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The Casual Life by Wintyre Fraust

An older, casual player's perspective on MMOG's in general and GW2 in particular.

Author: Meleagar

GW2 Launch Part 2: 170 Hours Played Impression

Posted by Meleagar Friday September 28 2012 at 7:42AM
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There's so much to write about, I hardly know where to start.  After 170 hours played, my highest character is level 35.  Actually, I have two characters that are level 35, one is level 22, and two more are in their high teens.  GW2 has destroyed my concept of having a "main" character and having "alts".  Why have a "main" when there is nothing to rush to, no reason to hurry through the leveling process?  In other MMOG's that had specific class roles, most players might find one or two professions they enjoyed playing, but the diversity of each profession in GW2 makes it so you can probably find enjoyment in playing any of the 8 professions.

Let's face it: in other MMORPGs, there's really not much reason to spend much time doing anything other than leveling as fast as possible to get to the "end game"; in GW2, the whole game is really the end game.  You're not going to be doing anything fundamentally different at 80 than you do at level 2, so you can take your time and explore the content in every nook and cranny of Tyria.

GW2's Tyria, though, is packed with so much content that you can spend a lifetime exploring it and still not find it all.  Beyond getting a character or two to level 80 as fast as you can (if you're still myopically following the treadmill style of other MMOGs), there are many, many diferent storylines and permutations of storylines to explore with your stable of characters. There are truly different weapon, skill and trait combinations to use that can provide radically different ways to play any particular profession.  The options are astoundingly deep and varied.

Beyond the "100% Completed" map checklist, there is a world of stuff to discover not even listed on the map.  The underwater regions is like an entire new game on its own.  There are nooks, crannies and treasures just waiting to be found by those that explore more than just what it takes to complete the map checklist.  There are breathaking views to find not pinpointed by "vista" icons and villages not officially marked as a "point of interest".

Besides the NPCs one would engage in their storyline and which are marked on the map, there are countless intersting NPC activities to watch, voice conversations and comments to listen to, and dialogue to explore.  There are books to be found and read, objects to pick up and use.  Every time I go into a zone, I find something different and interesting.  I've passed by NPCs having casual conversations and realized they were talking about something relevant to my storyline. 

The WvW areas are like entire other worlds to explore, and they are enormous.  Finding ways to contribute in WvW is yet another challlenge when it comes to arranging the weapon and skills you carry into a situation.

Claiming "there is no content' or that one has consumed all the content and are bored because they have a level 80 character or two is preposterous.  They are bored not because there is no different content to experience, but only because they cannot advance their level 80 characters in any way that makes them more powerful. For them, "content" is really just "whatever the shortest route is to maxing out a linear checklist of progression." So, if they got a couple of crafting professions up to 400, then "check", in their minds, they've consumed the crafting content.  If they've got 100% map completion, then "check", in their minds they've seen the whole world of Tyria. If they've progressed a character or two to 80 and finished the storyline, then "check", they've experienced all the character progression and story GW2 has to offer.

Then, they argue that all that is left is essentially repeating the content via "alts', or with their level 80 characters, and that repeating content is not fun (often claiming it isn't fun for anyone, or for most people), and that it is less fun each time you do something - which is patently false. Playing pool is not "less fun" each time you do it. Swimming is not "less fun" each time you do it.  Getting burned out on something because you force-feed it to yourself more than you enjoy it is not how everyone engages their favorite entertainment activities.

At 170 hours, I've only scratched the surface of the content available, and I'm loving GW2 every time I log in.  But then, I'm not playing the game to put marks in checkboxes and efficiently max out all official forms of character progression; I'm exploring the deeply diverse, interesting and beautifully rendered content of that the developers at ANET have so lovingly dispersed throughout every inch of Tyria.

GW2: Old Habits & Preconceptions

Posted by Meleagar Wednesday September 12 2012 at 6:41AM
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When you've been trained by more than a decade to interact with MMOG's a certain way, and to think of them a certain way, and to play a certain way, it's difficult to change. You carry those habits and preconceptions around with you because they work, for the most part; then, if a game comes out that is fundamentally different, it can be difficult to get past them in order to experience something new without trying to force it into the old box - without judging the new by those ingrained preconceptions.

So it is, I think, with many players and Guild Wars 2. They try to play the same way as in other MMOGs, and fail.  They try to interact with other players in the same way, and fail.  They try to find their old conventional mechanisms to find the same enjoyments they had in other games - and fail. They hold GW2 up to a preconceived standard, and they mistake something different for something lacking

It's like expecting a steak in every meal; even though they clamor for something different, when they get their lobster dinner they complain - "Where's the steak?" or "Hey!  This doesn't cut, chew or taste like steak!"

GW2 is something entirely different, but many players just don't get it.

Something I've seen in many comments by players at various sites is the complaint that they're having a hard time leveling - that they're not powerful enough for the "next area" when they outlevel the first. Apparently, they don't understand that you cannot "outlevel" any area. I was hanging around the starter zone with my level 20 character getting about the same experience as I did the first time I went through it. I was getting drops appropriate to my level, as far as items were concerned.  I was getting experience from daily achievements, for gathering resources, and finding new points of interest.

I would say that I level "too fast", but that's one of those old preconceptions.  Too fast ... for what? I can't "outlevel" any zone, quest, event, heart, achievement, exploration, or resource, so I had to put the concept of "leveling too fast" (or slow) away. This game is structured so that you can enjoy all locations at or below your current level pretty much equally.   

In other games, often the best way to gain experience is to grind kills; in GW2, that's pretty much the slowest way to gain exp.  Gathering a resource, crafting, exploring, daily achievements, hearts, DE's, skill point challenges ... generally, these other acitivites give you much, much more experience than simply grinding kills - even though just killing things is pretty fun, it's not the only thing to do in an area that gives you a sense of accomplishment and movement forward for your character.

GW2 offers many features that are often overlooked or misinterpreted because of player preconceptions.  Another complaint is that many open-world raid events are "zerg-fests" without any real strategy or tactics.  I think that those players are confusing the ironclad group strategy of the holy trinity with a more loose, individually synergistic strategy.  Just because a formal group or raid leader isn't issuing rote trinity positions and rotations doesn't mean all that is going on is a blind zerg rush. For example, I and other players often figure out wher to place our area effects so that other players who are already shooting at the target will have an effect added to their shot.  When I'm shooting and someone lays down an effect, I always position myself to shoot through it.

The idea that what is going on is nothing but zerg just because nobody is formally issuing top-down holy trinity position and combat commands is overly simplistic and nothing more than a term of disparagement for a system that is different from that old MMOG system. Sure, a lot of players may be clueless about what is going on and what to do, but many, many players have what I call tactical interaction synergy - they see what is going on and develop a strategy on the fly employing what others are doing to better increase the chance of success for the group.  When my elementalist is in a rather large group and I don't see any or enough healing support, I switch over to my staff and water attunement and start dishing out some health. Other times, I use air attunment to flash into the target area, drop a circle of fire and then mist out, granting boons to allies, conditions to the enemy, and ensuring that everyone who is firing into the target area is also applying some burning damage.

Generally, open-world fights are not scripted, tightly-controlled events, but that doesn't mean there isn't strategy being applied.  It's just a different kind of fight and a different kind of strategy that doesn't lend itself to easy categorization and judgements of player ability.

GW2 Launch: Part 1 - First Impression

Posted by Meleagar Monday September 3 2012 at 5:08PM
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All the hype in the world can't do this game justice.  I'm 10 days in and I haven't been this in-love with a game since I first fired up WoW vanilla, and before that EQ vanilla.  That's right, I love this game. LOVE IT!!

First impression, the game is just beautiful.  The graphics during beta grabbed my attention, and those of the live game appear to me to be even better.  No matter where you are, or what you're doing in the game, the artistic love and devotion and attention to detail by the Arenanet art team is almost overwhelming.  I could devote an entire column to doing nothing but singing the praises of the ANET art team.   In other games, yes, you can find places and scenes that are breathtaking; in GW2, you can pretty much stop anywhere to look around and soak up the amazing, styilish, lush art.  It is, IMHO, a perfect blend of realism, old-school Disney-esque animation, and Pixar CGI.  The ANET team breaks open the full palette in GW2 and demonstrates remarkable color sense and mood in all sorts of diverse locations.  Every frame is like a piece of superior art.

And it's not just the visuals; the sounds and motions in Tyria are crazy deep and thoughtful.  If you take the time to get off of Ventrilo and listen, just stand somewhere and listen to NPC conversations and ambient sounds, and look at things that are in motion, you can begin to perhaps appreciate the care put into this world.  I've never been in any game - including single-player-games - that feels so deep and alive as GW2's Tyria.

This Tyria is a deep, broad and monumental leviathan of 3D audio-visual art unlike anything I've every experienced.  There are countless nooks, crannies, alleys, rooms, meadows, overhangs, cliffsides, pools, rivers, waterfall, caves, inlets, trails, balconies, stairways, towers, ramparts, bridges, clearings, forts, garrisons, stations, villages, fields ... it goes on and on; all carefully constructed, decorated, laid out, populated and active, from people to confetti to snow to leaves to fireflies and just bits of floating and circulating stuff. I can't imagine first the amount of work it takes just to lay out someplace like Divinity's Reach or Lion's Arch, much less the mind-blowing attention to detail everywhere you go and look - and listen - in those massive, expansive cities.

Then there are the characters.  In previous games, it was easy for me to pick a starting race because I could only really enjoy the look/style of one or two races.  I like the look of all of these races, from the threatening, vicious Charr to the cute-as-a-bug Asura.  There's a completely different emotional experience from race to race and between beginning locations/stories.  Voices, movement, surrouding ambience, inflection, art style - even as different as it is from Charr to Asura, it all somehow still fits within the overall framework of the world of Tyria.

But, they really are all different, and interesting and fun in different ways,  a diversity that is more than just polygon-deep. These diverse races have distinct styles all their own, a style that is deep and pervasive and is embedded in every nuance of the population, the architecture, the music, the clothes & trinkets and accessories, the voices, the sounds, the motion, the grunts, the movements - even the facial expressions.

Guild Wars 2 has, IMO, cashed the 3D check written by EverQuest in a way that no other game in-between has, by delivering a virtual world that is, in so many ways, deep, broad, detailed, and most importantly, feels alive.

I'd just like to finish this first post by thanking the ANET team for this obvious labor of love.