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.


Watch live video from sonyonlinetv on TwitchTV

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.

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?

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.)

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.

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.