Guild Wars 2 Launch Wrapup

Guild Wars 2, as of just a bit ago, is officially launched. I’m not sure I’ll do a “review,” but here are some thoughts with quite a bit of time invested in the headstart plus more in beta.

The Good

  • The game overall is very strong. Barring the occasional bug or borked event, all of the essential progression elements (tasks, events and other means of gaining XP) work great. The leveling curve is steady but long, which is fine with me.
  • Scaling works reasonably well in most circumstances, and this opens up a lot of content that would become trivial or not worthwhile in a more conventional design. It’s not just that you can downlevel and play with your friends, it’s that all the game’s content scales up to you, so there is effectively more doable content than it might at first appear, and the loot and XP scale to your actual level. It’s one element that gives this 100% themepark game something of a sandbox feel — more of the world is open to you at any given level, and a lot of it is interactable.
  • Combat is fun while not being too fussy. As in the original GW, most of complexity is loaded into the building aspect of characters but there is a lot more to do with regard to positioning and mobility. The pacing is fast but not so fast as to make it unplayable for those of us with old man reflexes.
  • The game world is beautifully designed, and the flow of gameplay encourages you to explore it. Is is the best themepark MMO I have seen for exploration.
  • The overall level of nimrodism seems low compared to the original Guild Wars. Part of that is surely that there is much less reason for players to interact until they’re of a level to run dungeons, which happens around level 30. Part of it is also probably that headstart players are a bit more serious, and we may start to see things trend downhill with the influx of people from the actual launch. Find a good guild, is my advice, but that applies in any MMO.
  • I have not yet explored WvW as much as I would like, but it looks like it has the potential to be a real wonder. The interesting thing is that the WvW area isn’t just a big zone with PvP objectives and PvP enabled, it’s four huge zones — a whole continent, really — with both PvE and PvP stuff to do. You can fight other players and go for PvP objectives, but the size of the place means there’s plenty of open space as well, and you can wander, as I did, for some time without necessarily encountering hostile players. There’s also harvesting to be done, PvE events and other stuff. It’s a very complete experience, and the closest thing I’ve seen to the old school DAoC scheme where the distinction between PvP and PvE starts to blur. In this sense having one character level that you happen to be able to advance via PvE, PvP or crafting, makes a lot of sense.

The Bad

  • There are a number of annoying but relatively minor issues. At this point lag is one of them except in WvW.
  • The still-out-of-commission Trading Post is a major but not critical issue. It’s certainly hampering my ability to level crafting.
  • The Overflow system isn’t all it could be. It is, on the one hand, a very clever method for avoiding login queues, but on the other it doesn’t support groups at all. Because the Overflow is by zone instead of by server, you can get constantly kicked into it when you zone, potentially cutting you off from your group, and there is at yet no way to port to the instance your group is in. This last would be an effective workaround, but there’s no word on it that I’ve heard. Even so, playing while you wait is clearly better than tapping your foot trying to get into the game in the first place, so all in all I call this feature a net positive, even though it could be improved from where it is now.
  • The instanced PvP battlegrounds are much less interesting than WvW; compared to the amount of craft that went into the rest of the game they seem like an afterthought. I sincerely hope that this is so, and that people don’t start to overwhelmingly gravitate toward them as the fastest way to level, as they did in WAR much to its detriment.
  • You now learn weapon skills so fast that the whole mechanic is kind of meaningless. I have a feeling that this whole thing is going to be iterated away at some point.
  • Crafting is tough to level up. In principle I am fine with this, but in practice it means that my crafting ability is way behind my actual level due to a shortage of mats for insignias and such, which are vital for discovery and thus good crafting advancement. This sets up a problem similar to WoW crafting in which I cannot craft any item remotely worthwhile for myself. It might be possible to work around this if the Trading Post were up and running, but using alts to gather won’t help, since all tradeskills save cooking use the same mats for these kinds of components, as far as I can tell.
  • My RP-heavy server will likely not be a WvW force to be reckoned with, but that’s where I have chosen to roll.

Guild Wars 2 Launches Dirty

Pointing out the problems with an MMO launch makes one a hater, of course. But despite the label I am enjoying Guild Wars 2 thus far, no matter the issues — at least once the dealbreaking issue of not being able to log in was fixed. That’s the one unforgivable issue you can’t overlook.

And some people are still reporting it, although it’s hard to say how many of those folks have issues on the user end. A lot, to read ArenaNet’s note on the subject, although I would like to think that folks read the fine print when they elected to reserve a copy using the traditional method rather than pre-purchasing… but then, some retail outlets, notably Best Buy, were very unclear about how this whole thing was going to work.

Other, lesser issues abound. Lag is still sometimes an issue. The event in the Charr starter instance is stuck on the stage before the boss. Players are getting kicked from guilds randomly, and guilds can’t send invites. The Trading Post is still down. The forums are still down. This launch cannot yet be called a catastrophe, but it’s been far, far from clean.

There are excuses to be made, of course. And maybe everything will be cleaned up come the true launch on Tuesday. But if I had to guess I’d say the problems will get worse when that happens. I have little doubt that things will sort themselves out eventually, and I personally am inclined to be lenient when the game is fun and novel and the difficulties aren’t game-breaking, and they aren’t at the moment.

I have my main up to level 18 and did my first brief batch of WvWvW, and it was a lot of fun. I can definitely see the great game design at work here through the swarm of bugs. When it’s working it really does sing.

More From The Guild Wars 2 Headstart

Lest I go another several days without posting and leave everyone thinking that Guild Wars 2 was a crate of ass during the whole prelaunch, here are some additional points gathered so far.

  • The servers have been up, as far as I’ve seen. since about 11 AM Saturday. Some people are still having launcher or login issues, but I have had no additional problems in that regard.
  • Lag is still an intermittent issue, but Saturday afternoon (for the two hours I played) and Sunday morning (for another four hours) nothing became unplayable. I do expect to see issues in this department come Tuesday and lasting for a few days after that. Hopefully I’m wrong and everything is now worked out.
  • Other issues exist. The big one aside from login issues is that the Trading Post (think Broker or Auctioneer) has been working on and off, but mostly not working. As a general rule it has been working when I don’t want to buy anything, and undergoing maintenance when I do.
  • I and a number of other people complained in the beta about there not seeming to be enough XP in the early zones. That does not seem to be a problem now, very possibly because I am now doing crafting and gathering, both of which grant XP but which I wasn’t bothering with in the beta. The XP rate may have been tweaked but it’s just as likely skipping those two things was the culprit. This may indicate that the progression rate is tuned overly tightly, as some people won’t want to participate in those activities… but then I didn’t do any PvP, either, and you get XP from that. I any case I retract this complaint; unless you’ve got a pretty weird play style or just don’t get the flow of Guild Wars 2 I don’t think it’s going to be an issue.
  • In relation to that point, I did zone completion for Hoelbrak and the Wayfarer Foothills (which is the Norn starting zone,) and about level 1-10 of the personal story. Having done all that, with aggressive gathering and some lukewarm attempts at crafting but no PvP at all, I am level 16.
  • The rewards for zone completion, which I didn’t hear anything about until relatively recently (as in the last week) are significant, so don’t skip them.
  • I feel like I am doing something substantially wrong with crafting. I’ll have more to say on this later after I have worked it out.
  • More later, of course. I am enjoying it thoroughly now that the game is running.

Joe’s Problem With Guild Wars 2

Let’s take Joe. Joe’s not a night shift worker used to staying awake at all hours, but he wants to get as much Guild Wars 2 in as he can. So he opens up a can of caustic energy soda and sits down at his PC right before midnight. At midnight sharp, the earliest time for the servers to have possibly been up according to ArenaNet’s previous announcement, he logs in with relish and delight. He picks a shard, makes a character and arrives in a world of lag. He tries to play as best he can figuring that things will smooth over, but he keeps getting stopped by lag freezing interrupted by disconnects. Every time he restarts the client to try again the wait is longer.

Finally, after an hour, Joe throws up his hands having gotten nowhere in the game. He goes to bed and wakes up at 9, eagerly grabbing some toast and sitting down at his PC again. But the login servers are down. He taps away for another hour, vainly trying to get in, but no luck. By this time Joe’s better half is up and about and they’ve things to do, so off he goes for errands.

Later today Joe will sit down again and try to play Guild Wars 2. What will happen? From Joe’s perspective the launch has been total shit and a whole day is on the verge of being wasted. He prebought the game more or less just for access to a three-day headstart, and from his perspective 100% of it has been wasted so far.

Nota bene: This wasn’t my experience; I got in, made two charcters, had some problems but they did even out. I played one character for roughly seven hours and got him to about level 10. But it’s not Ardwulf the night shift guy that will set the narrative, it’s Joe the conventional employee. When the narrative turns sour, the damage can be immense, especially for a game large dependent on box sales for its revenue.

Is it just Joe’s rotten luck that at the times he could play, the game was down or otherwise non-functional? Sure, but MMO service providers need to plan for players playing at different times; their games need to be up and running smoothly as close to “all the time” as they possibly can. Are some problems at launch inevitable? Again, sure (although you might get a different opinion from Trion,) but shit needs to get sorted out pretty quickly, and they need to stay sorted out, or Guild Wars 2 is likely to be another one of “that game with the bad launch” in the minds of many.

How Not to Stress Test

I have to assume that, given the severe misbehavior of the Guild Wars 2 servers thus far during headstart launch, that the many-times-a-week “stress tests” that ArenaNet was doing leading up to this day were nothing more than a marketing gimmick.

The servers went up a full three hours early, which was nice. For the first hour or so the condition of the game ran from “unplayably laggy” all the way to “disconnected.” But things appeared to settle down after that, and I got several enjoyable hours of play in before finally passing out with my nose in the keys. This morning the login servers have been down for at least an hour or three.

Now, I don’t see any sense in getting too wound up just yet. It’s not too late for ArenaNet to pull a smoothish launch out of this. But then, I did have 7 hours in last night. Some people may have been trying to get actual gameplay in last night, shrugged and went to bed, and now can’t get in this morning.

Moral of the story: If you’d like your launch to go smoothly, have beta testing that is actually testing instead of bullshit. Go check with Trion for details on how to do this, they seem to know how.

Additional Wisdom: If bloggers are playing your game they are not writing angry blog posts about how they’re not playing your game.

More thoughts to follow in due course.

One Last, and One More

I’ve been having trouble on the video front of late; my hour-long kickoff to the Vanguard Let’s Play series failed to render more than once, and I’ve been having trouble owing to limited upload bandwidth with uploads failing after 6+ hours of wasted time. So even though I have a few vids in the can already, I’m still pushing them out.

First up this week is, I promise, the very last pre-launch Guild Wars 2 video that I’ll be doing. Headstart begins tonight some time around midnight… possibly as late as 3 AM even of everything goes smoothly. Finally, working the night shift is good for something, as I can plan to be awake for the first hours of real play. The vid is my first (filmed) and longest look at the Charr starter instance and low-level zone, the Plains of Ashford. I do have a Charr character planned, but likely won’t play him right away — I’ll be doing the Norn first.

Up next is the new Vanguard Let’s Play, continuing on the Isle of Dawn with the Crafting questline. I have one more of these ready to go and should have it posted some time next week. It is very unlikely I will make another video before next weekend, but when I do I’ll try to knock a couple of them out.

More Vanguard Gameplay

Over the last couple of days I stocked up a bit on videos. I have two more Vanguard vids in the can plus a new one from the recent Guild Wars 2 stress test; it’s just a matter of getting them uploaded, which has been problematic of late. Nevertheless, they will appear as quickly as I can get them up, and then there’s the planned weekend orgy in Guild Wars 2, so I should have more next week as well.

This time around we start in on the Isle of Dawn’s crafting questline, with an eye to completing the quests in all three spheres before leaving the Isle.

One more minor leak out of the Vanguard forums, by the way: the issue with rendering rain in Windows 7 is getting fixed soon. As someone who has only played under Vista and Win7, it’s occurred to me that I have actually never seen the rain in Vanguard, which is depressing especially in a game with dynamic weather that actually moves across the world.