Still Trying to Wrap My Mind Around GW2 Traits

There is something I really can’t wrap my mind to understand it fully: The new Trait system in Guild Wars 2.

Not that’s completely unintelligible or more complex than a game of chess with Kasparov, but I really can’t figure out which of the those sides is the important one.

Thing is: You pick a trait line; adding points to it increases 2 attributes and, at multiples of 5, open a trait slot with more passives. It’s simple at the surface, but I can’t really decide if I should focus on the attributes or the trait slots.

The system is somewhat similar to RIFT soul trees: As you put points in the skills in the tree, you also open skills in the root. But, at the same time, it seemed that the real focus was on the tree and the root was just bonus material. So it was easy to have a focus when building your character.

But the trait system seems… weird when you focus on numbers. Let’s take, as example, the Guardian. In the Virtues trait line, adding one point decreases the recharge time of Virtues in 1% (it also improves the damage of conditions, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s ignore that for a second). Now the question is: Is it worth adding a single point to get 1% recharge time? What about 3 points for 3%? If the numbers are meaningless, this means that you should, instead, focus on the trait slots, which you gain one at every 5 points spent. But then, everything will move in multiples of 5 and we’ll have to ask why there are single units in the first place: If trait slots are so valuable, why not give those 5 points all at once (every 5 levels) and simply let me pick the trait slot?

I think the trait system is pretty interesting, specially when some of the attributes you get are, sometimes, unrelated to the trait slot you’re opening (for Guardians, 10 points in Virtues let you pick a longer elite skills, for example) as it messes with min/maxing, but at the same time its hard to see if points or slots are the leading decision maker at first glance.

Most of the “tools” floating around are fixed on numbers but not their effects (what 100 points in toughness means, for example) so I guess we’ll have to wait for the game for someone to pick those and, sadly, make a spreadsheet.

The damages of World of Warcraft

I started writing this, then deleted and let it go. But today I saw this Guild Wars 2 press video and I could see that I should’ve completed that post.

Now, before I go on, let me say that I don’t like to say anything bad about other people gameplays. Trying to find what people did wrong while not looking what you’re doing is quite hypocritical — and that’s why I had a series called “PvPing with Thor” to analyse my own play style instead of bashing other Holy Paladins in World of Warcraft.

That being said… Man, what a bad gameplay. Seriously. I won’t get into details about his continual spam of the first skill, not changing attunements or complete lack of dodging — we said he was tired and sleep deprived, which could explain part of it — but his fight with Master Ranger Nente (which starts around the 19:00 mark) is bad in many ways. His words: “The biggest problem here is trying to move around and attack at the same time.”

Sure, that would be a problem in games like World of Warcraft and parts of Rift, but Guild Wars 2 allows casting while moving. And that’s some damage Blizzard’s MMO (and its predecessors and its cousins) did to a lot of players.

Little anecdote time: When I was playing Rift, one of the things I planned was to roll one character of each class; with the Rogue, I went into the Ranger soul tree, basically being a Ranger (also, Marksman and something else I can really remember). I remember how impressed people went when they saw me kiting mobs while still shooting, ’cause I early realised that any spell that doesn’t have a casting time can’t be cast while moving. That simply blown other peoples minds!

But… does that make sense? I think it does. Some wizard doesn’t need to sit still to be able to recite enchants, do they? Someone who is good with the bow doesn’t really need to stand still to be able to shot an arrow, unless it’s a very trick shot, don’t they? (Merida just agrees with me).

And, yet, people still believe that to cast some magic bolt anything, you need to stand still — like you can’t talk and walk at the same time. To shot an arrow, you need to stand still.

Ugh. Just… ugh.

Maybe ArenaNet needs to put, in big letters, YOU CAN MOVE AND CAST AT THE SAME TIME! when everyone logs in. Actually, put that in the login screen.

And yes, I know such things existed way before WoW. But WoW bring those silly ways to the masses and never even thought about changing it.

Highlights from the second ArenaNet AMA on Reddit

So ArenaNet decided to make a second AMA on Reddit, this time to discuss WvWvW (or WvW, or wuv-wuv — or yet, after reading WvW so many times, I started reading it as “wuw”, but I guess that doesn’t make any sense). In case you want to read all questions and answers, you can read it yourself (pro-tip: just check what the user ArenaNetTeam wrote and use the “Context” link to get the question — although sometimes it’s easy to figure out what the question was). Anyway, some things caught my eye:

First, there are no inter-world communication; you can’t abuse people from the other server and they can’t abuse your — verbally, that is. There are ways to form alliances, like two servers going against one, but Mike didn’t went too much into details. Related: The side of the portal in the mists where you land actually makes you invulnerable, so people can’t simply camp your spawn point and kill you over and over again.

Second, players don’t have nameplates like your world friends. They are shown only as “intruders” and have their own colour — which is attached to your world and it’s always the same: If you’re read, on the server rotation two weeks later, you will still play for the reds (I’m guessing that, at creation, ArenaNet will assign a colour to each world and that’s static. Since they are the ones doing it, they can prevent two worlds having the same colour. At the same time, I see that it will very hard to chose completely different colours that would never clash — sure, there are 16 million colours the human eye can pick, but damn if you can spot the difference between the greenish-blue of your world from the blueish-green of another world). Players will drop loot like any other mob in the world, including some rares.

Third, people can chose to be “Commanders”. First they have to pay a fee to call themselves commander. After that, in the battle field, they shown that to people and people can join these commanders squad. At first sight, it looks a bit like parties, but instead of having a guy calling “Hey, I’m a Commander. Join my raid to attack something”, like we use to do in the very early days of Wintergrasp in World of Warcraft, the guy simply turns on his Commander badge and people can simply click his icon and join the squad/party. No specifics on size, but it seems the squad gets their own chat channel to communicate.

Fourth, although there are water areas — including a quaggan tribe that can assist you in capturing/defending towers — you can’t simply jump into some underground lake and go inside the tower. Seems they played with they idea of having such attack vectors, but adding an underwater door was no fun, as you can’t build sieges and golems underwater.

Fifth, WvW is a PvE zone with open world PvP. This means that there are mobs, dynamic events and event pets that can be tamed by rangers. But that also means that, when you die, one piece of your armour will get damaged, like in normal PvE.

Sixth, if a guild contribute more when capturing a tower, they have 1 minute to call that their base. Doing that will display that guild banner around. They are working on a way to alert the guild in case one of their points goes under attack, but they don’t have specifics yet.

Seventh, you can “visit” a world. This means that, without having to pay for a transfer — which will require a fee to prevent jumping around to get the WvW bonuses, although they don’t have the details of how much it will cost yet, or even if that will cost virtual or real currency — you can play alongside your friends from another world in their world. You keep karma, gold and whatever tokens you acquire, but when doing WvW, you’ll still play for your world and not theirs.

Eighth, there are no overflow shards for WvW: Once a map it’s full, it’s full. You can try your change on some other map (of all four for WvW) or stay in a queue. You can, though, queue for WvW while in an overflow shard. Mike didn’t mentioned anything on how this queue will work, though. ArenaNet reached 300 players in one map during the press closed beta, though.

There was a lot more, but those are really interesting, IMHO — and I didn’t even go deep into overflow shards!

Oh, and unrelated: At the end of the AMA, ArenaNet got 1 million signups for the next betas.

My take on why Guild Wars 2 won’t have mounts

Another topic that sparked with discussions around the interpipes (and, please, note that I said “won’t” and not “shouldn’t”).

As far as we know, Guild Wars 2 won’t have mounts initially. I say initially ’cause Jeff Grubb mentioned that, if there is player interest, they may rethink it.

But any discussion about mounts can go heated pretty fast. People claiming GW2 is not WoW, people claiming you have fast travel and why you need mounts, people pointing that you could collect them… The arguments go on and on.

Just to clear something: I don’t think mounts have space in the current set of Guild Wars 2. But this is partially my personal view of the game design and part is my experience with other MMOs. Let me start with the second point, which I think is what fears most people who are following GW2 development for this long:

In other MMOs, there are mounts that you can purchase with gold/tokens and there are mounts that can only be obtained by completing some long quest/achievement or with luck when you kill some boss — which some people usually attribute to the “Random Number God” (which is actually “Random Number Generator”). It usually revolves around going every day or week to kill the same boss ’cause it has a (low) probability of dropping that mount. And that’s the part that I really don’t like.

(As personal opinion, I’d like to tear the balls of the kid who got the 1% mount in some 25 man raid in WoW ’cause he would pose in some city, floating around doing nothing, just to show how big his e-peen is. That’s something GW2 really doesn’t need.)

But let’s take the RNG out and say that ArenaNet puts all mounts available to buy with karma, the currency for completing dynamic events. So it’s not a matter of luck anymore: You play the game, you help people around the world and that let you buy a special mount.

And that bring us to the first problem I listed: design.

So you have fast travel: A set of portals around the world, which let you teleport to them whenever you want, like in Star Trek (except that you must have a proper gate to land instead of being able to jump to wherever you want).

Another thing I’d like to bring about design is the read mail while out of a city: Out of combat, you’ll click on your mail and instead of a window popping in from of you, a little dove will come from the sky and deliver the letter to you. How freaking cool is that?

In a world like that, how will you make mounts appear? Will they simply pop up right next to you (or between your legs)? If you can do that with some animal, why can’t they set teleporters to everywhere? They could use some tricks like making your mount appear out of your field of view and then it comes to you but how would that work for other players? You’re running around and, out of the blue, a horse appears from nowhere (going towards someone in front of you)? Does that make sense in a world where not even mail simply appears in front of you?

Again, ArenaNet didn’t rolled out mounts completely, and they pointed they will consider it if players show interested in it. There is some interest floating around already and, obviously, we don’t know how good the fast travel teleports are or if we really need mounts to reach some events quickly, so anyone saying “this game totally needs mounts” or “fuck mounts, we don’t need them” is jumping into conclusions. We all should just wait for the game to come out to have a better feeling of “need”/”don’t need”.

Till then, I’ll think we still don’t need mounts (by the points I shown above) but, as ArenaNet, I’m open to change opinion once the game is out.

My take on why Guild Wars 2 doesn’t have raids

Again and again, there is a topic popping up on my Twitter search for “guild wars 2”: raids. Do they exist in Guild Wars 2?

The answer is a simple “No”. So far, there was only word from ArenaNet stating that there is no raids — and I’m saying that ’cause that may change in the final version, but my little head math says no ’cause it doesn’t make sense.

But let’s take a step back and start from the beginning defining what a “raid” is: It’s an instantiated zone, with a pre-defined number of people (10, 25, 40) where there are a certain number of enemies with at least one big enemy that requires some coordination to be defeated. This big enemy (also known as “boss”) usually does more damage and have a higher health pool. To kill a boss, you have around 20% of your group acting as “tank”, soaking damage; from 30% to 40% being healers, recovering the health the tank and everyone else loses during the fight; and everyone else must do a lot of damage to kill the boss before the healers can’t heal the tanks anymore because they took too much damage.

Now, how do you translate that to Guild Wars 2?

One of the things Guild Wars 2 is removing is the “hard trinity”, which is my way of calling what everyone else calls “Holy trinity” (because there is a trinity in Guild Wars 2 — damage/support/control — it’s just that you can do all 3 at the same time), so they have to come with better tactics than putting people to soak damage while others heal ’cause, well, everybody can do that at some level (they are not specialized, so they can’t really cover that).

Tanks have a special table called “Aggro” or “Threat”. It’s the thing that keeps the boss attacking the tank and not everyone else (unless the tank is not really a tank or is a bad tank). Without the special roles, there is no such think, so ArenaNet change it to proximity: The boss will take the closest character and punish it as much as it can. Since characters can’t be tanks, they have to, most of the times, use a control ability and get away from the boss to recover some health, while another character takes the role of “punching bag”.

Up to here there is no news for anyone that’s following the Guild Wars 2 development or have already played another MMO.

With that mechanic of “be punch bag, retreat, recover health, return” dance in mind, how would you translate that to a bigger party?

If you have a raid of 15 people, the game “switch timer” should be shorter, to force everyone to jump forward and attack the boss/cover your friends instead of sitting in the back spamming whatever abilities they have. For this shorter switch timer, you’d need high spike damage going in a somewhat fast rate. If the guy who’s playing the “punch bag” role at the time doesn’t realize it’s his time to move to the back, the next attack will surely put him down — he didn’t move in his slot, so he got the spike damage that should be taken by someone else.

Not only that, but because you have people switching places — in a way that when it’s time for the last guy in the line to move to the back, the first can safely move back to the front with his healing skill available again — your combat would be a giant back-and-forth dance, where people would see themselves doing very little damage.

One way to avoid a shorter switch timer would force all healing abilities to have longer cooldowns, but that would, then, mess with everything else — dungeons, PvP, dynamic events… everything!

Sure, some gimmicks could be added, but then you’d have to compete those raids with the largest dynamic events and why would you make both available if both would have the same rewards?

(And I won’t go into details that most raids in other games require that you join every week or so and do the same thing to get better gear/special rewards, which is against ArenaNet idea of fun.)

Guild Wars 2, Expansions, the Mayan Calendar and the End of Everything

So today ArenaNet announced that Guild Wars 2 will, indeed, be released in 2012.

Excuse me for a second while I glee like a 14 year old girl.

GLEEEEEEE!

Ahem. Well, sorry about that. Anyway, there is one thing that made me think about dates:

Mike O’Brien, in that post, said that the open beta will start in February and ramp up in March and April. So one can hope that the release will happen in May or June (my bets are in May due the speed ArenaNet is going from beta to beta, but I’m not counting the time to print boxes for the brick-and-mortar stores).

Still nothing fancy there. But then we must remember that ArenaNet had a schedule of one expansion every 6 months. And that’s where things get interesting.

If they release Guild Wars 2 in June and then go work in the next expansion, Guild Wars 2.1 will appear in December. I will let you digest that for a second. Yes, you got it right: December. 2012. The end of the Mayan calendar! The end of the world! Or, as some nicer people say, the end of an era and the start of a new one. Could this mean that Guild Wars 2.1 will be the bringer of a better (or worse) future?

Not only that, but apparently Rubi from Massively snapped a curious picture of jerseys saying 28/06/2012 (June 26, 2012). If the open beta ends in April, June 28 gives plenty of time for making boxes and sending them to brick-and-mortar stores. If you count again 6 months, first expansion will land in December 28. 3 days after Christmas? That doesn’t make sense! But, if they manage to cut a single week in their plans, first expansion will be available in… 21 December 2012! 21.12.2012!

See? SEE? The Mayans knew!

I’m so excited for the first Guild Wars 2 expansion now!

Yup, It Is a Mesmer

ArenaNet promised we would know the last profession before the end of the year, but didn’t gave a proper date for it. But some people jumped the gun and posted a video with the skills before ArenaNet did the officla announcement, which forced them to announce the class before the official blog post. The video has been since removed but hey, only 2 more days and you’ll see it.

(But someone was faster and uploaded a copy to YouTube, so you can still watch it.)

From what I could see before it was removed… I’m torn. Really. My idea was to roll a Guardian on the start but damn, those guys from ArenaNet made some pretty nice skills for the Mesmer.

My reaction times are pretty bad, so I usually take the place of “go ahead and smash face on enemy” type of gameplay, so the original Mesmer was not something I could handle properly, doing interrupts in time and such. But this version is more active and a lot more cooler: An Invisibility area, mirror images (which shatter beautifully when out of time/health), a random (maybe?) effect zone, teleportation (a là Guardian Flashing Blade), Shatter Images (destroying the mirror images to cause damage), Teleport symbols and a bad ass laser beam which causes your weapon to float in front of you.

The game visuals also seems to get a nice upgrade: If you pay attention in the “Crippling Zone” spell, you can see the spell slowly falling in the ground, like a sheet of paper; you can see the facial expression of the last Sylvari changing to an angry face while casting the laser spell; and, on top of that, the smooth animation of the greatsword returning to his hand. I kinda wish they would redo the other skill videos, just to compare how long their engine has gone in those months.

Guild Wars 2, Sidekicks, Skill Challenges

So last week Eric Flannum posted another Guild Wars 2 update. Besides the obvious, there is some stuff that it’s not in the post.

First, something the people on MMOrpg forums found in the Hero panel: If you look closely, you’ll notice that the attributes have green numbers next to them. And, right below the character name, there is a “Effective level 3”. That’s the sidekicking kicking in. Although this is a level 48 ranger, he’s probably near a level 3 event (like, for example, the “farm is under attack”, which we saw a long time ago, when the gameplay videos start appearing). One thing pointed was that the total health didn’t change, but I guess that’s only ’cause they forgot about this bit in the hero panel, as we can’t see the health orb in the shot.

Also, we can see how the points are not even per level. For example, if the player is level 50 and it’s sidekicked to level 5, one could expect that the new attributes would be 10% of the actual attributes. But, in the shot, from level 48 to level 3, attributes would be around 6% of the actual values but they are around 10%. Again, as I am guessing, the points are somewhat distributed inversely of the required experience points to level: You earn more in the lower levels and then it flattens.

The second point Eric brought was the acquisition of the heal, utility and elite skills. What they describe is what before was the trait acquisition system: For every profession, there would be challenges around the map, which you’d need to complete to get new traits. Eric makes a good point saying that this would split the community, as the warrior challenge won’t be the same as the elementalist challenge and, thus, one would simply tag around without getting a proper reward. This way, both warriors and elementalists can tag along and both will be rewarded for doing it.

But not everything is nice and dandy, as some people found some flaws. Kill Ten Rats saw the skill challenges as a return of classic quests. I somewhat agree with them. First, it’s not a classic quest per se, as it will be pretty much tied to the dynamic event system. But I guess you can’t simply stay around, wait for it to reset and do it again for more points: once you complete the challenge, you’ll have to search for a new one to get more points. So, even if the quest is just another event, there will be a way to prevent you to do it again. But that’s the only difference between normal dynamic events and challenge events I can see.

The other point brought came from Reddit is how this will affect those who level through PvP. Sure, there are two different things we must realize here: People who play in PvP and people who level in PvP. For the first group, there is no real problem, as every time you join a PvP match, you get all the traits, weapons and skills; if you plan to keep doing PvP, you’ll still have all skills and traits. Now, if you plan only to level through PvP, then you may have a problem, ’cause you’ll be level 80 without your heal, utility and elite skills. But, at the same time, you’ll probably have enough gold/karma to buy nice gear and weapons and then explore the world to find the skill challenges. And your weapon skills would be maxed already, so you won’t be completely lost.

Overall, the changes aren’t that bad in any shape or form — Actually, I think they are pretty nice. Again, ArenaNet shows how focused in making a social game they are.

Of Initiators, Finishers and Delays

Recently, ArenaNet posted some development information about Guild Wars 2, pointing some new information about the things they are working on.

But seems not everybody is happy to know that they are still working on it. On Facebook, the initial 100 comments where more like “Shut up and say when it will be released”. Fortunately, Reddit mood was a lot nicer, with people pointing that it’s better to be late than being bad. I have the impression that most people on Facebook will be the ones that will play for a month, see it’s not WoW and then jump into the forums to complain.

Anyway, the blog post mentions the engineer toolbelt, the ranger pets and combos. At this point, I don’t feel really compelled to play an engineer (although Jump Shot is pretty damn cool) or a ranger (although the Fern Mastiff is too damn cool to ignore) but the combos, that’s interesting.

The previous combo we knew was Firewall (from an Elementalist) and any Ranger shooting ability. Now they came with a longer list:

Use Ricochet through a Firewall to get a bouncing axe that has a chance to burn the targets it hits. Leaping Death Blossom through a Symbol of Faith will remove conditions from allies near your target. Stomp inside a Smoke Screen to cloak nearby allies.

They also explained that there are abilities that are initiators and abilities that are finishers. All those listed above show one initiator and one finisher. So the number of combos shown is not 3 but actually 9.

Initiators Finishers
Firewall Ricochet
Symbol of Faith Leaping Death Blossom
Smoke Screen Stomp

The results may be unknown but we know that you can, for example, Stomp over a Smoke Screen, a Firewall or a Symbol of Faith and those will produce combos (initiatior – finisher, remember?) Sure, it will take some time to recognize if the skill you’re using is a initiator or a finisher (or none), but we have a pretty decent list to start with (and the wiki lists some more, but focusing more on the combo themselves instead of listing initiators and finishers).