GW2: Review at the midpoint

I hit level 41 last night on my Human Elementalist. In that time I’ve completed (all items checked) three zones, done all storyline quests up to my level, have two crafting skills to 130ish, ran the first instance in Story Mode, done a bit of WvW, and completed two cities. I also have an alt at lvl 12 that I’m playing along with my wife.

Let me just get this out of the way: GW2 is a fun game. It’s worth the $60. It’s a solid MMO and a good step towards what all themepark MMOs should play like. It has its flaws, but none of those flaws (save one, WvW queues) are crippling or have a seriously negative impact on your enjoyment overall. Anet has some work to do, but what is there now is very good.

Some of the highlights:

Classes play differently in a substantial way. Even my Elementalist (ranged magic) plays different from my Ranger (ranged physical), which is a huge credit to Anet. Double bonus for how classes play in group situations. A lot of people make a big deal of the holy trinity not being present, but the real major step here is that every combo of classes brings something different but still viable to the table (at least for PvE and WvW. I’m sure in 5v5 min-maxing is king). Playing your class well is also noticeable, which is great.

Except.

That you can still skill-smash 95% of the PvE and progress (at least to 40, blablabla it gets harder), and in large-scale WvW player skill falls to the all-mighty zerg. (Programing note: In Darkfall even in a zerg player skill matters, a lot, so the idea that in every MMO zerg>skill is wrong and should not be accepted as a simple truth.) At the end of the day, GW2 is still a mass-market themepark, and while it’s a very good one, it would be silly to assume niche-market design, which player-skill>zerg is most definitely a design decision. Not a huge detractor from the fun, but worth mentioning.

Zone design is mostly solid. While the areas within a zone are grouped by level ranges, they are not as hard and fast as in most themeparks, and you will find yourself going back and criss-crossing often. This gives the zones a fake-life feel. They are still zones that don’t have any impact on the world (there is no world), but the smoke and mirrors are high quality.

The big thing I’ve noticed is that certain zones have a LOT more content than others, especially in terms of events. Those zones really keep you busy, while the less-designed zones play more like a hub-to-hub themepark.

Gear is plentiful and easy to acquire, while at the same time feeling like it makes little impact. Upgrading to a Master-level weapon five levels better than my old one was not noticeable. I’d say this would be a negative, but with the way GW2 combat plays, it does not bother me all that much. I’m more focused on kiting while dropping skills than looking at the numbers that pop up, and mobs tend to die at a similar pace whether I’ve just upgraded or I’m due for one.

WvW is a lot of fun and is well designed. I’ll cover this in more detail in its own post, but from what I’ve experienced so far Anet got a lot of things right, including the all-important scoring system. That said, the one massive issue is the queues. The Eternal Battleground is well named, because that’s how long the queue for it is on our server, and the three side zones also feature lengthy (1hr+) waits. As more players hit 80, this will only get worse (unless the game itself fails and people drift away at a clip faster than new ones come in, but I don’t expect that to happen anytime soon. GW2 is a good game). It’s also bad enough when trying to get in solo, but organizing a guild group is basically impossible unless everyone has a 2hr+ chunk of time.

The tricky part about the queues is how different servers feel about WvW. Our server was pre-planned to be a powerhouse, with both Darkfall and DAoC guilds/alliances joining. We all enjoy PvP, and we wanted to play with and against quality opponents. The derpfest that is going to happen at the bottom of the server rankings is not something we want to be a part of, but in return we get horribly long queues. Bad design, and something Anet hopefully fixes soon by increase the cap. The derp servers will derp amongst themselves anyway, while the top-end servers will have plenty of people to fill out WvW even at 150 or 200 caps. The zones are big enough to handle that, and people can always transfer off non-WvW servers if that’s something they really care about.

I’ve talked about ‘dynamic’ ‘events’ before, and at level 40 I’ll just repeat myself: they are, at times, interesting quest chains that you forget as soon as the UI fades away, while still being flawed thanks to current player zerging of zones. Missing the ‘world’ ‘event’ stuff is not game-breaking, but for that much design effort to be spent for so little reward right now is less-than-optimal. They are overall slightly better than WAR’s PQs, but not by much. That said some of the dialog or fluff around them is cute and solid attention to details. 99% of the player base will totally miss all of that though.

GW2 crafting is themepark crafting. It’s a gold sink and a grind, and the rewards are meh. Discovery is completely forgettable other than being an XP boost. I’ve always said MMO crafting is more about the ‘what’ than the ‘how’, and the ‘what’ in GW2 is as flawed or pointless as it was in WoW and all other themeparks.

The UI is overall great and very responsive. That said, why do crafting mats go into your bags? You can already one-click send them to your bank, so why not just have them automatically go there? Must I really open my bag every few minutes to click the little gear icon? Also wtf is the point of crafting-specific bags that are the same size but require more mats as a regular bag under this system? Other games have those for a reason, but GW2 lacks it.

The one dungeon I ran was interesting, and played very different from a traditional themepark instance. More on that in another post as well.

So again, GW2 is solid and worth your money. It’s the direction I’d like to see themeparks go if themeparks must exist. But MMO Jesus it is not, and cancer has yet to be cured. Anet has some work to do, and they have already had some missteps like getting ban-happy over nothing or over-fixing karma gear pricing (lvl 40 gear for 9600 karma is silly).

21 Responses to GW2: Review at the midpoint

  1. bhagpuss says:

    Good overview. I’d just comment that when you see the events under low-population conditions (as I sometimes do now, playing on a US server at UK hours and being out in the wilds of the mid-levels) they are actually more fun and better structured than when population is at surge. I get the feeling that some, maybe most, are designed at optimum for small groups, which will presumably be who uses them for most of the life of the game.

    • Mekhios says:

      Yes that is what I am seeing as well. When my server (Sea Of Sorrows) is at low pop you can see whole areas of a map basically get invaded by centaurs etc and actually dramatically change the landscape. Makes for a very challenging and fun situation when you are fighting to reclaim territory.

  2. hevy says:

    Good review. I disagree about upgrades though. As you get to higher levels it makes a very clear difference if you have shit gear or gear 5 levels under you.

    Take a look a some of the stats of lvl 50, then 60, then 70, then 80 and you’ll see a large jump in not only number size but also just sheer AMOUNT of stats for an item. Seems like this will lead to some definite late-level choices for pvp and pve builds and needing multiple sets of gear for different things

  3. Jenks says:

    ” A lot of people make a big deal of the holy trinity not being present, but the real major step here is that every combo of classes brings something different but still viable to the table”

    I’d love to hear more, this is one of the minor reasons I haven’t bought GW2. My first thought is that every class in Diablo 2 had very distinct gameplay. In the end, though, everyone was doing the same thing.

    A game can have defined roles without a “holy trinity.” Eve is the best example of that.

    • SynCaine says:

      A post for another day about how the classes interact, probably in the same post covering dungeons (since this is when it’s most obvious).

  4. Tak says:

    Good review. I want to add that you shouldn’t expect too much difficulty until around level 60. At least as a necro, I have to have at least 1 defensive utility preferably a stun breaker to survive some fights.

    I disagree with what you said about no skill required in the zerg. I run with a small guild on your server and a group of 5 of us and I notice a very big difference between us and uncordinated groups. We’ve taken groups 2-3 times our size using smart positioning and not making silly mistakes like over extending. Also, understanding when and how to use siege is vital to capturing towers and keeps.

  5. Pitrelli says:

    Decent overview.

    One massive negative I’ve found is the trading post makes crafting pointless. Why they decided on making it a worldwide tradingpost spanning all realms is beyond me. The result is I’ve given up crafting completely as I can sell all the materials for decent prices and pick up finished products cheaply.

    • Chris K. says:

      The trend will not persist. Currently people are levelling crafting only for the xp gains. It is, essentially, buying levels with gold. When the majority of these people hit the level cap then you’ll start seeing a decent economy forming.

      At least I hope so…

      • SynCaine says:

        If by decent economy you mean low-level blue crafting mats will cost more than max-level items, then yes. If by something remotely resembling a logical MMO economy, no. On top of being a no-item-loss themepark, GW2 also makes getting BiS gear trivial. No chance an economy forms in those conditions.

        • Chris K. says:

          It depends. The current spike in the mat prices is due to how easy it is to level with just crafting. Eventually enough people may reach the cap that the demand for them is simply not there and people will start chasing the end-tier materials for the higher quality equipment.

          But it will definitely get worse before it gets better, as people transition to the the 40-60 areas. Worst case scenario: people give up crafting, except for the few that stick with id because they enjoy doing it, regardless of the rewards.

          In any case, I wouldn’t hold my breath that the market could resemble even a sliver of that of EVE, but not everything needs to be of that extent.

  6. Bosstiger says:

    Reblogged this on Gigable – Tech Blog.

  7. João Carlos says:

    Syncaine,

    My higher toon is level 57, so I can talk about the higher level zones. I think the diference you are seeing at the zones happens because higher the zone level, the zone will have less hearts and more complex DE chains. The devs don’t wanted the players get overwhelmed at the starter zones, so that starter zones have more hearts and, sadly, that old themepark hub-to-hub feel.

    With relation to dungeons, I made the two first ones at story mode. Each one is diferent from another one, they have diferent “stories” and, as you said, they run diferent from normal MMO instances. You will see it better when you try the second dungeon.

    The fist dungeon is harder to complete than the second one, because the first one players need know some tatics for fight the bosses. The dungeons follow the story of NPCs from Destiny’s Edge (can be good read the book for know what is happening with that NPCs, but be adviced the book is not good).

    With relation to crafting, it is good you noted that as GW2 is a themepark, crafting is a gold sink. Players are crafting for the xp and for get gear with stats setled (you can craft a full set of gear with the same stats you like to have). Some players are too trying get to 400 skill at crafting for the legendary weapons. So, who wants make money will make it selling crafting mats, not crafted gear.

    But kudos for you note that GW2 crafting is a themepark crafting, because Tobold fails to note the diference and try to compare crafting at GW2 to crafting at SWG.

  8. Dril says:

    Trying to do jumping puzzles as a Charr is a complete waste of time. Indeed, in trying to do the jumping puzzles I found that even the latest contender in the ring still hasn’t quite matched the smoothness of WoW: I still feel like there’s a small bit of clunkiness in trying to jump. Perhaps that’s because I mouse move (a relic of hunter kiting), but it still doesn’t take away the fact that a shit animation and occasionally head-scratching “I didn’t land on that, really?” moments make harder jumping puzzles a complete PITA.

    After reaching the mid 20s on a Norn Guardian, I decided the class was terrible for me (why am I whirling a giant sword around my head *just to shoot weak blue beams from it*? Why do all my ranged skills seem to have the impact of wafting my enemy with a vigorous wave of the hand and the ensuing air current?) and that the race was fucking annoying as hell (“I AM THE MASTER OF LIFE” after mining a copper node gets real old real fast) so I rerolled to the aforementioned Charr Warrior. Interestingly, the Charr zone seems far less hub-to-hub than the Norn zone.

    The fact that all Charr are basically U.S. Marines is rather tiresome to listen to, though. Honestly, with the amount of accents available in Britain alone, I would’ve thought devs would have the notion to at least TRY something other than generic American hardman #289, especially when the Charr would be a great fit for a gruff accent from one of Britain’s former industrial towns.

  9. Mekhios says:

    “Perhaps that’s because I mouse move”

    What? lol

  10. [...] the game has only be out for a week or so. But a comment by Chris K over on Syncaine’s GW2 Review post got me thinking about whether the game’s structure makes the economy unlikely to ever [...]

  11. Anonymous says:

    darkfall promo again? lol that game died a thousand deaths and you’re still harping about darkfall’s pvp? LOL

    if by skill in darkfall you mean 24/7 macroed toons with radar and other various hacks > zerg who dont use hacks and macros, then yea, darfkall combat works…NOT…

    would’ve been a decent review if not for inserting tasos’ bastard game in the conversation…again!

  12. prebzie says:

    We took a keep from 100+ defenders with only 30 guild members.

    So skill beats the zerg fairly easy, not as easy as in BW1 & 2 where elementalists would blast though everything but it’s still.

    Of course if your WvW group is just a ton of random people trekking along skill will matter very little compared to zerg size

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