Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Third and Final Beta Weekend Event


So this weekend was the third beta weekend event for Guild Wars 2, and in a fortunate alignment of circumstances, I pretty much had the entire weekend to myself.  It is a safe characterization to say that I pretty much feasted on what ArenaNet was serving throughout the weekend.  Now if you've followed my blog at all, you're already aware of how impressed I am with Guilds Wars 2, but if this is your first time to stop by, I would invite you to view my initial thoughts on the game itself here.  I wrote that up after the first weekend event, and my thoughts haven't changed.  In fact if anything they've only been reinforced.

I think it's best to go into these weekend events with some clearly defined goals.  For some people, it's to sample as many classes within the amount of time they have, to get a taste of the different play styles.  Some people want to explore new areas and try different aspects of the game.  And some spend the entire weekend in either the sPvP (structured PvP - aka, battlegrounds), or the WvW (world versus world, Guild Wars 2's version of realm versus realm).

No Honor Among Thieves
For myself, my goal was to play and evaluate the thief class, which is the class that all along I've suspected would be the class I'd play at launch.  In each event I've taken a different class to as high of a level as I could get it, taking a warrior to level 17 in the first BWE, and an elementalist to level 21 in the second.  The hard decision was whether or not I would play in one of the two new starter zones that were available this weekend - those for the Sylvari and the Asura.  In the end, I decided to avoid them this go around, and to stick with the human starting zone for two reasons.  The first, is I strongly suspect I'll play a sylvari at launch, and I want to save the experiencing of that zone for release.  And second, by playing the same starting zone, I'd have a better apples-to-apples comparison of how the thief fared in levelling up versus the other two classes I'd tried.

So how did it do?  Well I suspect there's an entire other blog to be written about the various pros and cons of the class, but I'll try to summarize here.  Overall, I love the thief's playstyle.  The gap-closers are fun to play and watch.  Death Blossom is a PBAOE ability that has you cartwheeling over the backs of your opponents as you deal out damage to them.  All of the abilities of the class (save one) give an extraordinary amount of visceral satisfaction, and I just found the class an absolute joy to play.  From a numbers standpoint though, the class still needs some help.  My own evidence suggests, and is reinforced by anecdotal observations, that the warrior has better damage output, and is more survivable - both in PvE and PvP.  Additionally, our F1 ability, which is supposed to be class defining, leaps you to your opponent and steals a single random ability from them.  How are you supposed to take the time to mouse over and read the tooltip for a single random ability, and then figure out how to work it into your rotation while in the middle of a frantic fight?  I have no idea.  So yeah, I'm sadly not a fan of the steal ability.  I'm encouraged though, by numerous posts from the designers that suggest they are in fact aware of the problems of the class, and are working to address them.  So I suspect it will indeed be the class I play at launch.

It's a Big World
Besides the new starter zones, ArenaNet announced a new midlevel zone that would be available for play - the Brisbane Wildlands.  I think this was an excellent move on their part, as it felt like there was a gap in content from around level 15 to around level 20 for the humans.  Kessex Hills starts at 15, but rather rapidly scales up to level 20.  The Brisbane Wildlands were advertised as appropriate for levels 17 to 20 (it actually has content from 15 to 25), so I wanted to check out the new zone.

The ArenaNet blog states that it was adjacent to lands for the Sylvari, the Asura, and the Humans, but what it didn't spell out exactly was how to get there.  I'm pleased to say though that the Guild Wars 2 wiki is already up and operational, and already had information on the new zone.  The human zone adjacent to Brisbane Wildlands was Kessex Hills.  It sounded like I was going to get to do one of the things I enjoy most from the original game - to take a journey!  Once finished with Queensdale, I set out in Kessex Hills, keeping mostly to the road.  I spent a full hour or so traversing the zone from east to west, stopping at waypoint locations as I reached them, visiting the vistas as I came across them, and avoiding roving patrols of centaurs that were beyond my level.  Finally I reached a border, and to my surprise it was the right border - the one leading into the Brisbane Wildands!  Unfortunately, the entrance from Kessex Hills into Brisbane Wildlands puts you into the level 23 to level 24 area of the zone.  As I was only level 16, it was a bit dicey getting down to the southern part of the zone to find content more appropriate for my level.

But wow!  What a great looking zone.  And the very cool thing was that both the sylvari and asura have prominent outposts established in the zone, so even though I didn't roll either of the toons over the weeekend, I got to spend a great amount of time among their people and experiencing their architecture.  In fact, in my exploration of Brisbane Wildlands I wondering into the neighboring Caledon Forest, which is the Sylvari starting zone.  So in all, I crossed four zones, and made my way, without use of waypoint, from the human starting zones all the way to the initial areas where the Sylvari begin their adventures.  It has been a long time since I played in a world that not only felt large, but was connected.  That the world had continuity, and that if you so desired, you could pretty much move across the continent without use of mount, transport, or waypoint.

The Brisbane Wildlands themselves are huge.  And though my desire was to get 100% of it covered, by late sunday afternoon there were precious few other level 24 characters running around the more remote reaches of the zone, making completion of the dynamic events or reaching some of the POI's very difficult.  But I'd reached all of my goals for the weekend, so I wasn't the least bit unsatisfied.

Other Bits and Pieces
After the weekend was over, I spent a bit of time over at the Guild Wars 2 forums, just perusing some of the feedback to see what the hot topics of discussion were.  And one of the biggest were numerous complaints that ArenaNet has softened up the PvE content from levels 1 to 10, making the mobs easier to kill.  And there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth that ArenaNet was already dumbing down the content.  So first, I personally couldn't even find confirmation from ArenaNet that they had indeed, lessened the difficulty. Second, even if they did, the effect was extraordinarily subtle.  Sure, maybe I did die a little less fighting mobs in the human starting zone than I did the first weekend, but I was too busy having fun to care!  And finally, again if the difficulty was lessened, I think it's the absolute right thing to do.  Because what a lot of people are really quick to forget - is just how different a beast Guild Wars 2 is.  It has different combat mechanics, it has different reward mechanics, even the fundamental ways of going around and getting experience is changed from what MMO players are used to.  And so it's okay to not be roflstomping your players into the mud with your difficult monster encounters while they are trying to learn whether or not they should switch weapons, what to do at a dynamic event, or what the heck that double-tap-dodge thing is all about.

What I find most telling is that I've read a number of first impression posts from veteran MMO players that were giving the game its first shakeout this weekend.  And while a number of people talked about having issues with intially grocking how the various mechanics in the game worked, before sorting things out, not a single one of them complained that the game was too easy.

Another subtle change this weekend that I did notice, was that they made weapon skill unlocking a good bit less onerous.  So it takes quite a bit less time now to unlock all your skills.  This is a huge boon for the warrior and elementalist classes, which have tons of skills to unlock, and was in fact one of the things I complained about in my elementalist writeup from the last BWE.  So to that, I can only say yaaaay!!

It's also clear that ArenaNet has been working hard on their server performance since the first BWE.  While there was still some performance and lag issues in some places of the WvW matches I participated in, overall server performance was extraordinarily fast and solid.  Far better, I'd say, than just about any other large scale MMO I've played at launch.

LDT! (Let's Do This)
The game is ready.  That much is clear.  They've taken a full seven years, but unlike a certain other recently launched MMO, it seems to me they've spent all that time and money in the right places.  They've made a huge world, full of things to do, and a great variety of ways  to do them.  I can't wait to step into the world proper, and to see all of the amazing views, vistas, and to experience all of the things the crew at ArenaNet have labored so hard to build.  The only question remaining now is.. what do I do until August 28th?