Wow. It’s been almost two whole weeks since the pre-release of Guild Wars 2, and so much has happened. Any of you who normally see me around have possibly noticed almost a complete absence over the past two weeks, and I think we all know the reason. It seems an appropriate amount of time to wait before giving my thoughts on everything that has happened. It’s been a pretty amazing ride so far, with a few ups and downs, and it amazes me still how much there is to this game.
So, true to their word, Arena Net launched the servers “up to” 3 hours ahead of the “official” pre-release… and by “up to”, I mean “exactly”. Living on the Pacific coast, this meant starting my real adventures in Tyria at 9PM, an excellent time if I do say so myself. Everyone set into the game at break-neck speeds, some trying to get ahead of the pack, some spending hours in character creation, and others trying to reserve names as quickly as possible. I did a bit of all three. I’m the proud owner of the characters Spruce Cambell and Bookah T Washington. In fact, most of our guild has at least one good pun-name for an Asura or Sylvari it seems, though we also have serious names.
Having already decided at least what my main was going to look like, and after quick-reserving a few names, I set off with my brand new Sylvari Necromancer. As with most MMOs, the newbie zones were absolutely packed. Roving hordes of players skipped from area to area, mowing down thousands of “helpless” fireflies, spiders, and undead minions. Unlike most MMOs, this was actually awesome. Most of the time, these hordes translate into extreme resource scarcity and bottlenecks. I remember back at the launch of Aion, there was this one quest that everyone had to do that involved talking to one NPC that spawned in a random location within a small area, and only one person could complete the quest before they disappeared for another couple minutes. Literal queues formed almost instantly as players waited in boredom to progress. In less polite servers, it was a free-for-all that could have taken hours to complete for an unlucky few.
Although it made it hard to see what was going on sometimes, these bands of players felt like the Wild Hunts of fey. We ran, we explored, we killed indiscriminately, we did hearts, dynamic events, and even found time to mine and cut down trees. Onward we rushed until eventually we started to split apart into smaller and smaller groups. I was level 10 before I knew it, and the game hadn’t even “officially launched”. It was about this time that my friends and I decided that it was time to group up and form our own little band of misfits. Everyone was fresh out of character creation, the guild was created, and we were good to go.
After creating a party, we immediately began to notice a few hitches. We weren’t in the same overflow as one another, and couldn’t manage to sync up. Clicking the “Join In” menu option did nothing most of the time. Mail was borked. Still, despite these annoyances, we were at least earning influence for the guild, playing without lag, and having a great time. Eventually, the servers went down unexpectedly at around 4AM PST, at which point I decided to take a 3 hour power nap (after all, I had been at work that Friday and was pretty tired). I must have been attuned to the universe, because literally 10 seconds after I woke up and went back downstairs, the servers came back up, and it was go-time all over again. I played all through the next day and late into the next night, but those details are irrelevant other than the fact that the trading post was also down.
By the end of the 4 day weekend I had taken, I was around level 45 I think. I had played almost the entire time with my house-mates and guildies. Servers and lag had been extremely stable, and I was still enjoying the hell out of the game. I had tried (unsuccessfully) to get into the Ascalon Catacombs dungeon multiple times, but alas, dungeon grouping was (and is) still pretty borked. I had also magically lost the ability to see or modify my own guild, which again, was something of an annoyance.
Launch Cons: Trading Post, Mail, Partying Syncing, Dungeon Syncing, Guilds
Launch Pros: Almost complete uptime, extremely little lag, no server queues, no bottlenecks, running great, tons of fun.
As far as pros and cons go, the cons are much smaller in terms of gameplay impact than the pros were. After the first few days, I said multiple times that this was the smoothest MMO launch that I had ever been a part of. I hear Rift was as good or better, but I can’t comment. Regardless, it was a pretty great feeling, and I knew they were working night and day to resolve these issues.
Botters and ‘Sploiters, Hackers and Racists:
It was around the middle of the week, sometime near “official release”, that I started to hear about some members of the community taking advantage of some issues in the game. I had heard from guild mates that there was a DE in Gendaran Fields that restarted about every minute or two, and was able to be finished in mere seconds. 2 guild mates had started to adapt a plan of:
1- Do the DE
2- Run off to do a heart/vista nearby.
3- When complete, teleport back to the DE and tag it, netting more of a reward than the teleport cost and a good chunk of experience
4- Rinse and repeat.
After a few revolutions, we actually stopped doing it because we felt like it was power leveling us too fast and was not fun. We were already getting ahead of the level range of the zone and still had a ton to do. We also noticed that some players had obviously gone AFK with their 1 key held down, either via some form of bot, a simple macro (which many gaming mice come with the ability to do), or even something as simple as resting a book on it. While those seemed to be pretty wrong, we didn’t really see anything wrong with what we were doing. After all, several of the events in the starting zones did the exact same thing, and seemed pretty intentional. Numbers of players making something easier does not mean it’s an exploit. I’ll get into this feeling more later, as I think it is something problematic with how they are handling things.
Somewhere around here, we heard that ANet had started taking an aggressive policy with it’s bannings. Rumors of thousands of players being banned and/or suspended during the head start were beginning to show up. In a bold move, ANet decided to tackle these rumors and complaints head-on, posting a thread on Reddit about it. In said thread, they invited players to post their in-game names and they would post what exactly they had been banned/suspended for. This was incredibly ballsy IMO, and I think it set a great tone. There was literally no defending anyone who dared post their name when what they said was revealed (for the most part). It is an in-your-face kind of tactic, but then again, it’s also a “Put up or shut up” attitude, and I for one think it’s great. It’s easy to sympathize when someone says “Waaaah, I was banned for no reason”; it’s much harder for people to cover up their bad behavior if they refuse to let ANet show what they said, and even more difficult when ANet gives a direct quote of you being a complete asshole, cussing and using racist language to strangers. Kudos ANet, I really approve of this tactic.
I will say however that I think that in some cases they were a bit heavy handed. It’s been an ongoing theme that I will discuss more in a bit, but the gist is that while I appreciate their willingness to play unapologetic hardball, I think that sometimes they can be overzealous in their judgments for first time offenders, especially when their policies are incredibly vague. The vagueness is actually my biggest problem. Literally, one of the bannable offenses is making a character name that is a reference to a real life person or organization. While I understand that the intent is largely to block out things like the KKK, I find it difficult to know where the line is drawn, and for less egregious offenses, a 3-day ban seems a bit harsh without warning. As I said, I already have two character names that both technically fall under that category; they are after all parodies of real-life people. I can understand not wanting Adolf Hitler in your game, but I have to admit, Adolf Critler sounded like a really funny pun for a thief to me (and someone was suspended for it). Puns are funny, and I don’t think that a pun of an infamous person is particularly offensive; obviously ANet and others disagree. My friend has the name Roflmao Zedong in GW1; is that offensive, or at least offensive enough for a ban? I don’t think so, ANet might. It’s this attitude of uncertainty that I don’t particularly appreciate as a gamer.
Getting back to the people farming that DE, is that an exploit? They are playing very fast and loose with their definitions of exploiting, to the point where I am actively afraid of doing things that seem like a good deal or idea. Where is the line drawn between clever usage of mechanics, and exploit? Worse, how the hell are we supposed to know what the designers intended? Sometimes, it truly is obvious. A case here would be the 21 karma items. Obviously, all other items of the same tier and type were 21,000 karma, and one vendor sold them for 21. That is clearly an oversight. However, what about dynamic events that are too easily farm-able? How should we know what it should be? Sure, running a bot is never okay, but what about setting up engineer turrets, or summoning minions, or having ranger pets do auto attacks while you AFK? To me, that is clever; if they don’t like that events are spawning too quickly and predictably, that’s their problem. Another is the case of buying items from karma vendors and then salvaging them or selling them. I see nothing wrong with this (barring the 21 karma vendor thing), but apparently ANet does. Hell, look at GW1! Would you say that it is intended to make 55 monks or perma SF sin farmers? Is it an exploit to farm with those? ANet didn’t think so for literally years; their track record on what they allow has been pretty generous up until now. That’s why I’m a little against some of their rulings for some first time offenders. Again, not all, but the line is getting blurrier and blurrier, and I really do worry sometimes about what they consider to be “expected”.
Something else that was somewhat disturbing in that thread was the frequency of people asking what they had done in that thread, only to be told that they had been hacked and needed to contact support. Not disturbing that ANet responded as such, but disturbing because of the frequency of said reports. GW2 was coming under some extremely heavy fire from various hackers. While the GW2 database doesn’t appear to have been hacked, various other game companies have been, and the hackers are simply using the same email-password combinations from those. This has been kind of a black eye for ANet, as they had absolutely no authentication system in place, which I find shocking and astounding in this day and age.
As if launching the game weren’t enough strain for the team, PAX Prime happened literally days after the official launch. Although they didn’t have an official presence at PAX, they did have an official “launch party” on Saturday night. More on that in a bit. This was the first time I had actively tried to meet some of the community members in person, and I just would like to say a quick thanks to everyone who I met up with and talked to. It was really wonderful to connect some faces to the names I know in the community, and all of you were delightful to talk with. Honestly, meeting you guys was one of my favorite parts of PAX this year. Anyway, the ANet party. It was held in a bar/lounge in downtown Seattle that was probably meant to have a maximum capacity of ~200 people. Not only did it fill up instantly, there was a line that stretched out the door, around the entire top floor of the mall, then doubled back and circled the entire top floor once more. If that sounds like a lot of people, it was. In fact, it was deemed to be a public danger by the fire martial. That’s right, ANet’s party line was so big they had to send firemen up to literally kick people out of the mall.
Being highly motivated to get in, I was not to be deterred. Instead of leaving, I went down a floor, then doubled back up and ducked into a restaurant for dinner. By the time we finished eating, most of the line (~75%) had been disbanded, and the fire martial was eyeing the remaining 25% carefully. Joining into the end of the line, I eventually managed to get into the club about an hour later, leaving me 2 hours inside. It was truly awesome. A bunch of devs were there, there was loud blaring music, and of course many of the same community members I met earlier that day. I even managed to meet Gary Gannon, and got him to sign some merch. He’s a great guy, and I absolutely adore Gamebreaker TV, if anyone reading this hasn’t checked them out yet, please go ahead.
ANet gave away tons of prizes, they signed merch, and everyone was very eager to have conversations. I could tell that everyone there was completely thrashed, and all of them asked us to give our appreciation to those of their coworkers who were working still at that very moment on the ongoing issues. I’d like to take the chance to say thank you to all of the people at ANet who have worked literally non-stop to try and get the broken features up and running. I know you get a lot of flak, but I totally can sympathize. Thank you for trying to make this game even more amazing during this period of extreme stress. ANet, you throw great parties, and I love the openness that your devs have in person, you’re all fantastic human beings.
Post Mortem- The Endgame:
Launch issues and bannings aside, there have been some grumblings about the endgame of GW2. Some people managed to hit level 80 in just a couple days through the use of some power leveling and some extreme crafting at the end. Last night, I myself joined the level 80 crowd with my first character, so I felt like it would be a great time to comment on how the game feels now that I’m “at the end”. For reference, I clocked in approximately 110 hours on my way to 80. While it has been a rather short amount of time when you look at it in terms of real life days, it’s actually quite long in terms of actual hours played IMO. 110 hours is more than I have spent in probably 90% of games I’ve played in the past 5 years; only games like GW1, TF2, Tribes, and LoL have managed to suck up more of my time than that. That’s a great value for my money right off the bat. I also have ~55% map completion. I have completed every zone that I spent any substantial amount of time in (i.e. everything but the zones that I just ran through to get to somewhere else). I have not yet completed my personal story, in fact I was comically behind in it just two days ago (it was completed to ~ level 50). I have “finished” the first zone in Orr.
Some people complain that there is no money, that waypoints cost too much, that everything is too expensive. I disagree with most of these assertions fairly strongly. Yes, waypoints increase their cost as you level as well as with distance. My current cost to go from LA to Orr is ~2.5s. I don’t think that’s very much. Doing just one DE in Orr gives me ~1.5s, so doing two DE’s pays for the trip. If you can’t do 2 DE’s before teleporting, that’s on you, not the system. It just plain doesn’t take that long. That also isn’t even taking into account daily quest rewards, merching the drops, the auction house, etc. What I have found is that while there are gold sinks, there are lots of ways to get gold as well. I do think that the cost is a little stupidly high for going just one waypoint away that is literally 10 feet from you; that can cost 1.8s or more, and that is getting a bit silly, but at the same time, it just plain doesn’t take that long to walk there anyway. Repair costs? I suppose if you wipe a lot, then your bill can get pretty wracked up, but such is the cost associated with getting killed a lot. After all, it is getting defeated, not just downed. If you are trying to tackle difficult dungeon content (the main way to get chain-downed), do it with people you know and play well with, and it should go much more smoothly.
Others complain that gear is too expensive. Personally, I am a bit miffed that exotic gear is the price that it is. I was hoping it would be more like the GW1 model where you get max gear mostly easily and work hard for skins. I don’t mind the cost of the cultural stuff, especially with the spammable events in Orr, nor do I mind the cost of the dungeon armors. They are supposed to be cool and hard to get. What I mind is that there just isn’t a decently priced exotic at all. The absolute cheapest appears to be crafted, as long as you aren’t counting the costs to get to 400 of the profession; as long as you used it while you level, the cost was not really that big of a deal and it provided you with good gear all along. I hit 400 tailoring this morning, and made myself a full set of yellow gear, with about 1/3 of the materials for exotic already bought. All told it will cost me ~5 gold for a full set of exotics that I will craft; I had more money than that at one point and spent a bunch of it to invest in the market. Hopefully it will pay off, but the point is, I’ve had that much already, it won’t take me that long to get it again.
As far as endgame content, doing the hard content seems great to me. I already haven’t changed up my build much for the last oh… 40 levels. I don’t see why I suddenly would want to stop playing just because my level stopped going up, literally nothing else has changed for me. I still have only done up through Twilight Arbor in dungeons, and I haven’t even tried explorable modes yet. I’m enjoying Orr’s Dynamic Event Webs a ton, and really look forward to more people arriving to keep them up. I haven’t even touched PvP yet. I still have a whopping 45% of the map left to do. This game has hundreds and hundreds of hours of content judging by my first 100 hours, and I have barely even played an alt yet.
2 weeks out Cons: Partying Syncing (sometimes), Dungeon Syncing
2 weeks out Pros: Everything else.
So far, it seems like the game is going great.