Category Archives: Beta

Weekend Wildstar Beta Round-up

Over the weekend I’ve found time to catch up on the MMO blogosphere’s unleashed Wildstar impressions and by the looks, nobody is unhappy to have played in the beta. While several have mentioned the art style not being very immersive at first, everybody seems to agree that Carbine is delivering a fairly polished game with lots of potential for group play. Generally, enthusiasm isn’t exactly overflowing but given how most of us are grumpy veterans, that’s just as well. Caution, thy name is 2014 MMO blogging!


Welcome to Whitevale /

Since I didn’t really give a complete beta review in my last update but rather focused on the “Wildstar versus WoW”-debate, here’s a quick round-up of many interesting posts by fellow bloggers that when put together, paint a pretty comprehensive Wildstar picture:

  • Clockwork thinks that Wildstar is a great game overall but needs serious work in the camera and UI department. As for telelgraphs, they sure take some getting used to! I happen to agree with all his points.
  • Bel over at Tales of the Aggronaut is extremely torn: for him, Wildstar comes close to Las Vegas in terms of busyness, content density and sensory overload. Being fiercely in the ESO camp already, it’s hard for him to find good enough reasons to play (or pay).
  • Braxwolf Stormchaser can say with certainty that Wildstar is an MMO. He likes the game’s overall flair and music and despite its cartoony graphics, found it to be grittier than GW2 or SWTOR. Still, he isn’t over the moon about Wildstar just yet.
  • Stubborn goes on to explain that unlike me, he will name Wildstar’s core gameplay a direct successor of WoW and that’s not a bad thing. Wildstar is the more refined title and Carbine have done a fantastic marketing job – all that said, he has no plans to play at launch.
  • Kadomi at the new blog To Boldly Nerd is exclusively interested to play Wildstar this year. Her review is one of the most complete I’ve found and covers a lot of aspects and great details about the game’s current state, so check it out!
  • As for my Battle Bards co-host Syp, he has already shared his positive Wildstar review much earlier than us ordinary people. Now that the NDA has dropped for everybody, he is back to discuss different purchase and pricing options while being very disappointed in the lack of proper collector’s edition. The fact that releasing the OST doesn’t get mentioned anywhere by Carbine is a big let-down indeed.

If you’re still on the fence about Wildstar, these different reads will provide you with ample input although they might not convince you either way. That last leap of faith is still yours to make. As far as I’m concerned, that pre-order is a done deal.

In case I missed anyone’s review, let me know so I can add you to the list! Happy Sunday all!

Wildstar ain’t WoW – Wildstar is Heavy Metal

Suddenly everything is moving really fast. ESO is about to launch, Blizzard hints at launch dates and pre-orders, Wildstar takes another day to get real. And somewhere in between all of this, people are getting bored of Landmark’s alpha. Looks like this year of new MMOs is finally happening!

Sooo, Wildstar. I’ve played in the permanent beta since this January, not for any particular fandom but gloomy frustration over ESO. Clearly, going into this second MMO without much anticipation has helped a lot. I like Wildstar; not the way I love LOTRO or Guild Wars 2 but enough to pre-order come this March 19th. Smart of Carbine to move fast and set their launch well ahead of WoW – not because the two are one and the same but because WoW is always competition. To anybody.

That of course leads me to where I want to go with this post: how Wildstar doesn’t feel like WoW when you’re playing. The internet is obsessed with comparing the two for obvious reasons, the cartoony graphics and well, the classic approach. Yet probably 70% or more of all MMOs out there are themeparks with a holy trinity. If that’s the similarity you’re judging things by then Wildstar isn’t any more a WoW clone than Final Fantasy XI – a game that launched 2 years prior to World of Obsessioncraft. But hey, I too am guilty of early comparisons and Carbine weren’t exactly shy to point out their target audience in the past, either.

Contrary to the popular notion Wildstar isn’t WoW, more importantly does not feel like WoW. Much rather I would say this: Wildstar is heavy metal.


A penetrating first look at Wildstar’s feels

From the get-go, Wildstar struck me as its very own thing. The overall feel and very consistent design concept seem well-known and yet aren’t, not after taking a closer look and certainly not within an MMO context anyway. If I had to describe the visuals to anyone, I would go with Brutal Legend meets Borderlands 2. That level-up animation still paints a wide grin on my face. This game is outspoken and slangy in its humor and despite the candy colors, it also has grimness and maturity to it (candy-color me impressed!). There’s the Firefly-like thematic fusion of a cyber-metal-punk wild west adventure…with pink bunnies.

The cartoony graphics of Allods mimic WoW in a way that Wildstar never does; more stylized, more artsy and whimsical are the settings of the Nexus and this painter’s brush is a different brush entirely. The world expands vertically as much as horizontally so the player character gets dwarfed more easily; a counter-immersive effect I’ve referred to (and complain about) as the goldilock’s experience before. Anyway, as a sucker for authentic and mature in MMOs it took me a good while to get used to the hyper-stylized graphics; staring at the grass in Wildstar for too long requires a willingness to suspend disbelief –


Whatever this is, it ain’t real grass!

But let’s rewind things a little and start at the beginning: the character customization. Wildstar offers as many options as vanilla Warcraft in terms of body and height variety which means well, none at all. That’s quite the flaw in 2014. At the same time, we are seeing some of the most exciting, accomplished and refreshing race design since Allods and maybe Tera. Boring and uninspired humans with weird hairdos aside, some of the Draken, Mordesh, Granok and Chua models are simply to die for.


Once you leave character customization, Wildstar is quick to introduce players to combat with their very own tunnel scenario. Yeah, they do that. Once again, there’s much to get used to here and it’s safe to say the doubly active telegraph combat couldn’t be more unlike WoW even if Carbine are aiming for the same strategic depth and role-based play with their group content. In the same vein, their restricted skillset and talent system strike me as modern and light-weight in a way WoW is only just learning to be, simplifying things with every new expansion.

I could go on from here and point out how the (sticky) camera in Wildstar works differently which gave me pause. There’s no insta-turn and quick 90° cutting corners which some players will clearly miss for the first few hours even if it feels natural after a while.

Or I could describe the chaotic refugee city of Thayd that feels nothing like any Warcraft city I’ve ever been to. If I had to name something about Wildstar that really let me down it would be questing which, despite different path options, is very kill ten rats. In this there’s no letting off Carbine.

In summary: You should probably give this a try

So many aspects in MMOs make for that complex, intangible quality that we call “overall feel” and if nothing else, you should give Wildstar the benefit of the doubt as long as you haven’t played it. The Nexus is an odd place, alien yet familiar – not entirely new but new enough, a little more grownup than expected and every bit as polished as anyone could hope for. There will be things to love and things to hate but dismissing this new title over being a second World of Warcraft because cartoony looks, well that would be wrong entirely. Wildstar is a fresh interpretation of a classic, an ambitious and deep MMO world with an unmistakeable, stubborn and outspoken style. It doesn’t need to copy WoW any more than any of the other upcoming games do; I believe we can move on from this notion already.

So that Elder Scrolls Online NDA was lifted, if not my Spirits

I want to say ‘finally’ but last Friday’s NDA lift for ESO was so shamefully overdue that I almost didn’t care to post about it. The game is due in April and already selling a much debated collector’s edition, so how nice to finally give the fanbase a voice two months before launch. We will try not to interpret the long hesitation. Personally, I believe Zenimax have caused this launch more harm by keeping ESO under NDA for as long as they have. Not only wasn’t the press particularly gentle once the press NDA got lifted (see RPS or Ten Ton Hammer for reference), the title would’ve benefited from the buzz created by more balanced and positive blogger reviews. After all, there are still many players excited for ESO.

I used to be one of them but alas, that enthusiasm was shaken in its foundations after participating in two of the more recent beta stress test weekends in January and February 2014. To be fair, I didn’t have the bar set very high for ESO: I expected it to feel more dated and traditional than the other upcoming AAAs this year, less polished and overall pandering to the Skyrim demography. Yet in retrospective, the Skyrim comparison is doing things far too big a favor.

My quick and dirty ESO review

While I don’t wish to rain on anyone’s parade, this much anticipated game has dropped on the 2014 priority list much to my chagrin. I don’t intend on buying at launch, in fact I am not sure I’m gonna buy at all for as long as there is also a monthly subscription. Subscriptions aren’t a financing issue for me but like everyone else, I draw comparisons and try to justify the expense. ESO, for me, is not in the right shape to ask for a sub. But let’s have a more detailed look, shall we?

The Good (at first glance):

The settings of ESO are very pretty. Having visited every faction’s starting zone, I liked them all equally as far as overall zone design, weather effects and light cycles go. The world feels more realistic than in many other MMOs, if that’s a criteria for anybody. I love the mature and authentic look of ESO.


The diversity of character customization is a forte of the franchise and ESO is no exception. While some basic faces across all races feel too templatey still, you won’t be missing options inside the rugged, old, scarred or unattractive spectrum; like every ES title before it, ESO makes it hard (but not impossible) to create your staple beauty. Really big props go to armor design which doesn’t discriminate gender and keeps things in the realm of the practical.


She looks alright.

The crafting system appears to be complex and rewarding. While I’ve only meddled with it briefly, I could see crafters getting their share of attention and I didn’t expect anything less from this MMO. I liked the crafting hubs too and many of the small details for tools and ingredients.

The Bad (or why I was so appalled):

ESO gotta have the most sloppy and inaccurate combat I have experienced since [add random console hack’n slay title here]. What was already a boring exercise of throwing lackluster magic balls as a caster, went downhill fast once I experienced the completely unresponsive dual-wielding mess of melee mode. Combat is missing feedback, aiming is off and animations are frankly awful. I don’t want to look like a WoW undead when moving around hitting stuff. There is nothing of Skyrim’s more impactful combat and precisely aimed shots to be found!

While we’re talking animations, they are mostly horrible. I made a particularly awful acquaintance out in the wild with an eagle circling my head, its flight animation as graceful as a tour bus trying to squeeze into a beetle’s parking space. It’s great that ESO has birds flying around, you just don’t want to look at them too closely.


The wonderful cave intro.

As beautiful as the world is, as dead does it feel traveling from place to place. The NPCs do precious little which is a stark contrast to MMOs like FFXIV for example, that comes with complex scripts for NPC behavior and events. Towns feel empty and there’s no life bustling inside unless it’s created by a bunch of coincidental players. This was very disturbing for me, especially since the more dynamic mechanics in Skyrim would constantly throw you into unpredictable situations and have quests and NPCs involve you actively. This is something that GW2 managed to do while being an MMO, so ESO gets no pass from me here.

Questing is a traditional and straight-forward fetch and delivery, featuring the transparent quest window and occasional dialogue choices that franchise fans will know too well. Friends of the tunnel experience in MMOs will be glad to hear that ESO makes you play through the same dark pit for 15 minutes on every new character. As far as the NPCs and (much praised?) voice acting go, I was under-whelmed and sometimes appalled at the sound and look of some of them, their shrill voices and bland, badly written humor harassing me during several multi-step quest chains. The early “John Cleese” appearance has already been criticized by others but I reached my personal high point with this remarkable fellow here:


(It only looks as if Eiman has to go really badly…this is his usual facial expression.)

A difficult closure

At this point, I don’t know when I will be ready to give ESO another go. My admittedly short beta testings were a painfully disappointing experience and while they might not be completely fair or balanced, they are lacking in ways that cannot be made up by playing the game longer or praying for the unlikely wonders of another two months of final polishing. My issues with the game are of no subtle nature – they are fundamental. Which makes me think that ESO just might not be the MMO for me after all. That is something I have to accept and which makes my return to the wonderfully dynamic and physical world of Skyrim all the more likely. I used to dream of adventures in ESO but that arrow to the knee was quick. Ah well!

“Alpha”. It’s just not done yet


I do wonder how many times Dave Georgeson and EQN Landmark’s community team had to repeat above line over the past few days. I admire the patience. No matter how many times you explain “alpha” to somebody who is also paying money – and even to those that do not – there’s always a person who thinks your game could really be a bit more polished and optimized right now.

It seems public or paid-for alphas are becoming more and more common in the game industry and many are making their first steps into such early territory. Even more so than betas, alphas need capitalized words of caution; gameplay is fraught with bugs and frustrations, so there better be a conscious choice of what you’re signing up for. While satisfying curiosity is a thing, quite often it isn’t nearly as great to see the gemstone being cut before its made its way into that hopefully shiny diamond ring you intend on buying.

I don’t feel particularly drawn to MMO alphas, let alone paying for one (but hey, that’s what I used to say about betas). Syp doesn’t seem sold, yet Jewel and many other bloggers around the blogosphere have caught the bug of early sandboxing greatness once the servers finally went sort of stable. I can relate too well; when I joined Minecraft pre-launch, I fell deeply into the rabbit hole for several weeks. It was absolutely amazing. And I also burned out quickly once that fatal question of so many sandbox games hit me: and what next?

I know what I’m getting into with game testing. I’ve played in many betas and a few alphas, the latest being the DayZ standalone – one of the more remarkably playable alphas. At the same time, Bohemia Interactive have done a commendably transparent job of communicating what players need to expect from their early game development. Dean Hall, game designer for both Arma and DayZ and frequent twitterer, has continuously warned of joining early access for the wrong reasons, jokingly admitting that even he himself wouldn’t yet want to play it.


As far as I’m concerned, in alphas there be dragons. It’s a stage for implementation and debugging a lot more than gameplay and I don’t usually have the patience. Many of the final features are still missing so it would be wrong to draw too many conclusions from anything. For those who are into active feedback and “that NPC didn’t give me any gold” or “it would be neat to have dual specs” – really, wait for beta. Make your wish-list on the forums while you wait and still dream.

Alphas are for the rough cuts and while players are sometimes invited, it isn’t really about the things that tend to concern us later just yet. It can absolutely be exciting and interesting to see a game grow though and to feel like you’re a part of something, a lot more so than in certain open betas that kid players about much fine-tuning three weeks before official launch. Alphas can have their own magic for sure – I  just advise to bring your good shoes for the rocky hike ahead.

I will wait a little longer, cheering from the sidelines and savor this Vorfreude while I still can.

Those MMO “Intro Scenarios”

So I’ve been playing some new games lately that I can’t talk about just yet but while being stuck at 92% of a patch that clearly hates me, I started musing on an old pet peeve of mine, namely MMO intro scenarios. To be perfectly up-front: they’re annoying.

I’ve never been the patient tutorial kind, not for the many oldschool RPGs I have played nor any other type of games, even though I’ll acknowledge there are genres where tutorials make a lot of sense. I’ve had a quick look at Reus over Xmas and would’ve been pretty lost without one. Then again, I gladly skip the tutorial in Witcher 2 because there’s nothing a key mapping menu can’t tell me if I really need it. For most games, I want tutorials to be optional.


Or MAYBE, I could just play the game first!

Now, MMO tutorials are different in the sense that the large majority of them won’t just run players through a quick session of popups and UI-exposition – no, MMOs after all have narrative ambition! Instead, many feel compelled to invent some type of forgettable intro quest chain to demonstrate basic controls and menus to the player. What’s worse, they’ll have you start in some artificial, not rarely underground type of restricted area (two words: Allods Empire) that you really hate and, if you’re very unlucky, will have to re-visit and linearly follow through on every new character created of the same faction. Oh gawd.

Is it asked too much that I can just jump into a fresh MMO and be blown away by a brand new world? A wide vista opening in front of me, with beautiful starting zone music coming my way? Do I need to spend the first 20 minutes down in some pit, tunnel, whatever, faking interest in NPCs I can’t possibly care about yet, so when the game decides to kick me out I can’t even talk first impressions to friends because ALL I’VE SEEN WAS A TUNNEL?

Last time I checked, this was a genre where I have all the time in the world and where I don’t need to learn everything there is to know in the first few minutes.

I love you vanilla WoW. I love you still for so many things you did right, simply because you didn’t know better.

P.S. Obviously not all MMOs feature the exact intro scenario described above and many, like GW2, Rift or LOTRO, are allowing players to start outdoors. Still, tutorials and instruction pop-ups have become more obtrusive in recent years and I’ve seen way too many tunnel stories lately….and that’s all I’m saying.

Recap: 50 reasons to be excited about GW2 – still?

Guild Wars 2 is coming. Only, not nearly soon enough! We’ll be counting down the days of this blasted August and never did we wish more for summer to already be over, so we can lean deep into our chairs all snuggled up in pillows and blankets (with pizza), completely not feeling guilty for letting the sunny evenings pass, somewhere out there while we are immersed, hopefully, in Tyria. And I remember what I said about Vorfreude, but….scratch that, I wanna play GW2 already!!!

Headstart FTW!

I actually feel with the non-believers too; those of you out there who still don’t feel it, who can’t join in the hype or at least the shared excitement and anticipation. There’s a GW2 blogstorm at our doorsteps and it sucks to feel somehow left out, to not feel part of the “movement” whatever that even is. That feeling will pass, but then I’ll say in all honesty that I don’t know what other MMO I’d likely play any time soon, after GW2….what is there, anyway? There’s no knowing that now, but one thing is for certain: we want GW2 to succeed. We need GW2 to succeed….!

Anyway, what better moment in time to review our initial sentiments about this MMO? Three public beta weekends later and one month to go, I am asking myself the same question – what is it that excites me about this upcoming title? And now that I know better, did things change in any particular way?

50 reasons to be excited about GW2 – or not?

For direct comparison, I will go with the list of 50 reasons I presented this April 2012 with no first-hand gameplay experience whatsoever. I expect to see few changes but not to get ahead of myself, let’s rather examine each point once more. Formatting goes as follows: things I didn’t actually experience or notice much, things I enjoyed / loved, things that disappointed or bothered me.

  1. The side-kicking feature
  2. Flat leveling curve
  3. Lots of dyes!
  4. Personal character story and personality
  5. Extensive character customization
  6. No holy trinity
  7. No potions
  8. Small UI / minimal actionbar
  9. The downed state
  10. Dynamic/scaling events and quests
  11. Massive WvWvW battles
  12. PvP from level 1
  13. Gear equalization for group PvP
  14. The home instance / player housing
  15. Linked home cities
  16. Mini-games (bar brawls! snow balls!)
  17. Audio dialogue
  18. Flat highlvl gear progression
  19. Cosmetic items
  20. The Mesmer, the Engineer and pretty much all classes
  21. Large scale maps
  22. No flying mounts
  23. Original soundtrack by Jeremy Soule
  24. Beautiful 2D background artworks
  25. The Norn, Asura and Charr
  26. Underwater combat
  27. The weapon/-skill system
  28. Cross-profession combos
  29. Small HP bar
  30. More area spells and effects
  31. Dedicated self-utility / self-healing
  32. 5man content all the way
  33. No raids
  34. Individual trait lines
  35. Inclusive crafting system
  36. Multi-guild system
  37. Adventure modes for dungeons
  38. Outdoor bosses
  39. Easy server switching
  40. Transmutation stone for gear
  41. No abilities directly target allies
  42. Active combat; dodge, block
  43. Interactive environment
  44. Mostly universal attributes system
  45. Most abilities and skills usable while moving
  46. No language/coop barrier between factions
  47. Over-flow server while in queue
  48. Public FFA events and quests with scaling loot
  49. More frequent day/night-cycle (non-realtime)
  50. Guild halls announced for later

The first thing I notice after reviewing is that there are plenty of aspects of GW2 I haven’t even brushed yet: I didn’t PvP or experience an actual WvW in progress, mostly due to technical hiccups. I didn’t look into crafting. I haven’t run dungeons in any mode. I didn’t follow my personal story much or transmute my gear. I didn’t play any mini-games, join a guild or experience the home instance feature. So from that point of view, I feel there’s plenty to do and see in GW2, for a long while to come. That doesn’t yet include the time I will spend purely exploring or questing!

What I enjoyed the most and felt most confirmed in, is the overall feel of the game: the atmosphere, the large scale world, the music and art, and of course the classes and races which I find, for the most part (humans), very accomplished and fun to play. I love the design of GW2 and being me that is a core argument. I need to be able to explore a world that feels alive and looks brilliant, with a character I can relate to. I’m also happy about the questing and events, more active combat and automated cooperation. That said, I have yet to experience group combat and there are definitely concerns that need looking into, such as the balance between melee and ranged combat, overall controls or traits viability. These are longterm concerns to work on though, just as content longevity or depth are.

Few things I admit didn’t blow me away in retrospective: while my waypoint worries proved to be needless, I do not care at all for the repair system or the downed state. Frankly, I find the downed state boring or annoyingly superfluous. Maybe I’m doing it wrong, but it added nothing to my gameplay experience, certainly no thrill because half of the time I couldn’t actually contribute much to preventing my death. Oh well. 

I whined about the overflow servers before although to be fair that was partly fixed. Another thing that left me wanting after the beta were cross-profession combos. I believe I spotted two that I initiated myself, but they were hard to keep track of and even harder to actively coordinate. That said, my final verdict here must wait until I actually run 5mans.

…I could nag about a few more details, instead I will leave it at that. In general my attitude and expectations for GW2 haven’t changed and they’re certainly very the positive still. And so I wonder about other players out there – did the beta weekends disappoint you in any particular way or are you more excited to play this upcoming AAA+ MMO than ever?

[GW2] Tired of Trinity Whining. Or: As if!

So, the third and final GW2 beta weekend has ended and we could all be talking about how wonderfully achieved a race the Asura are, how Metrica Province or Rata Sum rock as zones or alternatively, how the Sylvari despite many initial misgivings, succeed at being a little more than just another translation of elf. I know – I was shocked too.

….Or we could do none of that. Instead, we could go on and whine about the missing roles and damned trinity in Guild Wars 2. Yeah we could keep bringing that up, again and again and again, like an obnoxious guest asking for burgers in an Italian restaurant. Some days I honestly feel with game designers and it’s not like I haven’t been an ardent critic of MMOs myself over the years. Three public betas past, I keep reading the same ignorant moping and fallacies by a vocal crowd of circus clowns on ANet’s official forums. The fact that many of them are drawing comparisons to WoW of all games, makes the whole thing all the more amusing, complete eyeroll that it is otherwise!

So, just for shits and giggles and because I feel like whining about whiners today, let’s have a look at some of the most missing-the-point, lalala-pink-pokémon-glasses and I-just-like-to-complain-about-something arguments! Here’s what the broken pro-trinity record has to say about GW2’s gameplay, roughly summarized:

a) No holy trinity means there is no cooperation anymore! *GASP*
b) No holy trinity means people do not coordinate / communicate in groups!
c) No holy trinity means zerg-mode and needing no strategy!
d) No holy trinity means there can’t be difficult combat!


There’s variations of the above, but it’s what whiners basically claim while glorifying WoW and prophesying the doom of GW2…already. Of course the holy trinity in itself has no direct bearing on any of the criticized points, however to realize that one needs to have a hard look at WoW – which is what I will do since people insist on bringing it up as role model. Note too, the big majority of whiny commenters refer to overall combat/cooperation in GW2, meaning questing and the FFA dynamic events. Precious few can currently claim group play experience beyond that or more in-depth knowledge about coordination in dungeons (especially exploration mode) or organized PvP. Here’s my reply to the popular arguments, since “wait and see?” didn’t really go far these previous betas –

As IF!

First off, as IF people communicated or cooperated much during questing in WoW! Where have you been the past 8 years? You can’t be referring to the WoW I have played. Some well-known, honest facts:

  • 95% of all WoW players either solo quests or take their friends/guildies along. You don’t need any type of “strategy” to beat quests together, joining up is more about the social factor. There aren’t even many elite outdoor quests anymore or bosses that would require a group to beat. People don’t need to communicate and there’s nothing to coordinate when everyone already knows what their role is. Oh, and people don’t coordinate, let alone communicate in most LFG 5man runs either – but then you knew that already.
  • If “actively creating the party”, which usually comes down to clicking an invite button and waiting for the other side to accept it, equals good communication among strangers…well, you’re an easy one to satisfy!
  • You can progress with ease in WoW pushing the same 3-4 buttons, just in case anyone feels like bringing this up against GW2. Not that the “amount of buttons” is a great or very telling argument for or against anything, really…
  • If “zerging” equals “rushing into combat without the need for communication or coordination”, then zerging is what’s constantly being done in WoW, during questing and even 5man runs. Just because tanks tank, healers heal and DPS deal damage, doesn’t mean people are actively cooperating (or need wait on the tank for example) – rather, I would call it playing side by side, each role knowing their motions. There are synergies and there’s timing, both exist in GW2 as well. The holy trinity sees to that; it creates a basic order so players won’t have to think about assigning jobs or tactics much (outside raids) themselves. That’s hardly active cooperation or communication though – it’s a script! In fact the opposite, a free and versatile setup, requires strangers to coordinate and talk more if at all!

But hey, I’ll give you that – due to the lack of pre-defined roles, the combat in GW2 feels more chaotic, certainly is for quests and events. But errr…so what? Already I cooperate more in GW2 than I ever did in WoW: thanks to the FFA, auto-join events I have joined and helped out more strangers than I ever did while questing in WoW. I’ve had a chat with a few who shared a quest spot with me and several whom I rezzed or rezzed me in return (fat chance on that in WoW). I don’t claim any of this was particularly coordinated or difficult (maybe the events aren’t supposed to be particularly difficult, anyone?), but at least it’s a change from the usual silent, solo routine I used to have in WoW. Plus, where more people group up there’s always an unpredictable element. It’s a little cynical to criticize auto-join grouping or lack of roles when the opposite did nothing at all to improve matters in the past. As for kill stealing, mob camping and loot rolling – needless to say I haven’t missed them one second! That’s when having less communication is actually a good thing (/ninja /doom /ragequit).

The real strategic and demanding encounters aren’t out there in quests or trivial group content – not in WoW and not in GW2. Quests and events are simply not very hard right now and things like cooperation and coordination live and grow under duress. I would claim that GW2 requires teamwork and strategy where it matters, just like WoW does too; in harder/heroic dungeon modes and in big scale raids or PvP/WvW. If you think it’s all a zerg there you are mistaken. You need strategy and communication to bring the trophy home, to win against opposing teams or survive tough encounters. Teamwork is very much alive even if it works differently in GW2. Plus, the game adds other tactical components, such as the whole dodge/positioning mechanics and making use of the environment. I’ve beat several tougher challenges myself only because of active movement and tactical positioning which is rather great considering I play a caster in GW2 (typical feet-of-stone classes in other MMOs).

Getting facts and questions straight

Now, this post is no attempt to discourage any well-founded critique in favor of the holy trinity (ya rly); in fact, there are a few very interesting questions one could ask about GW2 in this context. For example how different group mechanics will truly be in a well-organized party, during a difficult run that requires a lot of communication. Once players assign roles/tasks in order to succeed and hence end up specializing, would we have to admit to a “soft trinity” in GW2? And where are the differences then to let’s say WoW or Rift? I can see a few but it’s definitely a valid overall question. So would be the question about how well control mechanics are realized in the game and if they make for enough encounter variety, in lieu of things like classic threat and mitigation mechanics.

Then, there’s simply those players who love to tank or heal and I certainly empathize with that – after all I used to love to heal myself! If you miss the holy trinity on that note, I have neither reproach nor consolation to offer because GW2 is a different game. And just like the F2P vs. subscription horse can be kicked to death, what it really comes down to here is preferences and target audience.

If you were however, like the individuals I addressed further up, to move the holy trinity on a pedestal for all the wrong, uninformed reasons, drawing faulty comparisons and even faultier conclusions about GW’s and MMO combat in general, then you have me for a very impatient and frankly ill-tempered commenter these days. I am really sick and tired of half-assed, destructive discourse that is so easy to refute it’s an intellectual insult. My biggest, returning gripe is mixing up role restrictions with things like encounter difficulty or pacing. Or in other words: if role restrictions are the one thing that makes your fights “hard” (likely because you already can’t find the right group composition…/sarcasm) that is sad news indeed!

The holy trinity creates no more or less demanding encounters than a non-trinity model would; all it does is enable patterns and offer mechanics to utilize in (boss-)encounters. And it tells players what their role is right away (hence the often referred to “crutch”). You can like that or not, that’s your prerogative – but the trinity does absolutely not just magically create better, active cooperation, coordination or communication…or alternatively other random words that start with “C”. And where one player sees ordered combat thanks to the trinity, I see boring same-ish strategies and synchronized swimming! Preferences – pros and cons, ya feel me?

To close, and so I can return to more pleasant topics tomorrow (with pictures!), let’s say it once more with feeling: The holy trinity does not a cooperation make. The holy trinity does not a communication make. The holy trinity does not a coordination make. The holy trinity does not an encounter’s difficulty make. If ever in doubt – go play World of Warcraft. Thanks!

To BWE or not to BWE

Much to my personal surprise, Anet announced the release of the last two Guild Wars 2 races for this upcoming and final beta weekend of July 20th. Yeah that was last Monday, I am somewhat behind on commenting – that said, the new job is exciting and things will go back to a more relaxed schedule once I got the hang out of all my new tasks. Did I mention there are free cookies here?

So…Asura and Sylvari. I guess it makes sense for this third beta weekend, fans were clamoring to see them and you want things to end on a high note and give players a reason to log on once more. Truthfully, I was toying with the idea of skipping this beta – like Zubon I feel rather satiated of GW2 testing and eager to play the real deal with a character I am likely to keep. How much is too much beta playing? I am careful not to burn myself out on the starting areas and spoil too much before end of August. I was very relieved to hear there won’t be any more BWEs after this one, although I am all for polish and releasing when things are truly ready.

I guess now I do have a reason to log on this weekend after all, even if just to take a peek….I don’t expect to ever warm towards the Sylvari (is there anyone who intends to play one??) but I will definitely check out that Asura CC for myself and see how different they truly feel to your staple MMO shorties. And until then? Well, Paeroka has some suggestions on what to do until this BWE. Or you could always start planning for launch, as some particularly dedicated individuals do, get your guild forums ready, plan your spec and rosters, pick a server….or scratch all that and play The Secret World instead. I think I would, after all!

[GW2] Pacing and experience points

As more and more feedback on this past GW2 beta weekend is surfacing on blogs and official forums, it gets apparent how different players experienced certain aspects of the game, such as the events, personal story, pacing and leveling process. What becomes all too clear too is that while there are still issues in these departments, many players struggle more with their own mindset, habits and internal “MMO programming” than the game itself. They ask for the kind of guided ride and road to success that is characteristic of WoW’s questing model where it’s hard to go wrong and the game will always tell you where to go next.

GW2 isn’t that kind of MMO. It’s nowhere near a sandbox, but it does return some agency to the player and asks him to find his own adventure. There are different paths to success and while the heart quests are in fact ordered by level, you can easily wander off and lose yourself in other activities. Off the beaten track, players will find surprise and wonder that are easily missed on the highway. To some this presents an overwhelming sense of freedom and disorientation at first. I would claim that this is only temporary – but it’s strong enough a feedback that many bloggers have recently asked the question of whether the playerbase can handle different? Tremayne has gone as far as stating that if it does not, that would be a grave setback for the evolvement of the entire genre. I happen to agree with him.

Azuriel argues that part of at least his own feelings of disconnect spring less from the novelty factor and more from ANet’s failure to accomplish a more open and free playstyle fully: why design a guided personal storyline that is not in sync with the new questing philosophy? And why indeed stick to a leveling system at all, instead of skill-based progression? I have asked this last question before and personally I would have preferred not having any levels in GW2. It seems to run contrary to the game’s overall concept.

Be that as it may, I would like to take the opportunity to point out a few ways of gaining experience points in GW2 while you’re engaged in PVE. I’ve read comments of players claiming that you need to PvP or engage professions in order to keep up a good “speed” or that they were forced to constantly repeat the same events; well, I cannot confirm any of that. There are possibly pacing disparities between some of the maps (apparently Queensdale has such issues), but there are still many more ways to gain experience if you make use of them. This won’t be big news to seasoned MMO veterans, but may be useful to those asking for guidance.

Ways to gain experience points while questing in GW2

The following pointers are based on my own beta experiences. I am the errant traveler / explorer type who likes not to focus on getting the job done as fast as possible. Coincidentally, I never had pacing issues this beta or the issue of not knowing where to go next – mostly because there was nowhere I needed to be. I did plenty of heart quests and events but also general exploration. I did not PvP once nor look into crafting. Here’s what I recommend instead –

1) Zones consist of more than hearts
While the heart quests give you a general sense of direction and offer useful rewards, they’re only an excuse to be at the right place where many events can happen. I found the heart quests rather boring and trivial compared to the rest. If you’re hunting EXP, keep in mind that zones offer many more points of interest than just hearts. Do the trait point challenges, check out special sites and also discover all the waypoints – they yield EXP!

2) Joining / Assisting in ongoing events
All events can be joined at any time and rewards will be dished out according to participation effort. You do not need to wait for an event to re-start, although you are free to repeat them (hearts are not repeatable). Likewise, you can join other players in killing mobs and get EXP for that – grouping is not required.

3) Following through a chain of events
Heart areas have the tendency to literally “be at the heart” of different events being triggered all around them, at various stages of progress. Spend time in these areas and check them out. Often events will continue with a next step or then suddenly the quest NPCs are attacked and offer a next chapter. This can easily occupy you for 20 minutes or more and lead all the way to killing a big baddie with fifty more players.

4) Returning to / repeating events
You may repeat events for EXP. Besides that, it makes sense to return sometime because there’s always a chance for more to happen or to experience scenarios you had missed the first time around. When I visited Hoelbrak and took this picture, I had no idea that other players had previously fought to restore that statue (thanks Rakuno for pointing this out!). For me that means I will be back to see that part of the event myself.

5) Resurrecting allies
Over the course of events many NPCs will die, as much as players. Ressing folk on the way yields plenty of good EXP, in fact more than if you had just killed a mob instead. It is also recommended to res NPC guards and defenders because they will support you in freeing areas or beating bosses.

6) General exploration
Like for most MMOs, wandering around and discovering all parts of a map yields good EXP (and achievements). Don’t forget about cities here and their numerous waypoints. Hunter made a great overview of all the jumping puzzle sites he discovered this beta – did you happen to find any yourself?

7) Gathering / crafting
I did not personally look into crafting yet, but while you’re out there doing events you might as well use nodes or gather herbs on the way. This is not the competitive nightmare it is in other MMOs and is basically easy additional EXP.

8) Personal story
While the personal storyline has some issues at this stage, for myself mainly in terms of difficulty / balance, following through as far as you can yields both EXP and rewards. It is possible to come back later and finish off with more ease or to share your personal scenarios with party members. They will be able to assist you in funny ways. If you are clearly too low to beat the next chapter, the quest tip will say so.

…And that’s pretty much it. Keep variety in your activities and “grinding mobs or events” should be the least of your concerns. Wander off – albeit not into higher level areas. If you still feel bored where you are, take a portal or waypoint to a different map; new hearts, events and trait points await! And lots of EXP for the weary.

[GW2] An altered questing experience

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Maybe the most profound impression this last beta weekend has left me with, is the questing experience in Guild Wars 2. I am reluctant to even call it “questing”, so overused is this term ever since World of Warcraft and so heavy with negative meaning. What I’ve experienced instead in GW2 is adventuring in the truest sense: being a traveler on an unknown road, inquisitive and curious, ready for chance meetings and whatever the world may present me with. Now, we’ve known for a while about ANet’s different approach to quests – the free for all, public and dynamic events. But knowing this or having read about it somewhere does nothing to prepare you for how it really feels to travel the roads of Tyria. You have to do it yourself. You have to be there and spend a couple of hours before the message sinks in with all its gravity.

It was maybe 8 hours into this second beta, when I had seen a big part of the Norn starting area and began to extend my reach, visiting other places like Queensdale (Humans) or the Plains of Ashford (Charr), exploring maps in greater detail. I was around level 18 and had just helped a traveling salesman to get safely to market, when it hit me: there is no quest log.

Ye gods….I have no quest log!

I can’t express properly just how liberating it felt to realize this, that there was no “homework” for my character. No predefined road. In GW2 it is not the quests that drive you from A to B, to discover certain areas or the next quest hub. Instead, you simply wander around and by blundering onto a site (often it finds you), you are presented with an ongoing situation or are asked for help. That is when an event marker or summary will appear on your screen – but it will disappear again as soon as you leave this region or if you fulfilled your mission. This means your screen is empty when leaving events behind and you also don’t just accumulate more and more jobs. The only ongoing, railway type of questline is your personal story and that one waits for you in patient and unobtrusive fashion. The only time I did consult my zone map was in order to avoid too high level content or to check whether I hadn’t accidentally missed a corner.

This difference in approach, that quests and events are tied to locations rather than to your character, makes a huge impact on the enjoyment of exploration. One may justifiably call this a great paradigm shift from the classic, WoW-shaped questing system of MMOs. Rather than already knowing where to go and what you’ll have to do there, you have to figure it out on site. Add to this that events will usually let you assist in several different ways and have several stages or chapters, depending on when you got there.

Things don’t stop there though: the questing experience becomes even less linear once you realize that you really want to go everywhere – that it makes sense to go everywhere. With the level down-ranking in place (your HP constantly changes depending on where you are) and flat leveling curve, it does not matter where you go to do events, gain experience or karma points, as long as you steer clear of higher level content which is rather quick on the ball punishing transgressions. In fact you do want to visit alternative places especially to earn extra skill points. The bottom line is that there are no strict “starting areas” anymore. All the maps are yours and the world feels bigger than ever. Feel that there’s not enough to do on “your map”? Well then, move your butt somewhere else! Pacing is not the same concern when you have so many areas to choose from.

All these innovations have added a great deal to my enjoyment of this beta weekend and made for the kind of immersive gameplay experience I haven’t had since Skyrim. ANet has achieved a splendid thing and I look forward to them improving the system further where balance and rewards, impact and cooperation are concerned. I will not complain about these issues though; at this point in time I am simply too happy with the overall concept realized in this upcoming and visually stunning MMO.

Talking about stunning…

To say that the world of Guild Wars 2 is breathtakingly beautiful, even on a PC as dated as my own, falls horribly short. The visuals and art style are far beyond anything I had personally hoped for and the wonderful soundtrack of Jeremy Soule (which could be more frequent in places) adds further depth and atmosphere. I’ve stood under a pine tree showering me with snow; I felt the sea spray on my face.

My most remarkable moment of the entire beta was in Godlost Swamp though: standing in the middle of a shallow lake, an eagle flew by me and then circled around me maybe four times. Then, he actually plunged into the water, caught a fish (I assume..) and soared up into the sky. I LIVE FOR THIS SHIT!

And because it was all so wonderful, I decided to create a small screenshot gallery (not mobile friendly) with some of the most beautiful shots I’ve taken this weekend. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do! And I hope the third beta weekend won’t be too long!