The last beta event is done. The clock is counting down, and in just under a month people can be playing Guild Wars 2 ‘for real’ in the head start. I had a blast (quite literally in some cases) playing around last weekend, but as always there was a vocal faction of players who didn’t. So what I’m going to do here is talk first about what I did and saw, and then go on to address a couple of themes from the discontented.
My aim with the weekend was to get a good feel for the two new races and their starter areas, and also to play around with a couple of classes that I hadn’t spent much time with before. First up was a Sylvari Ranger created with the intention of seeing whether a melee ranger was workable, just because I usually prefer playing melee to ranged and wanted to see what my viable options were in GW2. For a ranger, this boiled down to either using a greatsword or a sword with an off-hand weapon. The greatsword skill set included a charge ability and performed quite well as an offensive melee fighter with a pet wolf by my side. The sword sets all lacked a charge to open melee with, which made them less appealing. Main hand sword actually does have a ‘leap to target’ ability but it’s in a chain and can only be used after leaping AWAY from the target. On the other hand, using a hunting horn gives you a ‘have your target be pecked to death by a flock of birds’ skill that is just too priceless to pass up on 🙂 As for the Sylvari themselves… well, I can see where Bhagpuss is coming from when he calls them cabbage elves but I thought they had enough individuality and character to stand on their own. Sylvari names and culture have an Arthurian-meets-celtic vibe that works well in my view, and made an old DAoC Hibernian feel right at home.
The second character I made was an Asura Engineer. I ended up spending the majority of my gaming time over the weekend with little Ishi Morik, reaching level 19 and completing all of the personal story steps available in the beta weekend, because playing her was just so much fun. The engineer class was a bit of a slow burner for me – it starts off with very limited weapon choice – pistol/pistol, pistol/shield or rifle and that’s your lot. Once you start unlocking utility skills though… each one is a wonderful gadget, some of which are actually new weapons that when activated replace your weapon skills with a complete new set such as a belt full of grenades or my personal favourite, the flamethrower. Other skills can place gun turrets or mines (proximity or command detonated), or utility devices such as rocket boots that launch you backwards out of melee and break crowd control on you. The look and feel of all of the Engineer toys is very steampunk/WoW Engineering, whereas the asura zones themselves have a more advanced magitech theme to them – stuff that looks like sleek science fiction tech but is powered by their mastery of magic as a technology, with golems as robot servants everywhere in Rata Sum and Metrica Province. It actually gave me a very Star Wars sort of feel, which combined with the ancient jungle ruins they have converted into labs made them look like the mad scientists of Yavin 4. The asura are definitely not, in my opinion, a knock-off of WoW’s gnomes (who were a shameless rip-off of Dragonlance gnomes anyway). They’re a short race in a fantasy world with the trappings of technology, but that’s the end of the similarity. Gnomes are buffoons with impractical steampunk contraptions that you just know are bound to fail in a catastrophic and amusing manner. Asura are snarky, sarcastic geniuses whose tech looks sleek and actually works most of the time. While there are plenty of ‘device gone wrong’ stories around the asura zones, in most cases the devices malfunction because of deliberate sabotage, not incompetent design – when you have a bunch of snarky, sarcastic geniuses locked in rivalry to prove whose genius is greater, some of them are not going to play fair. The NPC chatter in the zone is hilarious to listen to, as the racial sport seems to be scoring points off each other. They’re the Frasier of fantasy races to gnomes’ Three Stooges. I would also say that, as Azuriel noted they can run the gamut from looking very cute with their big eyes and floppy ears to faces that would give Gollum nightmares… but then one of the cute ones will open its mouth long enough to see the rows of sharp, pointed teeth. Maybe they’re just a race of wee harmless bunny rabbits .
Lastly, I made a Norn Warrior and gained a few levels, partly to play with the character creation options ready for my planned live character and also so I could walk him into Hoelbrak and try a game of Keg Brawl. The last is a fun sport of grabbing the kegs that appear on a frozen lake and getting them to your team’s keg collecting NPC. Your skills are replaced with a set of unarmed moves, and a different set if you’re holding a keg. None of these deal damage to the target, but they can knock them down, steal a keg they’re holding or daze them and stop them from using their skills, so it’s a rowdy but non-lethal sport. Unlike certain other games, GW2 offers no in-game rewards for playing Keg Brawl – there’s no rep to grind, no gear to earn, just a few achievements. It’s there to be played for fun and no other reason. Doing stuff in an MMO just because it’s fun is going to be a strange and alien idea for some players, but I hope it catches on enough that there will be a Keg Brawl running whenever I want to kick back, relax, and punt an asura across an ice lake.
As for the complaints this beta weekend, well after tuning out the thinly-disguised ‘make my character more powerful’ pleas from those who want class X or skill Y buffed, the two most common themes were ‘the game’s too easy now’ and ‘it’s all a talentless zergfest’. Unfortunately, I hadn’t thought to take names to see if the ‘it’s too easy’ crowd were the same folks saying the game was too hard in beta weekends 1 and 2 🙂 What I can say is that the low-level experience didn’t feel massively nerfed to me and I certainly was running intgo encounters and events that weren’t trivial to overcome; that things did seem to go a bit more smoothly for me but I attributed that to having had some practice with it this time around; and it’s hard to judge these things from a starter zone that’s supposed to be acting as a learning experience by design. If you make your game ONLY FOR TEH HARDCORE right out of the newbie gate you may well delight a handful of people who are already familiar with that genre and thrive on their games being difficult and challenging. You will, however, alienate those who are not used to that type of game already, those who aren’t as able to play well and those who are just looking for a more relaxed leisure experience. By all means make sure that the game does include challenges for players who want to prove themselves best of the best, but demanding that the game drives away the majority of paying customers at the outset isn’t a recipe for a long-lived, well-supported game.
The ‘talentless zergfest’ thing seems to be solidifying around the idea that because the ‘holy trinity’ set-up of tank/healer/DPS doesn’t apply, and because dynamic events allow all and sundry to pile in rather than having fixed size raids, that the game can only consist of slack-jawed idiots spamming buttons at random until the monsters fall beneath their tidal wave of sheer numbers. To be honest, I think Syl over at Raging Monkeys has covered all of this quite thoroughly, and most of what I have to say is in the comments thread over there. All I’ll say here is that you can have cooperation without hyper-specialisation, and that it may well be that GW2 does in fact have only one player role – adventurer – that kills enemies AND backs up his teammates by using his skills to best effect. Different adventurers each bring different skills to the party so the exact details of how each person fills that role will vary, but ultimately it’s variations on a theme rather than the stark divide seen in, for example, WoW.
Finally, and still on the topic of the ‘holy trinity’, Assinine Comment of the Week award goes to the gloriously named Cheesybites76, commenting over at Massively. Elisabeth Cardy’s article mentioned how she joined a dungeon run where everyone was asked to spec as DPS, to prove that you could do the run without a dedicated tank or healer. Well duh, I hear you say – in a game where it’s impossible to build a character that can fill the role of dedicated tank (stand there and keep getting hit indefinitely) or healer (focused solely on keeping said tank alive), that’s the way your going to build your group. According to Mr Fromage, however, “The very fact that the author was asked to “spec” for anything is highly indicative of the fact that a relevant portion of this game’s community already realize that yes, you will need to adjust your build/traits and so forth in order to get different things done.” So there you have it – if some players ask you not to spec as a dedicated healer, that is proof that dedicated healers do actually exist, ArenaNet have lied and the rest of us are just deluded. Thank you, good night and good luck!