What a weekend! For the first time, we as a community have gotten our hands on this game for more than one hour at conventions. 60 hours of play time, hundreds of thousands of players, and lots of feedback. I’ve written a huge amount of positive text about this game over the past year or so, and most of it has held up under the test of experience. I had a great time, but I certainly have several things I would like to discuss that seem to be on many people’s minds, and most of them include suggestions for improvement. This post will be long, as I will be discussing a huge range of topics befitting of this momentous occasion.
Weapons Don’t Kill People. Lag Kills People.
I’m not going to lie, the lag was unacceptable this beta, especially on the first day. As many no doubt experienced first hand, there was a metric ass-load of lag, especially on the first day. There were literally some times where I had up to 5-10 seconds of lag between my actions, and the result was that I got killed repeatedly without being able to do a thing. I don’t really have any way to know the correlation between total server population and lag, but I can say that often this lag occurred while there were very few people in my vicinity. The zone may have been crowded in other areas that I didn’t know, it may have simply been at capacity elsewhere, or perhaps the entire servers were simply under too much strain. Regardless, it made PvE extremely difficult and un-fun, and it made PvP literally impossible.
In some ways, this actually says a lot about the excitement surrounding the game. In order to have lag of this magnitude, you need to be getting hit by a lot of connections. ANet has joked on multiple occasions that their hype machine is like a Death Star that DDoS-es unsuspecting servers, and it looks like they have finally been on the receiving end. Hundreds of thousands of connections (or more) were hitting them all at once, so clearly they have a lot of interest. As I said, they need to fix this badly, but fortunately even by the middle of the weekend it seemed to have calmed down a lot. I’m sure that by the time the game comes out that this will mostly be fixed. This is in fact one of the best kinds of data a beta can acquire, so it is to be expected.
One important aspect that the lag brought to light was the overflow system. We had heard about it and imagined it in concept, but many/most of us got to experience it for ourselves this weekend. Overall, I would say that the system was a pretty big success. Often I would attempt to log in and be informed that a zone was full. I opted to travel to the overflow, and for the most part I simply played there until I left the zone. Technically, the system worked out great, but the major problem I found was that it didn’t account for group play very well. I was trying to play with my room-mate and girlfriend this weekend, but frequently we would be separated by some people in the real zone, some in the overflow, and potentially, some in even yet another overflow (I don’t know if there was more than one overflow server per area). It made it pretty frustrating to try and play with friends.
Fortunately, I’ve been informed that this was not intentional. Ideally, your party should always be able to stay together, whether that be in a zone or in an overflow. However, even if they make it so that you move through zones together properly, what I would really love would be the ability to jump to your party’s server as well. For example, how will the system handle a situation where one person is in overflow and then they party up with someone who is not? Will they have to rezone to sync up? I simple button or right-click context menu on the party member for “Go to their server” would be fantastic here. It appears to be an elegant solution, and despite some recommendations I have, it is vastly better than sitting at a login screen queued. Again, this is the kind of thing that betas are perfect for revealing, and something I have full confidence will be resolved by release.
Critical Hit to my Processor.
Some people had some absolutely horrid frame-rates despite having overall top-of-the-line machines. As many of you likely are aware, the game was uploaded in a state where almost all of the processing was being handled by the processor alone, instead of utilizing the graphics card and all of the cores on the processor. Now, my computer is brand new ( < 1 month) so I didn’t really have any issues here for the most part, but even with my new computer there were some serious frame-rate issues when enough people got together, say in WvW. Fortunately, on the second and third days they released some patches that seemed to improve this issue quite a bit, so I can only assume that they are further ahead internally than what they showed.
This is yet another issue that beta tests are perfectly suited for. Games need to be optimized for a wide range of systems, and there is no better way to test that than to let the game out into the wild. There is literally no way to have comprehensive testing of hardware optimization in-house only. Do the math, there are a near limitless number of permutations of motherboards, RAM, processors, GPUs, etc. This has hopefully been very valuable data for them. However, I would urge them to take special note of the impact of large populations. If they want WvW to be compelling, there will need to be a lot of optimization done because lag can and will kill that gameplay mode.
Bringing a Knife to an Ogre-fight. And no, it isn’t the Orc Slaying Knife.
Alrighty, that was most of the technical issues that were in the beta, now it’s time to move onto some discussion of balance. Specifically, the balance of melee vs ranged. This has been another hot button issue on various forums. Some people feel very strongly that melee is not viable, or at the very least, that it is never going to live up to ranged combat. Others basically put up an argument akin to “L2P Noob”. Personally, I think that there are some issues with the design of combat and damage numbers that work heavily against melee, but I also don’t think it is nearly as bad as many would make it out to be. Over the weekend I played a decent chunk of PvE, Structured PvP, and WvW, and accordingly, I have different stances on melee in each of them.
PvE- I managed to get into the low 20′s with a Mesmer, and to ~level 10 with a Thief and Warrior in PvE. After my sessions, I have come to the conclusions that both parties are sort of right here. First off, I do sympathize with melee’s plight against elite monsters/bosses. It kind of blows. Melee characters are not blessed with enough inherent toughness (via HP or Damage Reduction) to survive any better than ranged characters. If you think about it, that should be perfectly obvious to anyone who understands the skill system. Why? Because all characters are both ranged and melee. All characters can equip both kinds of weapons, and equipping one does not change any of your base stats, so of course you have the same survivability as ranged characters once you start taking hits. As such, the combat seems to be more balanced around ranged characters being able to kite, so consequently all characters (since all can be ranged) die in one or two hits from an elite mob/boss. What sucks is that if you are in range to attack as melee, they are in range to attack you. I can’t even count the number of times that I was never hit as a ranged build, and conversely I was virtually always taking some hits as a melee character. Against a boss, that meant I would die, and that sucks.
On the other hand, there is definitely some learning curve to adjust to. Melee characters, moreso than ranged, are not able to just spam their skills as many ranged players complain that ranged characters can do. If you spam your skills in melee, you will die. A lot. Many of the melee skills give you blocks, dodges, stealths, CC, etc. When you need to pick and choose which hits to take and avoid, you need to be cognizant of your options. A block skill is not only effective, it is crucial to melee survival. On my Mesmer, my melee spec was usually Sword x Sword. This gave me a brief invulnerability window (skill 2), and a counter attack that created a clone (skill 4 I think). That’s two skills that fully prevent hits, and if you play it right, the second one effectively can prevent 2-4 because of your shatter skill (Distortion). Mix that in with your other attacks and you had quite a bit of versatility and survivability, provided you could see the attack coming. Similarly, on the Warrior, if you used a shield or an offhand sword you could block attacks. The shield also provided a stun. Maces could daze, and hammers could knock down. Efficient use of these abilities combined with the high HP and Armor made the Warrior pretty viable in melee if you paid attention.
There are really two main problems I see with melee in PvE. Telegraphing/damage ratios, and specific weapons. All of those defenses I gave for melee were active and predicated on the idea that you could see the attacks coming. Many attacks were, IMHO, telegraphed poorly for the amount of damage they dealt. An attack that can kill you virtually instantly should be recognizable. It doesn’t mean that you can always get out of the way, especially if you judged your skill usage poorly, but I think that in an ideal world, melee characters should for the most part be able to avoid being downed if they can read the signs, and the signs should be cleared. After all, ranged characters easily can do so. The other issue I mentioned is specific weapons. To me, it seems that certain weapons are just not viable in PvE because they offer too little or no survivability in melee. I found the Thief to be ridiculously hard to use with dual daggers in PvE. There was one attack that stealthed you (5), but if you stayed stealthed the mob would de-aggro and start healing. Even if you didn’t stay in stealth, the game will still let you get hit because you don’t need to be targeted to be hit by an attack. Double daggers was very taxing for me to use, and it didn’t seem to have much payoff other than looking cool while you flipped around. The sword on the other hand had a great engage, disengage, and invincibility skill that could be used multiple times in succession. I loved the sword on-hand. Likewise, the bow and pistols were very easy to use in PvE.
I truly think that melee is almost right for PvE. I don’t know how they will solve dealing with some DE’s that spawn 20+ guys close to one another, but more obvious telegraphs/damage tuning and some work on defensive skills will go miles. I even read on the official forums that they are investigating certain weapons’ survivability options, so that tells me that they are aware of this problem as well. I am quite hopeful about this feature being fixed, and it’s very near to my heart because I love melee.
Structured PvP- L2P. Seriously. L2P is where I fall here. You see, unlike PvE, people don’t one-shot you in PvP. Period. Melee does a lot more damage than ranged attacks in general in PvP. If you can get in range and stay in range, you are perfectly viable. Yes, it is harder to play melee in PvP, but once you learn maps, tactics, and telegraphs, it is more than viable. I spent almost the entirety of Structured PvP as a melee Necromancer, and I was not using minions. Some of my best battles were against Rangers because they not only would switch between bows and greatswords, but they also had great kiting tools. I ran daggers and warhorn as my main weapons, and I used a combination of CC and defensive utilities. Every melee build from every class I fought seemed to do perfectly good damage and have a variety of ways to get into range. It’s a game of cat and mouse. The game has a plethora of gap closers for melee weapons and a great UI for telegraphing ranged attacks/AoE, so you won’t get sucker punched. I think that barring some slight balance changes for several classes/weapons, PvP is balanced just fine, especially for Melee vs Ranged.
WvW- Here is actually where I agree with the doom-sayers. Melee in WvW seems on the whole to be a completely worthless affair. Any time that there are enough ranged characters to instantly kill one character, melee will have a problem. This is doubly true when the effects are AoE, so not only can the group kill one melee person, they can kill many people with one volley. This goes into math territory, but if you understand basic math you know that focus firing is always better than perfectly distributing your damage. This assumes several things, like that by spreading damage you have an alternative way to stack it onto one character, which is not always the case, but I digress. If it takes you 10 hits to kill one person, and there are 10vs10, if one side has each person fire at a unique target, it will take 10 volleys to kill the enemy team. If the enemy team focuses their fire, they will kill 1 player each volley. Then the team will only have 9 members, so they will take more volleys to finish of the other team because they aren’t even damaging every player any more.
If we understand that, then we can work out what happens when all the members of the team can hit multiple enemies for competitive damage. If one team of say Elementalists can hit 5 targets at a time and all 10 of them hit the same 5 targets and can kill them in one volley, that’s an enormous advantage to their team. As we have seen, most melee attacks have either no AoE or very limited AoE. What tends to happen in WvW is that if there are a sufficient number of enemies, any melee characters that attempt to engage will simply get nuked into the ground without actually getting the chance to deal damage. Since there is nothing like friendly fire, even if they make it to the enemy they can still be nuked with impunity.
So what’s the answer here? Don’t play melee? That’s kind of exactly the point, and it sucks. You could argue that sufficient tactical planning could find a way to get enough melee into range with enough spread to avoid being nuked with allies, and that once they were in range they could sow enough chaos to prevent focus tactics… but I think that’s a bit of a stretch, especially with large enough battles. The fact is that incidental fire will always be there, and it’s always going to be very rough. I honestly have no suggestions here that wouldn’t unbalance the game.
About That Flat Level Curve…
Remember this image?
So, after playing, I feel like this is more appropriate:
Now, that red line in my super pro picture is where they said the level curve would be. The blue lines are how I think players experienced the content. Yes, I know this picture isn’t perfect, but it illustrates two points that I have observed during the beta and from reading the forums. The first “issue” is that often levels went in bursts. Many people felt like 4-10 was kind of a slog. Those same people also felt that 11-20 was much much faster. Now, either way, these levels didn’t take too long, but there was definitely a disparity between speeds, and it seems most likely that the zones involved are the culprits. That is valuable data, and something that could be tweaked with different even rates and perhaps slightly more events in total.
The second point of my graph is that some players seemed to breeze through all of the levels whereas others seemed to struggle a lot. After getting feedback, it seems to me that many of the players on the top half of this curve (longer slogs) were in the Human zones, and those having faster leveling were in the Norn and Charr zones. This corresponds to my experience as well. In the Human zone, I went around and did every heart, got every waypoint, and did every DE I ran across, and I was constantly under-leveled. It actually was kind of un-fun because in order to progress, I had to just hope that I found enough DEs somewhere, or just grind out mobs, which I know is not what ANet wants. On the other hand, both the Norn and Charr areas there seemed to be much more frequent events and it was pretty easy to stay leveled around there. What this says to me is that the event recycle rate in the Human area should be somewhat upped, and perhaps a few more should be there as well. I know that many people think that you should just go to another race’s area, but to me that should be merely an option, not a requirement. After all, a big part of the fun will be rolling alts, and it would be nice to be going through their zones fresh, especially since we know that zones start to converge later on and all characters will be funneling into fewer areas as the game goes on.
I sound like a broken record, but this is exactly the kind of data that betas are perfect for. Tweaking spawn rates and/or EXP/mob is much easier than creating new content altogether. I have heard from Elixabeth that the leveling rate has changed quite a bit over the course of the beta events, and I expect it to change some more.
Zerg-rush or Hitting a Brick Wall? Yes Actually…
This is a subset of the leveling curve section. Many people have said that events do not scale properly and that they need some work. I agree. What is hilarious to me though is that half the people say that they scale too much, and the other half says that they don’t scale enough. Does that mean that they are cancelling each other out and that the game is fine? Probably not. In fact, much like the level curve, I experienced both sides of this and I think I see the problem. Some events can be zerg rushed. These events often involve smaller enemies that simply have more spawned with more people. As I commented about WvW, if there are a sufficient number of players with AoE such that they can one-shot something, then they can one-shot enormous groups just as easily. Often Centaur events were a great example of this, as well as the Sons of Svanir. If there was a huge clump of players, there were a large group of enemies that would come… and die instantly. The event was super easy and could power level a lot of players.
On the other end, you have That God-damned Shaman. You know the one. If you don’t, there was this Charr Shaman right outside the water area with tar in it in the starter area. The Shaman was a boss that spawned at the end of a DE chain, and well, he scaled. He scaled hard. In fact, the more players you had, the more ridiculous he became. He took almost no damage and had giant AoE’s that one-shot players, and between the other mobs, the network lag, and the graphics lag from having ~3 trillion meteor showers, he could down and finish off entire swaths of players. Essentially, it scaled too far into the other direction. He was just a spam fest that felt like crashing into a brick wall. Overall, skill was mitigated in favor of spam-n-die tactics. Too much HP, too much Damage, nothing to do but wail on things.
I believe there is a happy medium that can be achieved. Some events should scale the monster damage less, and the hp more. Others should scale the hp and damage less, but add more numbers to the fight. Often the “Zone Bosses” like the Shatterer, Tequatl, The Shadow Behemoth, and others have this much better. Yes, they have ridiculous HP, but they also have lots of things for other players to do. Man turrets, take down waves of spawning mobs, etc. I think the same design should be applied to the lesser bosses to even out the experience a bit. Overall, it felt like 6-10 was the perfect balance point in players per event.
A Colored Complaint
Okay, I’m not sure this warrants its own section, but the change to the dye system’s unlocks was one of my biggest disappointments this beta. It was previously stated by Kristen Perry that dyes would be unlocked for an entire account. Here is the relevant quote:
Storage was always a factor when it came to dye colors in Guild Wars. The new system would cripple most inventories if we required characters to lug all the dyes around. Fear not! The dye hues themselves will be unlockable through various means, both in-game and out. Once you unlock the color, it will be available across your entire account, not just the individual character.
With a reported 400+ dyes, this seems only fair and logical. There was some debate/rumor about some dyes being cash shop exclusive, but at the time they were only rumors. Now that we see the current system, it’s worse than I would have feared. While the actual dye system is fantastic (seriously, hat’s off to Ms. Perry), the unlocking system quite frankly pisses me off. Currently, dyes are unlocked per character. That’s right. Up to 400 dyes per character. That’s quite a lot to try and collect, and honestly it will be annoying to re-collect dyes on alts. What’s worse is not just that dyes are for sale, but they are randomly for sale. As in you pay 4 bucks give or take to get 3 random dyes. You can get duplicate dyes as well; it happened to me. Even worse, the only other way for dye to enter the market is for you to “manufacture” it, and that takes 24 hours per dye. To get a random dye. Ugh, I honestly hate this, it seems to be overly gimping this otherwise amazing tool that clearly had a lot of work put into it. I’ve commented before that I abhor so-called gambling microtransactions. I think they are slimy and prey on psychological factors that shouldn’t be toyed with in a game, and worse they are just really annoying. Ironically, this over-monetization of dyes will have the opposite of the desired effect on me. Where before I would have gladly payed for perhaps a 10-pack of special dyes (like perhaps glowing, or shiny, or textured, or many other things) that were account wide, I will never pay for random dyes. Ever. I would have probably even paid $10+ depending on how cool they were, but now they will get nothing from me. GG.
This may change, and I hope it does. I think that a lot of people are unhappy with this system. I don’t like to cry “They lied to us”, but god this sure feels like it. I’m sure that it wasn’t a “lie”, because I have met Kristen multiple times, and she is a fantastic human being, so I trust that she fully meant what she said. Regardless, that doesn’t change the fact that it seems this great system has been gutted and whored out for microtransactions.
The Big Picture
If you’ve made it this far, good job! It’s almost done. While I’ve just spent longer than I ever have talking about mostly complaints, I’d like to let this sit with you. That’s all of them. Those are my only complaints. 90% of them are ones that I expect to be fixed because they were mostly number tweaking. When the events are properly scaled, they are awesome. The zones are gorgeous. The PvP is very fun, and I enjoy what each profession brings to the table. There are so many things that are so right with this system that I can’t even begin to enumerate them all at once, but the core takeaway is that pretty much everything I thought the game would be, it was. It was a great weekend and I feel that they did not over-promise the game, despite the fact that many over-hyped themselves. It’s something I had cautioned against, and it seems that many either didn’t pay attention or did not heed the advice. Many people are disappointed, but yet many are also inspired and excited to spend time in Tyria again. I hope to see you all in game. And my God does it feel good to say that and for that to be soon.