A Champion of a Problem

There was a time in Guild Wars 2 that champions were nothing but “annoying”: They were hard hitting trucks with very poor rewards. Because they had poor rewards, most people would simply ignore them and, trying to solo them was really annoying[1].

Then ArenaNet gave champions better rewards. They now drop a container which can contain crafting materials and gear.

With better rewards, now it’s easier to find people to kill the champions, as everyone get more than simply the satisfaction of killing a very hard mob.

But as they solved one problem, ArenaNet made a second problem — a people problem — appear: People are now teaming up to farm the champions, in cyclical fashion. They are not after the personal satisfaction of killing such small behemots, they are only after their rewards. Queensdale and Frostgorge have notorious farming routes and you can usually find lots of people doing them.

And lots of people complaining when someone breaks the cycle.

It’s not a problem with the game per se, but a problem with our greedy nature: people always want more and more and, with the introduction of ascended crafting and account bound magic find, people need to fill their collectibles storage to level their crafting and hope to get essences of luck to get better magic find.

But the problem is not the greedy nature, or the ascended weapons or account bound magic find; the problem is that with enough people, champion farming is controllable. Sure, they still hit like trucks but with enough rocks, you can easily take a truck out of the road (like, an avalanche of rocks).

If I could point the problem, I’d say that it’s an inherent problem with the event scaling: With more people, the event will pop more mobs or give bosses more health and some new skills, but it won’t scale the event itself.

Let me use two events — used to farm champions — as an example: “Slay the enraged champion cave troll” and “Eliminate the champion bandit lieutenant”. Both events happen near each other and are part of the Queensdale champion farming. Because there are usually 15+ people doing them, they are pretty easy to complete. The troll does a big bleeding damage, but with so many people around, it’s easy to keep healings and condition removals going around; the lieutenant… well, I don’t remember him doing anything really threatening.

The whole problem here is that both events can get easily under control with enough people. And the solution is, simply, add more chaos[2].

For example: If the cave troll enters a “under control” state, in which the champion/boss itself can’t manage to keep the players on their toes, it should, somehow, bring more chaos to the arena — and giving it more health is not chaos enough still, as it would just take the fight longer and not disarrange the players combat tactic. On the other hand, if the troll got bigger and managed to summon all the grubs that live in the ground of the cave, summon the nearby bears and the nearby spiders and those got enraged… then suddenly the players fight tactic would have to change to include control of the new creatures, better supporting their teammates and so on. Whatever they were doing to control the event would be completely useless at this point.

With the bandits, I can’t see why when realizing he’s outnumbered, the lieutenant can’t just call reinforcements, with the bandits in the whole cave (and entrances) coming back to help him, picking some canons and such.

(And, personally, I think both options add some cool ideas, like the failure — or victory — in such events could trigger some independent events, like the remaining bears go rampaging the bee farm nearby or the bandits start taking points like the farm south and the outpost nearby.)

The whole point is take control of events from players. Let chaos reign.

[1] Annoying, but not impossible. In the early days of my guardian, I downed a champion yeti and its veteran guards (which kept spawning through the fight). I usually use this anecdote as a point for weapon switching, as I had to switch between my damage weapon (greatsword) and my support weapon (mace and focus).

[2] I reckon the problem is the detection of “chaos” and “control”. One could argue that a large group of players will bring control to an event, but if you take a large group of low-level characters, you will still have chaos going around; in the opposite side, a small group of players, all level 80 (they would be downscaled, but still…) with top gear and top weapons can pretty much control any fight — see my point above.

The Big Annoucement of EverQuest Next

For those that don’t know, even if I dislike people, I’m a big fan of MMOs (some more, some less). Currently, I’m stuck with Guild Wars 2 and our relationship just improves every day.

Except that, last week, SOE made their big announcement of the features of EverQuest Next. And that shook my relationship with GW2.


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Now, there are a lot of good tidbits there. Although what everybody is talking about is the destructible/constructable environment (if those are even real words), what caught my attention is the “emergent AI” part. Mobs that learn the type of players to avoid; mobs that have intentions and not scripts; those are things that really can change the way the game plays. Everything else is not so big, if you ask me.

But, as a developer (application developer, not game developer, let’s make that clear), there are things that make me wonder if they will be able to push that — specially in the emergent AI thing.

Imagine this: you have your servers; they are running the code to learn things; there are 500 players in a zone, all attacking different mobs and all those will have to be “taught” which of their attacks work and which don’t; on top of that, the server had to do the usual player movement/attack checking, to avoid hacks and do their RNG thingy.

Now… How much processing power would those servers require? Specially if SOE really uses machine learning (genetic algorithm, neural networks) instead of a single tally (“Kills by mages: 2 = avoid mages”). Sure, sure, the complexity of such system is as large as the number of variables in the machine learning but still.

Maybe suddenly, because of all that math, you won’t find 500 players in a zone, but only 100 ’cause the servers can’t handle that much accounting for more than that.

Unless they don’t really learn anything and just have a RNG to select a place for a scripted event.

Edit: There is one thing I forgot to mention: Not only you have the server load, but you have the client load to take in consideration. I can’t stop wondering how many computers today can run something like they are planning, with clothes and hair dynamics (not calling “physics here yet”) and all those particles floating around from the destructible environment. Sure, the game is a few years away and computer power tends to grow over time, but with the current stagnation of sales and such, one has to wonder how much more the IT world will improve from now on. We are not in the 90s anymore, when a single year mean almost double the processing power, double the available memory and almost 4 times more GPU power.

On top of that, you have the human factor. This is something I learnt when I was following ArenaNet and their development of Guild Wars 2. In the very beginning, there were no “renown hearts” of any kind, only dynamic events. But (and I clearly remember Eric Flannum telling this story in one interview) people would go around a lake with green smoke and looking green and everything, with a NPC asking for help and they would simply not stop because they were expecting to find a yellow “!” around (and that’s why now Guild Wars 2 have renown hearts that work mostly like a classic quest with some overlaying dynamic events happening from time to time). Sure, the MMO landscape is different now than what it was one year ago and maybe people are more receptive for events that don’t have “!” around.

But still, how long till people find how to mess with the AI? How long till a guild forces orcs to simply run in circles or to go kamikaze over tanks? That is, again, if SOE is planning on use a real AI algorithm and not a tally or event with a RNG location.

Thing is, if SOE manages to deliver a game with all the features they are promising, they can have my money. But, till then, I’ll keep my “skeptical” alignment.

Edit: On thing I didn’t mention, mostly ’cause I’m unsure about it, is the monetization of the game. They mentioned that you can use EverQuest Next Landmark to create structures and then sell them on the market for real money; if people use your structure, you still get some “royalties” from it. So there a way to earn real money in the game, much like you can earn money with Diablo 3. But I’m not sure if this is really useful in a way or it is simply a way to catch people in a “I’ll make money playing games!” fashion.

My Take on Marvel Heroes

I signed for the beta test of Marvel Heroes a long time ago, so long that I completely forgot about it. When I received an email confirming that I was in the closed beta, I surely thought I could give it a go. While creating my account, I saw that I had to “sign” a NDA. Although I hate the idea of such thing (and I did complain a lot on Twitter about it), I decided to follow it as it should.

But, yesterday, the news that the NDA had been lifted hit the web, which means I can give my impressions of the game.

What’s “Marvel Heroes”, anyway?

For those unaware, Marvel Heroes is an MMOARPG. It’s basically a Diablo game where you can find other people roaming around on the maps.

There are closed sections, much like dungeons in other MMORPGs, in which you (or your group) have your own instance.

Before Getting There

Before you get into the game, you have to deal with the launcher. The launcher was showing the beta even timers in my local timezone. No need to keep converting timezones back and forth, which was something that really impressed me.

The launcher also uses the same “streaming” feature WoW uses: You can join the game as soon as you have the map downloaded. So even before I had the first zone map, I could already join the game and play around.

On the other hand, the launcher and intro for the game shows one of my greatest gripes with the current generation of games: lots and lots of intros. So you have the launcher, and you have to pick “Launch” to finally get into the game. After that, you see the Marvel Heroes splash screen while the game loads; then, when the game finally launchers (which takes about 20 seconds on my really slow 5400 RPM disc) you’re greeted with the Marvel intro (pretty much the intro we see in every Marvel movie these days); then you have the Unreal Engine intro; then you have the Gazilion intro (the company behind the game); then you have the Marvel Heroes intro; then you finally have the option to log in (which still requires you to type your password, without an option to remember it). Does it show only one time? Nope, every single time you launch the game you have to continuously skip those intros before you can finally play the game.

Sure, sure, you can at least skip all those, but it doesn’t mean it’s satisfying having to continuously click so you can finally play the game.

The only issue I had the launcher — which I truly believe it’s a beta issue — is that on every launch it tried to download and install DirectX 9. It doesn’t seem to check if it’s installed or not, it simply calls the DX9 installer on the background before letting you launch the game. Again, it seems a simple beta issue and not really a game breaker.

It’s Your First Time

As soon as you log in, the game let you chose your hero. There is a couple of the “lesser” heroes: Daredevil, Storm, Thing, Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye. I’m calling “lesser” ’cause, even if they are interesting heroes, which curious stories and powers, they are not in the mainstream media this points. Other heroes can be unlocked with a special currency — which, at this point, I don’t know if it’s something you can only buy with real money or convert some in-game currency “credits” to this.

And then there is the “Founder” program. It’s basically a “give us money NOW and we promise some cool stuff later”. It’s common these days, but I really don’t like it. The reason is simple: You have a less stellar cast as default; if you decide to fork $20, you can get one of the starter packs, which comes with a single hero and some skins (plus in game currency and other stuff). The problem here is that, again, the Starter Pack doesn’t come with the heroes in mainstream media these days: Black Panther, Black Widow, Cable, Colossus, Cyclops, Human Torch, Jean Grey, Ms. Marvel, Punisher and Rocket Raccoon (which seems to be thrown there due the fact that there is an upcoming “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie). For the heroes that are now all around, you’ll have to go down with $60, which seems a bit too high in my opinion, but then you can get Wolverine, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and Spiderman, some of those together, some of those in their own packs with all the skins. Some packs even include heroes from other packs — for example, Iron Man appears in 3 different packs, including one that have only Ironman and all his skins — and there is no information what would happen if you buy a pack with an hero that you already unlocked. Do you get the money as in-game current? More skins? Nothing?

On top of those, there is the “Ultimate Pack” with all heroes and skins, in the absurd price of $200. I mean, seriously? $200 for 22 characters?

Ok, ok, maybe it’s not that absurd if the game is worth that much. I’ll get there.

The issue I found the store is that the in game store does not check if you already bought the character before letting you buy the skins. Beta testers got some currency for testing purposes and I happily used it all in skins ’cause I had the initial impression that I was, actually, unlocking the character and the skin at the same time. Again, beta things.

Getting Down to It

So you pick a character and then you’re throw in the tutorial level. And I say “tutorial” very loosely here, as there is very little tutorialling: You’re basically throw in a very narrow corridor level, very little options of which path to take and you simply click your way around.

Clicking seems to have taken a lot of consideration in the game: 2 hours of gameplay and I barely can use my right hand for anything, due the amount of clicking I did. Yes, I know Diablo 1 was pretty much this, but Diablo 2 fixed this with a more fluid gameplay. Sure, you could still spam-click to victory, but if you played smart, it was just a matter of two or three clicks most of the time and then click-and-hold. Clicking and holding, in Marvel Heroes, is basically broken: In one of the boss fights, when I tried to click and hold, my character started attacking and then simply stood there, looking the boss in the face, doing absolutely nothing; another time, a mob decided to run away, in which my hero run to the position I clicked and then stop following the mob.

Mob variety is, to be completely honest, atrocious. You basically see only 2 types of enemies all the time. Some are melee, some are using guns, some are using energy weapons but they all share the same 2 skins. And after the tutorial, they will spawn like you suddenly walked inside a beehive just a few minutes before the bees start their way back.

But let me return to the tutorial to talk about what happens after it: you move to the Avenger’s Tower, which is the first player hub you’ll find. There, you finally get a glimpse of the “MMO” part of the game: lots and lots of people going around. There, you’ll find vendors, crafting “vendor” and some special characters to talk with.

After running around, you’ll get the first real mission. If you waited for the game to download or the background streaming got the map, you’ll be able to move to the larger zone. And I think this is, again, where the “MMO” part shows up: Instead of being a huge instance for yourself, you see other people moving around, doing missions and trying to find their targets.

As I mentioned, you have “instantiated” zones, like dungeons, which your main mission is around. So you don’t need to worry about someone sniping your target or having to wait till the boss spawns again: It’s your zone and nobody else can get there to mess with your target (unless they are in your party, that is).

The problem here is the extremes the world and the instances go: While the instances are, mostly, corridors with very little choice, the world is incredible large with very little direction about it. So you simply walk around, trying to move to a place where an arrow with a “?” in it will point to one of your missions. And this gets really frustrating ’cause, as I said before, you will have 2 types of enemies in the screen. So you aimlessly walk around, fight the same stuff over and over again, till you finally stumble upon your target. I found it hard to find it fun: It’s boring, it’s tiring, it’s too damn close to a grind and it’s annoying that you never know where to go. Diablo 2 used some clever map designs to appear huge while still giving you some direction (mostly, you had a main “path” to give you a direction); Marvel Heroes provides very little direction in the world, which basically is a large square with some obstacles around, which also looks the same: Are you in metropolitan area? Prepare to see lots and lots of buildings, cars, bus stops and trash, all “throw” around. Are you in the night club zone? Lots and lots of club entrances, with bouncers in the front, all looking exactly like the other. If there was, at least, some indication of something bigger in some point — like, for example, indications of a highway in the distance, and some quest that mentioned a highway — you could at least have a sense of direction. But not here, you could be pretty much going towards the highway or towards the red light district, with very little indication around of doing it so.

While trying to have a purpose on life and with the hopes that you will, somehow, find the damn villain hideout, you may find some small events and some large events. Small events are, basically, events that you complete alone, like saving some guy from tugs. The problem with those is that you have no idea you’re in the middle of one till you complete it: You get some “XP orbs” and, in the middle of the XP notices going up, you get the message that you completed some event. There is absolutely no indication at all that there is an event nearby or that you’re in one — or, better yet, what you need to do to complete it.

Large events require groups to complete and you’ll get stomped to death if you try to solo them (or so it seems). Events like those include fighting Venon and Rhino. Those fights are pretty close to instance bosses: They have some red indicators of places you don’t want to be and you use your powers to fight them. The problem is that most fights are, basically, “stay out of red things”. And, sometimes, not even that. In one Venon fight, I simply gave up trying to come with something smart and decided to keep my left mouse button pressed on top of the boss, using my shield ability when out of cooldown and drinking health potions when they were also out of cooldown. I won, but with no feeling of accomplishment whatsoever.

Staying out of red stuff may also be hard sometimes. In the Rhino fight, he’ll do a charge in one direction which will basically kill your health pool in one shot. Fortunately, he will show which direction he’ll charge with some red arrows in the ground… which you hopefully will be able to see if there is only 3 people. More than that and the sparkling effects going around will completely hide it and you’ll have no idea which direction Rhino will charge and kill you if you’re not paying attention. Yes, it’s a problem with every MMO these days but just because every MMO have this problem it doesn’t mean it’s ok, specially in a new title with a new perspective.

You can resurrect other players, but there is no reward in doing it so — and, again, no explanation about it whatsoever. They simply appear with a purple skull over their heads and that’s it. If you click, you’ll start a resurrect process, which shows as a progress bar; once you fill this progress bar, the other player may chose to accept the resurrection or return to the previous waypoint. If you’re hit mid resurrection, the progress bar will stop and you’ll have to start over.

Being resurrected is… weird. When you lose all your health, a popup will appear in the middle of the screen — basically, over your character — and you have an option to return to the previous waypoint or wait 3 minutes till someone resurrects you. The problem is that, as I said, the popup appears in the middle of the screen, over your character, covering any action happening with you. And, if someone starts resurrecting you, you get no notification at all. So either you sit there, with your arms crossed for 3 minutes waiting for someone to res you or you bite the bullet and return to the last waypoint.

Vendors and Crafting

As I mentioned, there are vendors in the main base. You can also find those spread around the map, so you can get rid of those materials you have no use — like, for example, some fantastic shield for Captain America, a character you don’t have yet. Besides vendoring and getting credits, vendors can also sell you stuff and you can request a “refresh” on their wares, in case they have nothing interesting. On top of that, instead of selling stuff for credits, you can “give” the vendor an item, increasing their level. On my time playing, I didn’t manage to make any vendor go above level 1 (but, then again, I tried to level 2 different vendors instead of focusing in just one; also, then again, I had my inventory completely full more than once during my gameplay).

There is also a crafting system but, at first glance, it seems someone said “this can’t be a MMO without a crafting system” and someone cooked something in about 2 hours. Basically, mobs will drop some special crafting materials (like “Pym Particles”) and you use those to craft potions or med-kits. As with vendors, you can also give items to the crafting person, in order to increase their level. That’s probably when things get interesting, like being able to craft some massive armor for your character but, as I said, during my playtime, I didn’t manage to bring any vendor to level 2, including the crafting vendor.

Also, I didn’t found any way to “break” items I didn’t want into basic materials.

Skins and Your Progression

Items can have 4 levels: White items are normal, green items have some better stats, blue items are better and purple items are legendary. Yup, pretty much the same level distinction every other MMO use.

If I had to describe one of the problems with the game progression, I’d use this phrase that appeared in the map chat:

[Person] Do any of you Wolverines want a blue mask?

This is the problem with the “we sell skins” mentality: Because you profit will come from selling skins, you can’t simply give skins/appearance straight away. So all Wolverines, which are using the default skin, will all look the same, no matter if they are a level 100 with all purple items or a level 1 wearing no items at all. And this can be frustrating as hell for most people.

Diablo 2 solved the skin problem (which Diablo 1 also had, in a very small scale) by showing, on top of your character, an “icon” version of the item: Do your helm looks like a skull? So your character will look like he has a skull as helmet. You could see when your character was wielding a sword or a staff. But Marvel Heroes? Every hero have their own weapon and they will always wield the same weapon.

Not much for being that unique snowflake, isn’t it?

What You See Is What You Get

Besides the problem with the resurrection popup, the interface is too damn busy: You have a health orb, a “spirit” orb, two buttons near each one of those — one for your left mouse button and another for your right mouse button — and 6 other buttons in between, using the main area of the bottom of your screen. Three small buttons appear in the left side and another 3 on the right. A minimap appears on the top right corner. And some controls appear on the top left corner. And, around the orbs, trails appear, to give that “this is a printed circuit” feel.

Maybe it’s hard to describe without a proper screenshot, but you can guess that the screen is busy as hell. A lot of those controls could be hidden into the main toolbar, the “circuit” thing could be removed, to give a more “focus on the game, not its interface”.

Conclusion

I can’t say the game is bad, but I can surely say it’s not great. Basically, I played for 2-3 hours this weekend and I can say I had enough of it. Sure, sure, it’s beta and such, but it seems there is a lot to work before the real launch at June 4th: The maps really need to be redone, to give that distinct direction Diablo had instead of being large grids with some trash thrown around; the bosses need to be revised to not simply be “the boss stay there, he’ll do something with a red circle/arrow around, move around”; animations need to be reviewed to be more fluid. And, somehow, your progress need to be shown so you don’t look like every freaking Wolverine in the map.

So, answering the question I dropped somewhere: Is $200 worth in this game? And my answer is: At this time, in this beta, the answer is very clear “No”. If I could buy 3 heroes — ANY 3 heroes –, maybe each with 1 or 2 skins, for $20, I’d say “go for it, it’s an ok diablo”. But with hero restrictions in packs and mainstream heroes going for about $60… it’s hard to say “enjoy it”, unless you’re a super Marvel fan or have a hipster taste and only enjoy heroes that are out of the mainstream media.

PS: If I find the motivation, I’ll install FRAPS and try to capture some screenshots.

PPS: Here are the notes I wrote while playing the game:

  1. Animations seem a bit slow
  2. After beating green globin, no idea what to do (too used with the waypoint thingy)
  3. Why can I use “a” if I got my first new skill?
  4. Leveling seems a bit slow. Starting game is really boring wit just left+right click.
  5. Can’t walk through the door to talk to Fury. Had to click on it.
  6. Store: do not allow buying skins without having e hero unlocked before.
  7. Managed to “drag” a barrel around, when trying to throw it in a chasm.
  8. Scripted parts unaware of everything going on (got a message about “in the right place” for Electro after beating him)
  9. No idea I was doing quests/events till I got a bunch of xp orbs and saw a quick message about it.
  10. Strong contrast between corridor sections and open world sections. Feels like two completely different games.
  11. Tried to install directx again next day.
  12. Map discovery not saving during sessions.
  13. Jersey docks is barely playable. One more person in the screen and the game craps itself into the single digit FPS.
  14. Splash, marvel intro, unreal intro, gazillions intro, marvel heroes intro
  15. Voices, voices, voices.
  16. “Any of you wolverines want a blue hood?”
  17. Mob variety is a joke
  18. Bosses are really uninteresting

About those:

2. That’s one thing that pissed my off right out of the bat: There was this door, I walked to the door and nothing happened. I did the whole map again, trying to find out where the heck I could find Fury to complete the level. About 20 minutes in and I finally figured out that I had to click the door, not go through it. Again, it is a missing point in the tutorial level.

3. Another missing thing in the tutorial: Near the end of the level, I got a level and unlocked a new skill. Quickly thinking, I clicked the “A” skill button, much like I did with the left/right mouse buttons… erm… “buttons”. Nothing happened. I got a message, way later in the game, that you had to drag the skill from the talent window to the skill bar. It’s really weird that you have the same looking buttons behaving in complete different ways — and no tutorial pointing that out.

13. I’ll admit that my laptop is barely in the minimal configuration zone. Either there was some missing optimizations going there or the minimal specs needs to be bumped out before release.

15. This is something I didn’t mention in the review: Your hero will, sometimes, talk to another hero nearby. For example, Daredevil will say “I don’t like your methods, Punisher, but I’ll admit they work” if there is a Punisher around or “Shut up Deadpool, just… Shut up!”. It’s interesting in the very first times, but after you keep bumping into Deadpool in the large map and your hero keep saying the same line over and over again, it gets really annoying. By the end of my 2 hour play, I wanted to punch Daredevil in the mouth, so he would stop saying that same lines.

To age your characters

So I was just reading Ritchie Procopio review of The Elder Scrolls Online, when the following phrase hit me:

I appreciated the age slider that allowed me to instantly transform Vir’chuk into the elderly curmudgeon I imagined him to be.

It’s weird that I really find this interesting: Most MMORPGs do not let you chose your character age; either you do this by changing his/her appearance or telling everybody you met his/her age. But I really can’t remember any where you directly say how old your character is.

And the first thing I thought was (you know, because that’s what I’m playing right now): “You know, Guild Wars 2 could use something like that”.

And then it hit me that maybe ArenaNet should do something like that, but not in the character creation screen; it should be done when a new expansion launches.

Thake, for example, what happened in Guild Wars 1: Each expansion isn’t something that happened exactly after the previous one; it’s not like “hey, congratulations, you saved Tyria from the Lich Lord” and then, a week after, you started your quest to stop Shiro (and let’s not mention the time it takes till you unravel the story behind the Afflicted).

But, in the end, your character does not appear a single day older than he/she was in the pre-searing events — and from that till you defeat the destroyers you have a spawn of 12 years. Your character appear as young and with the same physique forever.

What if in the next expansion, your previous characters appear with an option like “Did your character suffer the effects of time?” What if you select it and it slightly changes your physique to not be as “model like” like it was before? What if it changes your hair to some slightly gray tone? What if you suddenly get a scar that wasn’t there before? What if you suddenly start looking more and more like the old Solid Snake in the recent Metal Gear games?

Melancholy Reverie

Guild Wars received a new update as a prelude to the launch of Guild Wars 2: A series of quests called “Wayfarer’s Reverie” that take you around the three campaigns and the expansion to points of interest. Yes, this is basically the way you’d do “Vistas” in Guild Wars 1.

So, in Eye of the North, you have to visit the dragon under Drakkar Lake, the mountain that is actually Kralkatorrik, the destroyers in the Charr zone… Honestly, I have the feeling that we’ll see those in Guild Wars 2 again, in one form or another.

There were also points in Cantha and Elona, which will not see in Guild Wars 2 (at least, not at launch) but you also had to revisit some places in Tyria, like the old Ascalonian places, which I also think are connected to places we’ll see in Guild Wars 2.

(The zone around Old Ascalon is obviously in the game, in the Charr zones, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that making me go all the way to Lyssa statue in the Mineral Springs was only there to make me remember the Norn skill point where one Norn is enjoying a hot tub in the middle of snow. I’m fairly sure I’m wrong about its location too, though.)

But one thing I couldn’t shake was the feeling of how long things have come when I reached Lornar’s Pass. For those who don’t know it, it’s a zone that connects part of the high level zones with the low level ones (you can pick a route following the main storyline, which will lead you to the easy part or you can go south and face enemies that are 2 to 4 levels higher than you.)

The thing is: I immediately remembered when my first character, an Elemenstalist reached the place. It was a time when we didn’t have PvXwiki, the only type of companion you could have were henchmen and I had absolutely no idea about builds. It was a pain to keep going, with those level 22 and 24 mobs simply destroying any attempt to progress in the zone. Eventually, I paid a runner (someone with the right skills to cross the land in super-speed without taking too much damage) to reach another point — which really didn’t help me with my main questline.

And, this weekend, I was plowing through that zone, with a Paragon which I understand exactly how it works — thanks to a help from PvX, obviously — and with heroes that I customized to the best of their abilities. Things were so easy I was actually running to the packs of level 24 mobs just to get some drops.

(I also bought the topic to the guild. A lot of similar stories arose, with people mentioning their “Lornar’s Passes”.)

Long roads. We crossed them. But we simply forgot about them.

My Take On Guild Wars 2 Beta Weekend 3

Can you smell it? Yes, it’s the smell of finally achieving something in a limited beta test.

The Seraph-Issue Armor, by race

So, the whole plan was to take pictures of the same armor with 4 races (everything except human). The results:

Charr:

Norn:

Asura:

Sylvari:

Just to make sure, I’ll tell you that those pictures were taken with the new build-in equipment preview and that the Seraph-Issued armor is only the chest and legs parts (headgear, gloves and boots are not part of the “set”). Also, the current implementation of the equipment preview is not taking in consideration your armor colors from looking at gear that it’s on your bank (why it was in my bank in a second). When I put the gear, it finally picked up the personal colors, although it was not in the preview anymore.

But why the the gear was in my bank, anyway? Well, that’s the part where I tell you what I did this weekend.

Seraph Begins

At first I rolled a Charr (only because it’s the first in the list). After reaching something like level 13, I decided to take my path towards Kessex Hills going through Queensdale, doing whatever events or renown hearts there were in the way. Once I reached Fort Salma, I noticed that there wasn’t an armorsmith vendor and to actually buy the gear, I’d have to complete some renown hearts and turn then into karma vendors. Now that wouldn’t be hard, except mobs around are all level 20-23 and that would probably mean being plowed no matter what I did. So back to Plains of Ashford.

Everything Is Better With Crazy People

Once back to Ashford, I went going my things, jumping between renown hearts and personal story, with a gathering there and a dynamic event here, when I suddenly found myself in the middle of this group of people. The guy leading the pack was one Redditor (Acid Dream Laser Beam ftw). But then thing is: while the place had mobs around level 13-15, this guy was level 5; the rest of the group had a level 9 with them (and they were probably moving forward only due the pack size). Since I was doing fine with my Guardian, I decided to follow along, with the thing in mind to not let this guy die.

And there I went, with a group that was being out-leveled everywhere and trying my best to keep everyone alive (oh mace, how I love you for that). In the end, it was just me and this guy (now at level 9) just trying to complete the map. Needless to say, I got pretty close to level 20, which was enough to go back to Kessex Hills. And I still had a whole day to try to get said gear.

Did You Saw That?

One of the new things you get this time are “vistas”. Those are new elements that you need to complete to complete a map and you earn a little XP every time you find those.

Vistas are books floating usually on top of high ground which will give you some XP and you’ll usually have to deal with some sort of jumping puzzle to reach them. Remember when I said I was having problems finding the jumping puzzles in the previous betas? Well, that kinda tells you “Hey! There is a jumping puzzle here. Go find it!”

Also, there was this really obvious jumping puzzle in the Sylvari zone, although without a vista at the top:

Whoa, You’re Going to Get Us Killed!

I didn’t realize this till I thought I had enough, but leveling was incredible faster this time. If you remember, by playing BWE1 and BWE2, I reached level 28. Now, if you realize, in a little bit more than a day (Saturday the whole day and Friday night), I was only 8 levels behind. If they scaled the XP rewards up for people to experience more content this time with Asuras and Sylvari, if it’s their final adjustment in XP gains or if that happened due me running around with a group, that’s a different story.

Keep in mind that I kept jumping between Sylvary, Asura and Charr when bored and took naps whenever I feel like (which on weekends is pretty common). One person focusing on a single character the whole weekend probably reached level 30 easily.

It’s Crafting Time!

Still lagging a few levels, I decided to take a break and play with crafting and check how the leveling goes. Fact is, up to that point, I was gathering everything I could and breaking down every single piece of gear that I couldn’t use or was replaced. I had more than one full stack of Copper Ore and, thus, it felt it was the right time to abuse this.

The first discipline I got was weaponsmith, since I already had plans on getting better gear anyway. There wasn’t any change since the last BWE, but what I was interested was the level you earn. And you get a little XP every time you level up your discipline and only when leveling the discipline. Earning crafting XP to level your discipline will not earn a single bit of character XP.

Also, I noticed that even when every crafting possibility is grey already, if you find a new combination, you’ll still earn crafting XP. For example, if the Healing Green Inscription, Bronze Mace Head and Small Green Haft are all grey already (meaning you won’t get any experience from making them), by making a Healing Bronze Mace you will still earn crafting XP. So it seems everything fall back into finding all possible combinations of everything to earn those 10 levels by reaching level 400 in a discipline.

But, since I only reached level 70 as weaponsmith and level 20-something in leatherworking (for the bags), I only got 2 levels. But, for what I wanted, that was enough.

Full Circle

And back to Kessex Hills, I finally had enough levels to complete the hearts. The first piece I got was the legs, which required level 23. “No problem”, I thought. “I only have to find where I can find the chest piece and I’m all good”.

Realizing the chest of a set shouldn’t be far away, I decided to check the renown heart nearby. Lo and behold, completing the renown heart just outside Fort Salma opened the required vendor. “Fuck yeah”, I though, just before seeing it had a “Binds of use”. Well, fuck. Now I’d have to level my Sylvari and Asura to level 23 too! And that’s when it hit me that I could just drop said gear in the bank and use the preview.

Phew, that was long.

Bonus!

With about one hour till I had to go to sleep to work next day, I decided to check the cultural heavy armors. I took screenshots of all 4 races, cut them for easy showing and… Someone posted this link with all armors in all races. Oh well, have fun there.

Other Tidbits

Apart from the feeling that performance went bad in this BWE compared to previous one, I didn’t find any glaring bugs or felt things were incredible unbalanced (although the Flame Shaman still is a pain in the backside).

Eric Flannum and Colin Johanson Talk About Guild Wars 2 End Game

Today, Eric Flannum and Colin Johanson did what seems to be the first talk with the players about some topics of Guild Wars 2 in what I think they are calling “Ten Talk” (but hey, my English is not that awesome, so I can be completely wrong here). Today they were talking about “end game content”.

Now, we all know that there are no raids or required constant farming to be able to play the game at its fullest. So, what was left? Like, after you finished your personal story, so what will you do after that?

They don’t want you to play a completely different game at level 80. They don’t want to force you into dungeons.

One of the end game content is Orr — which, by the way, is the only level 80 zone. In Orr, you won’t find any renown hearts, just some friendly NPCs and some very large meta-events. Getting to Orr will require an attack that resembles pretty much “Storming the Normandy”: There will be Golems being fired at the beach and submarines and boats.

Also, moving around Orr won’t be an easy task. Because Zhaitan corrupted the whole city, the old gods temples and statues will reduce the players ability to move in the map, causing roots and/or preventing the use of the healing skill. To move more freely and without issues, players can take over the temples and defend it, allowing free passage to the dungeon at the end of the map.

Orr will also have the most complex dynamic events in the game — the zone will have twice more dynamic events than any other zone in the game. The reason is that there are “branching” events: Instead of moving like a pendulum, going from the fail state to the success state and back (with player interaction, obviously), completing some events (or some step of it, from what I understood of what Colin was saying), it will actually start more than a single new event. So Orr will, ultimately, become a “web of events” triggering things all around the place. This “branching” will be introduced around the other zones, so players will feel comfortable with them once reaching Orr, Colin said.

Now about end game rewards, players will have the dungeons and specific looking gear from all sources of content. One thing mentioned is that even at level 80, you still earn XP and when you would “level up”, you still earn a skill point (but no level). At some point, you’ll have more skill points than needed to unlock all your skills and, as a “sink” (my words, neither Colin or Eric said anything like that), there will be a vendor near the mystic forge — the sunspear who brought the Djinn who now powers the mystic forge — who will sell special materials which you will use in the forge to get things like exotic weapons, high level gear, fun consumables and transmutable materials. Oh, and legendary weapons.

Those legendary weapons will require some items sold by this NPC and some materials which any player can get around the game — but some can’t be sold by any players, you’ll need to get those yourself. Eric was adamant in mentioning that those legendaries provide absolute no advantage, they just look cool and Colin completed saying that those were the “Prestige gear”. Amongst the legendary weapons you can get, there is a short bow that fire arrows with a tailing rainbow, a hammer that looks like it have a ball of liquid metal that spreads to your character and makes you look like either the Terminator (as Eric said) or Iron man (as Colin said) and two great swords, one with looks like a piece of the day sky and another that looks like the night sky. You can then merge those two and have a single great sword that changes looks on the day/night cycle and, as Colin said, it’s the hardest item to get in game, as you have to do it twice, once for each great sword.

As all legendaries will require skill points, the whole game by itself becomes the source for them. You can do a low level dungeon and, with the sidekicking and the dynamic leveling system, earn XP, which will then give you the necessary skill points. You can just wander around and you will earn XP by completing dynamic events. You can do WvW and earn XP. You can go around gathering materials and earn XP. You can level your crafting and earn XP. And all that will translate, sooner or later, into skill points that you can then use to make those really cool looking weapons.

And it won’t be a matter of simply “find the event with most rewards”. There will be a large team just adding new events and rotating them. The team could add a whole new low level dungeon and, with the sidekicking, you will still earn XP from it. So you won’t need to roll a new character to get rewards from new content, whatever level it is (well, at least, after you reached level 80).

About dungeons, one weird thing that caught my ears was the fact that Colin mentioned that the game will have “dozens of dungeons” and then said that there are “8 story dungeons”. Now, we know this, but my paranoid in me said that, even if Colin rounded 8 to 12, it seems that there are dungeons that are not tied to your personal story and, thus, there are more than 8 dungeons in the game. But, again, that’s the paranoid in me bringing conspiracy theories to the table.

In a way, the whole “end game”, in my opinion after this talk, is now much more of a “meta end game”: There is no end game per se, the things you can do playing the game become the end game.

Answering questions, Colin said that making dynamic events are much more complicated than doing traditional quest, as you have to worry about how the event will restart, the clean up after the event completion (either success of failure), rules how the world changes after the event and then test. And that this is requiring a team that it is 5 times larger the they needed for Guild Wars 1. But both Colin and Eric agreed that the rewards of such system outweights its complications.

Still in the questions, Colin and Eric confirmed that holiday events are back. There are some twists as the holidays we know form Guild Wars 1 are from a human perspective and now you have 4 other races in the world — which was a cool thing to mention, in my opinion. They mentioned that Wintersday is surely back and the Mad King is back, this time fully voice.

There were other questions (including one about the event branching, which I mentioned above), like which elite skil was the coolest (Eric mentioned Charzooka and the Engineer Supply Drops and Colin said the current one was the Thief Basilisk Venom with a trait to give such venom to other party members, allowing them to, in turns, completely froze a dungeon boss) and another question about bosses that we shouldn’t miss (Eric brought the boss at the end of the Asura tutorial and Colin mentioned a Charr boss at the end of the Flame Citadel dungeon).

In general, it was a good, although short, talk. It gave a good insight on their design and goals for end game without revealing too much. And now we wait for more of those talks — in which Colin isn’t so nervous — or the final release in August 28th.

PS: If you want to listen to talk yourself or simply miss Colin smile, you can watch the whole thing in the Guild Wars 2 Twitch.tv account. Don’t worry about the messy sound at the beginning, it fixes itself before they say anything really important.

My Plans for Guild Wars 2 Beta Event 3

Only 8 days to go to the last Beta Weekend of Guild Wars 2 and there is only one thing I want to do:

Roll a male guardian of every race and do enough dynamic events to reach Kessex Hills and Fort Salma and buy the “Seraph Issued Armor”. Why? Because that’s the last armor I managed to get with my human Guardian and it’s one of the armors that have a very distinct look. While other armors would have a single small piece that made it look different from the others, the Seraph Issued armor really stands by its own.

And, in case you’re curious, that’s how I looked (and yes, the armor is freaking weird):

When Games Go Beyond Gaming

This post should go live waaay before this, around the time of the 2nd Guild Wars 2 Stress Test. But hey, who said I could come with some clever title for it?

Anyway, there are only two moments in my life where a game made me move back in my chair to get a clear picture of everything I was seeing.

The first one was in World of Warcraft, after Cataclysm. At the time, the only thing I wanted was the Loremaster title, which requires completing almost every single quest in the game. I was going around in the flooded Thousand Needles, in a boat with goblins and dwarfs. Your mission was to steal something in a bar (I can’t really remember what it was) but it required some sort of distraction. Since the things between goblins and dwarfs weren’t going so fine, all you needed to do was to smash a bottle in someone’s head.

And there I was. In a bar in a boat in the middle of a huge lake, with cramped tables, all with mixed dwarfs and goblins and a single bottle sitting in one of them. You looted the bottle, opened you inventory, selected any other NPC, double clicked the bottle and… the whole bar starts fighting. The scene was so weird, so surreal and still so funny, I almost forgot I had to steal whatever I needed.

(In case you’re curious, the name of the quest is Bar Fight!)

The second time was in Guild Wars 2 2nd Beta Weekend.

In my attempt to get some XP, I decided to go around completing the waypoints and interest points in Hoelbrak when I witnessed the following conversation between two NPCs:

Bann, a Norn hunter, approaches Shaman Ursel with a problem.

Bann: I was out in the Borealis Forest, not far from here, and I came across an enraged broodmother.

Bann: I tracked it for a while, I was in a dominant position, until it caught my scent and attacked.

Bann: When the fight was over, the broodmother and its offspring lay dead, scattered in the underbrush.

Shaman Ursel: So you won the battle.

Bann: It’s true. My enemy is not the broodmother or her ravenous kits.

Bann: My enemy is the wound I suffered during the fight. It can’t be healed. I can’t hunt. I can’t do anything.

Bann: I’m less than half what I was, and I don’t know how to overcome it.

Shaman Ursel: I understand your challenge, and Bear has a lesson that’ll give you comfort, it you’re ready to learn it.

Bann: I’m ready.

Shaman Ursel: Bear teaches us the seasons. We have spring, winter, summer and autumn.

Shaman Ursel: In the spring, the bears awaken, find mates and form families. In summer, they teach their cubs to survive.

Shaman Ursel: In autumn, they hunt, and the forest belongs to them. In winter, THEY belong to the forest.

Shaman Ursel: In life, we also have seasons we must respect. Your season has changed, but you’re no less part of the forest.

Bann: I think I understand.

Shaman Ursel: Don’t try to walk autumn’s path in winter. Bear has given you a new mantle to wear and new challenges to overcome.

Now, maybe it doesn’t make a connecting with you right now, but it will, eventually. And the fact that such lesson is given by two NPCs that don’t do anything more extraordinary while still following the theme in the game… that’s completely mindblowing.

PvE Currency in PvP

This question popped frequently in /r/guildwars2: “Should people doing SPvP earn some XP?”

My instance on this was the more pragmatic possible: “I don’t think they should mix a PvE ‘currency’ in a PvP environment.”

If I wanted to expand, I’d go with a “There should be a careful balance in this. If there is enough XP in SPvP, people won’t bother with the PvE and would only do PvP till they reached level 80, enable a bunch of skills and all traits and then roam through the low level zones wreaking havok (yes, you’re downleveled, but the access to more powerful skills and all the traits do make a difference. On the other hand, if the XP is below the PvE experience, people will ask why it’s there in the first place. So, without mixing those two, ArenaNet avoids a bunch of balancing problems.”

But recently I went into some weird thoughts about PvE currency in PvP:

You can reach level 80 if you go max level with all crafting professions. It would be an alternate way for people in SPvP to level up without earning any XP directly. All you need was, say, a little gold reward with your glory rewards.

But not all crafting disciplines can be leveled with gold alone. Cooking, for example, require materials that can be gathered around — which you can buy with gold in the Trading Post — and materials that can only be bought with Karma. Now, seriously, would you expect someone to buy those materials with Karma and sell them in the Trading Post?

So, besides gold, SPvPers would require some Karma rewards.

This would keep the Trading Post busy and always with something to sell.

Of course, there is another solution: As you can, today, trade Gems to Gold (and vice-versa), there should be a way to trade Glory — the PvP currency — to Karma. Then, people would be able to buy stuff with Karma and sell them in the Trading Post, earning Gold and using it back to buy materials to craft stuff and then sell those in the Trading Post again, making the Trading Post useful and giving players a “sink” for Glory.

(Or, maybe, you can already buy bags/boxes with crafting materials with Glory and all this is simply an idea that makes absolutely no sense.)