Another PAX Prime has come and gone from our city of Seattle. Fortunately we managed to avoid the H1Nerd1 outbreak like we had a few years ago but as always, PAX can be a very draining experience. Just like Frenzy + Healing Signet: it’s awesome and hilarious, and probably will leave you wiped. There’s so much to see and so much excitement in the air! NCSoft has always had a large presence at PAX, typically having a large space with huge murals of the games on display along with tons of demo stations. While they did just announce their new MMO Wildstar, GW2 was really the star of the show; so much in fact that it had 3 different locations dedicated to it (Alienware and Logitech). Even with more floor space than probably any other single game aside from Halo, the Guild Wars 2 stations and booths were always completely packed for all three days, literally from opening to closing.
The First Demo
I tried to get in early to the show to snag one of those after party passes with ANet so I showed up ~2.5 hours before the center opened. Parking was already a nightmare and by the time I managed to find a spot and get into the center, I was a ways back in the line (though not too far). Even so, I thought I was pretty good in terms of being able to get to the GW2 booth before too many others would snag up those passes. Boy was I wrong! I rushed straight to the booth only to find that all the demo stations were already taken, a person was in line behind each, there was a line for shirts, and the party passes were all gone. Downed! Struggle to survive! I figured that if nothing else, people probably hadn’t discovered the Logitech booth yet since it was at the far end of the hall. I hurried over and was rewarded with 10 or so empty stations! Huzzah!
Although the Ranger was an older profession as far as release dates were concerned, I was really eager to try one out since they seemed like they had been buffed a bit and since the greatswords were in the game for them now. I rolled up a female Sylvari. The customization options seemed a bit sparse at the moment, but I’m sure they will get more as the process moves on. One thing of note was that there were indeed quite a few exotic skin and “hair” colors, including shades of purple and magenta. I totally loved being able to make them look a little crazier so I am very excited to see the full suite of customization.
Popping into the game, I went straight for using a greatsword + shortbow for my weapon slots. I didn’t actually mess too much with my utility skills, but I made sure to put lightning reflexes in there just for nostalgia. After playing for a few minutes I had a pretty good feel for what my skills were so I went to work on some Orrian monsters. The greatsword had been promised to be a very mobile weapon and it definitely lived up to that expectation. The first skill had a skill chain that ended with doing a 90 degree jump around the side of the target as it hit them. I found it to be interesting and potentially useful for PvP, but often found myself accidentally jumping funny with it because I wasn’t expecting it and was already moving around when the third blow hit. The second skill was a really long-range jump attack similar to savage leap for the Warrior. Again, in PvE it was only of limited use because the monsters don’t really run away so you really only use it once per fight but it was animated well and I see huge potential for PvP as a way to stay on someone constantly or to move around the map. More on map movement later though. I believe the third skill was a hold skill that would block the next attack and counter-attack with a kicking knock-back and knockdown. It was sometimes a bit awkward to use if the enemy attacked slowly, but it was a nice way to mitigate some damage and have some control elements. This could be very useful in PvE against monsters with huge windups and big attacks if you have the reflexes for it and it could be a really annoying counter to some melee characters in PvP. Skill 4 and 5 I am mixing up right now, but I believe 4 was an attack that applied 3 stacks of bleeding which will always be useful for damage. Skill 5 was an attack that would stun if delivered from behind. That last one is pretty tricky to use well but an on-demand stun is pretty nice if you are aware enough of position and it had a cooldown that was very decent (~15-20 seconds I think).
Overall, I feel like the greatsword was a decent weapon but that it really shines in PvP rather than in PvE. While its damage is perfectly competitive in PvE, the fact is that most of the time your position will be either far less relevant or far more difficult to control in PvE because you are often the only one engaging with monsters and they can instantly turn to face you. This is a similar problem that some Thieves had with trying to backstab after using twisting fangs to get behind the enemy; the monster simply auto-faced the Thief and the backstab didn’t work. Further, the damage wasn’t significantly more than using the shortbow but the shortbow was much easier to avoid taking damage with. One thing I will point out though was that often monsters would aggro onto my pet and thus leave their backs open to attack for my stun; a small trick but still valuable.
The shortbow was an absolute delight for me. All 5 skills could be used on the run, all of them had relatively short cooldowns, and most of them were stronger when delivered from the side or behind enemies. The spam skill was relatively basic and had nothing special, but it did its job just fine. Skill two was a spread shot to hit multiple enemies; not too special but always worth using since it was on a low cooldown. The real bread and butter skill of the shortbow had to be the third skill, quick shot. It fired a shot, made you jump backwards and granted swiftness briefly. With its low cooldown and free use (no energy), it made an extremely useful tool for keeping out of enemy range. Between active movement, dodging and quickshot I almost never took damage unless I was faced with a huge number of enemies or managed to get a heavy control condition on me. The 4th skill was crippling shot which obviously crippled an enemy but also made your pet’s attacks cause bleeding for a few attacks. Definitely yet another tool to prevent getting caught. The final skill dazed the enemy, or if you shot it from behind would stun them. Again, the aggro mechanics with the pet really could help out with this skill. Overall, I had a blast with the shortbow; it does very respectable damage, has several ways to stay away from enemies and encourages you to move around a lot.
I did switch up my shortbow for a longbow at some point and found that it was a very viable weapon. I heard that it does more damage when you hit from farther away which seems most useful either in PvP or in a group in PvE where you can sit in the background firing. In solo play it was less noticeable because the monsters obviously would just close the distance to you. Mostly the longbow was all about sitting back and unloading damage and then some more damage. Like I said, it was very viable, I just had a lot more fun with the shortbow.
Overall, I’m really excited to see how much more they change the pets. As it stood, the pet was already miles beyond the previous incarnation simply by adding the limping mechanic. For those unaware, downed pets now limp back towards you so that you can revive them at your leisure without either having to waltz into the middle of a fight or have the chance of you losing track of them. Although I still felt my pet died too quickly, the limping made it so I could always get it back in the fight. Also, when in the downed state the Ranger can resurrect his pet and then have his pet resurrect him. Does that sound really really good? That’s because it is. In PvP you will have far less of a chance to use it if the enemy decides to stomp you, but if they are distracted it can very well save your bacon without any effort from your allies. In PvE it guaranteed that I never even got downed when soloing lots of enemies all by my lonesome. Between the shortbow’s escape mechanisms, my pet’s distractions, my healing skill and then lick wounds it was very hard to kill me. I found the Ranger to be not quite perfect but much better than the initial showing, so that’s very promising.
After I finished the demo it was time to do a bit of exploring in the expo hall because during the demo people had discovered the Logitech booth and it was packed. I ran into a couple of friends that were at the show with me and they told me that they had registered me for the PvP tournament and that it started in 10 minutes. I guess it was good that I got my warm-up in! We headed on over to the Alienware arena. This place had a really cool setup. There was a large main stage with the announcers on it (djWHEAT and ANet devs), two sets of computers on round tables for each team and then actual bleachers for a crowd to sit on. All of that was fenced in with chain linked fencing. It felt really cool. We were up first, so it was time to get our act together.
The PvP Tournament
After a quick consultation with the team, we decided on our team’s theme and composition. We all rolled Charr Warrior’s and Elementalists. All of them of course had Charr pun names: Charrles Xavier, Katy Charrgrove, Charrlie Chaplain, Charrles Manson and the classic Charrlie. Our numbers ended up being 3 Warriors and 2 Elementalists. This was my first time playing a Warrior at all in GW2 so there was definitely a lot of learning that happened. I opted for sword and shield in set 1 and a longbow in set 2. Before starting I had to change my key bindings to make A and D strafe; I set it that way in GW1 almost immediately and never changed it. Something I learned was that apparently that was common and they actually had a single check box to do it in the options screen (“Use WASD for move and strafe”) instead of having to go to key bindings to do it manually. Anyway, my friends opted for hammers instead of the longbow and changed their utility skills to all knock down. Our main strategy was to always stay in groups of 2-3 whenever possible since we had seen how well that seemed to work, or at least how poorly single roamers fared if they ran into 2 people.
It was almost impossible to hear each other in the tournament so our communication was fairly non-existent. In general we tried to stick together and act as roaming gank squads. Catching one person off guard meant a quick kill and made it much more difficult for their team to split effectively for capturing points. We frequently would kill a straggler and then get to a point they were contesting with one more person than they had which usually resulted in quick death for them. I really like the sword’s ability to let you leap around the battlefield. My teammates found that Warriors effectively had 4 or so knockdowns between the hammer, bull rush and stomp. Essentially we could keep people permanently knocked down while we killed them if we could get started. Overall, I felt we did very well and won the match by over 400 points.
In between matches I had a chance to talk to Jon Peters about some PvP specifics. It was really nice to meet him in person and amazingly he recognized my (forum) name. That just goes to show you how much they are at least keeping tabs on the community and it was very surprising to me. Anyway, he complimented us on our teamwork and gave me some pointers for using the trebuchet that we had completely ignored in our previous match. He strongly recommended that we have someone use it in our next match so we tried to incorporate that into our strategy. Spoiler: It didn’t work at all
So, armed with my new advice we talked it over and had one person try to man the trebuchet. We stuck with our team composition but I switched out my bow for the hammer and also took more knockdown utility skills since that seemed to work well for my friends. We started off on a bad note by losing the central capture point after a big fight which left us down quite a few points and in the mean time someone had also captured at least one if not both of the other points. I noticed that they had an Engineer that was deploying mines on their captured points but I have to say that they were easy to spot and never seemed to actually help them. The biggest problem with our initial loss was that we lacked any ability to communicate quickly and soon fell into disorder. There were a lot of people left alone or in too small of groups and we sort of ended up on the receiving end of what our previous strategy was.
The Engineer’s net shot absolutely devastated our Warriors by effectively removing us from the fight for precious seconds and the Elementalists’ tornadoes were a huge pain when we tried to capture points. Having played two ranged professions and then the Warrior I really felt the positional disadvantage of the melee weapons. There are a whole host of CC effects to keep melee at bay and many ranged attacks don’t need to be aimed; melee attacks essentially do have to be aimed because of both swing arcs and the fact that you have to get in and stay close at all times. The damage didn’t seem to compensate well enough for that on weapons that had very light CC like the axes and swords. Hammers worked uniquely well because if you could get in, the enemies basically stopped being able to act.
Having a person on the trebuchet really hurt our team fighting capabilities. We couldn’t tell him where to aim so he largely had to guess, and it can be really hard to know how close you are getting with your shots on that thing. The end result was that we were almost always 4v5, 2v3 or some other disadvantageous number and the trebuchet didn’t contribute enough to make up the difference. I don’t blame our player; we’re all noobs at this game and I tried the trebuchet myself to little avail at another time. I don’t blame Jon because I’m sure it really can be awesome once you learn how to aim and you have better map awareness. In our case though, it was pretty much a huge drain on resources that we should have abandoned sooner. We ended up losing ~250:500. It was sad to lose, but I feel we started to really come back there at the end and middle.
As far as team composition, I felt our strengths lied in the ability to keep people immobilized. Having 2-3 Warriors beating on you and being unable to act is a bad place to be and Warriors can take the beating to ignore your friends while they kill you. Elementalists have really strong ground effects that become devastating when the enemy doesn’t leave them. What better way to assure that than to just keep the enemy unable to act? One tip that I wish we had heard was to use a warhorn instead of a shield because the horn provides very frequent swiftness boons. Given the size of the map, mobility enhancing items are extremely potent out of combat. In fact, I strongly suspect that a large part of the meta game will be to have one main set of weapons for combat and an auxiliary set for situational benefits. On a Warrior that would likely be a warhorn for speed, on a Necro it will likely be a staff for conditions and AoE, etc. Even though we didn’t get to the finals, I still had a blast playing PvP and I feel this is a much more approachable competitive scene. It also helps that it feels a lot like AB in many ways and AB was one of my favorite forms of PvP in GW1. It felt sort of like AB and Battlefield Bad Company had a baby, and that baby was the Fonz.
If I thought the lines for GW2 were bad on the first day, they were epic on the second. Once again the party passes evaporated instantly and the lines were full of fans to play the game. I felt some small amount of conflict between wanting more information to share and not wanting to spend 3 hours waiting to play something I had already played, but since blogging isn’t my job I decided to check out the rest of PAX. Fortunately, my friends had discovered that Antec was giving away 2 passes each morning to the party and virtually nobody knew about it. I sort of camped out there and managed to get the passes the instant they were available (around noon)! I was super excited to go since I had been to all of the other parties they had and knew how awesome the ANet people are to talk with. After spending the rest of the afternoon suffering in the sun waiting for the Acquisitions Incorporated show it was off to their studios at 6. I was on a bus with Martin and who I have since realized was Elixabeth (though I didn’t find a chance to introduce myself) along with several other fans. After a fairly long ride (one of the bridges to/from Seattle was closed for the weekend grrrrrr) we got to the offices in Bellevue. Although I had seen some of the pictures from the fan day, it was still very impressive to actually see them in person. They were very wide open and roomy and everywhere I looked there was some of the beautiful artwork on the walls.
After getting a quick bite to eat, I headed up to the usability lab to play some PvP again. I decided to give the Necromancer a try since I am very interested in them and they were one of my mains in GW1. I have to say that I strongly favored the axe/dagger combination or the axe/warhorn. I used the staff in my second set to provide more support in larger team fights with the AoE and conditions. The axe is a great medium-range damage weapon. After playing for a bit, I learned one of the most valuable pieces of information I have found about the Necromancer: They keep their life force progress between lives. I don’t know if that is intended, but it is extremely important. If you built up your life force only to lose it on death you could perpetually be almost ready to be awesome but never quite make it. Keeping it after death somewhat softens the blow and lets them always get better as the match goes on instead of only getting better if they never die. I had originally been a bit put off when ANet had said that the Necro was “a master of attrition but really squishy unless they had life force built up”. To me that sounded like they didn’t kill fast (attrition) and died quickly (squishy) unless you either had a very specific build to get life force or were already winning (people dying). I was relieved to find that they didn’t seem very squishy at all to me and that the axe was definitely not a weapon of attrition.
After finishing the PvP demo again I decided to move over to one of the PvE stations (in fact the one that Rubi had just finished on). I tried out the Charr starter area with a Guardian. Overall, I didn’t really like the Guardian. In PvP it had never seemed to make enough of an impact to warrant a place on a team and in PvE it just sort of felt slow. That could be because I was at level 1 or because I just sucked, but that’s just me. However, although I wasn’t impressed by the Guardian, I was enthralled by the Black Citadel and the area around it. Having already fought lots of enemies in previous PvE demos I instead opted for almost pure exploration. The citadel is breathtaking. I think I covered almost all of it and everywhere I looked there was something awesome. I found their forging pits that had a gorgeous swirling lava pool surrounded by industrial machinery, I found a big walkway with huge statues of (in)famous Charr heroes and I found a really awesome spiraling structure in the center of the city. It was truly inspiring and I have yet to see a home city I didn’t like; I can’t imagine Rata Sum or The Grove will disappoint either.
After that I spent the remaining couple of hours schmoozing with the devs. They are all very wonderful human beings and they love what they do. There was talk of Guild Wars, there was talk of Guild Wars 2, and there was plenty of just normal hanging out. As someone else so aptly described, it was like having a reunion with old friends even though we had never met. I did manage to get in a few rounds of Rock Band with Martin and Colin which was a blast; at one point the entire room was singing together on Bohemian Rhapsody.
I had a great chat with Colin towards the end of the night. He really is as smiley and as friendly as he looks and we had a great time talking about life, work and of course GW2. From the top to the bottom of the company these folks are working their asses off to finish this amazing game and I still feel like they are trying desperately to make everyone happy. I just wanted to take a minute to say, “Thank you. From the bottom of my heart I want to thank all of you at Arena Net for making such great games and for putting up with so many crazy fans at times.” To forum goers or general people on the internet, I would like to say, “Cut these guys some slack some times. They are working as hard as they can and sometimes people seriously freak out whenever they talk about anything other than developing the game and start saying that they should be working harder. That’s completely ridiculous and unreasonable; I guarantee they are working way more than normal hours to get this game done, and it is already awesome. ” As much in awe as I am about some of these devs, I have to remember that they are still normal people. I can tell that sometimes they get a bit uncomfortable with some of the fans’ obsessions and if I put myself in their shoes, I can see why. I know we want this game right now, and we all think this game will be amazing, we just need to take a breath sometimes and let them do their jobs like normal people. Ok, serious hat off.
To finish off the night, they had a raffle for amazing prizes. Given the number of fans (~200?) the odds were pretty good to win one of the 15 drawings. The first 5 prizes were a set of Razer headphones and a Charr plushie. I was actually lucky enough to win this package and it absolutely was the entire weekend’s highlight. I heard them then move onto the “better” level of prizes (a Razer keyboard and mouse) that didn’t include a Charr and I was totally glad I won the “lowest” tier of prize. Seriously, Charr plushie > any other prize. After a great evening of chatting, eating and gaming they gave away kick-ass prizes. Best company ever. And with that, my weekend of GW2 was basically over.