Guild Wars 2: Review, Take 2

28 Aug

This post will be a follow-up/do-over of the review I wrote in July after BWE3. The initial review discussed things that I saw in the game based solely on my experience with that one weekend, so this time I’m going to correct some of the things that I was wrong about or that I didn’t clearly describe, and remove some of the things that bothered me then that don’t now after playing it more or understanding better.

I’m going to go a little bit deeper into the Professions (classes) in this post and relate them to WoW and SWTOR classes for those of you who are still on the fence about what you want to roll. I’ll talk about their special class mechanics and try to dispel some of the misconceptions you might have going into it if you aren’t already familiar with the GW2 Professions (like Thieves and Stealth).

Character Creation: General
I like the GW2 character creation process, and I think they did a solid job of giving us customization options and I like the majority of what’s there. You start off by choosing your race, then you pick your profession (class), and then you start in on customizing your look with a pretty decent amount of control in terms of shape, size and color of your characters attributes.

As I mentioned in the initial review, one of the big differences you’ll see during character creation in GW2 versus other MMO’s is that there is no faction choice. That’s because there are no factions in GW2! You can play with any/all of your friends whenever you want to, and you have no need to fear players of the opposite faction ganking you because there is no opposite faction.

It is also important to note that you can only have characters on a single server in GW2. If you’re an altoholic like me, you can’t get around the limit to the number of character slots by joining other servers like you could in other games. I’ll go into more detail about servers in a moment, but for now just be aware that your five character slots are all you get in GW2 unless you purchase additional character slots from the Gem Store. Servers are the closest thing GW2 has to factions, and we’ll get into that more in the server section.

Professions (Classes)
If you’ve been playing MMO’s for a while but are new to GW2, then this is probably going to be the most confusing twist on terminology that you’ll see. In GW2 the classes are known as Professions. Crafting professions are just known as crafting. So when someone is talking about professions in GW2, then they are supposedly talking about their class rather than what they can craft. But by nature of the confusion, they may very well be talking about their crafting professions instead. So…just be prepared to be confused. I do my best to call them professions, but I constantly catch myself slipping back into classes.

In my initial review of GW2, I took a very high level look at the classes and just gave a general idea of what the classes professions do and how they work. Part of that was due to the limited amount of playtime that I had, and part of it was due to me not taking the time or perhaps paying enough attention to really notice some of the details that I had missed. So this time around I’m going to give you a little bit more information about the classes, but I’m not going to go too deep since I have a post (or series of) in mind for that later.

Adventurer Professions
The Adventurer Professions in GW2 wear medium armor, and they have a fair mix of ranged and melee mechanics, and support the full range combat styles that allow players of multiple playstyles to enjoy them.

Engineer: Is one of the two classes that I have little-to-no experience playing yet. They are a primarily a ranged class, but they also have a class mechanic that allows them to use a variety of gadgets and items to increase their versatility including grenades, offensive and defensive turrets (stationary pets), and thrown potions that grant offensive or defensive perks. Because their class mechanic gives them access to so many extra spells, the Engineer is one of only two classes that cannot swap their weapon during combat.

In terms of WoW, they are like a marriage of the Hunter and Shaman classes, using the toys that come with the Engineering profession. If you were to relate it to SWTOR, then it would be the Trooper/Bounty Hunter class with a built-in Biochem profession.

Ranger: In order to fully grasp the Ranger class, you need to step out of the MMO world for a second and go back to Lord of the Rings or Dungeons & Dragons. Rangers can be either ranged or melee, depending on weapon selection. Their special class mechanic is their pets, which work similarly to how pets work for Hunter-style classes in most other MMO’s, with each having one signature ability for the species in addition to its normal attacks.

Relating them to WoW there’s the clear affinity to the Hunter, but Rangers can also be incredibly effective in melee giving them a playstyle somewhat similar to a Thief or DPS Warrior. The SWTOR equivalent would be DPS Smuggler/Agent or Knight/Warrior.

Thief: Thief is one of the most generic kinds of characters for any fantasy game out there, so most of what you would think of will hold true. The key difference between GW2 Thieves and other thief/rogue classes out there though, is Stealth. In GW2 Stealth is not something that you can hang out in whenever you want to. Instead, Stealth lasts for anywhere from 1-4 seconds and that’s it. When most people think of the Thief archetype, they think “assassin” when what they really need to think of something more along the lines of Batman or a Mistborn if you’re familiar with Brandon Sanderson’s work.

Their special class mechanic is Steal which teleports you to the target and changes the Steal ability to a one-use spell that’s related (loosely) to your target. The spells can do a lot of different things, including AoE damage, stealth, crowd control, (de)buffs, and healing. The random nature of the spell turns a lot of people off of using it for anything other than it’s teleportation effect. Each target has a set group of spells that Steal can become, but which of those it ends up as is random so you never know what you’re going to end up with for sure.

The GW2 Thief isn’t about sneaking around in stealth and then opening up with a huge spike of damage followed by tons of crowd controlling stuns. So in WoW terms yes you will be playing similar to a Rogue, but mostly a Combat spec Rogue, and also the Hunter and even a touch of Mage. For SWTOR, you have some obvious ties to the Scoundrel/Agent or Shadow/Assassin, but also the Sentinel/Marauder with a touch of Madness Sorcerer/Balance Sage.

Scholar Professions
Scholar Professions wear light armor and are what you would typically associate with “clothies” in that they are casters and tend to be more squishy and suited to damage, healing, and controlling playstyles.

Elementalist: The Elementalist is a basically a wizard, as I’m sure you could guess by the title. They cast spells that are tied to the elements of Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. Their class mechanic allows them to switch between each of those four elements which has a different set of spells tied to each of them. So where every other class has 5 spells associated with each of their weapon sets, an Elementalist has 20 (5 x 4 elements). For that reason, Elementalists also cannot swap weapons during combat as having access to 20 spells vs 5 is already imbalanced enough that 40 vs 5 would just be ridiculous.

While the Elementalist has tons of spells associated with it, each of the spells that are tied to each weapon also takes on some trait of the weapon itself. For example, Dagger spells have a smaller range while Staff spells have larger areas of effect. This also does a good job of making the Elementalist feel different from one weapon to another despite such a large spellbook.

In WoW terms the Elementalist has obvious connections to the Mage, but it also relates to the Destruction Warlock, Priests of all specs and a bit of Resto Shaman as well. From SWTOR it would tie easily to the Sage/Sorcerer, and has some small relation to the Commando/Mercenary.

Necromancer: Another classic name that relates well to its implied roots. Necromancers focus on dark magic which includes lots of debuffs, summoning undead minions, and stealing life force from their victims. Weapon selection can have a pretty big impact on how the class plays and how aggressive you’ll be, as well as whether you’ll deal damage directly, over time, or in a trap-like fashion.

Their special class mechanic is called Death Shroud which takes the life force stolen from targets and converts it into a special resource bar that allows you to turn into a shadowy form with a different list of spells. Death Shroud converts the Life Force resource bar into a secondary life pool, and while in Death Shroud you use of your Life Force in order to cast your spells. You might have to try it for yourself to fully grasp how it works, but Death Shroud makes it possible for Necromancers to be incredibly durable.

In WoW terms, the Necro is linked closely to Warlocks and has some traits of the Mage, Shadow Priest, Survival Hunter, and distantly the Assassination Rogue. In SWTOR the Necromancer would be most like the Balance Sage/Madness Sorcerer, but the spells are so different in general that there’s not really a great SWTOR class that matches the Necro.

Mesmer: Mesmers are a very odd and interesting caster class that focuses on illusions and chance. Their special class mechanic is their illusions and the ability to “Shatter” (sacrifice) them for different effects. Shatter can be used to deal AoE damage, apply Confusion which deals damage when the target uses abilities, Daze which is like an interrupt of a “soft” stun, or Distortion which causes you to evade all incoming attacks.

Chaos is sort of the name of the game when it comes to Mesmers as a lot of the spells apply a random buff to allies and/or debuff to enemies, and some are just sort of interestingly bizarre like the fact that they can wield a Great Sword but the damage that it does is increased the further away you are from the target.

To relate the Mesmer to WoW you can only do so loosely. It has a touch of Warlock, Shadow Priest, Rogue, Hunter, and Mage. I can’t really think of anything in SWTOR that really fits the Mesmer enough to even really say that it fits, but it has a small relation to Sentinel/Marauder and Sage/Sorcerer. With both of these games, the amount of difference outweighs the similarities significantly in my opinion.

Soldier Professions
Soldier Professions wear the heavy armor, and as you would expect that means they tend to be much sturdier than the other classes.

Guardian: Guardians do a great job of living up to their name. They use melee weapons exclusively, but the majority of their attacks have either some element of AoE damage to them, or they both deal damage to enemies and heal your allies at the same time or debuff your enemies while buffing your allies. They have excellent survivability because of how many abilities they have that provide survivability in the form of added healing, boons (buffs) and conditions (debuffs) on top of their heavy armor.

Their special class mechanic consists of three Virtues: Courage which provides a guaranteed block every 40 seconds and can be activated for an immediate bock to you and your allies, Justice which makes every fifth attack burn your target and can be activated to make your and your allies’ next attack apply burning, and Resolve which gives you regeneration and can be activated to heal yourself and your nearby allies.

In WoW terms, the Guardian had definite ties to the Paladin, as well as the Warrior, Priest, and maybe a touch of Warlock if you look at it right. For SWTOR the Guardian would be your Guardian/Juggernaut, and to some extent your Vanguard/Powertech but with less mid-range capability.

Warrior: The only class that I haven’t even rolled yet to get an idea of how they play because the concept of a warrior is so overwhelmingly popular in gaming. Warriors can use almost every weapon in the game, giving them a good deal of versatility, and also allowing you to play a Warrior in a way that does not feel like every other game out there. For example, you can have a Warrior that uses a Rifle as their primary weapon and stays ranged almost exclusively.

The Warrior’s class mechanic is called Adrenaline which stacks up to three times. Each weapon has a specific ability that uses adrenaline, and the more adrenaline you have when you use it the more powerful the effect of it is. Most of these adrenaline burst skills have some form of AoE damage or deal a large amount of damage to the target as well as giving the Warrior a boon (buff) or the target a condition (debuff).

In WoW terms, the Warrior is obviously a Warrior, but it also has some Hunter, Paladin, Feral Druid and a bit of Shaman as well. For SWTOR the obvious links would be to the Knight/Warrior classes, with a little Smuggler/Agent thrown in for good measure.

User Interface (UI)
The UI for GW2 is pretty basic, and while it does have some customization it doesn’t have very much. Most of what you can customize right now is the scale of the UI overall and how large your minimap and chat windows are. I used to really love modifying my UI when I played WoW, but playing SWTOR with its limited UI customization prior the Jesus patch removed my reliance on that.

That being said, I certainly wouldn’t mind having more control over my UI. I’m mostly interested in being more in control of where mine and my opponent’s health bars are. By default your health is centered at the bottom of your screen and your target’s is centered at the top which makes keeping a close eye on them both a bit difficult. Because of their position, I have to put more effort into looking away from what’s going on with the combat itself to see where my health is in relation to my target’s and determining whether or not I need to push for a more evasive/healing style or if I should push for more DPS to finish them off before they down me. I would also prefer to see hard numbers on my target’s health bar rather than just visually noting the percentage that they have left, but that’s just a personal preference that really doesn’t matter.

Now, before someone else goes ape $*&@ about me wanting WoW’s addons that play the game for me, let me say that I do not in any way want that to be the case. I want more control over what I see, and where it’s displayed — I’m not looking for something that tells me when to jump or move, or call out when my opponent is casting Spell X. But I would like to be able to move things where I want them to be, such as moving the health bars to the center of my screen and next to one another so that I can keep full track of our health totals with my peripheral vision while I focus on what my target is actually doing so that I can see when I need to reaction with dodges and evades, or when I need to prep an AoE healing spell for a group when I know a big damage effect is about to be cast.

I’ve seen some information online recently that indicates that ArenaNet has no intention of ever allowing mods or customization to the UI beyond what they have in the game right now. Over time, I’m sure I’ll get used to the current system enough that it won’t bother me any more, but at this point I’ve played so many other games and for such a long time that do allow me to have that amount of control over where things are positioned that it bugs me to no longer have that control.

Overall, I do like the UI for GW2. I like that they allow you to open multiple windows that stack on top of each other by default, and that you can move them all around however you please and the game remembers those positions. I just wish that I had a little more control over where that information was displayed because you can’t tell everything just by looking at your character or your target. You can tell a lot, they did a great job of giving visual clues about what boons and conditions are present and so forth, but not all of those have a something visual either. I certainly wouldn’t say that the UI is a turn off or a reason to stay away from the game, even if you are used to that level of customization in other games.

Combat & Removing the Holy Trinity
In GW2 they have done away with the traditional MMO roles of Tank, Heals, DPS. Some people do consider GW2 to have it’s own version of the trinity which is Heals, DPS, and Control but even if you do consider it to be a trinity it doesn’t actually work the same way because of how they changed things to remove the holy trinity.

Combat in GW2 is much more mobile that most of the other mainstream MMO’s, and it’s a concept that has caused problems for a lot of players who didn’t know that going into it. Everyone is able to heal, everyone is able to Dodge incoming attacks, and very few spells require you to stand still while you cast them even if they have a cast time or a channeled element to them. Kiting is a skill that everyone will need to develop if they have any hopes of surviving even just the leveling process, and anyone who was so used to facerolling things in WoW because of great tanks or overpowered gear that they didn’t even know how to use their CC abilities is in for a rude awakening in the form of deaths and repair bills.

Another thing that’s different in GW2 is that, depending on your class, 33%-80% of your available spells are tied to your weapon(s), and each class only has access to either 1 or two sets of weapons during combat. So even though your Ranger has some fantastic damaging attacks with his Longbow, some sweet movement spells on his Great Sword, and some killer condition damage on his Sword & Torch combo, he can’t use all three of those in the same fight.

I mentioned before that my personal preference would be to have access to my whole spellbook. I still stand by that as a matter of personal preference, though I know some of the readers took it as me saying one thing when I meant another. To explain a bit further, I’d really like to use the third spell from my Great Sword even when I’m not actually using that weapon. I’d be perfectly fine with swapping out the third spell on my current weapon in order to have access to it, but my personal preference would be that if I know how to take a running leap at someone then I know how to take a running leap regardless of the weapon in my hands when I do it.

That being said, I made the point at a time when most of my experience with the game had been with spellcasting classes. It wasn’t until I started playing more melee focused classes that I saw how unrealistic that would be with the way the game is set up. In some cases it would make sense, like if I can cast a wall of fire with a Dagger then why can’t I do it with a Staff? But then you get into melee classes, or non-casters rather, and you see that it wouldn’t make sense for you to shoot five arrows when you’re wielding a sword. Sure, you could modify the animation and the text or whatever, but you come to a lot of situations with physical attacks where doing that just wouldn’t make sense. If they had made buttons 1, 2, and 3 all be weapon-specific and then let 4 be a movement spell of your choice, and 5 be an AoE of your choice or something like that then it would make sense to allow you to pick and choose, but it just doesn’t work with this setup.

Having gotten much more play time in now, I don’t mind the current set up nearly as much today as I did right after my first time experiencing the game. There are still times where it bugs me that I don’t have access to that one spell (usually a movement spell) when I’m using other weapons that are more effective in actual combat, but I do like what that adds to the game as well. At first that whole aspect simply annoyed me, but now it has started to grow on me. Even though there are those times that I wish I had access to that spell, there are other times where I accidentally draw agro from 4-5 mobs at once that I’ve struggled to kill one of before and I’m able to solo them all because I made good weapon choices and utilized my skills to the fullest. The awesome factor from those situations has surpassed the annoyance factor of not having that one spell that would save me, what, 15 seconds of running? Not a big deal in the long run.

Now let’s take a little bit closer look at the trinity:

Tanking: While GW2 does have an agro table that determines who a monster is going to attack, there are no taunts that force a mob to attack a certain person and the formula for determining agro is unknown so there’s no way to manipulate agro. Tanks in GW2 will not be focusing on holding agro so much as they’ll be focusing on the survival of themselves and their allies via control spells, healing, and boons & conditions (buffs & debuffs).

Healing: Every profession in the game has access to healing spells, so there are no dedicated healers either. You can certainly spent your talent points to improve your healing spells and gear for additional healing, but there are no healing spells that can be spammed so even when you have modified your spec to focus on healing you literally cannot sit there casting healing spells over and over because every healing spell has a cooldown. While every class can heal themselves, and many of them have an AoE healing spell or two, the number of healing classes so to speak is very limited and even they can’t cast heal after heal after heal.

DPS: DPS is something that you certainly can do in GW2, and basically every player will be doing it to some extent. The biggest change for DPS is the same as the tanks, which is the lack of taunts. DPS players will have to react what’s going on around them to avoid getting themselves killed, and they will have to pull away from dealing damage and heal themselves when they start to get low.

Control: The new addition in GW2’s trinity of sorts, Control is about using effects that limit enemy movement and abilities to reduce their effectiveness against your group, or doing the same to promote your allies movement and abilities to improve your own effectiveness. Control is one of those roles where you have to really know which spell to use and when, or else you find yourself under performing or using up so many of your spells all at once that suddenly you can’t do your job.

Effective Level System
GW2 uses a semi-horizontal leveling system, where-in your effective character level is reduced when you go to zones that are lower level than you actually are. So if you take a level 20 character into a level 4 zone, then your stats are reduced to make you “effectively” as powerful as a level 4 character. You don’t lose access to any of your spells or gear, and all of the benefits of your talent points are still in effect as well, but your overall power is reduced so that even in that level 4 zone you will find some things challenging.

The GW2 system is semi-horizontal because while you will get effectively lowered so that low level zones remain challenging, it does not increase your effective level to allow you to take a level 4 character into a level 20 zone and hope to survive. So a level 20 in a level 4 will have to be careful but shouldn’t be too challenged, but a level 4 in a level 20 would be dead.

I mentioned in my initial review that I both loved and hated this system because the thought of being able to go back to a low level area on my main character to play with my friends thrills me, but sometimes I enjoy going to a low level area and destroying the mobs there while I farm nodes or farm for something special from killing a mob. Having had more time to play the game now, I don’t really mind that there’s not a way to toggle the reduced level on or off. I’ve had the opportunity now to see the system in action a bit more and even if the mobs aren’t a total push over because of my reduced stats, I’m still more powerful because of my gear and talent points.

As one of the readers pointed out in the initial review, if you could turn if off just for trivial things like farming, you could also turn it off for not-so-trivial things like special event bosses that they put in lower level zones that are intended to be difficult for everyone, and a system like this allows that to be an epic encounter for even level 80 characters where being able to toggle it on/off at will would destroy that functionality. If I had the choose between being able to participate in an epic encounter with all of my toons, including the low level ones, and being able to lazily farm mats then I would gladly go for the epic encounter.

You can’t add content to a level 20 zone in WoW and expect it to be a challenge for anyone above level 24. Heck, in the modern era of enchanted heirlooms you can’t really expect it to be a challenge for anyone above level 16 (or a skillfully geared level 10 twink). Low level zones then become a complete bore to the majority of the player base. With a system that reduces your effective level to be equal to the content though, you can constantly add things to any zone that you want to, regardless of its level range, and still have it be challenging.

With a vertical scaling game like WoW or SWTOR, the gameplay is designed to be grindy so that you face content that’s hard when you first get to it, but then the more you do the better your gear becomes and the easier the content gets until it’s no longer a challenge, then you move on to the next challenge and the same thing over and over. One of the major drawbacks to vertical scaling system is that it creates level brackets which divides the playerbase. You end up with players who are level 1-10 that can’t play with anyone higher than them, but the level 11-20 players don’t want to bother going back to the 1-10 area because it would be too easy/boring. But the 11-20 players can’t go hang with the 21-30 players because their bracket is too hard, and the 21-30 players don’t want to bother with the 1-20 zones because they’re too easy/boring or because they’ve gone through that grind so many times on so many characters that they never want to go back. Since they never add new content to low level zones because of this grindy bracket system, nothing ever makes that zone desirable to higher level players again.

Balancing Issues: It should be pointed out though that there are some cases where the effective leveling system has some balancing problems right now. We had two dynamic events last night when we were in areas with an effective level 3-5 levels below us, but the mobs that spawned were 3-5 levels higher than the effective level. If there had been a lot of players in the area then the level difference might have been overcome easily, but in these particular cases there were less than 10 players present and the mobs were two-shotting everyone. In one of those events the raptors that were spawning were also higher quality monsters (I forget the actual terms used for GW2), so they were stronger than a normal mob of that level would be to begin with.

So if you’re playing the game right now and just trying it out to see whether or not you really want to invest in it, be aware that right now there are some balancing issues that they will hopefully take another look at. We submitted tickets to bring the issue to their attention last night after Fyn died for the sixth time or so even with me geared and specced as an Elementalist healer, so hopefully they see that it’s an issue and get it resolved soon.

How Servers Work
In Guild Wars 2 servers are the closest thing a faction that you’re used to from games like WoW (Alliance vs. Horde) or SWTOR (Republic vs. Empire) in that it’s the only form of barrier that exists between players. However, it’s unlike both of those games because the barrier only exists in a single form known as World vs. World PvP (WvW, WvWvW, WuvWuv, or however else you want to say it).

You can only have characters on a single server in GW2. If you purchase a server transfer, then your transfer moves all of your characters at the same time, not just a single character like you might be familiar with from other MMO’s. But again, the only reason to move from one server to another is for the sake of WvW PvP. World vs. World PvP plays a big part in the overall concept of the game, but it doesn’t have to be something that you participate in if PvP isn’t your thing.

The reason why WvW matters beyond just being another activity is because the worlds (servers) during the WvW matches grant a buff to their entire server that increases tons of things from stats to experience gains to magic find. Your server can never accomplish anything at all in WvW and everyone would still be able to play the game just fine, but if you happen to be on a server where a large population of PvP players or big guild alliances are found then you can end up with a lot of those bonuses which will make things easier or perhaps more enjoyable in some situations.

WvW aside, you can whisper people on any server, from any server. You can send mail to any player, regardless of server. Once they turn the feature on after server populations settle you’ll also be able to join groups with anyone from another server, even multiple people from multiple different servers. My understanding is that you can use that same cross-server grouping for Structured PvP (sPvP) as well once it’s live, but I’m not 100% sure on that part.

So while different servers serve a similar purpose to factions from other games in regards to WvW, none of that exists outside of that so it’s easier to play with your friends in GW2 than almost any other MMO out there. Add that to their effective leveling system and you can really start to see how much effort ArenaNet has put into allowing people to play what they want, with who they want.

Grouping: My Biggest Gripe
I’m a big fan of Guild Wars 2, but that doesn’t mean I’m blind to its faults. Some of the gripes that I have about the game are just gripes and likely more than a little selfish, some are more legit, and some are possibly just bugs in the system.

To keep this post focused on the positive, I’m not going to get into the little things that annoy me personally, but for the sake of giving an honest review that people can look at and say, “that appeals to me” or “that is reason enough for me not to buy this game” this one needs to be included even though I already talked about it in the initial review.

Before I go further with this, let me explain how the questing system works in GW2 for those of you who haven’t had a chance to play the game or study up on it much. In GW2 quests are broken down into three types: Personal Story (PS), Heart Quests (HQ’s), and Dynamic Events (DE’s).

Personal Story: When you do a PS you are taken to your own instanced area so that you can experience your personal story. Sometimes your group members can join you and sometimes they can’t, and in the case of them being the same race as you and at the same point in their own personal story progression the quest may or may not count for them based on the quest itself and which choices they made during character creation and/or in previous personal story dialogue options.

Heart Quests: These are static quests that are always available in the world, but not typically repeatable. You can usually participate in the events related to the HQ, but you won’t typically be rewarded for your efforts. HQ’s are designed to give you an idea of the intended progression around the map. When you talk to a Scout who shows you different parts of the map and highlights the HQ’s for you, you can see the quest level of each HQ to get an idea of what level they are and thus what order you should approach them in. They’re sort of a map within your map. Dynamic Events typically spawn in areas near the HQ’s, so following those around in order of level should give you a good idea of where to look for level appropriate quests.

Dynamic Events: Dynamic Events are the heart blood of GW2’s questing system. They can be triggered by a number of things, including: population in the area, talking to a trigger NPC, completing (or failing) a related HQ or DE, or a certain amount of time passing. These are infinitely repeatable, but they are only available when the trigger event takes place. Because the triggers can change and take place or not take place, and the cooldowns related to them, it’s possible that you could level a character to level 10 and then go roll that exact same character and level in the same area following the same path and not do 100% of the same DE’s with both characters. Some of the DE’s would surely be the same, but it’s possible one or both toons would experience DE’s that the other did not, and it’s possible that there are still others in those same areas that neither of your characters got to see. The concept continues through the entire game.

The Issue With Grouping
In GW2 joining a group with other players provides only one real benefit over not being in a group at all – party chat. That’s the only thing you get out of joining with someone else versus just being in the same place as someone else. Your efforts don’t count towards their progress any more than if you weren’t in a group with them, you have no idea how close they are to completing it or what else they need to do to complete it unless they tell you via chat or VOIP, and sometimes your presence is actually a hindrance to them.

Your PS is tied to your character, that’s why it’s personal, so it makes sense that these are intended to be soloed to at least some degree. However, PS is also the only type of quest where having someone in your group versus not having someone in your group can have a direct impact on the quest’s result because by nature of being personal only people who are in your group can participate. But, not all of the PS’s allow your group members to join you.

HQ’s on the other hand take place in the open world. Unless the context of the quest is specifically per-individual, it makes sense that two people helping each other to accomplish a task should be completed more quickly than a person doing it alone. However, being in a group gives you no benefit at all in a HQ because the actions of one person do not impact the actions of another. The closest you can come is killing mobs because two people killing the same monster will go faster than you killing it solo. But keep in mind, you both have to be in combat with that mob when it dies in order for you to get credit for it. If I kill a mob you need for your HQ and you never took a swing at it, then you get no credit for it regardless of whether or not you’re in my group. The same used to be true for gathering items in an HQ as well, but from the quests we did in early access it seems like they have changed that so that items gathered for quests are instanced similarly to crafting nodes now.

Dynamic Events are similar to HQ’s in set up, being focused on certain areas in the world, but the completion of the event itself is the goal rather than an individual’s progress. Your reward is based on your contribution, but whether or not the DE is completed and how quickly is determined by everyone’s contribution in the entire area. So if Bob runs through a DE area and kills one mob before running off to do PvP, then he will get his contribution for the one mob and even his one mob counts towards the progress of all of us. So during DE’s, essentially everyone is in one group even if you’re not actually in a group at all and never intentionally do anything to help another person.

So, in the case of PS’s, being in a group can provide a benefit of speed assuming that the PS allows group members to help you and that the PS involves combat. Some PS’s that include a gathering element allow party members to help, and some don’t. In the case of being the same race, some PS’s allow the quest to count for both of you, while others will make you complete it once for each player even if it does allow your full group to participate at the same time.

In the case of an HQ, being in a party provides no benefit because everyone’s progress is personal. Two people killing the same mob at the same time does give credit to both, but that credit would be given regardless of you being in a group together and would still be given whether the other player had a personal, seething hatred for you as a person or they were your spouse of 30 years or a total stranger.

In the case of DE’s, it seems like being in a group would be a good thing because everyone’s contribution counts, but since their contribution counts regardless of if they are in your group or not it doesn’t actually matter.

If group members could contribute to the progression of HQ’s and they could join you in all or most of your PS’s, then the DE’s would be fine just how they are and this wouldn’t be a problem at all. With the current system though, minus the exception for the PS’s that do allow group performance and do allow multiple players to claim credit for a single completion, GW2 doesn’t actually encourage you to help or play with one another so much as it encourages you to follow the pack of players to leech off of the group’s performance or to just play solo since there’s no point in grouping in the first place. You aren’t encouraged to play with other people so much as you’re encouraged to play near them.

Now, that’s not to say that they discourage grouping, but with the current implementation of grouping you might as well be a solo player following the masses rather than grouping up with a friend. It might not be as social, but since you can join multiple guilds across all servers and chat with anyone on any server, not to mention guild VOIP systems, you really aren’t missing out on much in the social realm by being solo.

Leveling: How I Love Thee
With my gripe on grouping out of the way, let me take a minute to talk about what I love the most about this game – the leveling experience itself.

There are a lot of reasons why leveling in general is the thing that I like to focus on the most in MMO’s. I don’t do it to chew through the content as quickly as possible, I do it to experience the growth and progression of the characters themselves and to see how I can stretch my skills in the different level ranges to accomplish hard tasks with limited tools or resources.

I also level because that’s the aspect that I enjoy blogging about the most. I haven’t done much in the way of writing leveling guides since I stopped playing WoW frequently last December with the launch of SWTOR, but leveling guides have been my passion since shortly after I started blogging. For those of you who may be new to my blog, I want to let you know that my leveling guides aren’t the kind that tell you where to level and which quests to do an all that, I’m not into that crap at all. My guides are written to help you understand your class and its abilities, and how to play the class better or in a more enjoyable way to help your performance.

Alright, I got a bit side tracked there, so let’s get back to leveling –

The way the spells and weapons system works in GW2 makes it so that each class can feel incredibly different just by changing your weapons. A Ranger using a Axe/Dagger vs. a Longbow for example, a Warrior with a Great Sword vs. Rifle, a Rogue with Dagger/Dagger vs. Shortbow — it allows the experience of playing the character to be so different that each class can feel like multiple classes. I really love that there is so much versatility built into that system and that the weapons themselves allow you to cross the line of what something is “supposed” to feel like. Just pushing the button to change weapons mid-combat can have the same affect as switching your spec in WoW. Just imagine if you could go from a Feral Druid to a Balance Druid or an Operative healer to a Sniper DPS in the middle of the a fight with no problem.

And that’s just the beginning of the what’s so cool about the leveling process in GW2. That’s not even including the combo fields that you can create either with just your own spells or when you combine them with the spells of other people in your group or in your area. It’s just a whole new level of involvement that you could ignore if you weren’t interested, or you could fully explore if you were.

I also like that there are so many ways to earn experience in this game, and that doing so gives you the ability to spend your time doing what you want to do. Some things are certainly more efficient than others in terms of earning experience, but you can still level by focusing on whatever aspect of the game you love the most. Generally speaking the three things I enjoy doing the most in MMO’s is questing, crafting, and PvP and in GW2 you get experience points for doing all three of those.

I really enjoy the questing system in GW2 as well. I don’t think it’s perfect, but I do like a lot of the different aspects of their questing system, particularly dynamic events. If they do continue to add content to all of the different zones in the game, then I think there’s really a lot of potential to keep this game moving for a long while. With the semi-horizontal scaling system they have established a great foundation to be able to add content anywhere at any time and keep it relevant which just can’t be done in a game with vertical scaling.

With the openness of the servers and how many tools they’ve put in to allow you to communicate and play with people from any other server, they’ve really broken down some of the walls that have held other games back. Blizzard has picked up on that in their more recent history with things like RID grouping and so forth, but they still don’t have the full structure in place yet to really make the servers essentially non-existent.

Too Long; Didn’t Read
Too long? We barely topped 7,500 words!?

Is the game perfect? Not in my honest opinion, no.

Is the game fun? Abso-freaking-lutely!


Posted by on August 28, 2012 in Guild Wars 2, Review


7 responses to “Guild Wars 2: Review, Take 2

  1. Kemwer

    August 29, 2012 at 10:44 AM

    Overall I agree with your preliminary review (I imagine another talking about high-level content is in order), but there are a few things I thought I should comment on.

    You mention the existence of “brackets” of levels for PvE content. While right now this might be the case, once people start getting to level cap, I imagine more people will be wandering around all level areas since there isn’t a proper end-game to keep them busy. ArenaNet did commit themselves to keep a steady flow of new events being added to all areas by their live team, but for now all we have is their promise. We shall see on the next months how much new content we’ll be able to see around the world. I also do agree that it would be convenient being to farm mats without worrying about dying, but it’s not really feasible to have this feature without trivializing content, so I believe that GW2’s solution of down-leveling is a good compromise to keep all the game playable at all levels.

    I’m right there with you on the UI. I really don’t want the game to allow for things like DPS meters, but I would love some customization of the things they already have. I personally usually like to have both mine and the target’s unit frames on the bottom to more easily visualize that information. I would love a system like those found on SWTOR or Warhammer Online to move unit frames, but I would settle for some toggles like “display this on the top/bottom/left/right”.

    I do absolutely disagree with you, however, that grouping up can be a hindrance to your party members. On the Personal Story, while indeed there is no notification about which step of theirs your party members are doing, it is (in theory) possible to participate on each and every step with a group, and you can’t do anything on another player’s PS other than help them kill things. I did find some bugs stopping me from joining my fiancee on a few steps, but I have done those same ones during the beta in a group without problems. If that particular step is the same one you’re doing it, at the end the game will ask you if you want to keep the choices for your own PS’s progression, but overall that is, as the name implies, a “personal” story, and when you go into someone else’s instance, you’re just there to help.

    So while the game doesn’t go out of its way to provide great benefits for being in a group, it doesn’t do anything to demotivate you from it either. I personally like it because it makes grouping up something you do because you want to play with someone, because you want to see where they are on the map, and to allow you to better track their life while playing together, instead of a needed gameplay mechanic because of some bonuses you can not get otherwise. Like you said, you’re not really missing out on being solo (which I think it’s good), except for the actual social experience. It makes socializing something you do for socializing sake, not because you’re forced into it by gameplay requirements.

    It’s also nice to notice that when you’re in a group and doing a Renown Heart, you can see an empty heart on your group member’s unit frames until they complete it, when it turns itself full (you can see an empty one on your screenshot with the golems).

    Thanks for the write-up. Cheers.

    • Psynister

      August 29, 2012 at 11:04 AM

      The leveling brackets was actually referring to WoW rather than GW2. Because of the effective leveling system in GW2 those brackets don’t really exist. I don’t think that will be a problem in GW2, though I do hope they can maintain their promise of adding content to all of the zones to give people a reason to go back to them since the only thing pulling you to one place vs. another right now (after you’ve reached max level) is to complete exploration or farming specific level ranges of crafting mats.

      I can tell you from experience that it is not possible to participate in each step of the personal story in a group. My wife and I play together whenever she’s on and then when she goes to bed I play solo, and I can guarantee you there are many quests that we’ve seen even in the pre-15 level range where you cannot do it in a group. We’ve had multiple PS’s where she couldn’t join me and I couldn’t join her. We had them happen during BWE3, stress tests, and since the early access as well. If they’re bugs, then it’s not as big of an issue once they get them fixed, but since it’s been present in each of our play sessions I’m leaning more towards intentional. I know for sure it has happened with our Asura and Norn since early access started if you want to test those out. The other races we haven’t leveled up enough since early access for me to say for sure that it still exists for them.

      The hindrance of grouping came mostly during HQ’s rather than PS/DE. Since your actions don’t influence another person’s progression in an HQ with the exception of helping them kill things faster, things that you don’t literally do together can rob them of resources. Gathering items on the ground if you are spamming “F” to loot the corpses in the area, killing mobs before your groupmates have attacked them, or speaking to the wrong person and putting their contribution to the HQ on cooldown were all things that I did in an HQ area after I had completed it that removed the resource from my wife. If you have to kill 20 things to get the HQ completion, but I kill one of those before you get to fight it, then you have to find another or wait for a respawn. And in the area we ran into this where it was a major problem instead of a minor annoyance was a zone where the mobs were very few in number, long to respawn, and the nodes and NPC’s all had cooldowns as well and could only be interacted with by one person before the cooldown was triggered. It’s possible that that one particular area was bugged to be like that, but it was a huge pain completing that HQ and it took us way longer than it should have.

      I haven’t noticed the empty/full heart on the unit frames while doing the hearts, so I’ll have to keep an eye out for that. Thanks for the tip, and thank you for the comment as well.

      • Kemwer

        August 29, 2012 at 12:16 PM

        As I mentioned before, I’m pretty sure that Personal Quests not allowing you to join is a bug because now on release, just like you, I had some steps that me and my fiancee couldn’t play together at all, but I have during the beta played those exact same steps with other people in groups, so while it’s impossible for me to be 100% sure they didn’t change that to disable grouping on those steps, I would be willing to bet it’s just a bug. There are quite a few bugs on grouping, so it wouldn’t surprise me.

        I see your point on grouping for Renown Hearts, but I haven’t really felt that to be a problem due to the number of different actions you can usually perform to complete each one. All hearts have a few different things you can do, so if a huge mob of players just wiped all enemies on that area, we could always find a different task we could do to keep us busy for the next 10-20 seconds it would take until respawn. Considering how some events still need some tweaking tho (or how some are just broken), I can see how this could be problematic sometimes.

  2. JJ

    September 7, 2012 at 5:00 PM

    You should check out some of the puzzle/jumping challenge achievements, like Goemm’s Lab in Metrica Province or Weyandt’s Revenge in Lion’s Arch; they are so much fun.

    There are 30ish hidden through out the game world. Completing them rewards you with achievements (under the exploration achievement tab) and a chest filled with nice goodies, dyes, black lion keys, masterwork gear, etc.

    • Psynister

      September 7, 2012 at 9:14 PM

      We’ve done a couple of those now and had a lot of fun doing them. I haven’t gotten anything useful or valuable in any of my chests yet, but I believe the rewards are based on your current level and my altoholicism has kept my highest level characters even under 25 to this point so that’s not really surprising.

  3. JJ

    September 8, 2012 at 7:24 AM

    Yeah that is true – I’m happy that the exploration of the puzzles is reward enough for me; unlike other mmo’s! I’m obsessed with achievements so i’m attempting to get all exploration and puzzles on my necro before I start playing my other characters.

  4. nostalgeek

    February 20, 2013 at 2:15 PM

    I played a Norm Necro to completion and I agree with most of your assessment.
    For me there are things I will severly miss in other MMOs and some things that I miss from other MMOs.
    I had great fun leveling my Necro and discovering the world but once I reach the end of his story I didn’t feel any urge to pick the game up again. The biggest flaw of the game to me is the story. GW2 has decent lore but nowhere near the awesomeness that is WoW even though there are similarities. And even though the stories are decent the delivery of them is pretty bad.

    PS: Hadn’t checked your blog in about 2 years and I’m thinking about getting back in WoW so glad to see you’re still around!


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