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Default GW2: Beta Impressions

April 30th, 2012, 00:14
Wrote this up for another forum I visit and thought I would share just in case anyone was interested :-) It rambles a lot as it is just some thoughts on the GW2 Beta I did this weekend. It is spoiler free as I only made level 7 and don't go into actual plot just overview for the most part.

First everyone should know that I only played the human race. With limited time I wanted to focus and, of all the races, the humans are the ones I plan on playing in GW2 for a variety of reasons. Second I played a male ranger and a male rogue – both to level 7. So my impressions are all based those assumptions.

CHARACTER CREATION

I really enjoyed the CC in GW2. While it isn’t on the same level as Skyrim it has plenty of options – more so than many other MMO’s on the market. You have a selection of preset faces, hair styles, beards, and body types. Then you can enhance those features with sliders for many facial features (sliders have limited effect in many cases though), colors for eyes, hair, skin, and you can dye your starting armor.

After you pick your race, gender, class and looks you are asked an initial question that is connected to your class. For example for rogue I could choose mask because I wish to remain hidden and anonymous, or a head band because I am not afraid to hide and show my determination, or a hood that lets me move about in the background without standing out (like a mask does). Rangers pick an initial animal, and a caster might pick a gem. After that you pick a core personality trait (Charming, Dignity, or Ferocity). These can show up in some dialogue choices later … but since the choices are all three I am not sure what the actual impact ,if any, are of choosing a “favorite” one.

You then have some background questions – street rat, commoner, or noble. “What I regret” question – orphan that never tracked down parents, unavenged (?) dead sister, or never joined the circus (no idea why they picked that). Then pick a god/goddess from the human pantheon, and lastly you get a little write up off your “story” that you sign with your characters name.

PRO: Fair number of choices to design a character that you like. Fun little background options that appear to carry into the story (for example your “main story” quest plot line reflects your initial background – reminds me somewhat of DAO origin stories) Overall a good set up.

CON: My only major gripe is the ears. They are blocky – remind me of a cardboard cut out folded into ear shape. When you go with short/no hair you can see how blocky they are from behind the characters head. They also look a tad pointy near the top, like the edge of a block. Also would be nice to have more scars (only once choice), tattoos, different complexions, and more hairy chest models.

QUEST/EVENTS:

I am sure other games have done this, but this is my first exposure to a quest mechanism that more just happens. You don’t really go out talking to everyone to gather dozens of quests in a log. There are these event hubs (circles) and as soon as you enter them you get a message on screen that starts to track your progress. It is all groups based – meaning everyone is just one massive group in the event by default. Rewards are based on what you contribute from what I can tell.

Example: I might enter into a farm area. A message pops-up that tells me Farmer Joe needs help. I then have a brief summary of things I can do to help. I can feed the cows by giving them straw, I can water the corn, stamp out nasty giant worms, fight off bandit attacks, and put out fires. It all occurs in that area (so no running all over) with no need to talk and pick up a quest. Everyone else is doing them as well. You share rewards and kills so it’s a very cooperative effort. While there “epic” events occur – like a massive bandit attack or a giant killer worm that needs to be taken down. These are much harder but lots of fun as everyone is helping out. It gets very chaotic though.

So these events occur all over (keeping in mind I am only level 7 so haven’t explored much of the world) and as you complete a “set” of quests you complete the “event area”. The game also tracks your overall progress in “helping” out those in the area by completing different event sets. You also earn karma while doing this – and karma can be used at many vendors for special rewards.

If you leave an event then it disappears from your window but you can pick it up again, where you left on progress, later on. In other words maybe you did 50% of the tasks to help the farmer out. come back another day and do the rest.

Example Two: You also get more traditional quests – but even then just one at a time (at least in low level). They are tracked in your “story”. Until you finish the quest it is just a short description. But once you are done it writes out the story as part of your “biography”. These quests have you move around a lot more and are pretty varied. You get dialogue (cinematic) sessions, different tasks (not all combat) and each quest moves you ahead in your story. I was really enjoying these. Not as cinematic as Star Wars: TOR but still nice.

Example Three: One cure quest is chasing after rabbits that got loose in a watermelon patch. You just have to scoop them up, and they appear in your arms, and bring them back to the farmer. It is a short, fun, little quest to get some karma and experience. I only mention it as a way of showing an “event” that doesn’t involve combat. There is a decent amount of diversity for an MMO.

PRO: Fun change of pace on questing, very cooperative, gives a fun way do things with others but also on your own. Well paced IMO. Good basic foundation for role playing your character. Quests seem to relate to actually helping out in the war and people versus just collecting and killing things. They have more meaning. The personal story adds even more chance to get involved.

CON: Miss the chance to choose dialogue in story to reflect some personal ethic/morals. I was hoping for some choice based on your origin choices (charm, dignity, ferocity). Now I saw some simple dialogue options with NPC’s where you could pick various lines of dialogue based on those three … but they seemed to be just flavor and a single response versus a choice that might change the direction of the story. Still it was a nice touch – and at least a step forward for an MMO.

GAME PLAY/MECHANICS/GUI

There are a lot of cool little touches to this game that I am really enjoying. Hard to know where to start so just going to list some things I had strong impressions on.

TRAVEL: Not only does the game have the usual long distance gates (zone to zone in a way) but within each “zone” you have way points that really help you get around fast once you discover them. The city Divinity’s Reach is MASSIVE. The city alone has a lot of way points it is so large. Plus you can stop by the local priestess at the entrance and get a nice little speed buff for free while running around.

EQUIPMENT: Lots of variety and many clothes and armor options. You can switch between armor and clothes with a single click; great for role playing or switching between adventures or hanging out in town. You can also dye all your items right from the inventory gui. You start with a bunch of basic colors – all free – and you can switch to “dye” mode and go to town. You can also buy or craft more rare colors and add them to your palette. It is an awesome idea and really lets you customize your character.

GUI: Overall pretty intuitive (especially since I had no manual and was just tossed into beta) and easy to use. I found it very flexible. Auto-compacting of bags (like combining like items), right click on anything and pick what you want to do – use, equip (even which slot), destroy, mail, etc. Hero (character) screen also tracks some items in bags (like weapons and armor) for more ease of use –so you don’t have to have your bags open to dress/equip your character). Skills, traits, utility skills, etc., are all easy to find and assign to hot keys. You can change size of windows, move things around, and fairly adjustable (well for me at least as I tend to go with defaults … so that may not be saying a lot for those who overhaul there GUI).

COMBAT: Could write a book but in brief it was fast paced but manageable (not counting massive battles). I found the challenge just right for me on my characters, with the Ranger being a tad easier than the Rogue (who requires more strategy and caution). Others have commented that there are some big balance issues with certain classes … and I saw some impressive casters … but since I only played two classes I can only say those two seemed right to me.

Battles solo were easy to focus on, although some abilities where you jump around could be chaotic. Big battles … those were pretty spastic but no worse than RIFT. With so many things going on, so many players and effects, very hard to focus on the screen trying to target. Using hotkeys may help with that although I am a mouse user. In those cases having a ranged attack can keep you out of the chaos. Still I found it exciting and got my blood flowing even if it was hard to track things.

SKILLS/TRAITS/ABILITIES: I really didn’t get high enough to get into traits but so far I loved the way skills worked (including the utility versions). You have various weapon sets (Ranger had long bow, short bow, 2H, axes, sword and dagger, harpoon (for underwater) and spear. You switch them out and get to unlock up to 5 skills for each weapon set. As you level you also get skill points (starting at level 6) for utility skills. Healing abilities, poison, traps, etc… varies on class. So on the GUI you have weapon skills on one side and utility on the other.

Example: On my ranger I unlocked all skills for 2H swords – giving me special abilities for using that weapon. I then did the same for long bow, long sword and dagger, and sword and warhorn (which is cool as you can summon hawks to distract your target or spirit of the wolf (hunt) to buff all those around you). You can’t change in battle but can switch at will outside of combat. So LOTS of options without overwhelming you. You can focus on just 5 skills which makes it easier to know what you are doing (versus having 30 hot key buttons where one might be something like “adds 3% to critical if done after dodging an attack during a full moon” – gawd I hate those types of things; I just don’t have the memory/attention to track all those IF A then B but only if during XYZ types of abilities. Course I may find they crop on in higher levels but for now, at least, they are pretty simple.

Again maybe things change higher up – but for now combat is exciting, fun, and a nice mix of simple to use but allows for planning and strategy as you gain more skill sets. Each one actually seems to do something useful as well (versus the lame ones in SWTOR where you get a 1% increase to X).

Example Two: The rogue works the same way but with very different abilities even for the same weapons. They all work in synergy as well – but there are plenty of articles that explain that. I was hesitant on rogue as the stealth is not like WoW. It only lasts 3-8 seconds and is just for combat (but it can also let you get away if quick enough). But it is very fun and takes some thought on how you use your abilities. If careless you die easy … but if you plan you can do some great damage. The rogue is also very acrobatic and flashy.

PERFORMANCE:

Well this was beta so I didn’t expect much. Login servers went down a few times and I couldn’t get my “free” gems until Sunday (you can buy gems, normally, with gold earned in game or with real cash – a nice option to be able to do either. Note gems let you buy various things like fun outfits, dyes, potions for experience or karma gains, and other little things – they add to the game without really giving any real unfair advantage). Guild chat was buggy (went in and out) and sometimes NPC’s got stuck in a rut with voice over repeating over and over. Still, for beta, I found the game playing smoother than many games I have played on release. Overall it was a very positive experience. But I know others had tons of frustration – got locked out of EU servers, never able to login, getting booted, etc., so mileage may vary.

SUMMARY:

Well this got way to long! I could write so much. It has been a kick-ass weekend playing around with this game. Obviously I liked it a lot and very much looking forward to its release. I have no idea if my initial love will carry through to high levels since I don’t know what they are like. But if the general pattern is the same then I suspect I will be pretty happy as I advance.

The landscapes are amazing – very high fantasy and very epic in appearance. Voice over’s are ho-hum (lack emotional context) but at least they are not too bland or corny. Don’t expect too much though. NPC’s are okay – some are certainly more memorable than others. I tried the initial story lines for each (street rat, commoner, noble) and thought the street rat one was the most interesting (well to level 6) but connected more with the commoner one. The noble one … well it fit as it seemed a bit callous and fluffy … but was my least favorite.

Loved the avatars (characters) and all the clothing/armor options. Exploring was fun and they had an interesting way of interacting with the game world. You would pick up something and it would replace your weapon set – you could then use it in some manner or drop it to convert back. For example pick up a torch and you could set something on fire or set it back down. Pick up a hoe and gather some herbs or use it to bang a worm on its head.

I joined two guilds and really liked how you could switch between them. I had a list of them on the guild interface then could “represent” or “step down” to switch between my active guild. it was also cross-server which was very cool. For the record I did my playing on Eternal Grove.

Next chance I get I may try some crafting – which I didn’t touch this round. I also don’t PvP so can’t speak much about that.
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Character is centrality, the impossibility of being displaced or overset. - Ralph Waldo Emerson
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