Guild Wars 2 Beta Weekend: Impressions

In my last blog post, I expressed how eager I was looking forward to the first Guild Wars 2 beta test. As I wasn't lucky enough to be picked, I had to get in by pre-ordering like so many others. I've been looking forward to Guild Wars 2 for awhile, as I greatly enjoyed the first one. So, with the weekend event now over, I'm left to think about what I had experienced.

What I experienced was, in a word, great. Yet, at the same time, hard to talk about. In a lot of ways, it breaks preconceived notions and ideas involving the genre. To explain the game and why things work, you have to step back and explain everything about the game from the very beginning. The most evident thing I noticed was that Guild Wars 2 doesn't punish you for playing with other people, I never found myself running out of things to do, nor was I ever in competition to finish objectives. This is in contrast to most other MMOs, which make other players a liability or something to avoid. I regularly found myself getting angry at other players for daring to attack my target, yet had to pause and remind myself: That doesn't matter. They're not stealing my kill. I'll still get credit and reward, and so will this other person. They're not competing with me, they're helping me. This fundamental concept of relaxed teamwork is something that has been sorely missing from the genre, removed way back when EverQuest became popular. The PvE events (the primary replacement for standard quests) took simple and familiar concepts like going out and killing monsters, escorting caravans, and interacting with objects, but then made these concepts fun again by simply allowing other players to jump in and engage with you at any moment. The effect is a PvE experience that's more relaxed, doing away with the stuffy notions we've dealt with for years, as MMO developers seem terrified of letting us have fun, much less having fun with other players outside of a structured group. This leads to a more chaotic and fluid experience, and I loved it.

The PvP, however, was my main draw. I enjoy competitive games, and Guild Wars managed to be the only one of the overall genre that pulled it off with any semblance of success by allowing players to hop in from day one and compete. I'm happy to say that this tradition has carried over successfully. In my times of playing organized small teams, we were all powered up until we were even with each other. With equal level and equal gear, teams could play evenly, and being able to do this within the first few moments of my character existing was stupendous. At a moment's notice, I could drop the PvE event I was doing and go become a max level killing machine, fighting other max level killing machines, with no grind required to enter this point. After all, why should there be a grind involved in competitive games? StarCraft 2, for example, has a healthy competitive scene, and I don't have to play for hours to unlock actually worthwhile units. Guild Wars 2 follows a similar philosophy with its player competition. What matters is personal skill and teamwork; not who has the best gear.

In the touted WvW (reminiscent of Dark Age of Camelot's RvR), however, things were a bit different. Not all the skills were unlocked (although they could be unlocked by killing other players and NPCs), and it struck me as a bit more of a zergfest than a competition of who's the best. To ArenaNet's credit, they consider WvW a more casual form of PvP than the organized teamplay. I'd liken this to WoW's battlegrounds, versus its arena. Regardless of the fact that I felt as if my character may be a bit lacking because she hasn't unlocked every option yet (unlike the organized play, where everything is unlocked), every player was once again bumped up to max level to ensure fairness, and the mode was an easy way to relax and feel like I'm contributing to a larger war effort. What surprised me in WvW, however, was how important siege engines were, and the possibility of recruiting neutral armies to my side. At one point, a fort for my side was being defended by a bunch of frog people my side helped out as part of an event within the large PvP zone. The mode comes across as a successor to DAoC's RvR, and created by people who passionately loved that game's mechanic. It wasn't what I was primarily interested in, but I found it to be a fun way to spend time all the same.

The only real complaints I can leave with the game are obvious ones: The game's performance was lacking, by ArenaNet's own admission. Currently the game is very heavily CPU-bound, which leads to poor frame rate, especially in populous events or WvW battles. There was also the issue of server lag and stability, but to its credit, the game was mostly playable during its first public beta event. I've seen release launches of MMOs that were in far worse condition than this game. And finally, my only other annoyance was that some of the events wore out their welcome, or were obtuse with what the objectives were. However, the game provides you with plenty of alternatives for leveling and progressing, including WvW. This worked so that on the rare occasion I didn't enjoy an event, I could easily run off and find something else to do.

It's very rare that an MMO encapsulates me, considering how bitter and mean I can be towards such a bloated and inbred genre. However, I think this may be the new one for me. It hasn't been since WoW's initial 2004 release that I found myself really enjoying an MMORPG, and wanting to see more of what it offers. The next beta event can not come soon enough.

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"I don't blame you" or Why I Cancelled My Pre-Order

Yesterday, I went in to my local Gamestop to cancel my pre-order of Tera. Upon telling this to the man behind the counter, he laughed and said, "I don't blame you." He and I proceeded to agree on the reason why I would do this. This cancellation was not done easily, mind you. Tera and Guild Wars 2 were two of the few MMOs coming out that actually managed to pick up some interest from me, as they looked to be standing above the mindless wasteland that the entire genre and its players seems to be content with. So, why did I cancel my pre-order, effectively sealing off my interest in the game?

Never again will I know of dressing up as a leather-clad demoness. Well, at least not until my next role-play.

In a nutshell, the problem is everything except for the combat. More specifically, what I do between combat encounters, and why I'm doing these combat encounters. Now, I did enjoy the combat system, and I thought that the world and characters looked fantastic. But these two good elements (the latter one being superficial, to boot) doesn't make up for the bulk of the game being a gauntlet of same-y quests that all follow the generic MMO questing archetypes. In the very first quest hub, I found myself being told to go kill a certain number of mobs, then told to go back and kill a few more of the same exact mob, as part of a completely different quest, as if the game needed to test my ability to retain the knowledge of, "circle around the bad thing and click until it's dead."

In my mind, this sort of game design is unacceptable. I've played more than my fair share of MMOs, and I'm simply sick and tired of game design built solely around wasting my time with a high number of repetitive, menial tasks. Ideally, the moment I can prove that I'm capable of overcoming a challenge, the game should have me move on to the next bit of content. The only content I found myself enjoying was the instances and large mobs (or BAMs), where the BAMs were starting to become a bit boring after having to kill multiple of the same beast for a single quest. I like games that evoke a David and Goliath mentality, but the original story would not have been nearly as interesting if David continued on to kill Goliath's six brothers. I can't help but feel that Tera would have been better if it focused less on having dozens of boring generic quests in each zone, and instead focused on a few quests that were more in-depth, or simply less quests, but with higher rewards

There's a joke about padding in here, somewhere.

For full disclosure, over the course of the three closed beta weekends I played, I rolled a new character each time. First, as a popori slayer, then a high elf archer, and finally with a high elf warrior. Each time I played with a new character I got a little bit further, and each time I would stop after roughly a day and a half of my casual play, ultimately reaching the esteemed level 24 with my warrior. This wasn't particularly far, but I didn't feel as if the game really engaged me enough to warrant any further look. It may get better, but Tera's not the only game in existence, and I'm more than capable of playing games where I'm not forced to play through boring content in order to have fun. I have a job, and I'm going to college. I need entertainment, not another source of frustration and boredom.

As much as I liked the few bits and pieces of Tera, it simply did not make up for the huge amounts of pointless filler. As a result, I cancelled my pre-order, and am now looking forward to the first Guild Wars 2 beta weekend. It may not be the exact game I'm looking for, but to ArenaNet's credit, they don't seem concerned with wasting what precious little time I still have. I can't say the same of Bluehole and En Masse.

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