Sorry!

I am actually very sorry for the complete lack of updates on this blog recently.

Work has been manic, and unfortunately not allowed me to be anywhere near as productive as I should have liked. Hopefully that is about to change. I am going on holiday next week, and I have a couple of ideas for blog posts coming up. Most of which of course will relate to MMOs, and perhaps specifically the impending release of Guild Wars 2.

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Upcoming stress test

So ArenaNet has announced a stress test on May 14th (this coming Monday) for everyone who has pre-purchased the game on their Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/GuildWars2)

This is designed for them to ” […]conduct important tests and address some of the issues we identified during our first Beta Weekend Event.”

Also worth noting is that last time they did a stress test, the BWE rolled out 2 or 3 weeks later, so here is to hoping for news on when the next BWE will be.

Thoughts of the day

  • The more I hear about The Elder Scrolls Online, the less appealing it is to me, and I am a huge TES fan… sad face.
  • ArenaNet announced a Stress Test this coming Monday (14th) likely in anticipation and preparation of the upcoming BWE. Kudos for trying to avoid the horrible login issues people had last time.
  • Still suffering from Guild Wars 2 withdrawal, I even tried drowning my sorrows in MineCraft, but my house caught fire and burnt out… I rage quit.

Dancing to its own tune – A hands-on Guild Wars 2 beta preview.

First off, I have to apologise for taking so long to update the blog, real life has thrown me a curve ball these past two weeks, so while the content of tonight’s post might not be super relevant still, I do hope you will still give it a read.

On that note, let’s get down to business.

Two weeks ago marked a bit of a milestone for MMO nuts everywhere, as ArenaNet finally unveiled the first tantalising bits of one of the most anticipated MMO titles in recent memory to the public, so the question is, does it live up to the hype? Is it the second coming that most jaded MMO gamers were hoping for? Perhaps not, but its certainly a game that dances to its own tune.

While the art style of the game might not be for everyone, some of the people I played with were not too keen on the human females, there is no denying that ArenaNet has certainly succeeded in creating a world that is diverse, vibrant, and perhaps most importantly heaving with life.

Some females can be a little… too perfect.

From the moment you step foot in Shaemoor, Smokestead or Wayfarer Hills after having completed the brief tutorial, the world is your oyster. There is a plethora of events opening up organically as you explore the map, and a helpful NPC scout will point out certain events and points of interest to you on your map, such a helpful chap, the rest, is entirely up to you.

It’s a kind of freedom, or illusion of freedom combined with a lot of very handy ‘quality of life’ improvements that ArenaNet have implemented, some which are more obvious than others, but some are pure genius, unless of course you haven’t realised they are there.

The best example of this, is that when you collect crafting materials on your travels around Tyria, the limited bag space early on really does become a bit of an annoyance, but it is actually possible to right click your stack of materials, and send them straight to your bank directly from your inventory. I have to give credit to Scott Hawkes from Gamebreaker.tv (@Jarimor on Twitter) for that one, as I missed it myself.

On top of that, there are nice intuitive touches to the crafting system as a whole, for example the more things you have queued up in your crafting window, the faster it will produce them, meaning no more waiting 15 minutes while smelting all that ore you’ve accumulated, its little things like that just puts a smile on your face, and makes you appreciate the effort and consideration that has gone into this game from an early stage, it really does feel like ArenaNet has sat down, and questioned everything about every aspect of an MMO experience and evaluated it with one emphatic question in mind; Is this fun?

Crafting, now more efficient

Another thing I noticed, which I personally found to be a great feature being a bit of an alt-o-holic, was that your guild affiliation is account-wide, meaning that if your first character is in a guild, the other characters you create automatically gets the option to join the guild once they enter the game world, there is no need for an officer or guild master to be online, of course if you want to keep your character out of the guild, that is entirely possible too, it’s always good to have options, I approve.

I have seen a lot of people grumble about the lack of mailboxes, and how it is immersion breaking not having to go to a town to send an item to a friend, I don’t know if I agree with that, do I think it’s a little strange not having to use a mailbox for mail? Sure. Am I annoyed that I don’t have to run back to town to send a mail? Not. One. Bit. It’s about being out in the world and having fun, backtracking to town for something as simple as sending mail, is that fun? Is it fun standing in Orgrimmar by the Auction House mailbox and not being able to click it unless you face-hug it and zoom all the way in because a Tauren is on it (Insert Norn instead of Tauren)? Not really.

One of the more pressing matters on the community’s collective mind, if the official forums are to be believed, seems to be the difficulty curve of the dynamic events and personal stories.I don’t know how valid I feel this concern is, I personally believe that if you are dying a lot, it’s because you are ‘doing it wrong’. Expecting to rock up to a group of mobs and utterly devastate them in a manner of seconds without dodging or switching weapons is a sure-fire indicator that you don’t know what you are doing; you are effectively trying to play the game in a way it wasn’t built to be played. You wouldn’t play Gran Turismo the same way you play Dirt 3 or Ridge Racer and expect to be successful would you?

The game is not for everyone, and it requires you to be on your toes all the time, you simply cannot stand next to a mob and auto-attack/number key skills your way to glory like in most MMOs.

One legitimate gripe I did have with the game, which might not be an issue and could be caused by my own stupidity, is that I couldn’t mail myself stuff. I often came across things I would like to keep but couldn’t due to bag space, but perhaps it is possible to send items directly to your bank like you can with crafting materials, I have to admit, I didn’t try it.

So I promised you guys that I would look into some PvP as well, now before I go into detail with this, I need to make something clear. I am not a huge PvP’er, my problem is not so much that I do not like the actual PvP play-style, I love the idea of pitching my own and my team’s skills directly against someone else, but I always end up getting immensely bored of doing the same thing over and over again, there are maybe 3 ways of winning an Arathi Basin match in Warcraft, and if option A doesn’t work try option B etc and so on and so forth, and it is essentially why I was never too bothered about it all in WoW, that being said I did spend a fair amount of time in Vanilla in two different pre-made teams with people going for Grand Marshall, I think I got Knight-Lieutenant in the end before I quit.

So, what does Guild Wars 2 do differently, and if you are generally easily bored with Battlegrounds (or as ArenaNet calls them – Structured PvP) like I am, why should you be excited about this?

Well, for starters, maybe you shouldn’t.

Structured PvP in Guild Wars 2 takes a page out of just about any self-respecting modern MMOs book. The only game mode currently available in Guild Wars 2 is ‘Conquest’ and it is essentially the same as Arathi Basin, each map features two teams who fight each other to control various capture points in the form of landmarks on the map, which then in turn gives the team points.The maps are smaller than their WoW counter-parts, making the action more frequent and more hectic, and each one feels perhaps a little bit more important than it does fighting somewhere between the stables and the lumber mill ever did.

Structured PvP features Arathi Bas… I mean Battle of Kyhlo

Each map also features a gimmick of sorts. The Battle of Kyhlo map features two trebuchets on either side of the map for the teams to make use of, and while being able to bombard the opposing teams capture points (and utterly devastating the Clock Tower) is fun, it didn’t make the game mode or map any more (or less) interesting than any other in recent memory. It is entirely possible that this is down to many teams not being organized and making effective use of this feature and I can definitely see the map being more exciting to play once more people understand the potential value of using the trebuchets effectively.The second map was The Forest of Niflhelm, and while the premise is the same as The Battle of Kyhlo, the gimmick here is that 2 boss mobs spawn with regular intervals, and the team to down them (as well as keeping a hold of their capture points) gets a sizeable points bonus.

While the gimmicks are refreshing, and the size of the maps make the action a bit more intense, I still cannot shrug off the feeling that 6 months down the line, the same things that bored me to tears in WoW will bore me to tears in Guild Wars 2.

The one saving grace for me at this point is that the combat system is just plain old good fun, and that in itself makes it a bit more bearable for me, with the smaller map size ensuring frequent action and more frantic battles.

Thankfully, there is more to PvP than just structured games, there is also World vs World vs World, and this is where the PvP really shone for me.

For those who do not know, or didn’t try WvWvW this past weekend, boy did you miss out.

The World vs World concept, while not new, is a welcome addition and adds an extra dimension and fantastic alternative to the standard PvP offerings we’ve been used to for the last many years.If you are new to the concept, it is essentially 3 servers (worlds) fighting each other for control of supply camps, tower outposts, keeps and a large central castle in the middle of the map, but the real trick here is, there are 4 of these maps, forcing each server to actively participate on multiple fronts in order to be successful.

Throw in a range of siege weaponry from arrow carts to catapults to War Golems and you have a recipe for destruction on the grandest scale we have seen so far in an MMO, with destructible buildings, guerilla warfare tactics and plain old cunning strategy thrown into the mix, it all oozes of quality and well thought out design. It also requires team work for a server to be truly competitive, while people in the beta seemed to favour the ‘zerg’ approach, once people started to use the siege weaponry, the game takes on a different dimension all together and there is a huge incentive for having roaming bands of people harassing your opponents supply lines, ideal for smaller groups or guilds of friends to have a significant impact on the flow of the battle. The supplies are directly linked to upgrades to your towers/keeps/castles as they allow you to rebuild broken doors or reinforce existing ones, they are essentially the lifeblood of any siege, to both the people laying the siege, and the people manning the walls in defence of their world’s holdings.

The world overview map of the World vs World vs World feature

One thing that did stand out to me during our WvW escapades was just how difficult it is being a melee in there. For commando style skirmishes (or as we like to call them, Super-Secret Squirrel Squad missions) behind enemy lines, taking back supply camps, cutting off the enemies Dolyak (a hairy yak-mule beast of burden carrying supplies) melee is great, but when it comes down to those sieges, it becomes an arduous task trying to stay alive in the front lines. The ground, especially near keep doors, is pulsing with AoE in all the colours of the rainbow, making going toe to toe with the attackers about as clever as jumping in London’s river Thames mid-November.

Most melee classes do have viable ranged options however, I saw several warriors with longbows, thieves with short-bows and Mesmers with Staff/Great-swords equipped, but for me, as a Guardian, I found there was very little I could do, in terms of offence to harass our would-be keep invaders. I had to resort to using my staff or sceptre from the rampart but neither seemed all that viable, and eventually I had to resort to removing conditions (dots and negative effects) from my allies and throwing up shields to keep our Elementalists and Necromancers somewhat safe from the barrage of projectiles and AoE coming up from below.While that is an important role, it’s not something that will at all appeal to everyone, and even I found it to be ‘less fun’ than bashing people over the head with my big sword.

Reading a book, more fun than trying to be a ranged Guardian

Before I round this up, I want to share my own personal best experience in PvP from this past weekend.

My guild group and I were roaming around the Eternal Battlegrounds (the middle map) on one of our Super-Secret Squirrel Squad missions, and we came across the main siege. Now, our world’s team was attacking the keep doors but it wasn’t really going down as there were no siege weapons present. My guildie who played on a PC from about 3 years ago lagged out over the edge of the bridge we were on and fell into the moat, we ran after him and discovered that there was a sewer gate attached to the keep, and even better, the gate was breakable. Soon after this discovery we had a host of people attacking the sewer gate as well as a group up top assaulting the front doors. In the end, the group hammering away at the sewer gate broke through and like a team of commandos we entered the keep via the drains and took the defenders by surprise. Massive feeling of accomplishment ensued.

In its current state, World vs World is very enjoyable and runs quite well considering the beta is a heavily un-optimized version at this point in time, and is tied to the CPU, however one guildie did experience levels of neigh on unplayable slow-down during a massive siege. It has to be said however that his PC is about 3 years old, and a 2.4GhZ Duo Core 2.With the game being a bit of a CPU hog in its current state that is to be expected. I, however rarely dropped below 30-40 frames even during the massive sieges on my i5-2500k.

So what is my verdict on the overall PvP experience within Guild Wars 2?

It is different. It is different but in a good way.

While I am not super excited about Conquest games in the Structured PvP environment, I am over the moon about World vs World, it was hands down the most fun I have had in any MMO in terms of PvP, ever.

I touched upon a few things that Guild Wars 2 does differently to other MMOs in an earlier blog post, but I think it bears repeating, combat is not about solo kills. It’s not about every person being a hero. It is about teamwork, and skill, and a completely different mind-set than most people are used to (outside of top Arena and rated Battleground teams) if you run around solo in Battle of Kyhlo, you’re just inviting the opposing team to farm you. Combat is about groups, more importantly, location, location, location. Positioning is key, far more than usual and the maps actually do invite you to make use of it in any every way possible, push someone off a cliff, hide behind the stone pillars of the henge, these are all encouraged, if not perhaps in the long run, expected.

One thing that also took me a little by surprise is how important the synergy between weapon sets is in PvP, it is much more involved than I personally had imagined.A prime example is, I love the two-handed hammer and the great sword, but having both equipped is largely detrimental as they both fill the same kind of role within your setup, while this is clear as day to me now, I didn’t immediately think of that before heading off to kick butt, and it left me in a bit of vulnerable state on my poor Guardian. Slowly you start to work out the intricacies of the system however, and this goes largely for PvE as well, once you understand the connections between skills of different weapon sets it allows you to be so much more effective. In the end I was rolling with a 1-handed sword and Torch as off-hand and Great-sword as my secondary, as it allowed me to close gaps quickly, apply dots and burst, then swap over to the Great-sword and ‘whirlwind’ as well as apply some CC. Understanding this line of thinking is absolutely pivotal if you want to get the most out of your class in any scenario.

So many traits, so little time

So many traits, so little time

It is important to remember however that beta is beta, and features will inevitably come and go, and while conquest might not be my thing, the depth of the combat system might just be enough to keep me coming back to both forms of PvP for a long time to come.

Lastly, I would have liked to have touched on the Gem store, however due to some technical difficulties, my account was locked to a World named Istan and my guild was rolling on Desolation, so I had to spend my gems on a world transfer, of course, world transfers were made free a few hours later, but I couldn’t get my gems refunded. No biggie though as I will be sure to cover this on the back of the next BWE.

Thank you reading this rather belated beta impression, and keep coming back for more GW2 coverage as things ramp up towards release and beyond.

– Chronometer

Blog Update – Rest of the week/weekend

Hey guys,

Just a quick update, I was going to continue my piece about Guild Wars 2, and how the things it does differently might not be for everyone, with an emphasis this time on PvP as I simply did not have the time to go into that in my previous post, however instead of writing something based on assumptions and videos, I have decided to postpone that piece until after this weekend. The reason being of course that as many of you know the Beta weekend for everyone who pre-purchased will be going on as of Friday night UK time, and I intend to PvP to my hearts content to give you a more accurate and much more hands on write-up this coming Tuesday. 

Until then, enjoy your beta weekends, for anyone interested in joining me and my mad bunch of misfits in GW2, keep checking back here as I will be posting which server we are going on hopefully tonight. 

– Chronometer

@Chronometer2300