Anticipated by many, hyped by some, ArenaNet’s new MMO Guild Wars 2 officially releases on August 28. As one of those who pre-purchased the game, I have already been exploring the world of GW2 since Saturday morning and decided to take a quick break from the game to share my impressions with you – the good, the bad and the surprising.
When ArenaNet announced a few days ahead of the headstart that they might open the servers for the pre-purchasers up to 3 hours early, I was skeptic. After all, “up to” can mean anything from3 hours to 3 minutes. Nevertheless, I decided to go to bed early on Friday and get up in the middle of the night on Saturday morning (yes, 5:45 am is the middle of the night – if I was an early bird, I would have become a baker) just to check when ArenaNet would grant us access to the game. As it happened, I was able to log into the game at 6 am sharp – exactly 3 hours before the official beginning of the headstart.
I created my character and jumped right into the game for several hours. While I had two or three disconnects in the following six hours, I never had a problem to get back online and play the game. There was next to no lag or FPS issues for me, combat was smooth, story quest instances, server maps and overflow maps all worked like a charm.
I was already pleasantly surprised by the beautiful graphics in the game during beta when there was still some optimization going on. The style may not appeal to everyone and there are other games with better or more modern graphics out there, yes, but for an MMORP of this scale, the world is really beautiful. It’s not only the scenery that drew me into the game, however, but also the love for detail that is evident in so many places – from the pigeon that delivers my mail to the NPC dialog in cities, villages and outposts or the humor and wit in some conversations you can start with random NPCs in the world. Vistas give you a very nice cinematic pan of the surrounding area, and things like the Monkey Island-Pirates of the Caribbean-style treasure hunt/jumping puzzle in Lion’s Arch is really hilarious and worth doing more than once.
While it may not be something everyone enjoys (especially not for players who prefer a clear quest hub path laid out for them), I personally love the feeling of freedom the game affords the players . . . I always get distracted by all the things I can do in the game. Just last night, I finally wanted to continue my character’s personal story, so I jumped to the nearest waypoint with the intention of running straight to the next spot that would take me to the personal story instance – where I eventually arrived two hours later. Why? Well, I had just taken a few steps when an NPC ran up to me, screaming at the top of his lungs that they needed help really bad, so I decided to check it out. Okay, it was in the opposite direction of where I initially wanted to go, but so what? After successfully completing the event in cooperation with several other players, I saw a number of herb resource nodes on the mini-map. Once there, I noticed another waypoint nearby, as well as a vista and a point of interest. “Well, I’ll just get those real quick,” I thought to myself, “and then I can move on to the personal st… oh, wait, there’s more herbs over there . . .”
Suffice it to say that I have not had a boring moment in the game so far.
Dynamic events (DEs) and heart quests (I prefer to call them “tasks”) work very well and are overall a lot of fun to do. Sure, with all the people crowding the lower level areas, some of the dynamic events trigger very often or are pretty easy to complete due to the overwhelming numbers of players participating in them, but I expect this to change once the server population spreads out more in the coming days and weeks. Both of these features are not a re-invention of the wheel where PvE leveling content is concerned (Warhammer and Rift have mechanics similar to DEs – they just do not feel quite as dynamic, heart tasks combine stereotype quests objectives into one task), but the way they are presented is really refreshing. So far, I have not felt “strung along” by repetitive quests, going from one quest hub to the next, always wondering if something more interesting will occur with the next bunch of objectives. Instead, I just wandered the world and happened across a variety of DEs and tasks to complete. I was turned into a sort of tree creature in one, a pig in another, and became a mini golem placing landmines to kill undead in one of the story quests. I jumped down a hole in the ground only to find myself in cave with some nasty critters. On my way out, I happened upon a group of players escorting a little girl to safety. Her grateful mother then sold us drinks and the girl gave some insight regarding the disappearance of the dwarves. If you watch out for – and enjoy – those little things, the game makes “gather X”, “deliver Y” or “kill Z” feel fresher and a lot more enjoyable compared to games with the “old” questing mechanics.
The PvE encounters as a whole seem to be more difficult than they were in the last beta weekend, but not as difficult as they were during the first one. While I would have liked the first BWE’s level of difficulty to make a comeback for release, I also noticed that many encounters become more difficult once you leave the 1-15 areas. Especially human or humanoid mobs start using dodge or other maneuvers like stuns, blinds etc. more frequently. If this steady increase in NPC difficulty continues throughout the leveling process, I will probably be quite satisfied with the game’s overall difficulty.
Even though the GW2 headstart was one of the smoothest I have experienced in my time as an MMORPG player, there always are problems no matter the amount of pre-release preparation. In addition to their closed beta testing, ArenaNet also had large amounts of players testing the game during three beta weekend events and several one to four hour stress tests. Despite that, I expected there to be issues, and while some of those did not affect me personally, they did affect other people (some of whom I am playing with).
Initially, many people experienced connectivity problems. This is to be expected when a game launches (even if it is “just” the headstart launch), still people tend to get very upset when they have waited for a game for so long and then cannot make use of an early start (or any start at all). Considering that the official release is on Tuesday, August 28, we might also see a reocurrence of those login problems.
More problematic than login issues are probably the drops in frame rate some players experience. This was already happening during the beta weekends and stress tests and some machines, especially high end ones, seem to experience frame rates below 20. Rumor has it that from ArenaNet’s side, the game is currently as optimized as it will get so anyone with a top gaming rig might be in for a nasty surprise when playing the game.
Some of the ingame features also suffer from bugs – and not all of those issues are resolved, yet. During the first few hours of the headstart, guild creation was not possible at all, and even after that feature finally worked, guild invites would not function properly. By now, most guilds should be able to get all the invites out, the guild members however often experience a “You are not in a guild” bug where you cannot see the guild roster, represent your guild (and thus are unable to contribute to the guild influence) or use the guild chat. In the guild I joined shortly before headstart launch, this mostly happens when almost all guild members are online – those who logged in first can use the chat and represent the guild just fine, those who log on later cannot – until other people log out.
This of course puts a bit of a dampener on your ingame experience, because you might not be able to share it with your guild mates in the chat. Even when you are among the lucky ones who do not encounter the guild bug, guild chat is often very laggy. I think the longest time it took for a message I had written to actually appear in the guild chat was about four minutes.
The economy features in the game still have issues. While problems with access to the gem shop (incl. gem purchases) probably hurt ArenaNet more than it did the players, the unavailability of the Black Lion Trading Company is a bigger problem. Initially, the BLTC would work for some, sometimes work for others and not work at all for the rest. After a while, it went down completely and has remained in the “under maintenance” state ever since. As a result, players are unable to buy or sell crafting materials, crafted products and loot, which in turn can make it rather difficult to earn ingame currency or progress in the crafting professions at the moment.
The overflow feature also causes grief for some players. Basically, the overflow is a great tool – while you can only create characters on one world (if you want to permanently transfer to another world, you can currently do so for free but when server populations have settled, you will have to pay) you do not have to worry about being locked out from heavily populated zones. If the zone has reached its player limit on your home world, you can still enter it but you will be in a zone with people from other worlds (which can make for some nice cross-world friendships). Everything you do while in an overflow zone counts in terms of character or personal story progression etc. Once the zone on your own world has a free spot, you get a pop-up window that allows you to either travel to that zone or stay in the overflow for now.
This works really well as long as you play on your own. If you want to play with friends or guildmates, however, you can easily be separated even if you form a group. There are workarounds, but they do not always seem to resolve the issue. Furthermore, it currently makes it difficult to join up with other players for a specific (and often rarer) dynamic event – when someone tells you that a big zone boss event just started, chances are that when you get there, you will end up on an overflow server where the event is not taking place because your home world zone is full by then.
Several people already reported that their accounts were hacked, and while this may or may not be a security problem game side, it is something worth mentioning, because until we know how hackers gained access to the login information, the lack of authenticators or similar account security features could, in theory, mean that everyone is at risk.
WvWvW (World vs. World combat; basically a huge battle between three different worlds over four maps) also had some problems in the beginning, when points were not calculated correctly, and sPvP (structured pvp; an 8v8 or 5v5 team domination battle) could not be accessed at first, either. However, those problems seem to be resolved by now.
Other, very minor issues are: the occasional bugged skill challenge or DE; once in a while NPC enemies (esp. in the instanced story mode) stop attacking for no apparent reason and can just be killed off without a problem; a few exploits (those that were reported seem to be fixed now); slightly undertuned or overtuned encounters.
Despite of all the above, ArenaNet continues to be very communicative, posting status updates on Twitter, Facebook and even reddit, and they seem to be working hard to resolve the problems, which is definitely a reason why many people (and I count myself one of them) accept the above problems as release issues that should be ironed out shortly.
People who have less tolerance for any of the above bugs might want to put off playing the game for another week or two to avoid disappointment.
The one thing that surprises me the most is how name and chat infractions are handled. From games like WoW or Rift, I am used to seeing (borderline) offensive, racist, sexist and so on names and chat for months and people rarely report that they had to change their character’s name or were temporarily banned. Not so in Guild Wars 2. Already, several people complained on fan forums that they got a 72 hours ban for inappropriate behavior or bad names. So if you are really attached to names like “Hot Motherfucker”, “Sex Slave” or any other name that is in violation of ArenaNet’s naming policy, you might want to reconsider either using the name or playing GW2, because so far, policing seems to be very strict.
The game also has seen the first characters to hit level 80 one day after the beginning of headstart. With major support from his guild, a French player was the world first level 80 and reached it with a combination of PvE and crafting. I had not expected players to reach maximum level this soon, but since this was a coordinated effort, it is also a good example of how working together as a team can help the individual accomplish much.
On a side note: While some people are pretty unhappy that crafting is a possible means for leveling, I personally think that it is a great feature – certainly not for my first character and likely not for my second or third character, either. However, at some point, I might welcome the ability to skip level ranges I don’t particularly enjoy and just craft, using materials I collected with other characters, to gain some levels. In my book, more variety is always a good thing.
Last but not least, I was actually surprised how much fun the game really is. Yes, of course I expected the game to keep me entertained when I pre-purchased it. Yes, I did enjoy the game during the BWEs and the stress tests. However, in that pre-release stage, play time was limited to a weekend or a few hours and I did not realize how much more exciting the game would be once you actually have “all the time in the world” to enjoy it. I can honestly say that I haven’t had this much fun when starting a new MMORPG since the release of EverQuest 1. GW2 offers exactly what I want in an online game at this point in my life and I hope I will continue to enjoy the game for many years.