Somehow I managed to be incredibly stupid and forget to post this video here. This is a run down of how “side quests”, or Renown Hearts work.
When it comes to questing, no one shuts up about the personal story and dynamic events. Why don’t we talk about Renown Hearts instead?
Don’t forget to check out GW2 WvW when you’re done!
Alright, folks, here’s the post of my impressions from the Guild Wars 2 beta, as promised. At the end of each section, I’m also listing my video plans for the week, which will be updated to link to the videos as they go live. All pictures link to larger size images.
Overall, I thought the game was amazing. I knew I would love it before we got in, but I wasn’t prepared for just how amazing it was really going to be. I logged a total of 46 hours, 15 minutes over the course of the weekend. We lost a bit of time due to it being beta and things being down, and I had to sleep at least a couple hours each night, so I wasn’t able to get quite as much time in as I wanted (but then, I could have played all 60 and still not had enough). I’m not going to be able to enjoy any other game from now until this game goes live. If any other company wants me to like their game from here out, they’re going to have to do a lot to meet the expectations ArenaNet has given me for video games.
Now, this was a beta. Despite the fact that the game looks as finished as it does, plays as though it’s finished, and is as enjoyable as a finished game, it’s not finished at all. There are a lot of bugs here and there in general that caused some issues. Part of the issues everyone had was major server-side lag. This mostly cleared up after Friday night, but at the beginning of the beta when everyone was logging into the servers at once, it was brutal. Everyone also generally had a lot of frame rate issues. This is again because of the fact that it’s in beta. The game isn’t optimized almost at all yet. There’s a ton of particle effects in the game, and no way to tone them down. There was also a bug that kept it CPU-locked at low priority, so no matter how good your graphics card is and how much memory you’ve got, you weren’t going to get much use out of it unless your computer was running absolutely nothing else whatsoever. That obviously didn’t work for me as I had Fraps, Skype, and Virtual Audio Cable (so I could record the game without Fraps) in the background. I also had my laptop open beside me with the forums and a stream open here and there (mostly Gamebreaker TV’s stream or occasionally Lore’s stream).
So, I said that we had a little bit of time we couldn’t play during the beta. There were three time periods that we had trouble getting in throughout the beta. First off, our server was easily the most heavily populated in the beta, at least at first until some people transferred off. We were the first server to fill up by far as not only did the GBTV community roll on Darkhaven, but so did the GW2 Reddit and the biggest alliance in Guild Wars. So, in the early evening on Friday, we actually crashed the server. The server completely stopped and we were all running around in our own game while everyone else stood still. However, we could still chat because that’s handled separately on server-side. Later that night, they brought down the servers for about 30 minutes to implement some hot fixes that cleared up a LOT of the lag. On Saturday, we crashed the database server. This led to a lot of account-related issues and especially a lot of guild-related issues. A lot of people, despite still being in their guilds, could no longer see the guilds they were in. This really hit a lot of us in the GBTV guilds, so we had people having to get invited around the different overflow guilds so that everyone could see themselves in a guild.
Overall videos: I’ve got the impressions/wrap-up video on its way right now. Later this week I’ll have some general gameplay videos and a beginner’s guide to GW2.
The first thing you get to see when you open the game is the character creation that leads into the story. The character creator gives you a lot of choices aesthetically for a truly unique look, but it also gives you a lot of choices that define your character in terms of their profession and story. For anyone that’s been wondering how much these choices really affect your story, let me tell you that they completely define what content you see at the beginning. The story we got to see is mostly broken into two 10-level chunks. I’m going to use humans as an example here. If you watch the video series I posted by Scott Hawkes, you’ll get to see the first chunk of the human story if you chose to have grown up on the streets. You see that he meets his friend Quinn, who is in trouble with the bandits that are trying to poison the town, and you have to stop them.
I instead chose to have grown up in the nobility, and my first chunk was about uncovering the corrupt minister that was paying off the bandits to try to take out me and my noble friend. At the beginning, after the intro line, we threw a party in my honor since I saved Shaemoor from the centaurs. The bandits busted that and kidnapped my friend. Then we went on, kicked a lot of bandit backside, and brought the minister to trial. The minister refused a trial and challenged us to a trial by duel. We then learned that he was actually in the pocket of another corrupt minister.
Now, the other choice I had made in my creation was that I regretted never finding my sister’s killer. After helping me take out that other minister, Logan Thackery told me of an old Seraph unit that might still be alive, despite common knowledge that they had been completely decimated. It turns out that my sister was in that unit, and then it becomes personal. So, I went out to talk to this other Seraph captain that may have known stuff, and discovered he was hiding things. From here, we discovered that he, too, was being paid off by a minister. We also discovered that said minister had been set up by another minister (probably the same minister from the first chunk, but it didn’t say for sure). So, both chunks as nobility involved investigating the corruption of the minister(s) trying to get Queen Jennah dethroned. In the last bit of story we got to play, I found my sister in the bandit cave, and all was well.
While playing through all of this, there are more choices you end up making throughout that will continue to affect your story. But, you can see how the content changes based on the story you picked. It’s also reflected in the cut scenes. The cut scenes, by the way, work really well. The concept are behind the conversations has improved from the first time we saw them, and it no longer feels quite as out of place. There were a lot of bugs here that need to be worked out, such as the audio and video of the cut scenes not being in sync. Sometimes the audio would simply not play for one of the characters. In the intro cut scene for Ascalon Catacombs, Rytlock’s texture won’t load at all if you don’t have the high-res character textures box checked under graphics settings. There was also one occasion where the voice acting was using an entirely different script from the one on the screen, which made it a little confusing.
I thought the story was fairly easy to play through (provided you pay attention and play well), even as I was getting into parts that were a couple levels above me. There were one or two areas that were considerably more challenging and almost made me have to go do other things to level in order to continue. But, that’s how I like it. The only two things, difficulty wise, that I think need adjustment in the story are the AI of some of the bosses that hammered Thackery but not me when he was present and making one or two of the instances a little better guided. The arrow that points you a path in one of them was actually backwards, which made it really confusing.
Personal story videos: I’ve got video for all three opening intros, but the norn one will be included in my beginner’s guide to GW2. I’m also working with the video for the last story instance of the beta for my human elementalist.
So, instead of the typical model of finding a person, picking up a quest or two, doing those quests, and returning to that person, Guild Wars 2 has implemented a totally different system of question. Your standard linear model follows more of the Personal Story style, whereas side quests take the form of renown hearts and dynamic events. The renown hearts are really nice, because they’re always there until you complete them. There is an NPC for each one, but you don’t actually have to talk to that NPC. When you enter the area of a renown heart, it pops up tells you what all you can do. If you talk to the NPC, they’ll clarify things a bit more for you. Instead of “kill ten rats”, you get a progress bar that you can fill with any combination of killing rats, hiding cheese from rats, putting rat poisoning in the food, and helping the villagers that were bitten by rats. Each renown heart has multiple ways you can fill the progress bar, letting you “quest” the way you want to. At the end, you automatically receive the reward without visiting the NPC. Then, the NPC is just there as a vendor of special items.
The renown hearts typically have a very wide area that you can participate in. If the NPC is standing at the entrance to a cave with a renown heart, you can usually do complete the heart throughout the whole inside of the cave as well as a large area outside of the cave. The game automatically tells you what you can do, and the NPC is marked on the map for a little bit of clarity. The renown hearts also always occur in the area immediately near the heart on the map, so there’s no “run across the mountains and kill these things that only grow in this tiny portion of the hillside and then come back to me” type of deal. It’s a really well-guided system that tells you what to do without holding your hand too much.
Renown hearts are also a great source of income in the game. You get experience and karma for each renown heart. You also get a chunk of gold mailed to your character from the NPC that scales with your level. At low levels, you’re getting around 30 copper or so for completing a heart. By the end of the first areas (around level 15), you’re getting about 70 copper or so per heart. By the end of the second areas (close to 25), the NPCs are mailing you over a silver for helping them. At low levels, a silver is a pretty good amount. Your lowest level salvage kit to turn junk items into crafting materials costs 32 copper. One silver can buy you three of those. I honestly don’t have anything I’d link changed specifically in the renown heart system.
Renown videos: I recorded my favorite renown heart of them all over the weekend as well as a few others, and I’ll be putting them up along with a general “what is a renown heart” video.
The dynamic event system was one of the most anticipated, but also hit-or-miss expected features in Guild Wars 2. By this, I mean that everyone was really wanting to see how it was done, but we also all knew that it would either really kill it or flop like Rift’s system. Let me say that it killed it. As you’re going through the world, they feel really natural. It’s not like suddenly an event pops up right beside you and then you’re wondering where it came from. The trigger point for events is (almost always) a good enough distance from you that when you trigger it, you’re far enough away for it to seem like it was just happening anyway.
There are a few main types of events that help with adjusting to each. There are a lot of “kill these things” events, which will usually be a lot of mobs in waves. There are a lot of “bring me these” events where you have to go into an area, kill things, and steal their stuff. There are also a lot of “kill the boss” events that involve one big enemy with often a lot of smaller enemies helping. Finally, there are a number of “protect the NPC” events where enemies come in waves to attack a particular NPC. It sounds generic, but there are a lot of other events with extra mechanics. Also, each event with similar mechanics are all implemented slightly different so it doesn’t feel like major copy pasta everywhere. Some of the events are also group events, which mean they’re a lot tougher.
Another big we’ve talked about in dynamic events are how they’ll change the area and lead from one to another. They’re not exaggerating at all. You do actually get to back the grawl into a cave, then steal their stuff, then deal with them trying to fight their way back out, and then kill the harpy they were worshiping after you cleared them out of the cave. The grawl really will be mostly gone for a good while after that until they start trying to fight their way back out to take back over. There are a lot of areas with things like this that involve opposing forces shifting back and forth based on the success or failure of each dynamic event. Also, the dynamic events will happen without you. If there’s one going on, and no one participates, it’ll keep going and fail. You’ll then have to deal with what happens after the Flame Legion take over the outpost unopposed.
I’ve really only got three complaints about the dynamic event system. I wish they would delay them a bit more after each other. Some of them are individual, repeatable events, and that’s fine. They’re a lot of things like protecting a caravan that can happen multiple times successively. However, it would be nice if there was a bit of a delay on the next caravan leaving. I understand that it may have been faster because it was a beta with a lot of people coming in at different points trying to see everything, so I’m not too bothered by it.
I’m also not really bothered by the issues some of the events have in scaling. A lot of them tend to be too easy to complete when you have a lot of people or fairly difficult if you’re by yourself. They could use more drastic scaling. However, this is beta. That’s the purpose of a beta: to find out how you need to rebalance things and work out all the kinks.
What I am bothered by is how adversely a couple of the dynamic events affect renown hearts. Many renown heart areas have a lot of dynamic events that will trigger around them, which is really cool since completing the event usually helps your heart progress. The problem is that I saw (I think) two event chains that hurt your ability to progress on a heart if they go a certain way. An example is the Flame Legion temple in the northeastern part of the Diessa Plateau. If the dynamic event chain ends with the Flame Legion being almost completely cleared from the area, you can’t go in there and kill the Flame Legion or ransack their camps for the renown heart because there are almost none left. However, you would trigger a really tough group event that would start the chain to undo that. Like I said, there were only two I remember seeing that did this, so it’s not a major concern.
Dynamic event videos: I’m going to be working on getting a video together that shows off a couple dynamic events as much as I have them recorded. Given their sudden nature, more of my footage was of renown hearts than dynamic events, but there’s some overlap in there.
As a whole, I really enjoyed the leveling process. I thought it had a lot of incredibly interesting content to play through. It flowed really well. You can actually gain experience toward leveling from just about everything you do except for Structured PvP. All of WvW, rezzing downed/defeated players you come across, crafting things, discovering way points or points of interest, dynamic events, renown hearts, etc. give you experience.
Some of the guys I was in a guild with essentially did nothing but WvW to level all weekend, and it seemed like they had a pretty good rate of XP gain going on that kept them roughly on par, or maybe even a tiny bit ahead, of the gain rate for standard PvE. However, I thought standard PvE (personal story, renown hearts, and dynamic events), could stand to maybe have a 5-10% jump in XP rewards. I completed the 20 levels’ worth of personal story content by level 16, and that was including having done a decent number of renown hearts. We had PvE content ranging up to level 25 for three different races, but I essentially had to go through 95% of all three racial areas’ available experience just to get to 28 in this beta. Just doing all of your race’s area wouldn’t have gotten you to 25 by any means. So, I feel like they need to give you more experience, but not by a large margin. Also, dungeons give you hardly any experience for the amount of time you spend in them. I wasn’t expecting a level from it, but I was at least expecting a good deal more than it gave.
At the end of the beta on Sunday night, I managed to get in about an hour and some change in Structured PvP. Everyone automatically has a level-80 version of their character stored specifically for SPvP whenever you want, so you can simply create a character and click to go to the lobby. From there, you can set up your toon many ways, as you have all weapon skills, slot skills, traits, etc. unlocked from the beginning. In the beta we had two maps available to us: Battle of Kyhlo and Forest of Niflhel.
Getting into SPvP is very easy to understand what’s going on. There’s a voice-over when the match begins that tells you the basic objective is capture-point, and there’s a display on the top of the screen that shows the time remaining, current score, and ownership of each point. Each map also has its own little things that make it more than a straight-up capture point. In Battle of Kyhlo, you actually have trebuchets that you can fire at main tower to kick the enemy out of it, which is REALLY cool to be on either side of. There are also little mini-bosses in Forest of Niflhel that give you extra points. Another nice thing about the objective is that it forces fighting across the entire map rather than in one or two choke points, even with the relatively decent size of the maps.
It takes a game or two to get into the swing of things, but you quickly start getting used to fighting other players instead of AI-driven mobs. It also only takes one or two games on each map to learn a lot of the layout. The maps aren’t too big, so it isn’t overwhelming. But, at the same time, they’re big enough that it isn’t just a stationary kill-fest. The maps are fully interactive so you can literally get onto everything you see as long as it’s within jumping distance. This means you can go completely parkour, jumping off the top of the clock tower onto a pipe down onto a roof to ambush the guy that just ran out the bottom to avoid dying. There was also one match where I fought against a ranger that, after the clock tower was blown open by the trebuchet, jumped up along the broken wall where he could rain arrows on us and then get the angle right if we tried to come up the ramp to him that he could knock us off the tower with a push back. It was actually a very clever use of tactics that forced us to have to not only work on a block to get even get to him, but also come up with a way to force him down once we got up there. In the end, I managed to dodge through his arrow at the right time before he could get another off and then use my shield skill to shove him off the wall into the room.
Most of the classes I got to see in SPvP were the ranger, thief, mesmer, warrior, and guardian. That was simply who I got matched against at that time and not at all indicative of the general representation or power of the elementalist, necromancer, or engineer classes. In fact, from what I got to play, everything felt relatively well balanced. But, I will say that the thief’s Heartseeker ability was maybe nerfed a little too much from the last beta, as even with an automatic critical and a 30 percent damage boost on the hit, I could only get up to 4k damage at the most if they were at low health. For the record, that’s an automatic critical and 30% damage boost to do roughly 20% of someone’s health, and that’s the most I could get it to if they were basically dying. I’d also like to see the guardian’s hammer do a tiny bit more (maybe 5% more) damage. Honestly though, that’s nitpicking. As a whole, I felt the classes I faced were incredibly well balanced. I honestly don’t have anything else to say against SPvP.
Dub v Dub (WvW)
Sadly, I did not get to participate in the WvW scene very much. A lot of the guys in the guild I rolled with spent a lot of time in there, but I only spent about 45 minutes total in the weekend, simply because of how unoptimized the game is. It was impossible for me to get a manageable frame rate when I was in there, because the moment I got around a sizable group of people all using skills, the sheer amount of particle effects kept putting me into single digit FPS. However, the time that I did get to spend in there was a lot of fun, and it was really cool to see the sheer size of the maps (it took about five minutes to get from one end to the other while giving myself a ton of swiftness). From what I got to hear from them, siege engines became critical in going around and taking out keeps.
Now, one of the things everyone is concerned about in WvW is the server balance. At the very beginning of the weekend, Darkhaven was dominating. By dominating, I mean that we owned every point on every map, save for occasionally letting one of the other servers have a point or maybe two at most. I think we broke 90k points before the other two servers combined broke 16k. This was because we were the first server to fill, and we were basically able to capture everything before the other players got in there, so we could hold them in their own base. But, ANet did a great job of rebalancing the match-ups over the weekend. On Saturday, we ended up facing two other servers that were really huge, and we actually lost. Then, on Sunday, we were matched again with two more servers that were still beat my a comfortable margine, but it didn’t turn into a total landslide. I think they’re in a good place in being able to proactively keep things balanced. Sadly, due to the inability to get a good frame rate by any means, I did not manage to get any video of WvW, but it still kicked butt.
The crafting system in wasn’t a total abandonment of the norm. However, I thought it improved on all of the right things to make it a really enjoyable experience. I loved the discovery system. Rather than a trainer teaching you every recipe you’ll ever need, they teach you how to make the basic parts and then you’re off on your own to discover all of the recipes out there. Getting the materials to make those parts was also really easy. Gathering nodes are all instanced per player. There is no competition for crafting resources as a result of this, which makes it a much less frustrating endeavor. Gathering from nodes also requires tools that have a limited use (they’re “stacked” to show their durability), which was an interesting twist. Also, you can get a ton of materials from salvaging junk and unused weapons you find in the game. The best part of crafting in Guild Wars 2 is the lack of need to make a ton of items just to level. As you get your discipline up to 25, you’ve got a few recipes that work for level five gear and you’re discovering recipes that make level ten gear. If you make a set at level five (which is very easy to get the materials for), and a set for level ten, you’ll be at 25 when you’re done. This references armor more than anything, though. Weapons still require a little bit more to be made in extra, and could use with a little extra XP gain to compensate for it. When you get to 25, you’re making gear for level fifteen. So, your crafting easily levels with you in the game.
Now, the crafting system isn’t perfect. The gathering part leaves a lot to be desired. It’s great that you have no competition, but each node gives you three of its resource. The nodes are spread out a good bit. It’s significantly faster to just salvage the things you find for materials than it is to ever actually look for the gathering nodes. It was also very difficult to figure out the gathering system at first. I’m not one for holding hands in MMORPGs, but you’ve got to at least put the information out there. When I first found a copper vein and tried to mine it, I was told I needed gathering tools. I went to Divinity’s Reach and checked all of the crafting discipline trainers, but none of them sold the tools. I asked in guild chat and was told they were on the general merchants. I checked, but none of the merchants had them either. It turns out that they were only one one or two merchants at the very beginning where you first enter the game, but nothing in the game actually told you that aside from other players. Still, I really enjoyed the system.
Crafting videos: I’ve got a general guide to crafting coming up in the week.
It’s time to talk about what I believe was the single most controversial feature in Guild Wars 2 before the beta: the microtransaction system. So, the microtransaction system works by buying a currency called gems in the in-game store. In the beta, we were all given 2000 gems for free. You can then spend these gems on a LARGE variety of items. Some of them were account things like bag slots and bank tabs (character slots are also in the works, but not in the beta). You could also by packs of dyes for your character, packs of mini-pets, and items that would give you a temporary boost in karma, kill experience, or crafting experience.
These boost items were a point of major concern that they would give players an “unfair advantage” over players that didn’t spend money. It’s not totally unreasonable for that to be concern (just mostly), as many other game developers have ruined their games with these systems. But, ArenaNet has been running a microtransaction system for years without issue and have a system that you simply can’t pay to win with. First off, the experience boosts only increase your experience from kills, and they only last an hour. If you made a pie graph for the sources of your experience, the smallest chunk would be rezzing players, crafting items, and other menial things. Then next chunk would be discovering way points and points of interest. The third smallest chunk would be kills. The super majority of your experiences comes from completing renown hearts, participating in dynamic events, going through your personal story, playing WvW, etc. There’s also nothing to be gained in Guild Wars 2 for leveling faster than everyone else. It’s not a race to endgame like the other MMORPG’s out there.
The bigger concerns here were actually crafting experience and karma. The boosts for those also gave you an hour-long increase in the amount of each you gained. People argued that more karma meant more gear meant better than everyone else. These people really don’t understand the GW2 gear system, and it’s our job to educate them. All gear of any given level and rarity is equivalent. This means that every rare, level thirty piece of gear has the same amount of stats. The only difference is which stats are on an item. The biggest thing karma will get you are special little bonuses for your weapons and armor that really work in little small areas (such as damage vs. ghosts) or special crafting recipes. There’s nothing there to worry about. Similiarly, leveling crafting faster doesn’t do you any good since you’re not going to be making better gear than anyone else has, and that’s if you can even use the gear you’re making yet.
Since we were given so many free gems, I made extensive use of them and bought several experience boosts to help facilitate leveling my elementalist enough to go through the dungeon, play with the dye system, and open mystic chests. Mystic chests are items that you will find on creatures and occasionally as rewards throughout the game. To open them, you need to find a butler golem (rare drop) or a mystic key. Mystic keys also occasionally drop on creatures or appear as rewards, but you can also by them in the store. Opening these chests gives you one boost item, three of a random tonic, and a random tool (this can include things like an Instant Repair Canister). If you’ll actually use all of the boosts on your character, the mystic keys are cheaper than any of the boosts. So, you’re actually getting a deal when you buy a key to open the chest.
But, not everyone wants to spend their money on things like this. ArenaNet knows this, and they’ve given us all an option. You can, VERY EASILY, buy gems with your gold through the UI. I did this as well for a bit so I could have the demonstration footage, as I had a considerable surplus of gold (over the weekend, I easily raked in over two gold, but managed to spend most of it). This is actually the only thing I don’t like about the microtransaction system itself. I would have preferred it to be something you could do via the trading post rather than separate tab in the commerce pane. As it’s currently implemented, it gives you the price based on supply and demand, and I couldn’t actually change that. I could tell it how much I wanted to spend on gems, and it would then tell me how many gems I was getting for that much. I’d have rather been able to just post an offer in the trading post to buy X number of gems for Y gold.
Also, mentioning dyes in this section, you could actually buy dyes in packs of three. Additionally, you can buy plant food. This works in that you find colorful dye seeds out in the world. You then take them to a dye manufacturer who will turn them into a dye over the next 24 hours. This plant food (very cheap) makes the process instant. I didn’t mind this system in terms of the microtransactions. I only actually disliked the 24 hour period. I thought it was a bit unreasonable for the sheer rate at which you find dye seeds. Over the weekend, I probably found close to twenty of these buggers. You find them so much faster than you can even hope to produce them that it’s a little unreasonable, even with the microtransaction option present. Anyway, that’s only a qualm with the dye system. Don’t fear the microtransaction system, because it’s actually really well done.
Microtransaction videos: I’m going to have a full guide to the microtransaction system going up during the week.
Unfortunately, I only had time to get one run through Ascalon Catacombs, the level 30 dungeon, in the weekend. However, it was incredibly fun and one of the highlights of the weekends. I’m going to start off and say that it’s incredibly hard. The videos out there make it look a lot easier than it is. At the same time, I felt it was incredibly overtuned for a level 30 dungeon. The higher dungeons are supposed to get harder. If it gets any harder, there’ll be no way to finish them. Now, I went into the dungeon at level 28, so I was a little underleveled. I also didn’t have that much health for a level 28 as I had no Vitality from traits and only small amounts from gear, as those pieces of my gear were a couple levels below me. At the same time, I had around 2.5k-3k health. The other people in my group had around 3.5k-4k I was getting one shot. They were getting two shot. Some of the bigger hits were just barely not one shotting them. It’s a bit much on the damage. Still, the challenge was enjoyable, and the story is nice.
Numbers aside, the boss mechanics were interesting, but in need of a little tuning. Master Ranger Nente is a hard fight. It’s not because he’s jumping from platform to platform on you. It’s not because he does a lot of damage. It’s because the platform you’re on is right against the wall, so it’s hard to face him without the camera getting right against you, backed up against the wall, preventing you from seeing the boss’s AoE circles. The Lovers were also really hard to manage keeping apart. We talked about it before we started the fight and tried to use our push back abilities and such to get them apart, and we managed for a tiny bit. But, they’re really hard to control. I’m sure with additional run throughs it would get better, as would the Master Ranger Nente fight, but it would still be nice if they were not quite so difficult to control since it’s the game’s first dungeon.
Aside from the fact that I was the only person in our group that didn’t find jack for usable loot in the dungeon, I thought the loot worked out really well. On the whole, I really like where they’re going with the dungeon. I just think that it’s in need of a little refinement. It’s probably better that we couldn’t get a boost at the moment. It meant that only the more hardcore players that worked hard would get to see it, so it would mean more to us when we got to experience it. That means we’d also be more likely to give meaningful feedback. Had everyone been able to do it, there probably would be a lot of general QQ without any sort of meaningful feed back.
Dungeon videos: The complete run of Ascalon Catacombs will be uploaded later this week.
A good UI is one of the most frustrating things to adjust and get yourself to in an MMORPG. There’s always a lot you need to be able to put on your screen, but it has to be balanced with still being able to see your character and what else is happening around you. Every game runs into that issue. In Guild Wars 2, they’ve basically hit the nail on the head. They’ve found that happy medium between information and visibility. How? They got to the core of the problem: reducing the amount of information you need to see on your screen. The combat UI is very unintrusive, but at the same time it tells you everything you need to know and leaves the majority of your screen open to watch the fight. You rarely spend time watching any part of your UI in combat aside from a quick glance at a cooldown, the endurance bar, or your health. There are a lot of auditory queues in the game that also eliminate the need to constantly stare at your UI away from the action. They’ve done more than reach a happy medium; they’ve reached nirvana.
The non-combat UI was just as great. One of the things I really enjoyed the most was the guild pane. It did just as great of a job of giving you a lot of information without making it either too cluttered or too spread out. You could get a ton of information all on the one tab, then switch tabs for a lot more information. At no point, though, did it ever seem overwhelming. I only wish that we had been able to customize our guild emblems this beta. The hero pane that has all of your skills, traits, equipment, personal story journal, etc. was another really well put-together piece of UI. Honestly, I didn’t find a single thing about the stock UI that I really disliked.
The mail UI was really simple, but at the same time covered everything you needed. I’d only like to see functionality added to drag an item into any part of the message to attach it, rather than having to drag it to the individual attachment box, but it’s not a make-or-break type thing. More of a #firstworldproblems type of thing. I didn’t like that you couldn’t mail to your other charaters, until I found the bank and realized that it was account wide. The bank is actually really nice. Not only does it have a general “everything goes here tab”, but a tab for crafting materials, a tab for cooking ingredients, and a tab for mini-pets.
Perhaps my favorite part of the UI was the trading post. It’s in the same commerce pane as the microtransaction system, but it has its own four tabs in the pane. The first tab is the buy menu. It gives you a search option (with auto complete suggestions) and four listings. It shows you the highest priced items by highest seller, the most supplied items, the most demanded items, and the most searched items. It’s really nice, though I would like it if the highest-priced items was by the lowest price on each item. It’s not very relevant for a lot of the items to show the highest price, because there are always people that sell their item for a lot more than everyone else, hoping for it to eventually sell for bigger profit. Anyway, from there you click on an item, and it shows you how many of the item are available at each price and you chance choose how many you want. If the price you want isn’t avilable, you can simply place an order and the moment someone posts the item at your price, you’ll get it.
The second tab of the trading post is the tab for selling items. It shows you a list of everything in your inventory, and you can then click on an item you want to sell. It takes you to a similar menu as the buying an item menu, only instead of a list of orders, you can choose to match the highest buyer, lowest seller, your current lowest sale, or create a custom price of your own. If there’s an order for your price, you’ll get it immediately. The next tab shows you everything you have listed, and you can cancel outstanding orders and posts at any time. This much you can do anywhere in the world. The fourth tab shows you the profit or items you have made from your trades, which you can then open the menu again via a [Trading Post] NPC to collect your items and gold when you’re in town. It’s a really nice system that doesn’t go overboard like certain other games that might have taken place in space, but still gives you a lot more information and options than your standard auction house in an MMORPG.
UI videos: I’ve got a video on banking, a video on the trading post, and a video on the guild pane all coming this week.
This is one of the things that you simply expect to be good in a game, are rarely surprised by anything exceptional being done, and absolutely hate a game when it sucks. Guild Wars 2 offers you a LOT of different buttons you can bind all over your keyboard, and also supports special gaming peripherals like the Razor Naga (if you don’t have this mouse, get it). Since I use my Naga, I had all of my skills on the my right hand while I moved, along with weapon swapping, switching targets, etc. Then, I was able to free up more space on my keyboard to move around some of the other buttons I like, find a nice spot for the dodge key, and move my profession abilities from the function keys to the number keys. The only complaint here is that we weren’t able to use modifiers. This is, however, something they have said they’re working on putting into the game. We haven’t had it in Guild Wars, but we didn’t need it with only eight skills and little real need for lightning reflexes. With the ten skills in Guild Wars 2, players without the Naga will really want to have modifiers to make it easier to fit the skills comfortably within reach of the left hand.
Other than the modifier issue, I had only one problem. There was a bug I experienced, where occasionally when I would tilt my camera up, it would zoom up to the sky. It wasn’t a big deal running around in the middle of nowhere, but in combat it sucked. But, the rest of the controls felt very smooth and intuitive. Now, not starting with dodge bound to a key is something they could probably change for the better, but it’s easy to find a good spot for it. Just pick a key that you can reach easily, because you’ll use it a lot. I thought it was very easy to get in and learn the controls, easier than many games I’ve played in the past. Dodging takes a little bit to get used to simply in timing it or remembering to use it in melee. The game plays really, really well.
Going underwater is another area that other MMORPGs tend to fail at. Miserably. A certain other MMORPG gave you an entire underwater leveling area with a wave effect over the screen that made it impossible to maintain any form of orientation. The combat’s often nothing different from the normal, except that you can’t tell where you are in relation to anything else. On top of that, you have to go back up before you drown and die. Throw literally all of that away.
First off, the underwater everything in Guild Wars 2 is done perfectly. ArenaNet may be the first developer to finally give us an acceptable underwater combat system in an MMORPG. It’s not disorienting at all. It only takes a few minutes to learn to judge distances front to back without the ground as a reference. The combat actually feels different as well. You even have special underwater weapons and skills that function very differently from those on your other weapons. Some of your general skills can’t be used under water, which adds to the different style. Also, your character automatically has a breather mask that lets you stay underwater forever. You only have to make it to the surface when you’re getting beat around and are about to die, as the drowned state replaces the downed state underwater.
The last thing to talk about is everything ArenaNet has done for the explorationists. I know the word should be “explorers”, but “explorationists” feels better. Exploration is more than just running around exploring. There are a ton of rewards hidden out there. There are jumper puzzles and other little things hidden in the world. There are untold easter eggs out there. Exploration is almost its own gameplay format, which is why I like to use explorationist rather than explorers. Explorers will run around gather experience from all of the way points and points of interest. Explorationists will uncover all of the easter eggs, special puzzles, and other neat things that make the game so immense. Believe me, Guild Wars 2 will make sure that you never, ever run out of places to go.
I’m not going to say it’s going to kill a certain other major MMORPG out there, but GW2 is certainly going to take away a hefty number of players. Mike O’Brien said he wouldn’t be satisfied until his game was the top dog out there. He won’t have to wait long. I want to give a quick thanks to everyone that was in the Gamebreaker TV guild(s), especially the GBTV staff. They really helped make the weekend a special experience and were great hosts to us. I link them all the time on here, and for good reason. For MMORGP news, you should check them out all the time (after you read the GW2 stuff here, of course).