Weekend recap: Guild Wars 2 and Drive Club

After getting hyped about the Guild Wars 2 expansion (see previous post) I jumped into the game anew. Well almost anew. I had a level 8 ranger that I decided to play.

A LOT has changed since the last time I played Guild Wars 2; many systems seem to be either level-gated or maybe just level-teased. As I gained levels I was told about things like gathering and crafting and vistas…I’m not sure if low level characters now can’t do these things or if this is just kind of a tutorial system. Since my character pre-dated the changes (I’d rolled him years ago) he could do all of them. Daily quests have changed a lot too. They used to be very generic, like harvest 30 items or kill 50 monsters. Now there are a lot more of them to choose from but they’re pretty specific: do event X or gather wood from area Y. This probably helps to ‘funnel’ players into the same place to aid in keeping things populated.

I don’t know if it was the expansion announcement and everyone had the same idea that I did, or if the game is just still doing well, but the world felt very populated to me:

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There was also a double exp buff for everyone this weekend and I went from level 8 to level 23 pretty quickly. Yesterday I thought to do an /age check and he was 8 hours old and level 17. This morning at level 23 he’s 11 hours. Six levels in 3 hours seems plenty fast, particularly since his map is still largely unexplored so he’s doing a lot of hoofing it back and forth.

I’m still struggling a little bit with scratching that progression itch since you learn all your skills for a given weapon very early and from then on out it’s about earning and spending skill points for utility spells which still don’t feel super impactful to me, but as I unlocked more of those and got into higher levels and needed to rely on them more, it was all feeling better. So I’m not done with Guild Wars 2 yet. We’ll see how long it sticks this time.

When I wasn’t playing that, I was playing Drive Club on the PS4. If you’re a PS4 owner you know that Drive Club had a horrendous launch, and if you’re waiting on the free PS+ version as far as you’re concerned it’s still having a horrendous launch. I bought the game and found it very pretty but also both frustrating and a little boring at first.

But Evolution Studios has been updating it regularly. They’ve added weather (which looks amazing) and some new tracks, circuits and cars for free. The servers are finally stable so your club and driver’s progress can be saved (and you can play online but honestly I haven’t bothered yet).

The core game, of course, hasn’t changed. It’s still very much a racing game, which to me is a little weird for a game called Drive Club. Prior to launch I assumed there’d be an open world where you and your crew could just kind of go cruising around. But nope, this is track-based gameplay. They still haven’t added any kind of replay mode, which seems odd given how pretty the game is, though they did add a photo mode for stills if you want to stop a race to take some shots.

They say this isn’t a simulation and though I’m not going to argue, it doesn’t feel like an arcade racer either. For one thing, there’s no racing line; you have to learn the tracks (there are green/yellow/red flags on corners to give you hints as to how tough they are). There’s no rewind either (something the Forza series has spoiled me with) so if your concentration lapses 90% of the way through a race and you hit something, you’re probably coming in last.

I had a devil of a time playing this game at first, if I’m to be honest. Eventually in an attempt to ‘find the fun’ I started driving from in-cockpit and using a manual transmission. Somehow the manual transmission flipped a switch in my brain and I stopped mashing down on the accelerator all the time and started driving like a sane person actually drives. I eventually went back to a behind the car camera just to get back some peripheral vision, but I stuck with the standard transmission for now.

And suddenly the game felt fun again. I still suck at it but now I’m getting better. Evolution has tweaked the AI so it no longer gleefully smashes into you quite so often, and between that change and me learning a touch of finesse Drive Club is now a game I’m really enjoying. I need to be in the right mood for it; I have to really concentrate to do well. But if fills a niche on the PS4, at least for now. I got so enthused about it that last night I sprang for the season pass (it’s dangerous having a balance in your PSN wallet…its so easy to spend it).

Of course, me being the knucklehead I am, I have no recent photos or videos from the game. Here’s a clip I recorded back in December (right after weather was put in) when I was still playing with automatic transmission and treating both brake and accelerator as if they were binary switches. You can see how poorly I did, and this is in VW Golf, not some super-car:

MMO Dabbling: Guild Wars 2

borked_from_ birthLast week I mentioned how Divinity: Original Sin’s miserly dolling out of levels had me itching to jump into an MMO to level up! After flopping around a bit I’ve settled on Guild Wars 2 as my ‘dabble in’ MMO (for now).

I left Guild Wars 2 mostly because of their event system. For holiday events as well as their Living World stuff, I felt like the developers expected me to schedule my life around playing a game since the opportunities were of such a short duration and (for the Living World stuff) once you missed it, it was gone for good. That’s kinda my “I don’t believe in the game’s principles” reason why I left.

The other reason I left was a self-inflicted wound. (This wasn’t really obvious to me until this weekend when I went back.) I was trying to do crafting and my crafting alt needed these rare low-level drops. In order to maximize my chance for getting those, I was doing nothing but the low-level zones, trying to get 100% completion in each one before moving on to the other. So I was in my 30’s but doing level 1-15 zones (downscaled) and ignoring the “My Story” narrative stuff. I remember being adamant that I wouldn’t buy the materials I needed from the Auction House because that was ‘cheating.’ What evs, me-from-the-past!

Anyway back to the present. With Living World Season 2 the Guild Wars team is doing things differently. While it’s still probably most rewarding to do the season 2 content as it arrives, you will be able to replay it after the fact. That was enough to snag my interest. If I fault a game developer for doing things one way, and then they change things, I feel like it’s only fair that you give them another chance.

The first thing I did was log into my Guardian, who was sitting at level 40. Holy smokes, lots of things have changed (and/or been forgotten by me) since I last played. Currencies are all now account-wide (I think that’s new?) as are dye unlocks. There’s a new wardrobe system and transmute ‘charges’ are also account-wide, and there’s a magic find stat that, again, is now account wide. I had a bunch of inventory stuff that had been converted and in general my bags, both character and bank, were STUFFED full of stuff I didn’t know what to do with.

So I logged right back out and created a new character, a Necromancer. LOL With empty bags and a light heart, I started to play as a noob and immediately started having fun. Rather than chase map completion I was leveling just enough to take on the next chapter of my story at an even level. When I had questions I turned to twitter and got a ton of good advice from friends.

After 7 or 8 levels I was ready to face the Guardian again. I spent a good chunk of time over the weekend clearing out inventory, salvaging a ton of stuff, crafting up extra bags for my alts (I have, um, 7 characters, only 1 above level 15) and even deleting stuff (I had character-bound stuff for characters I’d deleted clogging up my bank.)

Finally I had things under control and headed out to see the world. And my goodness how things have changed! Lion’s Arch has been destroyed. Divinity’s Reach is in good shape with some beautiful new buildings. What caused all this? I had no idea, I wasn’t paying attention while all this was going on and now I regret it. Happily for me, a friend wrote up a recap. Unhappily for you, it’s not in a public post so I can’t share it. 🙁 But you can read the Wiki for a less entertaining version of the story.

I looked up my guardian’s “My Story” and read through the recap to remind myself what was going on, then set about moving it forward. I’m doing level 30 “My Story” content on my level 40 character; that’s how long things have been neglected. Over the course of the weekend I leveled from 40 to 43. I unlocked (just by logging in) the first part of Season 2 but I need to get to 80 before I can take part, but at least I’ll be able to play through a ‘recap’ when I get there.

The only fly in the ointment is my class. Compared to playing the Necromancer, the Guardian feels a little dull. He has high survivability (for now at least) and he’s probably a lot of fun in groups since so many of his skills benefit group members. But playing solo he feels kind of routine and scaled down like he is I can win most 1-on-1 battles by putting his first skill on auto-attack. I’m hoping he’ll get more interesting as I get close to content that is of my true level, and maybe start encountering other players.

He IS fun to play when trying to solo events and other situations were many enemies are incoming at once. I’m guessing I’ll see more such situations as I advance.

I feel like I’m over that “oh crap, how does this all work” hump that you so often encounter when going back to a game after a long time away. I’m having fun, at least for now. We’ll see how long it lasts this time, but hey it’s not costing me anything to play. In fact I kind of feel like I should buy some gems just to support the game since the last time I spent a dime on it was at launch. Opening another bank bag slot wouldn’t be a terrible idea…

Also, I’d forgotten Eir and her totally functional armor. Oh Eir, you’re so dreamy!!!

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Guild Wars 2, Day 2

Well after talking to some of my friends on G+ who are just over-the-moon in love with GW2, I decided to take things a little farther today. Once again, my experience was a mixed bag. The good news is that most of the stuff that frustrated me was bug-related and so ought not be there when the game launches.

I wound up playing through the level 10 phase of my Story Quest (which I ended up completing at level 11). I found the story quests to get really challenging “at level.” My warrior just can’t stand up to the beating the swarms of mobs give him and lag makes rolling out of “hot spots” a challenge. I had to just grind out a couple of phases…run in, kill a mob or two and die. Respawn, kill a couple more and die, and so on. The last one I ended up totally cheesing out and equipping a bow and plinking away while the NPCs took the hits.

The story was pretty good, though!

Outside of my quests, I still died an awful lot. For a lot of the time I was playing I was somewhere too easy or too hard for me. The first zone is labeled level 1-15 so really it’s just a matter of learning where to go at each level. I re-did some of the “Heart” events that I’d done yesterday, only at the advice of friends I’d hang out after the event was completed and wait for further (and more challenging) phases to spawn. Ended up in some pretty tough boss battles with swarms of other people. Those are both fun and really demonstrate that ArenaNet still has lots of optimizing to do; things tended to turn into a slide show with all the spell effects and stuff on-screen and it gets really tough to see what’s happening.

It really takes until level 8 or 9 before you start seeing the cooler events, and level 10 before you start seeing the power struggles of the world. I tried to stave off an invasion of Ice Elementals that were attacking an outpost. This was pure combat…there wasn’t an Event with a capital E or anything. Nobody knew where they were coming from or why. Sadly we (myself and a few other random players) got wiped out and the nearest revive spot was a good distance away. I gave up and did something more level appropriate.

ArenaNet, btw, has managed to pull off a miracle: they’ve made escort quests that are actually FUN. Really! In one I was hired on as a caravan guard. We had to fight off robbers and even some belligerent drunks while clearing road blocks and running up to hill tops to destroy ballistas that were firing down on us.

I think the reason Escort Quests work is because anyone can join in at any point. No more standing around waiting for the NPC to respawn and then being on your own. People run up, escort for a bit and if they get bored they go elsewhere and do other stuff. Or they stick around for the whole route and get maximum rewards.

Another absolutely awesome design decision is this idea that anyone can revive a fallen character. You don’t have to be a special class or in that person’s party. And you don’t even have to do it alone…if a few people attempt to revive a down character the process just goes faster (it’s pretty slow in combat, pretty quick out of it). So why is this a big deal? Because it binds the community together. When you die and you’re quietly cursing to yourself and suddenly 2 strangers are there helping you to your feet, you can’t help but smile. And when you see someone has fallen in battle, unless you’re a total jackass you’re GOING to try to save them (bonus: you get experience for doing so).

The only real ‘downside’ today was the Overflow system and how hard it is to get with friends. Hopefully they’ll tweak that out. Combat isn’t as fun as it could be, mostly due to lag. When you have an active dodge system it needs to respond quickly and so far GW2’s sometimes does and sometimes doesn’t. That’s a beta problem though, as are the numerous glitches you’ll encounter. What probably isn’t a beta problem is that the game seems to favor ranged combat over melee, in terms of things being interesting. Even in heavy armor my poor warrior dies left and right while ranged characters hang back and avoid taking much damage.

I also think some of the events are a little too clever for their own good. There’s one where you have to throw snowballs at kids, and dodge the snowballs they through at you. Sounds funny right? It is for the first few minutes, but it goes on for far too long as you try to fill up an Event Gauge.

On the other hand I had an absolute blast in a quirky event that took place underground that was all about helping a dude build an ice sculpture of himself in order to convince the local beings that he was their god. There were a few phases to it, it was both funny and fun to do the fighting, and the rewards were good (not only the usual stuff but the local baddies became friendly once they thought a Norn was their god).

I guess that’s enough for tonight. It’s really late and my brain is going fuzzy. I didn’t remember to take many screenshots but here’s a section of one from a courtyard in Hoelbrak. Heroes from GW 1. The statue of the Norn lady in the middle is supposed to be Jora. Click on it for a 1080 pixel wide version.

Guild Wars 2 initial impressions

Well, the servers are coming down for a patch so that’s my cue to write up a blog post.

I started late and only got to level 4. Keeping that in mind, here’s my list of pros and cons so far. Let’s start with the bad stuff.

Cons:
The game is a lot more beta than I’d anticipated it being. It’s pretty janky in places. Attacks lag a lot at times (generally in crowds) and the game is missing that indefinable smoothness that a quality finished product has. I’m sure they’ll get there before launch, but based on what I’m seeing I’m guessing they still have a few months work to do. I’m going to predict August or September at this point. Though maybe they can pull it all together sooner.

Angela spent probably more time than she should have tweaking her character (that’s a good sign for the character creator) and suddenly the game just reset her at the start of character creation with all her changes lost. Overloaded servers probably, but it bummed her out. I think we both thought the game was going to be closer to launch-ready than it is.

Here’s another MMO with a prologue and once again I didn’t like it very much. The character I stuck with was a Norn Fighter and he has to fight a Worm at the end of his prologue. He got knocked on his ass almost immediately, spent the whole fight unconscious and yet in his story line he’s called “The Slayer of Issomir” (or whatever the worm was called).

Not a fan of Overflow Servers, really. I spent all night in an Overflow Server, as far as I could tell. We rolled on a really crowded server, unfortunately.

[EDIT: I think I need to give more detail here… if you only encountered the Overflow Servers on initial login I’d think they were a great idea to avoid queues. But that’s not the case. Whenever you zone there’s a chance you’ll be put back into them. For instance I had a quest to deliver an item to an NPC in the next zone. I went over there, handed in the item and the next step of the quest was back in the zone I’d just left. When I went to zone in I was told the server was full and I had the chance of either queuing for it in-game, or going to an Overflow Server.

With a few tweaks (making sure you and your party end up on the same Overflow server, or lettings friends volunteer to join you on the overflow server you’re on) the system will be fine. Great, even. But in it’s beta state I didn’t like it much.]

Pros:
The game is gorgeous.

The story for my Norn Warrior is actually pretty interesting.

There’s a lot of “organic grouping.” I never Grouped but I fought with a lot of other players. It doesn’t feel like we’re competing for mobs..instead we’re acting like characters should act: banded together against a common enemy. I love that anyone can res anyone else.

Character progression is entertaining. You use a weapon to unlock skills that utilize that weapon. When you get a new category of weapon you get a whole new series of skills to unlock. At level 4 I’ve been working on Sword, Shield and Axe skills. So far Sword looks best for single enemies and Axe looks best for groups.

Combat feels pretty good. If I hadn’t spent last weekend playing Tera I’d say combat felt great, but I’m a little spoiled now. Still, fighting stuff is fun even at level 4. I’ve never seen an MMO where the combat DIDN’T get more fun as you leveled up, so I expect the combat gets really entertaining after a few more levels.

You can get (and I believe send) mail from anywhere. No more looking for a mailbox!

You can travel around the maps really quickly once you’ve done some exploring to unlock teleporters.

Quest rewards are either currency that you can spend on exactly the gear you want, or a select of gear that’s all applicable to your character’s class. None of this typical MMO situation where you get quest rewards that are only good to sell or salvage.

Stuff I need to acclimate to:

Not every event is for you! As you run around the world doing your pre-ordained story quests you’ll see events pop up. If you’re like me you’ll immediately change direction to take part in the event. And sometimes get your ass handed to you. LOL. I was trying to do this one event and I died over and over again until I stopped to look.. I was fighting clusters of level 7 mobs when I was level 2. Well THAT explains it! LOL

In Closing

I probably won’t put much more time into this beta weekend. I’ve seen enough to be comfortable with my pre-order and I’m looking forward to the day I play “for real” but I think I want to save the storylines for launch.

Guild Wars 2 server selection: the worst of both worlds

[Update: See the comments. An Anonymous commentor says that in beta you could roll characters on multiple servers and that ArenaNet’s blog post is just poorly worded. If that’s the case, it invalidates this whole rant. I guess we’ll see on Friday.]

So the social networks are abuzz with the upcoming beta weekend for Guild Wars 2. I’m as excited as anyone…I’ve pre-ordered the game based on the level of excitement being projected by people who’ve had the chance to play at conventions or other non-NDA avenues. [Waves at Jazz]

But before we can have fun, we have to endure the rigors of server selection. Guild Wars 1 had no server selection and I have to confess that even though GW2 is a much different game, I was expecting it to follow the same route. I mean, if EVE, Star Trek Online and Champions Online can all run serverless, why not GW2?

Well, World vs World PVP for one reason. In order to have that, you kind of have to have worlds. So OK, at least there’s a reason for it.

BUT… Guild Wars 2 winds up being one of the worst MMOs I’ve played in terms of picking a world. Why? Because you can be on only 1 world. Once you pick a world, ALL your characters will be on that world. So if half your friends are on World A and half are on World B, it’s time to choose which of these groups are your BFFs and which are the wannabes. You’re going to have to ditch someone.

Now to be fair, you can change worlds once a week and at a cost of 1800 coins (not a clue what the real-world equivalent of that is… if it’s $1.80 then no biggie, if it’s $18.00 then we just found out where their revenue is coming from) but when you change worlds, ALL your characters move to this new world.

I’m really not a fan of this system..I have a bunch of different circles of gaming friends and most of them have little to no contact with each other. It breaks my heart that, unless I suddenly become a master diplomat and coerce them all to be on the same world, I’m going to have to pick which friends I play with, and shun the others.

[Edit: I guess I should mention the Guesting system where you can join a friend on their server as a guest. You can’t do WvW PVP that way, but at least you can play with friends. But why not just let me roll a character over there?]