Guild Wars 2 head started on Friday shortly before midnight. I was able to log in immediately to the Maguuma server and get started on my Norn thief, Heartless Foe, and my Human ranger, Heartless Gamer. (Heartless Foe is a throwback to my Warrior/Necro character name from Guild Wars 1). Guild Wars 2 immediately lives up to many of it's expectations by improving and simplifying many MMO tropes, but at the same time there are some core issues that hold it back.
Upon logging in the first enhancement is immediately visible: overflow servers. This is the first MMO launch in recent memory where the word "login queue" didn't apply. Instead, extra players are thrown into an instanced server where they can play and progress waiting to join the main server. The downside is that right now overflow servers make playing with friends difficult, but to me its a better solution than NOT playing the game while watching a login queue. Playing will always win the war against NOT playing.
As far as the actual game goes; Guild Wars 2 is a brilliant package. There is a lot to like, from the excellent world/zone maps, "quest" design, and graphics, to the little things such as the collections tab, waypoint system, and emotes. Without spending too much time droning on about the nuances, suffice to say that Guild Wars 2 listened and executed well in regards to improving on many little annoyances of MMOs. Anyone that has experienced MMOs for the past several years will be spoiled by Guild Wars 2's feature list.
However, I can't put Guild Wars 2 on too high of a pedestal as there are some problematic core items that have already started nagging on my brain. First and foremost is the combat which works somewhat well in small scale, but is a complete clusterfuck once more than five people show up. Worst of all, it clearly seems to have been designed to be a clusterfuck in certain situations. In the open World vs World PvP map or large public quests (aka dynamic events), the combat is just unintelligible spam. With spell effect scaling, players will often find themselves subject to invisible attacks and random death.
Guild Wars 2 relies a lot on reflex and action-based combat. This works great and lets players showcase their skills in small-scale combat, but again it does not work, AT ALL, in large scale confrontation. There is literally so many area of affect abilities (and one shot death in PvE) being tossed that the dodge mechanic is completely rendered moot. And the game was designed to bring clusters of players together in small areas to spam the shit out of these abilities. It is very troubling to me that so much effort was put into this action combat to have it result in a complete button mashing affair when it should shine the most. Combat is very difficult to follow because of this.
I want to reiterate that outside of combat, Guild Wars 2 has completely won me over. The features are really that freaking good. Advancement paths are varied and traditional MMO quests are all but gone. Players are always encouraged to play together and never are they penalized for helping each other out (seriously, how the fuck has it taken this long to get an MMO where playing together is NOT a penalty!). The non-combat heavy players will also find they can successfully thrive and reach max level simply through crafting and exploration. If you can do it in Guild Wars 2, it probably advances the level track (even resource gathering gives experience!).
Another core area of weakness, which Arena Net keeps holding up, is all the voice acting in personal story quests and dungeons. Instead of traditional MMO quest text boxes, Guild Wars 2 opts for quasi-cut scenes with voice acting (think Mass Effect 1 dialogue). The problem is the character models are nearly 100% emotionless while the voice actor puts passion into the lines. It is terrible.. honestly terrible... and I end up clicking skip the end just to red the blurb that will appear on the map (which again, the map is awesome).
Even with the core weaknesses in combat and the story telling, Guild Wars 2 is certainly a refreshing take in the MMO market. I would highly recommend anyone who is interested in MMOs to check it out. If anything, it is certainly one of the few games worth the $60 box price and there is no subscription so it is a game that players can continue to come back to at their leisure. It also features level-up mechanics to bring lower level characters up to level 80 for the World vs World combat (albeit as a lower level character your stats are lower and options limited).
I expect a good healthy run in Guild Wars 2. Once I reach level 80 down the line I will certainly be spending a good amount of time learning the WvW map, but at this point I think I am going to have to let the "mists" dissipate a bit as it is not fun currently. Hopefully the WvW areas will change to encourage smaller group skirmishes (Arena Net should start by removing the invisible walls at the bottleneck leading out of the portal keep).
In my previous post I detailed some of the items that I liked about DotA 2 and while the game has slowly changed my outlook on its potential, I still have some hesitations. Some of these are not limited to DotA 2 and are concerns I shared about my time with League of Legends.
Asymmetry The asymmetrical nature of the hero design in DotA 2, as much as I love the idea of it, rarely works out in public match making. As explained in my previous post, there are heroes that have no business being on the field by themselves, but when combined properly they become a force multiplier which really unbalances a match when not countered. Then there are other heroes, such as Ursa or Lycan, that when played well singlehandedly destroy the other team (often referred to as “pubstomping” heroes).
This leads to one-sided games and the more I play DotA 2 the more I realize the public matchmaking games at my level are terribly lop sided. In fact, I went back over my history of recent games and found only a single game that was competitive. All of the other games were steam rolled by one of the teams and were decided within the first 15 minutes.
I must note that this is actually part of the game design for this genre. It is also what gives these games such high skill caps and great competitive scenes that are quickly taking over eSports. However, I can’t help but feel that it really damages the casual scene and in the case of DotA 2, so far, it seems to be a much bigger issue than other games I have played.
In comparison, in my time with League of Legends, I have certainly seen my fair share of lop sided victories and losses. Yet, I have also been involved in far more competitive matches via public match making than I have in DotA 2. Not nearly as often did I feel like a match was a complete wash and in games that were a wash there was the forfeit vote or the dominating team could easily and quickly push to finish the match which brings me to my next two gripes about DotA 2: the length of matches and the lack of a forfeit feature.
Length of Matches DotA 2 matches last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, more often than not leaning towards the hour mark. Combined with load times and match making time, I would estimate a player averages one game per hour. This is just too long, especially when considering that many of the matches are pretty much determined by the 15-20 minute mark and the rest of the time is spent just waiting for the towers and base to fall. Unlike League of Legends, DotA 2 does not really have anything that speeds up the inevitable push so to avoid leaver penalties many players end up just AFK in the fountains for 30 minutes waiting for the match to be finished.
Forfeit DotA 2, by its mere design, should have a way to concede a match. Currently the only safe way out of a match is if someone makes the first move and disconnects, allowing all others to drop out without penalty. After the 15 minute mark, a team should be able to call a vote to concede.
This is a minor complaint, but may in the long run be the biggest problem for DotA 2 with its Free 2 Play business model. The customization items for heroes are not distinguishable and I don’t see how they make someone feel unique. Other than looking good on a player’s profile page, I do not see as nearly as successful a market around customization items as there is in Team Fortress 2 (where the customization items affect game play as well as are clearly distinguishable when playing). This may change as more items are added to DotA 2, but to say that I was less than impressed by what was already out there is a massive understatement.
I have put 50 hours into DotA2 now and I am slowly revising my outlook on the game. It will not be as bad off as I predicted. In fact, even in its beta form it has become one of the most played games on Steam. I can’t imagine how big the game will become once it has hit a full on release and anyone with a computer can try it out for free. There are certainly some things to like about DotA2.
While the DotA map is symmetrical (for the most part), the same cannot be said for the pool of heroes. The 80+ available heroes in DotA2 are varied and unique, with almost none of them working the same. I am a huge fan of asymmetry in game design. Balance is so often forced through symmetry: team A gets uber power 1 so team B gets uber power 1 as well just with a different name and graphic. This is annoying and destroys any chance at something feeling unique within a game. Not the case in DotA 2.
Take for example the support hero Wisp; a shiny ball of energy that has almost zero offensive capabilities, some middling defensive capabilities, and only really excels at supporting a team’s carry. Wisp serves almost no purpose by itself. Now compare Wisp to Phantom Assassin; a hard carry capable of killing enemy players in a single hit and thus is almost single handedly responsible for winning the game. Phantom Assassin can dominate without the help of Wisp. Wisp, when placed against Phantom Assassin, could never win. In a vacuum, those two would be completely broken.
This asymmetry leads to amazing dynamics as neither team can have a copy of the same hero as the other team. Combine Wisp and Phantom Assassin together on the same team and all of a sudden the support + carry combination can easily wreck the other team if the other team failed to pick a counter. And really what the core of DotA2 competitive play comes down to is the counter picking and execution of that counter pick. And at the end of the day, this asymmetry results in a balance in the competitive scene of DotA 2.
To note, this isn’t always the greatest thing and in my next post I will talk a bit about how this is detrimental to the game at times. Even with that in mind, I am still a firm supporter of the asymmetry.
DotA 2 has character and is building in character; from custom announcer packs to the constant quips the heroes give off during the course of a game. I can’t wait for First Blood in every game, hoping it will be a new hero who scores the kill just so I can hear their First Blood quote (for example, Invoker says something to the effect of “First, as I am in all things”). Another example is the hero Gyrocopter who flies around the map in a helicopter-like contraption making helicopter noises with his mouth. It is brilliant. Just as Valve did with Team Fortress 2, they have really cemented the idea of character into DotA2 and with 100+ heroes to eventually have in the game I can only imagine the sort of stuff they will bake in. Now they just need to deliver a “Meet the” video for every hero!
I’ve spoken about this before, but DotA2 is as much of an experience as it is a game. The interface and feature set are amazing (without even having everything in the package yet!). Spectating, replays, learning features, etc. DotA2 really strives to deliver the entire package that the MOBA genre seeks.