Sunday, November 17, 2013

Judged: Guild Wars 2

Better late than never. Right? Right? Tap tap… is this thing on. Ok, there we go.

After a few restarts, I’ve reached level 80 in Guild Wars 2. (pause for applause)

This push was with an Asuran Guardian and in less than 40 hours /played I was level 80. (pause for applause)

I enjoyed my trip to 80. Leveling in GW2 is a simple process. Every action a player takes, from harvesting to crafting to killing to exploring, results in experience that contributes towards leveling. Each zone is broken down into “hearts” and dynamic events that also result in experience bonuses when completed. Zones scale players to the level of zone allowing players to play in any level zone they choose. In combination this makes leveling in Guild Wars 2 very easy and players can feel rewarded, experience-wise, for everything they do no matter where they do it.

However, with the ease of leveling and being rewarded based on their actual level in any zone, the system erodes the motivation to explore the world. Once I hit Kessex Hills and Harathi Highlands I was completing events in chains and gaining 3-4 levels per play session. Plus the current live event, Tower of Nightmares, was centered in Kessex Hills which meant that the frequency with which the events in the zone completed was increased exponentially. At one point I was literally just running from spot to spot and collecting enough experience for 25% of a single level. It seemed crazy at the time that I would move away from that gravy train of experience since the leveling curve in GW2 is flat.

I leveled to 70+ by playing in the aforementioned zones which are meant only for level 15-35 players. In terms of world completion I only hit 19%. This is all possible because of the level down mechanic which balances the player’s level (and thus reduces their inherent strength) to match the content in the zone, but it continues to provide rewards consistent with the player’s actual level as the content is evenly matched by the downgraded player level. This was a refreshing mechanic considering how most MMOGs like GW2 are designed the complete opposite and aim to punish players that don’t play in the zones that are on the cutting edge of their level range.

Yet, even though I was generously rewarded for doing what I wanted, I found myself feeling cheated once I hit 80 and I started exploring many of the zones I had not visited during leveling. There were so many events and story lines I had missed and at level 80 the progression goes from vertical to horizontal so there was little incentive for me to go and visit.

Experience is still worth gaining as each level of experience after 80 generates a skill point (which in turn can be turned into skill unlocks or converted to other rewards). However, experience gain is not a driving force at level 80 and outside of gaining karma from unfinished hearts or going for world completion I found nothing to push me towards investigating the 80% of the world I had yet to visit.

And looking further into the horizontal progression model of level 80 GW2 I quickly realized that the “path of least resistance” was the dominant theme. This pushed me further away from visiting the higher level zones as I found out about min/max things such as the Queensland champion trains. Basically, one of the most efficient gold and karma gaining methods is for level 80 players to just repeatedly complete the event chains in the level 1-15 zone (this is possible because, again, the level down mechanic balances power levels while maintaining the level appropriate rewards regardless of zone level). This simply was not appealing to me even though I’ve been known now and again to get my farm on in many an MMOG.

Some experienced GW2 players may try to point out that it is actually dungeons where the real “time vs reward” battle is won and I would probably not argue with them. However, for my tastes, I found the dungeons in GW2 to be Boring with a capital B. For the most part dungeons come down to one mechanic and one mechanic only: damage per second. DPS is king in GW2. Group healing and tanking are replaced by individual player mechanics. Every class has its own self-heal and group-based heals are weak and ineffective in dungeons. Tanking is non-existent as damage mitigation is all reliant on dodging by each player individually.

On top of this the damage-focused combat, the dungeons have been min/maxed to the extreme and outside of the occasional group looking to complete the story modes, players are looking at speed runs aimed at knocking the dungeons out quickly for maximum gain. That means even further min/max to the damage per second making everyone, regardless of class, shooting for the same exact berserker based equipment. It is just a terrible model and depletes dungeons of any sense of awe or adventure. They are simply a numbers game.

Unfortunately the poor dungeons just highlight the underlying problem with GW2: the combat system. It is fun when playing solo and makes complete sense one on one versus a creature or another player. In fact, avoiding other players for the majority of my leveling (outside of the Kessex Hills events), was the key to me lasting until level 80 this time around because once more than a couple players show up the combat breaks down and becomes devoid of feedback to the players. The sheer number of times I’ve randomly died in a group of players without a single clue as to what was about to or actually hit me is insane. Throw in champion boss enemies that are all just about standing around and beating on them and you may as well just throw the action combat out the window because it’s pointless in a game meant for players to play together. I didn’t even bother to mention the completely insane over use of area of effect skills and spells.

Fortunately World vs World vs World saves everything. Right? The Wuv d Wuv, the WuvWuv, the WvWvW, the promise of Guild Wars 2! Wrong. It’s crap. It’s so crap that I hate to even waste time typing about it. The combat problems from PvE are simply multiplied out tenfold as even more players are crowded into even smaller areas where even more AoE can be dropped. Defense? Impossible. WvW is all about zerging from point A to B to C and hoping your zerg doesn’t meet a bigger zerg that will wipe it out. It’s more efficient to let a capture point be lost than it is to attempt and defend it. Even if a good defense is put up, the doors to the keep are going to fall in a couple minutes and the keep’s champion even faster. There is no hope for a smaller defensive force to prevail. If you aren’t in the zerg you are just wasting your time.

Now I’m just angry as I type about the aspects I don’t like about Guild Wars 2. I could continue on and break down the Trading Post that makes ZERO logical sense related to the game or I could bash the completely one-dimensional crafting system but that would just grind my gears even further. In conclusion the same things that caused me to stop playing GW2 the first few times around are the same reasons that I’ve stopped playing it again after finally reaching level 80 with a character. The “action combat” makes combat feel floaty and unpredictable. Horizontal progression is just a clever way of saying grind. The use of AoE is completely out of control.

The game is absolutely gorgeous from a world design perspective, but it does nothing to encourage the exploration of or use of that world on a regular basis. Over all, the concepts of GW2 are great on paper but they are all poor in execution. I would love, and would pay handsomely, to play the game that GW2 was on paper before it launched.

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