A couple weekends ago I had the good fortune of being able to play in the first Beta Weekend Event for Guild Wars 2…alongside probably a couple hundred thousand others. As you can see two posts below, I’ve been waiting for this game for quite some time. For about 5 years I’ve been waiting for this game, waiting patiently for my first chance to see how well it held up to the hype for me.
For me, it did not disappoint…mostly.
Simply put, I love this game…despite the bugs. Lots of bugs, some major and some minor. Of course, it’s a beta, so this is expected. Despite a strange underlying feeling from some parts of the community that it should have been nearly release-ready at this point, we were all indeed in there to test and see how the game held up when this many players were active…even if many were purely in there to just play and give impressions. ArenaNet heard our responses loud and clear.
Contrary to what I feel other blog/sites do, I feel that since it’s a beta the major issues should be examined first before impressions. Maybe it’s my background or just knowing that it’s more a beta than a preview. Guild Wars 2 is in the relatively unique position that we’ve had a large insight into their development steps, more than your average player is normally aware. I don’t think many players can really handle seeing game development like this, especially if they already like what they’ve seen. Few outside of development really understand just how much can change and why the devs design the game in certain ways because it’s not immediately apparent to someone from the outside. This is part of the reason why we have NDAs, after all.
Anyway, let’s get started. What were the biggest overall problems with the game itself?
(Warning…one image below may not be 100% safe for work. Please surf responsibly. It’s from a fashion show so it’s not as bad, just be warned)
It’s always something…
My personal largest problem, and has been for quite some time, was the female human/norn scholar armor:
This is the STARTING armor for female human and norn scholars. As in “you don’t get a choice, you must be a sexified character, too bad”. Whose bright idea was it to put half naked armor with garter as the default female scholar gear for humans and norn anyway? Are they just a fan of panty shots? (They’re everywhere! You cannot escape them!) Not to mention the “fancy fantasy” looking armor on the profession select screen for new characters that looks more like some lingerie from a Victoria’s Secret fashion show than any sort of armor.
This turns people off more than you think. It’s hard to take the game seriously dressed like that. Even worse, you couldn’t just run over to the nearest armorsmith (provided you actually had the money as a brand new character) and buy better armor that’s more modest because this (I’m referring to the first one above with all the panty shots) is the armor model for that armor as well! There’s no escape from this model unless you try crafted armor (which is actually pretty nice and my vote for the new starter armor). In earlier demos the background choice you made determined your initial armor, and the armor actually looked the part. Street Rat armor actually looked frayed and worn, like you would expect. Commoner looked normal and practical, and Noble was fancy yet modest. This was awesome…why did this get changed? Why are new female scholars forced to look this way?
Considering the plain look of the Soldiers and Adventurer professions, I can only guess this is an oversight…but one that really needs to be corrected. This is far too fancy of an armor for newbies to wear while warriors and guardians start the game wearing simple chainmail armor.
The thing is, this isn’t about how revealing or skimpy some armor is in the game, but about how women are portrayed in the game, intentional or no. I’ve had a problem with this for quite some time. Even if unintentional, we’ve repeatedly been shown women in sexualized clothing even in comparison to the men being fully covered, especially as scholars. I like to use a small test: flip the gender but keep everything else the same. If it looks bad or even silly, you’re leaning way too much on sexualization of the outfit. You could also do something more cerebral like check to see if you could mentally determine what the other gender’s outfit would generally look like without looking at it (which you cannot on the above armor). If the armors are so different that it’s getting hard to believe they’re the same set, then it should be changed or split, IMO.
I could probably go into more about body size and shapes (ArenaNet, please make more models for females, they look like twigs even on their most muscular…I’m actually reconsidering making humans because of it), but others more eloquent than me have written long articles about this and other armor issues, and I’d be foolish not to send you their way as this topic isn’t the main point of this post. It’s one thing to have sexy armor in the game that beats you over the head to remind you it’s a sexy woman underneath, it’s another to be forced into this as starter armor.
Moving on, the most obvious problem for most players in general was the overflow server. This system replaces the normal server queues by allowing you to play in an instanced version of the main area while waiting for a spot to open. The problem is that there were multiple overflow servers for the newbie areas (Queensdale, Wayfarer Foothills, and Plains of Ashford), and the system that kept you with your group members wasn’t working properly. You might be in a group in the city, leave, and then end up in different overflow servers yet still in the group. Players need to be able to play with their friends and guild members, even if on overflow servers. Granted, this could just be at the start while players spread out, but I wonder if we’ll be seeing similar issues at max level. Despite the sidekicking system there will still be more players in the level 80 areas overall as the game progresses.
One thing that struck me, as well as others, is that they should do something similar to EverQuest 2 in this regard. In EQ2, if a zone gets too populated it spawns another instance of it and puts players in there. You’re able to select the other instances though, in order to meet up with friends (from my understanding the system doesn’t always keep you together by default). ArenaNet needs to consider doing that, if they can. However, their system might be more complex than this, as some players theorized that the overflow server is not world-specific, and you could run into players from other worlds on it. Regardless, a solution needs to be figured out for it. If a guild member reports that the Shatterer (a mid-40s boss) has spawned and is requesting help it would be good if the other players could actually show up instead of just hearing about the fight because they were in a different overflow shard where nothing was happening.
Another issue that was bothering me was the skill delay. On Friday the server lag was pretty bad, and skills would take ~1.5 seconds between being used and the skill actually going off. Even then, the game was fun, but the lag was definitely responsible for more than one defeat. They eventually took the server down for a half hour and when it came back up it was significantly improved. The skills still had a small delay but it wasn’t killing me anymore. Then on Saturday all of the servers went down for an unplanned outage lasting almost 2 hours. I wasn’t bothered about this, having a testing background I kinda expected it, but a good number of players were angry.
However, when the servers came back up…I wish I thought to record that. Skill delay went to zero, no lag…this was how Guild Wars 2 is meant to be played. It was responsive, it was fast, and most of all it was extremely fun. As soon as I played without lag my brain just went:
It’s strange how a few mere tenths of a second make a game feel so different. Everything just clicked at that point, crowds cheered, babies were kissed, etc.
Absolutely no hand-holding allowed!
Finally, I can’t say enough about how much this game needs tutorials. It doesn’t hold your hand, and honestly I like that. However, your average player cannot be expected to, without prompting, meticulously learn each system like I tried to do, we need tutorials to at least teach the basics and get us going. I had the fortunate chance to see some players pretty much brand new to MMOs try out the game. While they liked the game, they had a lot of trouble with issues like not knowing how to properly use the camera, not knowing how to initiate combat (they come from Diablo background, where the camera controls itself and clicking does an attack), and overall just not even knowing the basics nor easily picking it up. These are the types of players ArenaNet is trying to bring in, so we do need better tutorials…maybe as part of the initial tutorial if you want, or as a separate area in the Mists. Something is needed to teach the game better.
On a more personal note…
Now for my relatively brief impressions as I don’t want to write books on this. The main thing that struck me was how much of a newbie I was despite my significant gaming experience. Honestly everyone was a newbie in this game, no matter how much experience you had with MMOs. True to their word, the game plays very differently than other MMOs. While you could take a ranged build and spam skills in the newbie area (and then complain the game is too easy and all you do is spam skills), the game’s difficulty can ramp up easily and while it’s possible you could succeed that way it wouldn’t be the most efficient.
I don’t think I’ve felt so newbie-ish since the original EverQuest…in a good way. The world feels real, with NPCs going about their business, events just happening (making you feel like the world is going to move on without you), and a definite feeling of “if you can see it, you can go there” that I haven’t felt in a long time. It sucked me in, to be honest, and only left me moments here and there where I idly thought “how long have I been playing?”.
The main cities are as massive as others have said, but no matter how many videos you see nothing can compare to actually running through them yourself. They have a significant “lived in” feel to them. I definitely felt like I’m entering their world and I’d have to learn where everything is since the game doesn’t hold your hand as much as other games such as WoW and EQ2. It feels far more old-school, where you just have to go and learn…and it really felt good. Sure, you have some help with NPCs that direct you to specific locations and icons that appear on the map for different services, but it will take some time. Thankfully, the cities feel like they’re made to last.
Despite everything else in this game, the part that’s probably going to suck me in the most is the completionist aspects of it. In the upper left corner of the map there’s a completion percentage based on the number of hearts, points of interest, waypoints, and skill challenges you’ve completed. This is probably going to be the death of me. I’m a completionist at heart, and even ScottyD correctly guessed that I won’t be able to avoid doing everything…on every character. I don’t know if I’ll do it on every character, but I will on at least one.
I created a human guardian for this beta, a decision I did not regret. It took a bit of time to get used to his abilities, but I felt right at home once I did. I kinda figured the profession would be a a paladin/battle cleric hybrid and I was right. I did not expect, however, to like the staff as much as I did. While researching the guardian before the BWE, I didn’t like the staff much at all. It just didn’t feel right, and consequently when I was learning all of the skills I picked up the staff last. It quickly became my favorite though, as it’s a mid-range weapon with support and control abilities that encourages weaving through the battle dropping symbols and wards where necessary while doing an AoE attack that feels more like a mid-ranged melee attack to be honest. While I’m sure improvements could be made, I’m sure the staff will have a near permanent place in my weapon sets for the guardian unless they make major changes, likely paired with the greatsword.
I did try creating a ranger, thief, and mesmer. I wasn’t drawn in by the thief, nor the ranger, and once I made the mesmer I realized why. I was so entranced by the guardian and felt like I had so little time that I couldn’t devote much time to the other three professions I wanted to try out. They weren’t bad, I even did some testing in the PvP lobby with them (and found a few bugs there too), but I decided to devote the majority of my time with the guardian. Next BWE I’ll probably do ranger unless they keep our characters. I reached level 14 on my guardian, so if he stays I’ll jump back on him and continue. While the newbie areas are nice, I’ve seen them in videos so many times that I want to experience something fresh and new. Woe be to me if the other two races are in the next one.
I didn’t do any PvP, WvW, or dungeons (the first dungeon is at level 30 and there’s no NPC to automatically level you up), so I explored and did some of the personal story. While I tried to pick options I wouldn’t in launch, I may end up picking the Commoner background again as the end of the first story arc ends in a pretty awesome fight due to who you have with you at the time. The personal story was good, I like that we’re starting from more humble backgrounds rather than being a hero raised to fight monsters. That said, I wouldn’t be upset if they made the first arcs a tad bit more exciting.
Also, the nautical city of Lion’s Arch (built from old ship parts) has a high dive board…let me repeat that with more detail, it has a diving board at the top of a tower so high you’re above the lowest level of clouds. How freaking cool is that?
Well, that’s pretty much it. I absolutely loved the game, despite the bugs and my issues, and look forward to the next BWE to help make it better for release. Most of my recordings turned out to be my testing in the PvP lobby (I didn’t remember to load the recorder until later) so I don’t actually have many videos. I’ll be uploading those soon.
There’s a stress test today, so everyone who can log in go help ArenaNet get these bugs nailed down. Happy testing!
Images are © 2012 ArenaNet, Inc. All rights reserved. NCsoft, ArenaNet, Arena.net, Guild Wars, Guild Wars 2, and all associated logos and designs are trademarks or registered trademarks of NCsoft Corporation. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.
Fashion show image is from the 2011 Victoria’s Secret fashion show, model is Adriana Lima.