My Take On Guild Wars 2 Beta Weekend 2

Last Sunday we had the end of the second beta weekend of Guild Wars 2. Everyone could still use the characters from the first beta weekend — no wipe this time — and with “OH, this is new!” feeling gone, I think it gave a clear view of what we can find in the game.

Something New, Something Old

So, what changed in this beta compared to previous one?

First, visually, the endurance bar now sits on the top of your health bubble, with a tick pointing how many dodges you can still do. So you can, pretty quick, see that you have enough endurance for another dodge or not. Where the endurance bar was, now is the boons and conditions bar, which previously were sitting on the top of your health bubble. With all those changes, the cast bar was also moved down, giving a bit more of visual space in the middle of the screen (although I can’t say that the cast bar was too high to break any kind of immersion).

Also, boons and conditions now clearly show how many stacks you have and how long it will last, using a white outline around the icon.

The map also changed. Instead of the radar map you had in the previous beta, the map now is, basically, a window, which you can resize any way you want.

Also changed is the tiered skills and tiered traits. What does this mean, anyway?

Tiered skills works exactly like before, but instead of having access to all skills straight away, you have to pick at least 5 skills of Tier 1 to enable the Tier 2 skills and at least 5 Tier 2 skills to have access to the Tier 3 skills. There was a huge debate about this blocking people from creating characters the way they wanted, but I didn’t see this a huge game-breaking. It’s more like “Hey, try this skill before you try that other one”. With my Warrior, I could clearly see that they had some 3-point-skills that were basically upgrades from 1-point-skills (for example, signets in the Tier 1, although having the same functionality of a Tier 2 skill, the stats were more in line with what most warriors will probably use — which didn’t totally ruled the Tier 1 out if you’re trying a different build).

Tiered Traits also works almost like before, but now you have 3 tiers of traits: Adept, Master and Grandmaster, each allowing you to add 10 more points in the trait lines. To open each of those, you need to buy a book from your profession trainer. So, if you only buy the Adept book, you can only apply 10 points on each of your trait lines. Another change here is that some major traits require at least one tier. Yes, I can’t explain this but basically, this means that some traits can only be selected if you have enough points in that trait line. For example, let’s say that Protector’s Impact, a Guardian trait, is a Master trait; this means that you can’t pick it if you have only 10 points in Zeal, but you can use it as your Grandmaster major trait, if you have 30 points in Zeal.

Why they changed this? Basically, this was a way to prevent the abundancy of 30-10-10-10-10 builds, where people would pick one specialization and then apply 10 points on every other trait line and pick the most awesome major trait there. Personally, this didn’t affect me ’cause I didn’t level enough to have to worry about Master traits, even if I could manage to get the gold for the Master book (Adept book goes for around 21 silver, Master and Grandmaster books cost 1 gold) and because the only times I played with a build creator, I went with things like 30-15-15-10-0. I didn’t even checked what major traits are available at Master and Grandmaster, so I’m holding my opinion if this is good or bad till we have a finalized trait list.

Dashed Plans

My initial plan for this BWE was to spend the whole time in PvP. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen as expected.

First of all, I went into WvW, expecting that my experience as a level 20 would be much better than it was when I did at level 4. Well, it just happens that it didn’t. Sure, you have the upscaling to 80, but I still felt too much underpowered compared to others.

One thing I thought it would help this time was the gold I got last time. So, first thing I did when I joined the Eternal Battlegrounds was to buy blueprints. Knowing how well the ham did last time, I bought 3 blueprints straight away, effectively using all the gold I had. Lo and behold, there was a bug that some people were getting a “Cannot Deploy Equipment” condition, with the single explanation of “…” (I’m not kidding, that was the explanation). There were some solution floating around — basically, getting out of the WvW maps, going to your home instance, then going all the way back — but seriously, no one would do that in the middle of a fight. The other option was to drop the blueprints in the ground for others without the condition to use — a process that it isn’t that simple: you had to open your inventory, double click the blueprint, which would change your skill bar to the blueprint bundle, close the inventory and then select the “drop bundle” icon. Annoying, but still doable during combat — as long as you had someone without the condition in your team.

Rewards are still not great. Sure, I got more gold this time due to rewards being scaled to a level 20 instead of a level 4, but still wasn’t that great.

One thing I learnt was that defending can be a huge source of income. One time I was alone defending a tower, doing whatever I could as a Guardian without any ranged weapons (it was my choice, and I totally regret it). So I would take the portal, smack some people a bit, drop some symbols, run back to the tower and, from the time to time, pick some supplies and fix the gate. Thing is, while you’re defending, you enter a 2 minute event “Prevent attackers from capturing the point”. So, if you’re doing that and if the attackers can’t capture the point, you earn a gold medal in the event. If they take 10 minutes to break the front-gate, congratulations! You just completed 5 events with a gold medal! So you can get a lot of crappy rewards, if you have the patience.

(Also, for the note, I did get out of the Reddit guild I was in the very beginning of BWE1 when the guild broke and thought it wasn’t nice bothering the guild leaders again, so I roamed the last day of BWE1 going solo. I joined a guild — received a random invite during one event — but that guild was almost dead this BWE.)

It’s All in the Wrist

Another thing that shook me away from PvP was my unfamiliarity with the game after a month. And that’s when I saw the real power of the pre-purchase. But that will require a more deeper explanation.

So, my first day: I’m noticing things aren’t going so well in WvW, so I decided to level a bit more. And if you were around me, you’d see a Guardian going around and jumping after one mob is dead and there are more around. Yes, as it happened in the first day of the previous beta, I was running around, selecting targets with Tab and then pressing Space, as if I was in Guild Wars 1. Dodge? None. But starter zones are easy-peasy, so I didn’t mind too much.

Day 2: Now I’m not jumping anymore and I’m dodging, although everything is badly timed. Spamming skills like there is no tomorrow.

Day 3: I’m finally seeing the telegraphs and dodging in perfect timing. I’m slowly building a rotation of sort in my head: It seems a good idea to use the snare after I use the AoE, not the other way around. I can see which situations each skill is a good idea and those that aren’t. I’m finally letting my middle finger go of the right mouse button and I’m using the cursor do inspect other people health mid fight to see if it’s worth putting Symbol of Faith down. I’m using Judge’s Intervetion to bring down groups (and occasionally annoy my foes in WvW). Just noticed I didn’t use my Virtues. At all.

And why does this means a somewhat unfair chance for pre-purchasers: 3 day head start. When everyone else join the world, those (me included) will already have 90% of game mechanics nailed down. The sense of familiarity settled down and everything have a known face.

Press R to Level

During the post-WvW leveling, I was going everywhere trying to find dynamic events like a complete moron, trying to get the maximum XP of every encounter, I decided to sit back and just walk around and complete the maps.

What I actually found was that, by finding everything in the map, including the cities, you get a really good XP reward.

So yeah, pro-tip time: If you want to level faster, try to complete all the points of interest, heart events, waypoints and skill challenges.

Stand Awhile and Listen

One thing I must say is that, this time, the cutscenes really felt out of the place. In the previous beta, things weren’t so bad, but this time… Ugh!

I remember people complaining about it and, if you remember, it didn’t bother that much in the previous beta but this time, with all that familiarity with the game settling, it really felt out of place.

But thing is: ArenaNet already have a better system in place.

When I was leveling an Engineer, again in the Norn lands, there was a custscene about the Minotaur spirit being angry and you and Eir should investigate it. The cutscene cuts and you have Eir and Ferghen still discussing about why the Minotaur spirit would be upset. That was way more entertaining/interesting than the cutscenes ’cause it really felt like Eir was talking with Ferghen and not those two discussing with a third person in the far away.

Didn’t Mario’d as Much as I should

I really thought about getting into those jumping puzzles, but I couldn’t find any. It’s probably easy to find those if you know where they are, but if you’re expecting to stumble upon those challenges while walking around… though luck.

In a way, thinking about getting into the jump puzzles was more of an issue than something funny. Why? Because one would think that those two rocks near each other is a jump puzzle and stop doing whatever they were doing, in the hopes of finding something cool in the end.

On the other hand, I did try the WvW dungeon. Which, as any other jumping puzzle, is a pain to find. I only found the entrance ’cause I saw a video on how to find the entrance. And, even with that, I couldn’t get much farther, as there are no obvious indications on where you should go (the WvW puzzle have a “start… HERE” indicator, but that’s it).

I saw a video later one how to complete the WvW jump puzzle and the rewards were pretty damn impressive. But, again, finding those is not something you just come around.

Conclusion

Even if I sound a bit frustrated — going around trying to find dynamic events to be able to do WvW effectively, not being able to find the jumping puzzles by myself — I must say that, man, that was fun. In the very end, I think the most frustrating thing in the whole weekend was the feeling that I had a very short window to enjoy the game, so I kept pushing me to keep going even when my body and mind were falling apart and getting disconnected from each other. If it was a continuous beta, I think I would enjoy it a little bit more. But, then again, that’s absolutely not the point of the beta, the point is to find bugs and report them (something I failed miserably by forgetting there is a report bug button inside the game and only got my head right after the forums were closed).

So… yeah, there are minor issues, some balancing issues still exist, I didn’t notice any increase of FPS (but that was noted by ArenaNet: Not everyone would see an increase of performance yet), effects still need some tone down and, maybe, mobs in the starting zones need larger telegraphs so people get the idea of dodging straight away. But the game feels pretty good already, even if I didn’t feel we had a huge jump in progress from BWE1 to BWE2.

Firefall Needs Some PvE Love Too

In the last few days, I was collecting information on Firefall, which I got a beta key recently. Because the beta servers are, currently, running 24/7, I could check the game in and out — but then I got the Torchlight II key and things went downhill.

With the TL2 key in hands, I kinda let Firefall slip a bit. But I was, from time to time, putting thoughts together on how to explain Firefall, what it does right, what I think it doesn’t fit or feels weird… and then Red5 drops this:

Basically, what they are saying is “the base is changing”. With the base changing, I can’t really say if things work or not. Surely, I’ll write my take on it once the conversion is done — ’cause, you know, Firefall beta test is now going 24/7 — but I didn’t hear a word about the PvE part of it.

Sure, I understand that the main focus of Firefall is PvP and the PvE is there as training ground. I didn’t do any PvP yet in Firefall, to be honest — not that “it’s not my thing”, as it was the only thing I was doing in WoW, but I’m the kind of guy that first have to understand how to play before jumping into PvP. People usually understand that you’re a noob and some things you may not understand straight away — at least, in the betas, good luck trying that in a LoL match — but I really don’t like to jump into a PvP match and end up with the feeling I didn’t really help my team ’cause I didn’t got the mechanics right. Sure, people will punch their desk and go on, but if I end up with the feeling that I didn’t actually fit the shoes I chose, I ruined other people’s game. Also, what kind of shoe I want to wear is something I want to find by myself instead of jumping into other people’s game and trying to find it there[1].

Personal insecurities aside, I spent all my Firefall time so far in PvE. The story, as I remember watching, is that you start in Fortaleza after some weird thing that made all nature larger, but you keep fighting and expanding the “known world”, and keep protecting it from being taken over again (and some sort of “human bad guys” group, which I only saw when I got in). That sounds like an awesome “thug-of-war” combat and, for those that are not that into PvP, it would give a larger meta-game to go after.

But, so far, PvE consists of a single daily quest: Thumper collecting. Thumper is a device added to the game to collect minerals, which currently you need to improve your gear (emphasis on “currently” ’cause it may change in the future). So you’re playing a medic, you buy a blue print — or find one, dropped by one of the mobs — for a better gun and then you have to collect the materials to build said gun. That’s where the thumper comes in. And, as I said, the only mission currently after you complete the tutorial quests that explain how combat, research and build works, it’s all you can do: Collecting 400 of one mineral and that’s it.

And the mob variation is absurdly small. On the top of my head, I can count 6 models (one of those which is pretty much a normal/player model with a different color), with some varying textures and sizes. And, that’s all you see around. It gets really boring seeing the same thing over and over again. “Wait, didn’t I just killed 20 of those already?”

Yes yes, I know, the focus is in PvP. I said that myself. That’s where Red5 is focusing right now and what they want to complete first and then focus a bit in the grand scheme of PvE. I just think it shouldn’t be forgotten ’cause even LoL in its matches against bots can be interesting if you want a quick pass time.

Side note: Beta is beta, that’s not the current focus, my laptop is not, in any stretch, a gaming machine (heck, it’s a MacBook Pro, for fucks sake), but in the matter of graphical engine, the engine is pretty slooooowww. In order to get something near 30 FPS, I had to put in the “extremely low” setting — which could also be one of the reasons I didn’t venture into PvP yet: How am I supposed to engage in fast combat when the game is so slow? Again, beta is beta, that’s not the focus of the team yet, but it’s a kinda a put off at the moment, ’cause you watch any video around and the game looks so beautiful and then, when I run it on my machine, in the low settings it looks so bland and boring.

[1] Who am I trying to kid? I’m usually the healer/support guy.

My Take On Torchlight II, Stress Test Week

For a bit, I thought I didn’t make into the Torchlight II Stress Test weekend (and I’m using the word very freely ’cause, although called “Weekend”, it started on Friday and went all the way to Thursday). But then, Saturday early morning, I got the email with the key (and it was the first time I was kinda glad I had another insomnia attack). And there I went, even before the sun shine it first light, I was playing.

Also, beware that I may spoil some stuff, but this should be in the first 10% of the game — and, by my calculations, this game is huge. But be happy, lots of screenshots in this one.

The Beta

So, what’s in and out of this beta?

First, all classes are available. What classes? Don’t worry, I’ll get to that in detail soon.

Also, all pets are available. What pets? Don’t worry, I’ll get to that in detail soon.

You can level all the way to 21, but then you will stop getting XP. Fame also have a threshold. You can only see the first two tiers of skills — although you won’t get enough points to open all those in all three trees. All trees are available, by the way. And you can only complete the first 3 parts of Act 1 (where you’ll receive a nice message about the end of the beta).

By the way, to reach the end of the beta, it probably took me about 10 hours in normal mode (two afternoons and one night). So yeah, the final game, with all acts, should be, again, huge.

Same Old, But With a Twist

The Style

The style didn’t change much, compared to the first Torchlight.

It’s a bit zoomed out, yes. Some will like, some won’t. I had only one small problem with it: Due the low contrast between static and dynamic content, it’s kinda hard to see enemies going around. More than once I thought it was done, time to collect my loot and found that there was still enemies around ’cause, instead of picking said items, my character was swinging his weapon. The fact that enemies follow the map style — snow people in the snowy areas, brown/green monsters in the forest zones — make this a bit more complicated. Sure, a snow yeti in a forest zone would make it easier to spot, but that won’t make any sense.

If they are using the same engine, I must say that they improved the lightning and particles effect a lot. You can clearly see this inside the dungeons.

And the maps, man, they are huge now. Not only you have your town quests, you have random quests appearing everywhere, mostly leading you into a dungeon — including a lantern that will take you to One-Eyed Willy ship in a cave (yes, it is a reference to Goonies).

In a nutshell, what Runic is doing is walking the same path they did when they were Blizzard North: This is much closer to Diablo II than anything else — well, with the cartoony style on top and huge maps, but you get the idea.

Pets

Your faithful companions are back — and now you have 8 options of pets instead of only 2.

And, with pets, the “send pet to sell the trash” also returns.

The change now is that now not only they can sell stuff, you can also put orders for them. Running low on identify scrolls? No problem, send you pet to sell all that trash and bring some scrolls back. Some potions. Pets also wear gear. ok, it’s only 3 slots, but enough to make them more useful than simply extra casters — which still exists, by the way.

Potions

Yes, potions are back. And here is a tip if you get the final game: Remove both potions from your skill bar. You will still need them, but you don’t need them there and staying there will one deceive you. There are two shortcuts, Z and X, that will make you use the appropriate potion when necessary. Only a scratch? No problem, Z will take the smallest potion in your bag. Your huge mana pool is almost empty? Pressing X will get the biggest mana potion you’re carrying.

Fishing

Fishing is also back, although I haven’t extensively used (or the fishes, to be honest). There is a small change, though: Wild fish pools now have a number of possible casts. So no more sending your pet to sell your shit and have two minutes all by yourself fishing around — which I did a lot in the first game and that’s probably why I haven’t played extensively this time.

You can also buy explosives and send the pool to the sky, getting everything at once, with the downside of reducing the number of fishes you’d normally get if you did it properly.

Chests

Shared chests are back, but now they got a little brother: Your character personal chest. So you end up with two chests, increasing the amount of trash you can save even further — which is a good addition, nonetheless.

Unidentified Loot

Unidentified items are also back, but now you don’t need to search for a scroll in your inventory and then find the item to be identified: Only right click the item and, if you have enough identify scrolls available, it will automagically identify it.

Streamlined to awesomeness, if you ask me.

Waypoints

Waypoints are back, but they don’t appear every 5 levels deep into the dungeons. Actually, I don’t think I ever found a waypoint inside a dungeon this time, but never mind that. Once you enter a new zone, you will find the waypoint that can take you back to the town or any other waypoint.

What changed this time? If you’re playing with friends, you’ll get an option to teleport directly to where they are.

The Town

The first Torchlight was centered around the town of Torchlight and it’s infinite dungeon right under the graveyard. This time, though, you start in the middle of nowhere and then make your way to the first town. And there, magical things happen.

First thing you’ll notice is that the city is kinda empty. There are two vendors, one for potions and scrolls and another for gear. There is the guy who can refund your skills points and that’s basically it.

But thing is, as you progress through the level, you find other denizens which will move to the town and offer you special services, like the enchanter (up to level 1 enchantments) and the gem recover and gem removal twins. Being beta, that was the ones I could find, but one can expect that, in the full game, you’ll have a lot more people coming and bringing more life to it.

(There are also the special appearance of a known personality of Torchlight 1, but I won’t tell you who she is. Actually, the whole game seems to go around old known faces from the previous game.)

The Classes

Instead of the 3 classes you had in the original Torchlight, you now have 4 distinct classes.

  • The Engineer: Is the strong-man in the pack. It probably covers the barbarian class in the original.
  • The Embermage: Is the caster. It covers partially what the Alchemist did, but I got the feeling that it was more ranged than its older counterpart (the Alchemist had more melee-ranged skills but, then again, we only could see the first 2 tiers of skills).
  • The Outlander: It’s the physical ranged class, encompassing what the Vanquisher did in the first game. It still have the preferably-range feel, but can go into melee without a problem.
  • The Beserker: It’s another melee class, which I think covers the other half of the Alchemist. It’s much more closer to the Druid in Diablo II than anything in Torchlight, though.

The new classes are not tied to any gender like the first game. You can have a female engineer or a male Outlander (or vice-versa). It’s all up to you.

As the original Torchlight, all classes can wield any weapon: From claws to swords, from long swords to hammers, from pistols to Bazookas (and I’m not kidding here). All classes also have a Charge mechanic, whose effect change from class to class.

For the engineer, Charge make some spells more powerful: Your energy shield will absorb more damage, your special attack will do more damage; The Embermage gets a few seconds of mana free casting; At full, the Berserker gets some seconds of continual critical damages; and for the Outlander… well, that was the only class I didn’t play in the beta, for no particular reason.

The problem with this mechanic is the same we have with any “charge up” mechanic: In most times, it will reach it’s peak when the last guy dies, which completely wastes it. Sure, it’s not a design problem, it’s more of the random number Gods displeased with me or something, although this problem is greatly diminished with the Engineer ’cause it can use a partial charge bar: your energy shield won’t be as thought, but it will reduce some damage, nonetheless; the skill that does more damage uses only one charge and a full bar have at least 6. Maybe some sort of partial Charge usage skill for every class would be a good idea here.

Skills

All trees, for all classes, now have a column with only passive skills.

What is interesting here is that it doesn’t matter what the tree is for, the passives are useful no matter what. For example, if you pick an Engineer and specialize it in “Aegis”, a tanky and damage absorption tree, you’ll find a passive that increases your damage based on your shield. But, on “Construction”, the tree for minion-based Engineers, you’ll find a passive that increases your armor. And, on “Blitz”, the pure damage Engineer tree, you’ll find a passive to increase the rate you get Charge, which you can then use for your energy shield. This solves a small pet peeve of me, when on high level content in the first Torchlight I had absolutely nothing interesting to waste my skill points. Now, no matter what path I chose, I still can put points everywhere and have an effective build.

Combat

Combat needs its own section for one single reason: Everything is tied to way the weapons work and the clear and nice balance Runic put on it.

For example, every melee weapon, with the exception of claws, swing in arcs, damaging every enemy in front of it. The larger the weapon, the wider the arc and more damage split around — but it does have a slower swing, as you’d expect. So, to maximize your DPS — and survivability, as mobs that die faster are also the ones that do less damage — you have to use your knockback abilities to pile them up and then attack.

Claws, as a mentioned, doesn’t have an arc. They are specifically designed to hit single targets, but they also do a lot more damage (the ones I found could do about twice the damage of another “arc” weapon in the same level). So, when using claws, your tactic is actually to split enemies, then focus on each one individually — or make them come in a “conga” line and deal with each one in succession.

The embermage, as the caster class, relies on, obviously, ranged magic, but you can clearly see there is a nice balance on the spells. The initial spell, a fire blast, fires rapidly and can pierce through enemies, but have a initial build up, which makes it not simply stop firing at will to save mana. A blizzard like spell, which hits everything in the screen (and you saw how large the screen is) have a somewhat hefty cooldown. A strong spell with no build up, rapid fire and lots of different damages types have a huge mana cost.

Speaking of enemies, it seems Runic took a route similar to Path of Exile about enemy numbers. One enemy? Pffft. Two enemies? Easy peasy. Three enemies? I’m invincible! Seven enemies? OH GOD, FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK! And the game really pushes to always have seven or more enemies all over you. But, at the same time, when you have seven enemies all over you, it’s the point when you see more loot falling around, which makes surviving those encounters a lot more rewarding — even if it’s a bunch of white items, you feel like you did accomplish something great, you fought, you survived and you got lots of stuff. Instant rewarding.

Another cool addition is was I call “random Arenas”: You’ll find some strange place where enemies will simply pop up and come attack you. Once you beat those guys, another wave of enemies will pop up and attack you, till you fight a huge enemy with drops a nice pool of loot.

It’s really interesting when you find one of those and I wish there were more — in my way to the end of the available content in the beta — Up to part 3 of Act 1 — I only found two or three of those.

Still into combat, let me tell you about traps. Yup, trapped chests are back and your character will warn you about them. But the thing is, traps are now neutral instead of being part of the “enemy” gang. This means that if you open a trapped chest and it spills poison around, anyone going through it will get poisoned, including enemies! And vases with bombs inside, if you walk away and let an enemy go over it, BLAM!, explosion damage to them!

Music

I know this will be a though thing to say, but I don’t like Matt Uelmen music that much. Don’t get me wrong, the guy is good and what he did for Diablo 1 and specially Diablo 2 is awesome. But when you play Torchlight 1, you have this nagging feeling that he was trying too hard to redo the same atmospheric music he did in Diablo 2. It was almost like Torchlight had no personality in itself.

But I’m glad to say that, although the base tones are still there, the music really pumps you up in boss fights. It is impressive. Everything else, I still got that “trying too hard to be Diablo 2” vibe.

Conclusion

The game is fun and rewarding, but the setting is a bit off putting, to be honest. The way it’s hard to spot enemies sometimes makes it a bit annoying. But when you think how many deep mechanics are buried in Torchlight 2 and how those mix together, how large the game play seems to be, that you can mod it, that you can play when offline, that you can play either by lan with your friends or even online with Runic servers and that it will cost only U$ 20, it’s almost like signing your stupid certificate if you like hack’n’slash games and not buy this one.

I Want to Be the Failure

After thinking a bit about the story roller coaster in Guild Wars 2, I can’t stop thinking that maybe I want to be the failure, not the success.

Now, what I mean with “story roller coaster” is the fact that the game starts with a high note and then simply drops all and starts over again. Take, for example, the human story[1]: You wander off Divinity’s Reach, you see a small town under attack by centaurs and then, without any previous knowledge on how to fight (you know the basic attack with your main hand, and that’s it) you not only save some people, but you also repel an army of centaurs, destroy a huge elemental and escapes almost unharmed (well, you remains unconscious for 3 days, but that’s it, no permanent damage or anything). Think about it: Without any huge knowledge of combat, you killed a bunch of centaurs that were terrorizing a small town and fought a huge elemental! And what you do next? You fight ruffians in a bar.

Sure, the elemental — and the ice wurm and the spirit-controlling-a-huge-statue — are part of the tutorial level, which should give an idea on how powerful you are and how strong the enemies you’ll find will be.

But the problem is: You can’t fail the destruction of the earth elemental; you can’t fail killing the ice wurm; you can’t get beaten by the spirit-in-the-statue. No matter how bad or good you do, you will forever, in the game, be the savior. And maybe, just maybe, there should be some sort of failure even in those events.

If we talk about the Norn tutorial, what if you get severely beaten by the ice wurm, so Eir had to step up and save your sorry ass? In that case, people won’t call you “Slayer” all around, but “The one who failed the great hunt”. All you had to do is make Eir say something like “I can see that the spirits still smile upon you, even after your failure. Maybe you’re, indeed, someone who will make a great legend one day” — and everything, from there on, would still follow the same path (except for the “slayer”/”the failure” change).

Eir had to step up ’cause you didn’t fought as hard as you could; Thackery had to destroy the earth elemental himself ’cause you weren’t up to it; Rytlock had to fight the statue of king Adelbern ’cause you were a sorry excuse of a Charr (and, who knows, Caithe had to fight the nightmare court latest plot ’cause you didn’t had the roots to combat it). But all of them would see something different in you, or still believe in your because at least you went forward and fought the problem and they will give you chances to recover your legacy.

At the same time, I understand that, for something like this, ArenaNet would need to provide a more comprehensive tutorial, explaining dodge mechanics, how you can move and still attack, using skills at the right time… It would be more complex and, thus, taking longer instead of “fast road to glory” ’cause, you know, you don’t want people to believe that failure is the only option. And, on top of that, I bet several lines of voice-over would have to be remade, just to cover things like the change from “slayer” to “failure”.

Still, I’d like failure as an option for the tutorials.

[1] I’m using the human story ’cause it’s the only one I can remember what happens after the tutorial.

My Take on Lord of the Rings: War in the North

After completing Mass Effect 2 twice, I thought it was time to pick another game. On the top of my wishlist it was “Lord of the Rings: War in the North”. I saw Jesse Cox, Wowcrendor and Trilian playing the whole campaign as multiplayer and it seemed fun. Just before pressing the “Buy” button, though, I saw that it had a metacritic rate of 66/100 and that got my worried.

Honestly, the game doesn’t deserve 66/100. It’s not a 90/100 like Skyrim, Mass Effect and many others, but it surely deserved a bit more than that.

In its very core, LotR:WitN is an action-RPG with two buttons: the left button does a fast attack and the right button is for strong attacks. You can dodge and the mobs have a 2-3 second telegraph which gives plenty of time to avoid it. Because pressing two buttons all the time is boring, they added a special quick-time-event to give increased damage, in the form of a small triangle on the top of the head of the enemy.

When you get that, you press the strong attack button and receive a small special bullet-time animation and extra XP.

While you level up, you can unlock special attacks on your “talent tree”. The trees are different based on the character you chose, which is locked to race and gender. So you have the magical elf chick, the ranger male human and the tanky male dwarf — and, although apparently they seem tied to certain aspects of a holy trinity, every class can be ranged and melee, if they have the appropriate resource: Elf needs mana, human needs arrows and dwarf needs bolts.

The tree open 3 more “melee” skills and 1 ranged. But you still will be, most of the time, clicking mouse button 1 and mouse button 2.

Also, the combat happens in zones with the game throwing waves of enemies over and over again. For the type of action-RPG, this is pretty interesting, at first.

Unfortunately, for a very fun combat system, they put a lot of crap around.

For example, the maps are pretty linear and you end up moving from one arena to the other. And in the very few places where you see a fork in the road, it only forks into two different paths — and one leads to the end of the main quest and another to some sidequest. And you don’t even have to think: Press “Q”, see the little map pointing towards the main quest and take the other one.

And then you have the secrets.

The problem with secrets is that only one class can see them. For example, the dwarf will see walls that can be burst open; the elf will see walls guarded by sigils and the ranger can follow special tracks and find hidden caches. It’s fun, I can’t deny it, but as you can only play it as character at the time, you can’t find all the secrets in one level. And by the videos I saw, some secrets are chained, like there is an elven sigil inside a dwarven secret.

You can change characters though, but only after you complete the level.

But changing is also weird: You are there, playing with one character, seeing your companions using special skills and such, sporting some cool looking gear and then you decide to play another class. Suddenly, you see yourself playing without any skills and absolutely no gear.

I can’t really understand how to gear up companions. I completed the story with the elf and then kept going (the story restarts in higher difficulty) with the dwarf. And then I saw the elf running around in complete starting gear. All the awesome gear I collected in the first run was completely gone. So I thought “Every single piece of extra gear I get from now on, I’ll give it to her”. Thing is, half way through it I noticed she was wielding weapons I never gave to her. So, apparently, you have ansolutely no control over your companions gear. And giving gear to them is like storing stuff in black holes: You’re never sure if what they are wearing/wielding at that point is better than what you want to give them and they never return the old gear (in case you need the gold).

And we have the story. It does a lot of retconning just to give the idea that your group is actually helping Frodo and the Fellowship in completing their quest — the story everybody knows from the books and movies. And then there are some weird dialogs were you get information from said books and movies: There is a line of dialog where your character asks if Bilbo knows Frodo and the NPC goes into a full discourse about how they are related, and how Bilbo actually found the ring, and how everything went on Bilbo 111th birthday… Everything you already know from, again, the books and movies. But it doesn’t add anything in the game story or plot, it is just there only to give some connection with… ok, I’ll say it again: with said books and movies.

In a way, the game feels like a Michael Bay movie: It’s entertaining, but don’t expect anything brainy.

Diablo 3 Competition

Out of nowhere, there were a bunch of posts on /r/guildwars2 about how ArenaNet “dodge a bullet” with Diablo 3 Open Beta weekend happening this weekend and not the next one (when there will be the first Beta Weekend for Guild Wars 2 pre-purchases).

At first, I thought those people are demented, as there is absolutely no relation between Guild Wars 2 and Diablo 3. Just when I started to think where those two relate, I really got who Blizzard is afraid of: Guild Wars 1.

  Guild Wars 1 Diablo 3
Gamplay Instantiated, story driven Instantiated, story driven
Skills Several skills available, but only some available during combat Several skills available, but only some available during combat
Visuals Gothic, ancient/Third person Gothic, ancient/Third person
Cash Shop Yes, controlled by the company Yes, controlled by players

My Screenshots From Guild Wars 2 Beta Weekend Event 1

My (Long) Take On Guild Wars 2 Beta Weekend Event 1

Last Sunday marked the end of the first Beta Weekend Event for Guild Wars 2 (although I still think it should be named PPBWE – Pre-Purchasers Beta Weekend Event). Except for one glaring bug (a NPC was simply flying), the unbalanced scaling of some events and some personal issues with the sidekicking, everything went more smoothly than I thought.

Before I could join the event, I was reading the initial reports from /r/guildwars2 — it started in the middle of my working day, which was also the last day before my vacations, so I couldn’t simply walk off leaving things half-cooked — and what I was reading was “low FPS” and “high latency” complains. One Redditor also posted the cute “another ANet scam” about the beta (I’m serious here, but I won’t name names). But, to my surprise, when I finally logged in, everything was running pretty ok and the latency wasn’t even noticeable — probably because the people from the Guild Wars 1 Reddit Guild decided to pick a different server than the rest of /r/guildwars2.

The Hardware

Before going on, let me say what I used to play the game: An early-2011 MacBook Pro (running Windows in Bootcamp mode).

  • 2.4Ghz Intel Core i5
  • 4Gb 1067MHz DDR3
  • NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M 256MB

It’s not a super-duper hardware, but it did it’s job: I could run almost flawlessly, with a good FPS (I couldn’t check, ’cause it wasn’t being displayed anywhere). I didn’t run FRAPS or DXtory. There was only one point in WvW where my FPS dropped to something you could count with both hands, when we were defending one of our towers against 50+ invaders. Out of that, even larger dynamic events, like the Swamp Behemot and a norn ice shaman (whose name completely eludes me right now) run really fine.

Cutscenes and Story-Telling

Sure you watched every video of the starting video — the “This is my story” intro — of every race, but it’s nothing like seeing the real thing. It is impressive and gives a good connection with your character — specially if you answer their personal questions thinking about you.

The other cutscenes lack this kind of connection, though, and I can’t find a good reason for it. At first I thought it was the borders in the background, but that didn’t seem too bad. Then I thought it was the lack of music, but there was music in the background. The only things I can think of are the fact that the characters don’t seem to be facing each other — the character on the left side seems to be interested in something behind the left shoulder of the character in the right side and the character in the right side seems to be interested in something behind the right shoulder of the character in the left — and maybe the fact that none of them simply stand still, always moving like they need to pee or something.

Or it could be the fact that cutscenes suffer from the fact that the early story doesn’t feel interesting.

The human story, for example: You start as someone trying to save the village of Shaemoor; you fight centaurs with very little knowledge of what you can do; you face wave after wave of those centaurs, only to finally fight a huge earth elemental. And, after that… you help farmers to water their crops.

I think that’s the biggest problem with the story right now, in my opinion: It starts with a high note and then simply drops it to the very bottom of a well and slowly climbs back. The human personal story gets really interesting when you’re around level 12, but at this point a lot has happened already.

The Norn personal story seems to pick speed before that (around level 7) but I can’t comment in the Charr story ’cause I only completed the starting zone tutorial.

So, in this mess, the cutscenes feel out-of-place ’cause you’re not really interested in the whole thing that it’s happening. So instead of pointing where the story is going, they feel like nuisances in the way of something you’d expect gets better in the future.

Loading Screens and Overflows

Yes, there are loading screens. They appear whenever you change zones but doesn’t seem to take too long to load. In a way, they work the same way loading screens worked in Guild Wars 1, except that instead of loading a personal instance of the map, it loads you into a zone with more people. And those maps are huge. You could spend about 3 hours going around, doing dynamic events without ever leaving the zone — I spend those 3 days with basically 2 characters and I basically didn’t leave the first map.

The loading screen also offers some information about your progress in the map: How many portals you unlocked already, how many “points of interest” you found, how many skill points you captured… that kind of stuff. For completionists, it must be a nightmare.

This breakdown of maps — using portals instead of making a very huge map with stitched maps like in WoW — works with ArenaNet idea of “overflow server”. When you try to enter a map, if there are too many people in it, the game will offer you to move to another server or stay in the queue. Staying in the queue works exactly like WoW: You’re put in a list and have to way till someone leaves the map so you can join — which, as I pointed, are huge enough to keep someone busy for at least 3 hours; if you take the option of going to another server, you’ll actually enter the map which belongs to another server while you wait in the queue. In my playtime, I got into overflow servers a lot of times but only saw the message saying that I could return to my own server three times. Once you accept returning to your own server, you’ll be teleported to the nearest unlocked waypoint — which isn’t that good, in my humble opinion. I’d prefer being teleported to the exact location in the other map, but I understand why things work this way (they just reuse the part where you personally select the waypoint).

I can see one potential problem with overflow servers: Because they actually belong to another server, you could steal space from people of that server. Imagine this: A lot of people from Server A decide to go to the same map. Because the map doesn’t support that many people, they are relocated to the map on Server B. But now some people in Server B decide to enter the map but need to be “overflowed” ’cause there are a lot of people there already, so their join Server C. The system avoids the queuing problem, but also creates a cascade problem that may be hard to solve.

One weird, funny and/or scary about the loading screens was that you could hear some weird phrases while the map was loading. Phrases such as a happy female “I can outrun a centaur!”, a somewhat surprised male “I feel… stronger” and a creepy male “Hello pretty” could be heard while the progress bar advanced. Sure it’s fun trying to figure out where you heard that before but it also gives the impression that something is going on and you’re missing it because you’re trapped in a loading screen.

Waypoints

As I said, you need to unlock waypoints to be able to use them. To use them, you’re charged a very small fee — except inside the cities, which have about 4 or 5 waypoints and can be used freely.

Waypoints were used against the notion that the game needs mounts — a discussion that even went inside the game, while I was in one overflow server. If those were positioned properly and the number was large enough, there would be no need for mounts. Well, they are not positioned everywhere, near every large dynamic event and their numbers are not monstrous, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing wrong with them.

I noticed that there were waypoints near every single step of your personal story: If you need to find an amulet in an instance around the map, there will be a waypoint pretty close of the instance entrance. But they are not near every large dynamic event and, if you die in one of those, you’ll have some walk to do (some walk, not “quite a walk”). I can see that this was done to not trivialize such events but I do expect that people will complain about the sparseness of waypoints nonetheless.

Dynamic Events, Hearts and Your Personal Story

Quick recap of what are Dynamic Events: They are like quests, except that you don’t need to talk to a NPC to get the quest, they chain into other events like quest-chains but don’t require that you pick the very first quest to join the quest-chain and you’re immediately rewarded upon completion.

Thing is, about dynamic events in this particular beta weekend, they seemed to be over repetitive. For example, while going for a quest in my human personal story, I found a escort mission. So I followed the group doing it, got my reward at the end and went back to following my personal story, which took me back to the start of said escort event. But, in this process, I found out that the same guy was trying to do the same path again. I discussed it with the guild and it seemed to be some “epidemic” process — every event seemed to happen more often than it should. My guess is that ArenaNet pumped the dynamic event occurrences to have mode data to analyze them.

Hearts are a special kind of dynamic events. They are tied to a location or NPC and they give you a “friendly” status with the identity NPC, which will allow you to buy and sell stuff. You could do things like collecting apples, watering the crops or pulling worms out of the fields. One thing I found out is that there are more than one event tied to a heart: In the human zone, I found one NPC requesting to either kill bats or kill spiders. In the second time I was running around — when I was already friendly with them — I went to the same place, but this time the NPC was asking to collect apples for pies. Small flavor, but it means you have more stuff to do than simply go there one time and forget the place exists.

And, on top of that, you have your personal story. The personal story is tied to your race and happens all in instantiated events — so they don’t need a full scaling and you can’t bring your whole guild to help you with something. But the problem I found with the personal story is that it was leveling faster than my character. At some point, the game suggested that I needed to be level 11 to complete the instance, while I was level 10. I went anyway and found it really hard. After that, I was level 11, but the next step suggested level 14. Then I went all the way to the quest point on foot, instead of using waypoints, in the hopes of finding lots of dynamic events to gain some levels and make my life easier. And I didn’t find any.

Downscaling happens all the time (you lose some stats when your level is higher than the location in question) so I can’t really understand why the personal story isn’t considered a single thing: If you want to only do your personal story — and only the personal story — you should still be able to complete it without any worries of being too low level to complete them. If you end up doing some dynamic events in the middle, that would be no problem, as you’d end up being downscaled to the story. Otherwise, you’d end up having to “grind” levels, which is exactly what ArenaNet said they want to avoid.

One thing that it was harder to see and that’s something ArenaNet is pushing is the social part of dynamic events (and hearts, but not so much in the personal story): The fact that you’re not competing against other people. You can see if it you’re paying attention but, again, it requires that you pay attention to realize that.

For example, in one event, I had to remove graffiti in the walls of a city. So I went to one wall were I saw a graffiti and erased it. I moved a bit back to look for another graffiti to erase and saw another player coming along and doing the same animation I did when I was erasing it, but I couldn’t see anything in that wall. It clearly shows that we both saw the same thing in the beginning and that I didn’t had to rush this other person to clear the graffiti before him — we both had access to it. But, again, I was paying attention and I had previous knowledge that things are shared.

And “sharing is possible” is maybe the hardest wall Guild Wars 2 will hit. Some people won’t know, beforehand, that things can be shared, that I can jump in the middle of their fight and they won’t lose anything but they will start bitching that their rewards weren’t so good because I jumped to help — which is absolutely untrue.

Also, I’m not sure if it was the fact that we were all pre-purcharsers and, thus, have some knowledge about the game already, but one event really redeemed the whole MMO genre to me: It was a heart event in the Norn lands, on the top of a mountain. The event basically required that you returned rabbit food, which was stored in bags around the place, to a NPC or scare rabbits away. The event was set in a way that once you picked a food bag, you’d move slowly, and some rabbits from hundreds of holes in the area would popup and jump on you, making you drop your bag, and then eat the food. But, if you’re not carrying a bag, you can scare the rabbits approaching someone carrying it, thus helping that person in completing their event — and you increase your progress doing any of those. And why it felt so redeeming? Well, half way through it I noticed that I didn’t need to carry the bags — if someone was carrying one, I could simply tag along and scare the rabbits. And so I did. Sometimes I wasn’t fast enough to scare the rabbits, but I’d manage to salvage the bag and deliver it. It was a win — for me — either way. But then, when I was done and hearts have been won, I decided to stick around and help others — just for the sake of it. I’d tag with someone and follow them around, with my camera looking to the ground, trying to scare the rabbits. If I got a bag, I’d carry it all the way to NPC and then drop in the ground, where the rabbits wouldn’t reach, so someone else could deliver it. Yeah, good-guy-me. But thing is, even before I completed my part of the event, there were other people doing the same! There were people not rushing to bags, trying to pick it before anyone else: Some of us were sitting around waiting for someone to pick a bag to help them deliver and complete their part of event. And not a single freaking word was said — We were doing it because we saw we could help each other instead of competing.

Sure it will be a pain to do that event if you’re alone but at that point, with 7 people around… it was magical.

WvW leveling

When I was stting at level 4, my guild decided to try WvW. The process is quite simple and just requires passing through a tutorial about how to revive friends and finish downed enemies the first time. Already at this point, you’re upscaled to level 80. Everything is nice and dandy, but that only changes your stats, not your gear or your rewards — the rewards at still enough for your level, including gold rewards.

To understand WvW you must know that you can defend keeps without the help of any special mechanics, due the huge amount of health doors and walls have. To break those, you need special things, like hams and catapults, which require a blueprint and supplies. Blueprints are acquired with gold and then built using supplies, and supplies can be gathered by anyone in a captured supply camp. So what a level 4 upscaled to level 80 but still getting rewards for a level 4 can do? Basically, just carry supplies. You don’t make enough gold to buy the blueprints and your gear is not scaled, so you damage and resistance are pretty low.

I understand that those things need to work this way to avoid exploitation: If a low level could earn my gold to help with blueprints or carry more supplies than anyone else, one could join WvW as low level, get lots of gold, never buy a blueprint and go back to PvE and buy everything he/she needs. Or someone in some guild just keeps recreating low levels to carry more supplies/earn more gold just to keep providing the group with “vehicles” to invade bases.

Not only that, but being there as a low level also prevented me form learning my weapon skills. Your weapon skills are earned by what seems to be kill count or percentage of damage done to one thing. But since you’re using low level weapons, you’re doing really low damage and contributing very little in the total destruction. As an example, I found a scepter for my Guardian in the WvW world, so I only had one skill available. Even after getting two bases, going after two boses and capturing a supply depot, I still only unlocked the second skill. Just as comparison, after I returned to the PvE of my level, I unlocked everything, including the off-hand skills, in about 15 minutes.

Sounds, Effects and Combat

Even before this beta weekend, a lot of people were complaining about the pistol sounds being too loud, from the press beta weekend. Well, even after 2 minutes inside the game, I had to lower the effect volume to about half of it. I had the feeling that every effect was too loud.

And it’s not just the aural effects that need to be toned down. I know people were complaining about how huge the visual effects were affecting the screen, but I didn’t realize it would affect my combat.

Let me jump into combat here a bit to help you understand what I mean: Combat is not static, you need to keep an eye on what is going on around you: The mobs will telegraph huge attacks so you can dodge and bad zones will have red outlines in the ground.

Now back to the effects: When you’re doing melee — one thing every profession can do — it makes it really hard to see those telegraphs due the amount of particles flying around the mobs, so you never is really sure when to dodge. And you can’t keep dodging all the time due the limited use of endurance. You don’t even know when to use your “strike back” skill (which some professions have) due its cooldown and, again, the fact that you can’t really see when to use it.

On the other hand, when you’re in ranged combat — again, something every profession can do — all you need to know is “is there a red outline under my feet?” Sure you miss some shots when the mob changes direction — and the farther away, the easier it is to miss — but still, you end up with more survivability. And a dead melee does a lot less damage than a live ranger.

Selling, Buying, Gathering and Crafting

Every one have all the three gathering abilities: grab herbs, wood and ores. But you can only have 2 crafting diciplines at one point — and switching doesn’t lose any progress you made.

But the thing is: Why would you, for example, cut down wood, when you’re only interested in cooking and armorsmithing? Well, to sell it, duh! But more than that, you don’t need to simply carry all this all the time: The Trading Post (Guild Wars 2 auction house) is available everywhere. Low in bag space? Press “O”, bring the Trading Post interface, select the things you don’t need sell them. Someone was looking for those materials? Sell them straight away and then just go to the trading post official later and grab your earned gold.

To be able to gather materials, you need special gear: For plants, you need a sickle; for wood, an axe; and, for ore, a pickaxe. Those items can be bought in most Merchants and have a use count. There are different qualities of such objects, which I think are required for different types of nodes — which could explain why I kept getting “ruined ore” when trying to mine a silver vein.

Also, crafting. It uses a system similar to the alchemy system in Skyrim. Unfortunately, at least in some low levels, some diciplines are really not interesting. Weaponsmith? Well, there is this thing called “Greatsword blade” and a “Greatsword hilt”… I mean, there is no way to wonder that you need to combine those two to make a greatsword. It probably gets better at higher levels. I went up to level 80 with my cooking and found funny things like mixing potatoes with a bag of salt makes french fries. Or water, flour and yeast makes bread and bread and red meat makes hamburger. It’s a pain till you find things that combine and are up to your level (more than once I found that mixing onions with anything would require cooking level 100 or higher) but those little gems when you finally combine up to four things and you make something new are really interesting and rewarding.

All the stations required to make anything are available in several places — including some outposts in the middle of nowhere — and are clearly indicated by icons in the world map and the minimap. Also, special vendors, like merchants, armorsmiths and weaponsmiths are also indicated with dots in maps, each one with a different color, so you know if you’re going to find a vendor with possibly better gear in the outpost nearby or you should go somewhere else.

Exploration

The game gives emphasis in exploration: You need to explore to find some dynamic events, you can go around finding nodes to level your disciplines… You know the drill.

But thing is, sometimes exploring can be damn fun! At some point, I was just going around when I saw some large broken pipe and decided to check if I could fit in there. And guess what: I could and there it was actually a path to an outpost. This kind of thing happens everywhere: You are strolling around when something stands out and gives you some direction on something that may be interesting in the future.

Not only that, but if you have some knowledge of the game, something you saw before, you can probably find some event happening by just going around. As an example, while I was strolling nearby Divinity’s Reach, the human capital, I saw a pumping station, indicated with an “interest point” in the map. Nothing was going on that the time. But later, when I was going after a mission in my personal story, one of the guards at Divinity’s Reach entrance said “Blergh, this water tastes awful!” It suddenly hit me that there was something wrong with the pumping station — and the fact that I heard in one of the interviews that bandits could poison the water surely helped with that — and there I went. And yup, dynamic event happening.

So even when you’re just walking around, you can get hints of dynamic events happening by simply walking into some NPC.

Gem Store

The gem store was available in this test and you could take as many pictures are you wanted. Also, you could request 2000 gems, something I didn’t do ’cause I didn’t felt necessary at this point. One thing worried me, though:

At first, I thought gems were like normal items and, to sell them, you’d have to go to the Trading Post and then fight for gold with everyone else that wanted to sell them. But there is a special place to trade them for gold (and gold for gem) and it seems it works like the material traders in Guild Wars 1: If everyone is selling some stuff, the price goes down; if people are buying, the price goes up. And I felt that you really can buy a gazillion gems in the first day and make a bajillion gold straight away.

I can see that it can work on the other way: Even if the price of gems is really low and not worth whatever ArenaNet is asking for them and nobody is buying, you can still trade your gold and get gems to transfer your character or buy bags or whatever. It is a trade off, I understand why it’s there, but it still worries me a little.

Conclusion

After those two days, in which I didn’t even get near level 30 or did a dungeon, I had the general feeling is that, at least for the zones I played, all it needed was a little tweaking: tweak the spawn rate of dynamic events, tweak the damage mobs do, tweak the rewards from WvW, tweak the personal story level, tweak the number of dynamic events in some zones; tweak the location of some dynamic events… Everything else felt solid enough to production level. Surely, those tweaks are necessary because those are the difference between “this game is fun” and “OMG, that thing I’m not playing is totally OP”.

Also, the starting zone of Sylvari and Asura is not available, so we can’t say that those events are balanced. And no idea on how things go after level 30. We know that ArenaNet doesn’t want to show everything — it isn’t a demo, it’s beta — but the quality level shown so far it’s pretty good. And the game is pretty interesting.

But the biggest problem with this beta weekend is the fact that it was just a weekend. That is, surely, a huge error that I hope ArenaNet fixes soon.