to play. Dynamic events are one example.

ANet has implemented a very subtle self-exploratory style in letting players naturally teach themselves how to play the game. From not having text directing me coupled with the simple progression in which content flowed, it was real easy to learn from what was given me to work with.  From this I felt “experienced” even at the very start of the game. “I know what to do!  I have this axe, those centaurs need killing, done!”

There are game mechanics which present themselves soon enough (i.e., weapon sets, skills, switching weapons).  These likewise are learned through self-exploration and sometimes the learning process took time to work things out.  There were times my “experienced” ego blamed mechanic design and content for things I did not fully understand.  “It’s beta, these things obviously need to be fixed!“–In retrospect this was not the case.  The game was still teaching me and I didn’t even realize it.  Since there was no text telling me how things worked, there were times I thought I was done learning when the game was in fact still–and patiently–continuing to teach me.

Enough introduction, let’s review…

Character Creation, Environments in-game, and UI are top quality and drop dead gorgeous (plenty of You Tube examples). I like the “painterly” effect the art team took with the UI–it almost melds into your screen before your eyes; especially when windows are not solid colored boxes, rather whimsical splashes on the screen with transparent edges that were comfortable to look at. Kudos to the art team–the art speaks for itself; as well as the music!

Quick story, the music used in one of the Charr personal story-lines where one battles with a superior Charr in an enclosed death arena–brilliant!

Dynamic Events are awesome. Stumbling upon one of these scenarios feels so natural that immersion is instant. One is fully aware of what is happening, what needs to be done, and are off to complete the task. The brief description to the right of the screen is all one needs; the rest of the information unfolds with the event. After a dynamic event ended I was ready for the next one, but realistically they are not on constant repeat which gives the game play some nice breathing room–kind of like snapping back into reality.

That reality was the other side of open world PvE, rather NPC quests. Anet did something tricky here. No matter what the quest entailed, you get a yellow progress bar that slowly fills up until you have finished–something I found more pleasant than counting kill numbers.  The best thing about this is that everyone could contribute to finishing this bar. While these quests entertained I was secretly craving another dynamic event; NPC quests do pale a lot IMO next to dynamic events. Noted here that dynamic events are built around areas of NPC quests which is a nice touch–NPC quests are practically everywhere so this is a given really.

If one comes to a point where there is not a dynamic event around and they do not really want to do NPC quests–or kill random monsters–they can either explore (for the sake of it as well) until finding another dynamic event or there is also the Personal Storyline. I would rather call this ones personalized dynamic event chain–win-win here. I love me some personal storyline as much as I enjoy dynamic events. It is interesting how the personal storyline weaves around the open PvE world.

When you start a character you immediately find a dynamic event alongside other players that leads you into your personal storyline (you can skip and do it later too and go exploring, but not recommended).  After they end you are pushed back into the open PvE world to continue with your storyline, explore, find random dynamic events, do NPC quests, or just kill stuff at random. When a personal storyline ends it also gives direction either to a city outpost or someplace in the open PvE world to find a trigger continuing the story.

I have one worry about the dynamic event system once the game goes live and that is player volume. Whether it is possible to forestall dynamic events from unfolding out into the world due to player volume (even across servers)–Is yet to be experimented with. There were enough players this beta to create a pretty mixed flow between them, which I felt gave a really cool ever-changing pulsation to the game. Even if players (after the game goes live) are able to keep dynamic events unfolding in one area specifically–making that area less interesting to be in with only NPC quests–it may on a larger scale provide good variety to the game nonetheless. Whether this is good or bad again is yet to be seen. If it all works out–as I feel it did in beta–PvE is going to be a blast.

Unlocking Skills and Trait Points are simultaneous with whatever you are doing. I rather enjoyed this system in learning skills as the speed to which they unlocked had a good pace. A pace that allowed time for one to learn the properties of different skills and how they work with the other skills on the same weapon->weapon set–>weapon sets–>skills on the right side of the bar.  Trait points start opening up to customization at level 11 while skill points are found through dynamic challenges scattered throughout Tyria; these unlock skills for the right side of your bar.  These skills throw spice and even turning points depending on the combat situation.

The learning journey in GW2–one I most definitely did not complete in this beta–progressed in stages  for me as I unlocked skills, unlocked the ability to switch between weapons, and gradually worked myself into tougher areas of combat.  During this transition in learning the heart of combat my “experienced” mentality unfortunately kicked in.  There were “problems” that seemed to creep up after unlocking the skills on a few weapons and after unlocking the ability to switch between weapon sets.  I want to reference here what I said about the “deceptive tutorial”.

“Psh, I have all the skills on this weapon set, I’m done.”–but I wasn’t.  At the time these problems–or misunderstandings on my part– were faulted to the games design.  I thought I was playing the game rather than learning it.  There are a few things that I do believe need to be fixed in beta and will try to be as frank as possible without too much subjectivity in discussing them.

Particle Effects affect a few things: Cross Profession Combinations and everything else. Large mob settings rendered combos useless as well as any type of strategic game play to be had with weapon-sets and skills in general. When there is a mob of players, the fireworks turn the situation into a complete mindless spam-fest of Christmas lights and falling enemy health bars. This is something ANet will obviously tone down for the game–something I really want to see tested before game release. I do not dislike the skill animations–I like them a lot–but I think toning them down will still provide visceral combat especially if the visceral sensation is achieved through strategic use and proper kiting/dodging.

Weapon Sets and Skills are an interesting discussion. There are multiple aspects that factor into the whole picture. You may have read the feedback from Reddit. What am I getting at? Guild Wars 2 is unique. There is a unique style of game play that one will get use to–and it did not happen immediately for me in the first few areas of Queensdale. I think the best way to continue is to go over some of the Reddit comments themselves. When I first read these, I was at a stage in my learning of the game were I completely agreed. I completely disagree with these now and will explain by showing what mistakes I took in blaming my experience at the time on how game play and mechanics were designed.  I am in no way speaking on behalf of the posters to what stage they these concerns arose, but since I did come up with the same if not familiar questioning during stages of my game play, I am going to share my impressions.

“Just pressing stuff on cool down is the “most optimal” way to play…”

What contributed to my thinking mainly centered on the “experienced mentality”, but in more detail it included only playing with one weapon set, not being familiar with the skills, and playing in fast-paced player mob scenarios.

First off, playing with one weapon set is not what I believe ANet intended; they gave us weapon switching. Imagine playing GW1 with a skill bar of five skills, of course cool down is going to be an issue, it is the same with just playing on one weapon set to a degree. I say “degree” because it is still possible to use one weapon set by itself properly with choosing skills properly; something that became clearer to me again when getting into more difficult areas of the game–not so much in the starter areas which are specifically designed to instruct.

Secondly, having just unlocked my weapon set–this carried over into when I could switch as well–I was still in the unlocking skills mindset. What does one do when unlocking skills? They more or less spam the skills beforehand to kill stuff. Weapon sets and skill bars may have worked that way when unlocking weapons, but are not the way to use them in-game later on. Players will have to find and make the transition eventually.

Real quick, the first skill on any weapon set is an auto “spam” skill which can be turned off to manual mode. With how professions are more self-reliant some type of immediary damage is a given. Even though the skill can be spammed like mad doesn’t necessarily mean that is how it is suppose to be used. If someone ends up spamming the life out of the first skill because all their other skills are being recharged–after being able to switch weapon sets–I think it an issue of correctly using the skills. This I found out once again when I got into harder areas of the game– the gap between what you can do to the enemies and what the enemies can do to you does widen eventually.

“Boring to wait for skills to come down from cool down…”
“Weapon swapping has little practical consequence…”

Getting into harder areas I stopped it all, finding I was controlling the cool downs more than anything else–next part of the learning phase. Choice is not gone. Switching weapon sets and using skills with judgement was the answer in the end.

“Dodging more or less useless…”

Kiting is something I found readily used with dodging next in the line up.  Kiting does not kill dodge, dodge is there for when kiting just does not keep you out of the line of fire.  There were many times I dodged fireballs and other types of damage–and was happy to have had it.

“Combos are useless…”

I have already touched on this one above with particle effects, but yes they can be strengthened. It is a system I do not want to see go away because the variety it would bring to game play (especially PvP) is just awesome. Frankly, I think it is a system ANet just is not done with yet. Without the particle light show I believe these can be strengthened by adding more combos actually.  Fast game play and memorization of combos on the player’s part (no more visibility indicators other than skill effects) will make these a higher skill game play option.

“CC skills almost useless in PvE…”

When learning skills I found familiarity through skill details and more so how effective they were in combat.  CC skills are not useless in PvE unless you are attending one of those light show player mob raves.  While it was obviously easier to manage the use of skills with one weapon set, more focus was required in faster paced combat when switching weapons.  In making up for this change of combat style my eyes frantically latched first onto the skills that acted as movement modifiers since their effects gave immediate feedback during combat.  Skills with placement conditions such as marks were the next ones which stood out, followed by damage over time condition and general damage skills.

Something I would like to see put into the game is more visual feedback for damage over time condition skills like bleeding, poison (burning can be toned down), etc.  Currently there are little condition icons that pop up under a target.  There is feedback in how fast a target’s health drops when in smaller groups or just solo play (big mob battles, can’t tell the difference), but something like in GW1 where poison turns a targets health bar green would also appreciated next to those little condition icons.  Otherwise I found certain condition skill–while working in combat–not really giving me feedback that they actually were working, or mattered in certain cases.

 PvP

Before starting I would like to introduce you to the Necromancer and Guardian: The Unholy and Holy gank-duo of GW2 beta PvP!

Lol. Yes the Necromancer is OP in PvP right now; the Guardian less than the Necromancer, but still hard to take down with all those boons–boons became my bane. Between these two, bleeding and burning conditions are ridiculously deadly. I saw in chat someone asked what to do when they come across a Necromancer. The response was if they are carrying a scepter you run.  A Necromancer’s Death Shroud is very useful in PvP.

Another class that was annoying in PvP was the Engineer. Most I came across just set down rocket and healing turrets and kited you as their automatons took you down. I found myself keeping behind something to avoid damage, which gave to either waiting until the Engineer came to close to you, or until the turrets ran out which they didn’t. One thing that needs to be changed in PvP (imo) as it currently stands is taking out all summons of any profession as well when one is finished–or making them attack both teams at least. There were many times when an Engineer was finished and the battle turned not to any live player, but an escape from turrets which continued to drill holes in me–actually, I’d be happy to see these things disappear once the Engineer gets downed, but that isn’t going to happen.

Something that also annoyed in regards to “after the matter” is concerning the victory screen. Fighting does not stop currently after a match “ends”. I don’t know how ANet will end up working it–whether the other team will all die like in GW1, but if they are going to allow players revenge slaughter after one team wins I would like to see that victory message automatically close shortly after it appears; maybe minimizing to a little note on the side of the screen. It is not optimal to pause to exit out of the victory window when you are close to taking down an enemy player–especially if it is a Guardian or Necromancer.

Something else that I am sure will be fixed is not starting a game until all the players have entered.  One game I went in to no one, destroyed the enemies trebuchet and gained all the control points–gaining 300+ points before other players entered and the match began.  Winning.

In regards to the Thief-and professions in general really to a degree-I feel there should be range limitations put on skills so one does not waste their cool down skills. The Thiefs initiative was wasted on such, and If skills didn’t go off if they are out of range it would relieve some frustration on part of the player.  I believe skills do have range in how far they go, why not compliment it with stopping them if they are not destined to hit?  Yes, maybe this comes down to aiming properly, but… there are times you are still going to miss without messing up your aim and have to wait on wasted skills.  They already have out of range notifications if you have something blocking your line of fire, why not a skill “safety lock” as well.

A review of the review

On the whole this game is coming along.  It is not polished, but a work in progress with more to balance in both PvP and PvE.  I can say “wow” though, this game will be stepping up the definition of player  immersion.