Category Archives: Game Design

Guild Wars 2 Mini Llama

Yesterday, I was lucky to win a mini llama on Guild Wars 2’s twitter giveaway. Since we were away at the GW2 community meeting at Cologne (where gamescom is currently taking place), I couldn’t redeem the code immediately. Oh, the irony. ;) More about that community meeting later. For now, I’ll just need coffee.

 

You currently cannot buy this mini, by the way, but I’m pretty sure there will be more ways to win one in the future… Once we know more, you will get to hear it here on the blog, of course!

What about Guild Wars 2’s endgame*?

Two years ago, in July 2012 – and thus, before Guild Wars 2 was released – there was the usual pre-launch discussion that happens with every MMO: What will the endgame be about? Will the game even have meaningful endgame? I had joined the discussion here in our blog and posted my own thoughts about it.

I figured now is a good time to look at the topic again, as the game has been out for almost two years now, season 1 of the living story has finished and episode 3 of the 2nd season has just started.

“One complaint about MMOs that I have seen several times is that the game worlds’ importance in MMOs is constantly diminishing.”

I had mentioned that and talked about how Guild Wars 2 wants to do it differently. As we have seen by now, they were serious about that and still are. Season 1 added a lot of fights and content in the open world. Most of it was removed again after a while, but some zones were left completely changed (Lion’s Arch is the most prominent example here), and almost every content patch made us go into the open world and experience the content there. Even though the amount of instanced content has increased with the release of season 2, they have also introduced new zone events in several zones and added a new map, so that the open world is anything but deserted!

“For me, the big question is: How do the events work at max level? How complex will the fights be in general and how much strategy will they require?”

GW2 Marionette fight with guardian

Fighting against the marionette with my guardian

I would say this has been a “hit or miss” so far. Some of the living story events were horrible and some were really good. This is, however, highly subjective here! I, personally, would say that the best one has been the marionette fight. It was a good mix of challenge and it had very interesting mechanics. However, the platforms had the issue of sometimes tossing one single player in who had very slim chances of winning in the given amount of time. A bit more fine-tuning and it would have been an excellent fight, I think, and I would love to see something like this return (again, with fine-tuning and maybe scaling fights on the platform so that if there is only one player, the fight gets easier).

We recently had a long break from the living story releases and every active player consequently experienced the PvE endgame without that part. So let’s look at that: What kind of endgame is there in Guild Wars 2, other than the living story? Once again, just like I did two years ago, I will leave the PvP aside. While I have enjoyed battlegrounds in WoW and scenarios in WAR, I just cannot really get into sPvP that much. I think it’s because it is a lot more competitive in Guild Wars 2, whereas in World of Warcraft it was more “for fun” or even “something to do before my raid starts”. Open world PvP is usually following a zerg. So even if I took PvP into the equation, it would still not be anything I would spend most of my gaming time doing in Guild Wars 2.

I don’t know what other players have been doing during the break from the living season. My personal “problem” is that I don’t enjoy the dungeons too much. Then again, we haven’t exactly gotten a lot of new dungeons anyway and even those players who like them have had to go through the same ones for almost two years now (with the exception of the new Twilight Arbor path). Fractals – the few I have done – seem to be more fun for me. But the person I want to do them with (other than bookahnerk, of course) and me seem to have terrible timing, so that we switched from using whole sentences and explanations on why we can’t make it to just saying “rain check”. It’s more efficient, really. So while I definitely think this is a viable part of the PvE endgame experience, I can’t talk much about what I haven’t really explored in-depth. ;)

The main thing I seem to be doing in Guild Wars 2 and the moments where I have the most fun are two other things: For one, I love screenshotting maps, because I stop to smell the flowers, I take myself out of the game as it is and appreciate what ArenaNet’s artists and world designers have done. The other thing is levelling alts.

I have always been an altoholic in MMOs. In World of Warcraft , I regularly levelled up new alts because we switched servers with our main characters a few times. I did not want to spend a ridiculous amount of money on server transfers as you pay per character! In some MMOs, like Warhammer Online, I never really set on the one main character and had up to three (tanky black orc, goblin shaman or dwarf engineer – a decision that really is harder to make than you would think!). Only in Lord of the Rings Online, I could not get myself to levelling alts. I have never disliked levelling as much as I did in that game! So, playing a game like Guild Wars 2 is great, because alts have never been more fun to level for me. In fact, I actually wish it would take longer to reach maximum level. I have even tried to avoid doing dailies with my thief when I levelled her, so she would be slower.

Anyway, this is part of my personal “endgame”*. I know that by definition, it’s not the endgame – on the contrary, actually – but it is what I have been doing most of my play time in the last few weeks, even during the attacks on Lion’s Arch which I used to get a taste for my thief when trying to decide whether I really wanted to level her.

I am kind of dreading the day when I have levelled all professions to 80, because even though I can still level up other alts, it is a bit boring when you can’t explore anything new about a profession. Even the world is well-known by now as are the events in those maps. I am curious whether ArenaNet will ever let us use different weapons like they once said they may do (still hoping for a pistol/pistol mesmer here …).

GW2 Living Story Season 2 RytlockAnother good side-effect of levelling up my alts is that once they are level 80, I can switch between my characters when I don’t feel like playing my warrior. ArenaNet has also changed the way the living story works with their second season. Previously, you had certain time windows (two or four weeks) in which you could participate in the current content and after that, most of it was gone again. Now you have to log in during a certain time window (two weeks for each episode so far) in order to unlock the content free of charge (it costs gems to unlock otherwise) and then you can play it whenever you want to. You play through the different episodes of the living story on a per character basis now and also get the rewards on a per character basis. This means that with my habit of switching between characters, even when they have reached level 80, I now have more to do and can decide when I want to do that. It is nice and challenging to do the living story with my squishier thief instead of my warrior. Although I am not sure I would want to replay all of the living story with all my characters. Still, it’s nice to have the option!

GW2 Living Story Season 2 Episode 3

Open world event in episode 3

So, having said all of that, what is my résumée about Guild Wars 2’s endgame? As I had predicted back before the game’s launch, it is different from other MMOs. There are still no raids (as instanced areas), but they have added big open world fights where you need coordination, such as the Tequatl one. Unfortunately, dungeons have been mostly ignored and even though I don’t enjoy them much in Guild Wars 2, compared to how much I loved them in World of Warcraft, I would still like to see ArenaNet give them some love. In general, I think the living world is a good concept and keeps us occupied and entertained, especially now as we can replay them whenever we want to, but I still can’t help but feel that the game lacks more options of things to do, such as new dungeons (and more fractals more often!) or maybe some activities to do in the cities (Polymock, anyone?).

But as I said above, this is for me personally. I do wonder… Is Guild Wars 2’s living story enough PvE endgame for the rest of the players?

*”Endgame” is used loosely here and means “the things you do in the game once your main character has reached maximal level”.

Rebuilding Lion’s Arch…?

GW2 Lion's Arch rebuilt crafting stationsWhen the latest patch got released, I headed over to the forum to read the patch notes as I always do, but when I read the part about Lion’s Arch, I logged into the game to see it with my own eyes. I can’t tell you how disappointed I was – and yes, I may have ranted and raged a bit here in front of my PC. But let me explain what happened.

When, before the patch, I had read that the Zepyhrites would be offering their help to rebuild Lion’s Arch, I had imagined that we, as players, would be helping as well. I thought that this meant that with the next few patches, this would be part of the living story content. Imagine this: helping the citizens of Lion’s Arch out and with the next Living Story release, the bank would be back in place. After that, the lion statue, then the Trading Post. Up until in the very end, the portals would finally be back and fully working!

Or why not let us all collaborate? Make it a race between the regions: EU and US servers – which region gets Lion’s Arch back on its feet first? Different challenges, activities, etc. drop and award different special materials that are needed for the rebuilding process. Make it a game, give us a mini lion’s statue that is placed in our home instance as a reward. Make it fun!

GW2 Lion's Arch rebuilt mapInstead, after logging into the game, I found that everything we need is already back. Yes, Lion’s Arch itself is still in ruins! But it’s fully functional again. 3 crafting areas, 4 banks, 4 trading posts, the portals, mystic forge, etc. One could say that it’s better than before – or more convenient, as you can choose which area of Lion’s Arch you want to spend your time at while putting items into the bank. This isn’t “helping rebuild”. In fact, I fail to see why they would need any help from the Zephyrites or anybody else. The amount of vendors, banks, trading posts (just think of all the trading post fees we’re paying!) should be more than enough to pay for the rebuilding of the rest of the city.

This was a swoosh with a wand and some fairies granted us a wish and made it flawlessly perfect. But at the same time, at least for me, utterly boring. I had been looking forward to getting the rebuilding process as content, to tell all the future newcomers: “I was there. I saw this city before it was attacked, I saw it and defended it while it was attacked, I saw it when it was in ruins and I was here helping rebuild it! This is partly my doing!” Instead, I was handed everything on a silver platter within a few minutes.

We can maybe help make the city look pretty again, but for me, there’s no sense of urgency to it. And yeah, while it may be good to give citizens back their homes, I have to admit that as long as I don’t get my own house, I don’t care where the NPCs are living either. ;) At the same time, I do hope that we will be asked to help out in some way in a future patch and get to rebuild something. Maybe not a trading post or the portals, but at this point, anything would be nice.

And this is probably also why I shouldn’t assume and imagine things. Expectations can lead to great disappointment…

Lion’s Arch: A look at what’s happened to the city

I have seen the question “What happened to Lion’s Arch” asked frequently in Lion’s Arch map chat in the last few weeks. I will gladly give you an answer here: Scarlet happened. But as I was thinking about how to explain the happenings in as few words as possible (the chat in Guild Wars 2 does not really allow for lengthy replies), I realized that since launch, a lot more has happened to Lion’s Arch. Usually nothing this big, but still big enough to show you here. So before we get to the most recent “happening” (also known as the destruction of Lion’s Arch), let me take you back in time.

A word of warning, this post will be picture-heavy and you may have to scroll quite a bit. ;)

GW2_Lions_Arch019Guild Wars 2 launched in August 2012, but before that, players who had pre-purchased the game got to participate in the so-called “BWEs” (beta weekend events). During one BWE in April 2012, I went through Lion’s Arch to take the first screenshot gallery of what seemed to become an addiction of mine later on. Go here to view it.

GW2 Loading Screen LA Halloween 2012Not long after launch, the first Halloween was celebrated. I still fondly remember the one moment we had all been waiting for. No, actually, it was controversial. ArenaNet had announced that something would happen that would only happen once. So, if you weren’t able to attend for whatever reason, you would miss it. Thankfully, while it was great to watch, there were also players who recorded it and I don’t think it’s less impressive to watch it now: The Mad King broke free into Tyria and destroyed the Lion statue. It wasn’t until January, 2013, that the statue got fully rebuilt, by the way.

While this destruction was the only more permanent change, the temporary decorations in Lion’s Arch were still awesome to look at, too!

GW2 Karka in LAThe inhabitants of Lion’s Arch did not get a lot of rest, as in November 2012, Karka attacked Lion’s Arch. This time, the Lion statue was safe, but instead, the Light Tower got destroyed. This was another one-time event, but without such an impressive cutscene. Still, the lighthouse got destroyed and was not rebuilt like the lion statue. Instead, a new lighthouse was built a bit next to the old one.

Fast forwarded to December, 2012. The first Wintersday in post-GW1 Tyria. Again, the focus of attention was on Lion’s Arch and the whole city had been decorated accordingly. This time, nothing had been destroyed, but instead an enchanted snow globe had been put on top of the Mystic Forge.

I thought the decorations for Dragon Bash in June 2013 were less elaborate than the Wintersday ones. When I looked at my screenshots, I realized that I had just forgotten how Lion’s Arch looked during that event.

GW2 Dragon Bash 2013 Login ScreenIt featured, as the name suggests, lots of dragons: dragon piñatas, a huge dragon hologram and dragon decorations! During this event, one member of Lion’s Arch’s Captain’s Council, Captain Theo Ashford, got killed by assassins.

After that, if I remember correctly, Lion’s Arch had some time to rest and relax from all the celebrations until the election for the free spot in the Captain’s Council in July 2013. As probably most of us know, Ellen Kiel had won the election and was consequently shown as a hologram instead of the lion statue. Thankfully, this was only a temporary change!GW2 Ellen Kiel Hologram 2013

Halloween 2013 was pretty much like Halloween 2012, except for the lion statue not getting destroyed that year. Wintersday 2013, too, was like Wintersday 2012.

GW2 Burning Lion's ArchFebruary 2014 marks the time when Lion’s Arch was changed in a much more drastic way than a lot of players thought ArenaNet would dare. I managed to take some more screenshots of Lion’s Arch before it changed to its current state. Scarlet and her minions started the full-on attack on Lion’s Arch. You can find a few of the screenshots I took during that attack here. By the way, Scarlet and her minions had planted a huge drill in the water in front of Lion’s Arch, in order to disrupt some ley lines which ultimately woke up the Elder Dragon Mordremoth and that’s why Lion’s Arch is destroyed now.

In March 2014, we had managed to get rid of all the miasma, and players tried to fight over Lion’s Arch and get rid of the invaders. We succeeded, but the result is the Lion’s Arch you can see today. As you can probably imagine by now, I have a screenshot gallery for this version as well!GW2 Lion's Arch 2.0

Just in case you’re confused: Almost everything that Lion’s Arch had to offer can now be found in Vigil Keep (see here for a guide on how to get to Vigil Keep and the other cities). The laurel vendors can be found in the races’ cities as can be the crafting areas. If you want to get to Southsun Cove, you can find a portal in front of Vigil Keep (where you can also find the NPC to join the activities).

But don’t be sad. The Lion’s Arch we see today is not the Lion’s Arch of the future. As mentioned on MMORPG.com, the Zephyrites will help rebuild Lion’s Arch. So it looks like the tradition will continue and Lion’s Arch will begin to change its face again soon. :) However, we do not know yet whether Lion’s Arch will become the central hub again like it used to be in the past.

Bookahneer’s Geekwatch: Post Feature-Patch

Guild Wars 2 Bookahneer's GeekwatchWelcome to Bookahneer’s Geekwatch! The place about miscellaneous interesting news and rants related to Guild Wars 2 – and on occasion, other games.

Today’s Geekwatch is all about Guild Wars 2. With the recent feature patch, ArenaNet introduced quite a lot of changes. I will not go into everything they have added here now or bore you with what I think about every single feature. Instead, I will just mention two features and one thing I like and one thing I dislike about them, as that’s what stood out the most for me in the last few days.

GW2 Ranger and moaThe first is the wardrobe. I still prefer the systems where you buy wardrobe slots and cosmetic outfit slots like Lotro and Rift have, but that’s another story, I guess. I think it’s great that you can wear your outfits in battle now and that you can dye them (as a whole, not individual pieces). Most of all, that you can dye them! Just look at my ranger in her pirate outfit and her moa pet. Aren’t they cute together? :p It’s also great that once bought, I can activate and deactivate the outfits as often as I like without having to pay anything again. The thing I do not like is that some items, like the reading glasses, did not receive that treatment. You can activate outfits for free, but if I want to wear the reading glasses, which I bought from the gem store for real money just like I did the pirate outfit, I have to pay real money again. Every time I change my character’s head armor, and if I want to keep the reading glasses, I have to use a transmutation charge. It annoys me that I have to pay twice now. Sure, for that, I can also wear them in battle, but at GW2 wardrobe reading glassesthe same time, I can’t wear them at all anymore unless I pay with a transmutation charge. Before the change, I wore them when I wasn’t in combat and I used to alternate between having my mesmer or my warrior wear them. I just think it’s inconvenient that this isn’t possible anymore. Alternatively, I would love to have a white account-bound head item that all my characters can equip, without stats, that I can put the glasses skin on. Then I could still have the functionality I want for them, switch the glasses between my characters and use them in non-combat situations.

GW2 Skkia asura thiefAnother big thing is the megaservers. Oh yes, those dreaded things. No, I actually really love that change! Levelling up my thief, who is now level 32, it feels just like post-launch when the lower level regions were crowded. Almost dying in an event because it’s too hard? No, doesn’t work that way anymore, since there’s almost always somebody close who will join and do the event with you! The only downside was that until this morning, the EU servers saw quite a lot of flaming, and using very inappropriate words and insults when people dared to speak a language that isn’t English. The problem here is that despite people rolling on a French or German server, they get put onto a megaserver with the rest of the EU players. There was a certain lack of tolerance towards people using foreign languages. Actually, as sad as it is, that’s not that different from the flames I see in whatever MMO – including Guild Wars 2 – when playing on a EU English server and people use a language that isn’t English, but the amount of flaming increased a lot with the recent change.

GW2 Map chat settingsWith the latest hotfix, however, the default setting is that you only see map chat from people whose client language is the same as yours (with a few exceptions mentioned in the patch notes). You can disable that functionality (click on the wheel icon on the upper left of the chat window and remove the check) and then you’ll see the chat from the other two client languages as well. But if you do that, I think it’s safe to assume that you’re okay with people using different languages in your chat channels. I personally would have preferred to have separate map chats that you could join (simultaneously, of course, so that you don’t miss out on any language if you don’t want to) for the different official languages (and maybe a few more than that, because… why not?).

GW2_Trading Post consumables foodThen there is a something that I haven’t seen in any patch notes: The “Consumable” category in the Trading Post is finally working correctly! I have no idea when that one got fixed, but I do remember clicking “consumable” and then “food” to buy food for the Daily Feast and only getting beverages as a result. Today, I clicked on those categories again and I was positively surprised that they’re all working correctly now. Finally! :)

So yeah, apart from the reading glasses, I’m happy. But those I clearly do miss and I’m working on my ascended helmet for my warrior, so that she can get her glasses back on an item that I’m going to be wearing for a long time.

The excitement of getting an expansion

MMO shelfIf you’re following Rift, you may have noticed that they’re handling their second expansion, Plane of Water, differently than they did the previous one or than what other MMO developers are usually doing: Instead of giving you everything at once, they are giving us the expansion piece by piece. The reason they stated is that they don’t want their players to wait until every last thing is done and release all features together, but instead, they want to give us the features when they’re ready. The first part was a new crafting profession, Dream Weaving, together with new dimensions. The profession mainly makes items for your dimensions and it can also craft the keys for the new dimensions. The second part was the PvP dimensions feature which got released with the last patch.

The next part will be the four new souls (something like “skill trees” for the non-Rift players) which we were told would arrive some time in May (but not late May!). I’m excited about that, because it means my warrior will get a healing soul and bookahnerk’s mage will get a tank soul. So, we can be an unconventional healer/tank duo!

Don’t get me wrong, I think it is really great to get those features as soon as they are done. I am slowly levelling up Dream Weaving and others are creating their first PvP dimensions. It gives us something to do and I have had those short moments of excitement when logging on after a patch knowing there will be something new in the game. But at the same time, I am not sure I really prefer it over the “traditional expansions”.

I still clearly and fondly remember my very first MMO expansion: World of Warcraft’s Burning Crusade. Bookahnerk, his cousin, a friend and I drove to a city nearby for a midnight sale that a shop was having. We went out for dinner first, then went to that store. They had us wait in front and at first, I felt a bit silly. World of Warcraft was my first MMO and here we were, in front of a store, at night in cold January 2007, waiting for them to open the doors, so we can buy an expansion and it would be very late until we got back home. The employees of the store actually walked along the line and handed out free hot beverages (coffee at 11pm – smart idea! :p).

While waiting there, we started talking with some people behind us. As is usual, we first checked who played which faction (For the Horde!), then we talked about which servers we played on, which classes were our mains and so on. At some point, I had a look behind us as I had not paid attention to the line and I was shocked: The line that hadn’t looked too long in the beginning had grown huge. I had not been able to see the end of it. All those people were there only for one expansion? After they opened the doors, I think it took us 20 minutes until we finally got to buy our expansions.

After that, we still had about a one hour drive back home. I installed the expansion, downloaded another patch and created my blood elf mage at which point I fell into bed. But to be honest, it had not been about playing in the night. It had been about going there, meeting other players, and doing something with friends. This is something that I miss with the digital expansions only. But while it is a nice memory, this post isn’t about digital or physical expansions. It’s about the lack of an “all at once” expansion (or, in ArenaNet’s case, developers considering not doing an expansion at all).

The next morning, I was ready to get into the expansion. Finally! I did not even know where to start: Blood elf starting area with my mage or should I rather take my main character to the expansion region? Or did I actually want to make a short trip to Alliance side and see what the Draenei were all about? Did I want to check out the new crafting profession? There were so many things I wanted to see and check out! I felt the magic again that I had last experienced when I had first set foot into World of Warcraft. The feeling that I always get when I explore a new MMO for the first time.

And this is the reason why I’m sad that we’re not having this with Rift (and maybe Guild Wars 2 as well). As nice as it is getting expansion content piece by piece and not having to wait, it also takes away this magic moment of feeling like the game is brand new again.