After spending far
too much of my time playing over the weekend...I really like where GW2 is going and I can't wait till it's ready for release. Awooooooogaaaaaa! Awooooooogaaaaaa! Incoming wall of blabbering text!
Performance was typical early beta for any other MMO I've tested, though the developer statements about how CPU dependent it currently is, is concerning. Changing the graphical settings made very little difference in how well it played. It was definitely playable for me on my (sub) mid-level rig, but during larger encounters it would be a bit too choppy to really get into the groove of the combat.
They need to get the dynamic event scaling correct as it seemed a bit hit or miss over the weekend. There were times when it was perfect, times when there where just too few mobs for the number of players, and times when there were obviously just too many mobs. I heard that they were aware of this issue, so hopefully they can work it out.
Playing with friends was an exercise in frustration the first day. Being in separate overflows from the main server without a way to band together is not good. They absolutely need to keep party's together. Granted, it was far better on days 2 and 3, but there were still a few occasions were we'd lose a member of our group.
More information needs to be given to the player during the first couple of hours on their take on "normal" MMO concepts. There are so many little things that have changed that I believe tool tips could solve, but there would be a ton of tool tips popping up. Examples: No face to face trading, it's done through the mail system which can be accessed through a panel anywhere. You can draw, set waypoints, and ping a spot on the map that is visible on all your party member maps. You can deposit items to your bank directly from your inventory. You can access the auction house from anywhere, but you'll still need to go to one to pick up any items you purchased. There are just so much of these type of changes from standard fare, that it was a bit confusing...not that any of them were bad concepts, they're just not very obvious. Some of these may be explained later in the game (I didn't take anyone past 20), but some would be really handy earlier.
Enough bitching! I'll just try and describe the gameplay for those few who might not know what what to expect.
Combat is an absolute blast! They've definitely breathed some fresh air into the stale MMO mechanics. Sure it may look fairly familiar, but the application is far from it.
The pacing is quite quick and and is reflected in the duration of buffs and debuffs (termed "boons" and "conditions" in GW2). Something that lasts 10 seconds is a long time here....stealth may last 2-5 seconds as a Theif, a Guardians ward maybe 3 seconds, a warriors stun or knockdown maybe 1 second.
Positioning is so important, especially with the number of mobs that will be thrown at you. With the way the mob will somewhat intelligently position itself, melee in front casters in the rear with some flanking....you have to make snap decisions on where you need to be. With the holy trinity biting the dust here, getting caught unprepared in the initial rush guarantees falling in battle regardless of class. As a heavy warrior, sure I may last a couple seconds longer standing there than a light caster, but that's it...seconds, as in very few.
You will fall, it's just a fact of the way the game is built. There's nothing wrong or embarrassing in it....you may get revived on the spot by anyone, or you might be able to fight back to your feet with the abilities you have when on your back. You kill a mob from your back and you rally, no one damages you any further and you use certain skill and you'll rally. If you end up losing the last bit of health and actually "die", you will suffer a death penalty to your total amount of health and damage to your gear. At that point you still may be revived by other players, or you can pay to teleport to any waypoint you've uncovered. Repairs and teleports are fairly inexpensive, so it's not a big issue to die. You want to prevent it, but doing so doesn't mean you lack skill, or the game is too hard for an average player like me.
This is where the dodge mechanic comes into play...use it or die even more often. For one thing, you're invulnerable during the roll, secondly it's a great way to get to an enemy flank. There doesn't seem to be any advantage from hitting someone from the flank or rear, but it does mean that they can't hit you when you're hitting them. Everything hits hard in the game, both the mobs and the players...so it boils down to avoiding hits, getting your damage in where you can, then getting out for a few seconds before jumping back in. It's all very active and constantly puts you on the move.
The beauty in it is that almost every class is fairly self-proficient, depending on your weapon selections...you very likely have the ability to proactively cope with any situation. I spent most of my time as a warrior or thief...as a warrior I found that I really enjoyed a Greatsword/2H Hammer combo. When wielding the hammer, I was capable of many AOE movement impairing effects that coupled with a bit of damage. Cripples, stuns, knockbacks, and knockdowns galore...but most very short range. Then the Greatsword allowed me to close on mobs quickly and do a ton of damage. Of course I had a personal heal skill and a few AOE buffs...so I'm actually fully capable of a wide range of abilities that wouldn't normally be available outside of very specific spec in most MMOs. This combo worked for me, but I could have spent time with so many other combinations. Swords, maces, axes, shields, so on. Even down to the main hand vs. off-hand combinations, where axe/mace is going to be completely different from mace/axe, that's right...nothing
on the weapons bar would overlap.
I can say state that the classes seem to play very different from a traditional MMOs version of the same thing once you're past the surface. As a thief, stealth wasn't something you depended on as heavily as you would expect...in fact you can't depend on it because it doesn't last more than just a few seconds. But you are chock full of evasion/damage skills...you jump in, blast away for a few seconds, and get out. The skills include a lot of flanking, but burn up initiative fast (thief version of mana here) so you can't stick around. One neat thief skill with a main hand sword was to tap it to teleport you to a target, do what you need to for a couple seconds, and upon the second tap it teleports back to the spot you initiated it from. The initial spot is marked, so you could use it with the intention of kiting the mob back to that spot as you take a few seconds to recover.
This simple mark brings me to another thing I really like about GW2, the presentation of combat. To me at least, even with the unbelievable amount of things happening on screen it was fairly obvious what was happening to my character. If you are crippled you stagger, you're taking fire damage and you're definitely on fire, stunned and you wobble, poisoned and you turn a shade of green, there are also colors/textures that flash on the edge of the screen that give you cues your condition. Sure, there are icons on screen that you could hover over for additional details about the effects, but everything happens at sure a breakneck speed compared to a traditional MMO...that you'd likely be dead before you had a chance to read it. This also appears to apply to AOE conditions too...Red circles are bad, blue good, white neutral. You see a big blue bubble pop up and arrows bouncing off of it...pretty obvious eh?
The audio cues are of the same quality. There are sounds that can give you as much feedback on the situation as the visuals once you realize what they are. A miss sounds like a miss, contact with certain weapons sounds certain way, same with a block , or a final killing blow. Part of the reason the 2H hammer was such a blast for me was the sound it made, the combo of screen shake and an audio thud/tink made for a really satisfying experience. And yeah, making contact with a mob produced a very different sound than making contact with the ground.
As for questing...
Your personal quest, which is customized to the background choices you make during character creation, guides you to new areas of the world and is the only traditional questing you'll find in the game. Within my group of friends, there were some personal quests that were vastly different and some that would occasionally intersect. So we quickly realized that there are branching paths, but who knows how different they become as you move on. I can't really comment on the quality of the story as I skipped through the dialogue. For one thing, I didn't want to spoil it, secondly...the VO is not nearly as well done as say SWTOR, but it still tries to set the same kind of tone, so it wasn't hitting for me. I gather from word of mouth that there is ongoing work in this area, so I'm hoping the quality improves before release.
Anyways...arriving at a new area you'll speak to a "scout" that will automatically open your world map and give you a brief rundown on the local happenings while scrolling your map around to show you where the local villages are. Even though there are level recommendations to the villages, there is nothing to prevent you from going to any of them.
So you head to a village to participate in the village "quest". These are represented by a open heart on the map. Once you get there, the quest log in the upper corner will give you instruction on how you might help the village in some way...collect/kill/interact, and contribute. Once you've done enough, the heart solidifies on the map and you can assist no more. These just put you into a position to encounter the dynamic events happening in the world. As you're assisting the village, a dynamic event may be occurring nearby. You'll get visual and audio cues to alert you to this, or perhaps an NPC will speak about it in passing. This NPC doesn't stop you, and you don't interact with them, but he'll run by you telling you the situation before running to the next group of folks to tell them as well.
In one moment, I was heading out to a new waypoint that was showing on my map when some chap ran up yelling that a ranch was under attack from bandits. I took off that way and found about 10-15 players defending the ranch from waves of mobs 30-40 thick. When getting close, the quest tracker pops up telling me that we need to defend x amount of waves and that it's on x wave. What entailed was a long scenario where we beat the bandits off and were all credited for our contribution via XP, coin and karma (karma is an additional currency to buy specialty items) and watched the bandits run off toward their camps in the hills above the ranch. As I ran around collecting the massive amount of loot, the ranchers decide they want to take the bandit camps and so begins another event to raid the bandit camps. I've also ran into this area on a different character where the bandits had killed off the ranchers and held the ranch and the players we're task with driving them off...so there are multiple ways that you may initially run into this scenario of ranch vs bandits.
I feel that "Scenarios" is the best way to describe the basics of the dynamic event system. There is a finite number of states the area may be in, but there is a constant ebb and flow of battle.
There are also occurring bosses, which is a ton of fun when you have enough folks around. There were no obvious prerequisites, but they happen often enough that they kept me entertained.
There area also the skill challenges marked on your map, and completing them adds skill points. Skill points are what you spend on the utility skills and where you can start customizing your classes playstyle beyond just weapon combinations. I couldn't even begin to go through all the possibilities, but suffice to say there is enough there to keep things interesting. You never know what to exactly expect from your fellow players. The combinations in weapons alone are so wildly varied that the guy beside you could be a ranged AOE caster in one second and a clone creating, teleporting, melee fighter the next....and they're effective at both.
The art style is very much to my liking. Fairly detailed with a well done, graphic novel look. ANet wanted concept art in motion and I think they've accomplish it. The effects are informative, but also very pretty and fit right into the overall look of the rest of the world. It's even down to the dodge effect surrounding a thief or mesmer is very much in line with the rest of the classes effects art. Yeah, each class seems to have it's own art style down to the effects, yet still blends in. Very very cool.
Sound, outside of the current VO work, is supurb. As I mentioned, the audio cues are great feedback. The soundtrack is epic. The class sound effects are of the quality of the class art, sure it sounds different than the other classes, but they all seem to fit.
There are no mounts and the distances can be daunting. The pay to teleport waypoints are handy and you need to grab them when you see them. No cooldown here, but you will be spending coin frequently. Run speed seems a bit plodding, but your class will likely have a speed buff somewhere. The Cities are HUGE
. There are plenty of NPCs that will grant you a speed buff and several waypoints with each city, but you still have to hump it to a waypoint on foot for it to be available to you. Plan on spending a good bit of time exploring.
I didn't touch crafting as it's not something I spend too much time with. There are some interesting things going on here, but didn't delve into it enough to know if it's good or bad.
I absolutely love the level downscaling to the area you're in. I was able to take a higher level character to anywhere one of my friends may have a new character running, and still be presented a fun challenge.
Set PvP is fun. Like the rest, very fast and active.
Spent around two hours in World PvP, participating in a very intense but also very localized fight. Two hours of fighting is fine, two hours of ebb and flow over the same 200 yards of ground without any real sense accomplishment by either side wasn't so much to my liking. Very curious to how this will play out long term because I can see the possibility of some truly great gaming experiences.
Will it get stale too quickly? I can't say...if the events keep growing in stature or complexity as you level, I think it will be fine. Yet, if it stays the same, I could see folks tiring of it.
Anyways, that's enough thoughts for now.....my brain is hurting trying to cover it all.