Friday, February 8, 2013

Guild Wars II

I periodically hang out with some guys from work. For the most part, our schedules are the same and we all work at five p.m., aside from a few variations. They kind of do this thing where they get really excited about an upcoming game and when it releases, they play the fuck out of it and lose interest in a few months. This is how I got into EVE Online and Diablo III. Primarily they are into stuff like ARMA/Day Z and Call of Duty. When Guild Wars II came out they played the crap out of it, but quickly lost interest. Three weeks ago I was over at one guy's house hanging out and there was a lull in the gathering, he had to go to a corporation meeting for his corp on EVE and he started fiddling with Guild Wars II during the meeting, as he still periodically plays it even though the other two guys do not. We chit chatted a little bit while he played, what we like about MMOs and what we dislike and why he likes and still plays Guild Wars II, that sort of thing. It sounded like something I could get into, so when I went home I purchased a digital copy and loaded it onto my computer.

I've been playing it for a little over two weeks and I have to say I really like it. This post is kind of going to be about why, and I'm likely going to have to compare it to World of Warcraft a little bit to do so, as that is the only other MMO I have played extensively. I suppose I could use EVE as a comparison, but I feel like EVE is kind of in a genre of its own as an MMO. Just to give you an idea of what kind of experience I have with Guild Wars II, I have a level 34 (out of 80) Thief and a level 10 (out of 80) Engineer and upwards of a hundred and ten levels in each of the two crafting professions those characters have. I'm big on crafting. In World of Warcraft, I've played the main game and all its expansions. I have a level 72 Rogue specced for stealth, with...lots of levels in crafting. I am an obsessive crafter and have switched professions with my rogue many many times. I think the last time I played he was an Alchemist/Herbalist, before that it was Engineer/Miner, and before that is was Leatherworker/Skinner, and before that it was Alchemist/Herbalist.

Since I love crafting so much, I might as well start with crafting. Crafting is pretty straightforward in both games, you find a trainer to teach you a crafting profession, find the necessary components to make something, then get the tools or crafting station you need and start making stuff. As you craft things you level up your crafting profession and can craft better stuff. In Guild Wars II there aren't any gathering professions, if you want herbs to use for cooking, you just equip a sickle and start gathering potatoes or peppercorns or whatever. If you need lumber for a rifle stock, you equip an axe and chop down a tree. If you need iron for a rifle barrel or silver for a ring, you equip a pick and start mining. I really think this aspect of the crafting system is swell, because then you can take two professions that are actually useful for your character. Additionally, you can switch professions and learn new ones at any time, but unlike WoW, you don't lose any of your progress in professions you unlearn, so you can return to them at a later time if you want to. That is pretty freaking sweet. There is a cost associated with returning to a crafting profession you've already leveled up a bit, and that cost is dependent on how high of a level the crafting profession that you are returning to is. It is all kind of neat and it doesn't punish a player for changing their mind like WoW's does. It also gives you a lot more freedom and allows you to be fairly versatile, if you have silver to burn for dropping and picking up crafting professions frequently. The crafting professions all use a lot of the same resources as well, so unless you have a shit ton of money to buy components from the trading post or a lot of stored crafting resources, it becomes somewhat difficult to make progress in more than two crafting professions.

Crafting is actually a lot of fun in this game. You learn recipes automatically as you level up the skill without having to buy them, but there is also a discovery aspect. It's a special panel where you have access to all the crafting stuff you own and you can plug it in and see if it can make anything. Every time you craft something you gain a bit of xp, but when you discover a new recipe you get a larger chunk. My level ten Engineer has probably only gained three levels from mobs and questing. Everything else has been from levelling up his crafting professions. The amounts of xp you gain decrease as you go up in skill level, and eventually reach zero, so you can't just keep making copper rings and bronze pistols to reach level 80.

Quests and leveling are something I really really like in Guild Wars II. Each zone has several quest nodes, special locations, special vistas, and challenges to do for bonus skill points. In WoW you typically enter a new area, find a guy with an exclamation point above his head and go kill ten of something or collect ten hooves from something. or take this quest object here here and here for him. Then you get cash and xp or loot. Then you rinse and repeat for the next seventy or eighty levels.

In GWII, you gain experience points from everything. So when you enter an area and find all the red triangles for vistas, you gain xp for visiting each of them. When you do the skill point challenges, xp. When you find all the waypoints, xp. I love this, because I am all about exploration and seeing neat sights. Tony and I would spend a lot of time just walking around Azeroth instead of questing, just bullshitting and occasionally raping the random Ally fuckhead we ran into while we wandered.

The quest nodes are cool. It is basically an area with a quest giver in it. You don't get a quest per se, but when you enter the node you are told several tasks that need doing. Could be killing mobs, rescuing prisoners, destroying traps, feeding rabbits, watering plants. Whatever fits the flavor of the area. What I like is the variety. If you are getting bored with fighting bandits, take a break and rescue prisoners. If you need loot for cash or crafting, go back to killing bandits. While you do these tasks, a little progress bar fills up and when it completes you get some cash and the person in charge of the node becomes a karma store. Karma is a special currency you accrue by completing these nodes and doing other things. They typically sell special crafting resources that can't be found or purchased elsewhere, crafting recipes, or magical gear. The nodes are much more fun to me than conventional questing because they give you a goal but also give you some variety in ways to achieve that goal. Each area is also peppered with special events that happen from time to time like bandits attacking a farm or a merchant needing guards to move to the next city and if you participate you gain cash and xp dependant upon your level of participation.

In addition to this, if you find all the waypoints, complete all the quest nodes, gain all the skill points and see all the vistas and points of interest in an area, you get a big chunk of cash, xp, karma, and a pile of loot for completing it all. Which is neat. It takes some work, but the rewards are worth it in my experience. Don't misunderstand me, you are still rinsing and repeating, but at least in the short term, to me, it feels like there is a little bit more variety than what I used to do to level in WoW.

There is also a deleveling mechanic to the game. In WoW, if you are level 80 you are level 80 everywhere. But in GWII, each area has a level cap, so when my level 31 Thief heads into a starting area he's never been to before, he drops back down to level 10 or 4 or whatever. He still has all his skills and gear, which are an advantage for sure, but he can still find a challenge in these lower level areas and still gain a reasonable amount of xp and cash from completing stuff he hasn't done yet in them. It kind of stinks that you aren't truly safe and invincible even in low level areas, but at least an area isn't useless and boring because you're a higher level, there's still stuff of value for you to do there.

Waypoints, waypoints are awesome. Waypoints are scattered all over each area. They enable you to jump around quickly from area to area, but they charge you copper for it based on your level and how far you are from the waypoint you are jumping to. Except in the main cities, if you are in a main city jumping to another waypoint in the city is free. This is great for an MMO. Nothing infuriated me more than hopping onto WoW only to have to pay a fee and then spend ten or twenty minutes on the back of a wyvern doing nothing till I could get to the area I was questing in for the day. Time is a big factor in MMOs, if you aren't getting cash or xp or leveling your profession, you are wasting that time and flying from place to place in real time really begins to represent a significant time sink when you are questing in distant areas on a regular basis. With a click and a loading screen you can get to work in GWII, and that is just fantastic for a casual player like me that isn't willing to devote the majority of his free time to an MMO.

So PVP. PVP has never been my thing. I have never been good enough or devoted enough to get good at it. I played a rogue in WoW because I am a lurker by nature and really never had any good gear, so fighting other players was always a challenging experience that I didn't care for. This is why I specced my rogue for stealth, so I can get the first hit in and possibly run away if the other guy is going to be the one to get the last hit in. I am a coward. Plus, a good chunk of people in WoW are willing to spend days farming bosses for specific loot drops to power up their characters. I am not one of those people, I like playing games too much to be willing to spend that much time to replay and replay a small section of the game to get a specific item.

My understanding of PVP in GWII is that when you enter into PVP everyone is the same level and has the same gear. The only differences are the skills you utilize and how you use them. So in this set up player vs. player combat comes down more to skill than it does to how long you were able to farm phat lewts. Kind of a cool concept. Plus, the world vs. world PVP has a lot of benefits for the server that is winning the battle. Bonuses to crafting and gathering and experience point gains and that sort of thing. Kind of a cool concept, but again, PVP isn't really my thing.

Skills are the next thing. So in GWII you have skills and you use those to do stuff. Each class has utility skills and healing skills and weapon skills. Weapon skills are based on which weapon or combination of weapons you use. A Thief with two pistols has very different weapon skills than an Engineer with two pistols and a Thief with a pistol in his main hand and a dagger in his off hand has a different set up than one with a dagger as his main and a pistol as his off. Weapon skills are unlocked by killing enemies with the weapon in question. Utility skills are unlocked by buying them with skill points, and they are set up in tiers so you have to buy a certain amount of 1 skill point utility skills to be able to purchase ones that cost 3 skill points, and you have to be a certain level. You also unlock more utility skill slots as you increase in level. Utility skills are entirely dependent upon you class, and the Thief's seem to focus on traps and poison and evasion. Each class is also responsible for their own healing, so they have utility skills that heal and remove conditions or grant beneficial conditions. The Thief one actually heals you a bit and gives a heal over time and stealths you for a few seconds, which allows you a backstab. There are also skills that have a combo effect, so when you use two skills in quick succession, they have a more potent or additional effect. Kind of a neat, if not completely new and innovative, effect that rewards crafty playing and experimentation. 

Alright, I guess that is enough about Guild Wars II. I really like the game, so I'll keep playing it. It's not like you have to pay a monthly fee or anything to play, so there's no harm taking breaks from it if I need to. All in all I find it to be a fun MMO that I think is swell.

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