Thursday, February 20, 2014

February Post 1 - Review of Guild Wars Levels 1 - 10

Several months back I wrote up a Guild Wars 2 weekend free trial review which can be found here:

As I sit around waiting for some new mmorpgs to open up (and sadly waiting for others to drop the sub model), I decided to relook Guild Wars 2 and give it some more attention since my visit was so short as a trial review. Now that I actually have paid for the entry fee, I have unlimited access and would like to do an evolving review with you all. If you are not familiar with my evolving reviews, I take a game to end game and give it a score based on each review tier, and at level cap, an over all final score. So let us start Guild Wars with levels 1 -10.
(Pretty sexy for a level 1 human)

Character Creation and signing in:
I will start with the sign in process, it is very user friendly allowing us to sign up on the website. From there you can download the client and manage your account. You can not actually enter the game of course, but you can easily pay and activate your account all in a smooth transaction. The only thing that sort of put me off was that the log in nickname really does not work. You need the Email as the sign in name and then the password. Also, they track your log in name with an added digital number at the end so I am, for example, Nanbo.245.
I am guessing this is for internal processing stuff, but it did pop up random areas, where as in other areas it does not pop up...and then the most annoying is how it will pop up in game attached to your in game ID as it appears on a friends list...make an even further mess to the already confusing and messy UI...but I am getting way ahead of myself. Let is get past signing in and right into character creation.

Character creation was exactly how I left it from my free trial impressions. It is very disappointing. We can start with the factionless approach. There are great discussions and fact based articles and videos out there proving the best pvp, expecially realm and World, comes from having FACTIONS! This adds story elements. A deeper and richer PvE experience. The ability to actually include epic updates that evolve around factions etc. Some of you may have remembered the pride and side taking epicness of Vanilla wow's Alliance Vs. Horde. Oh the politics, oh the drama, and oh man that PvP. You pushed so hard, and took it very personal knowing an entire digital world was counting on you and your faction to create a reputation for yourself... Games that do not create like this throw out a "why should I care" element and add you into lobby room like ques to go out and end up fighting random groups of other players. Even if they come from other servers it just does not feel as epic if they were to come from specific factions. Any ways, where Guild Wars fails to draw the unique faction lines, it does give you a very open class selection. Problem is, a little too open.

With no real class definition, your race is just cosmetic. Your race is just an animation used to execute moves based on your class choice. So that big burly tank looking beast, can be a robe wearing healer. And that is ok, but again, withut factions or any other signification of identity, it is all just eye candy. The actual classes, are nicely defined. Rogue (thief), Sword users, magic users, etc.. But each one of those can play out like every other class, but never AS GOOD as a pure class. For example, my rogue can build, as I Go, into more defense boosts and skills (tankish), DPS (crit rogue or damage over time rogue with poison), Vitality and damage (warrior), Blind (magic), etc..But they never really excel as a tank, mage, etc..You will play as a rogue, but for me, the fact they tried so hard to be "different", and avoid a "purist" or "holy trinity" leaves classes feel "missing that special something". As a rogue, I wish they would drop all those extra "branch out into other roles" approach and just give me bad ass moves. more rolls, wicked use of knives, etc... but no, they water em down just enough to prove a point that does not need proving. It reminds me of the logic the Secret World used to market it's title: "Oh look, we do not use skill trees, come play here in this unique Mmorpg". The fact was, they do have skill trees, they just took a tree from the square window, we all use in most mmorpgs, and made it a ROUND window....ooooohhhh, big difference there chief. The fact is, you had to build certain ways exactly following the same logic behind a standard skill tree, they just changed the window to make you think you were doing something different. 

Any ways, on to creating the character. I was let down again on the choices. It is the most generous serving of medium you can get. Everything is a pre-made pallet for you. It is not really lacking in choice, but it is not getting creative nor generous in model options. You are given very straight forward forms, and shapes. You can tweak them very slightly. They have an "advanced" slider bar only on some parts of the body and they do not do drastic changes or really customize to stand out. I had several templates I switched back and forth on thinking "what is changing!!!???" as no matter how I rotated my body, when I switched between 4 different models, nothing really changed...The character flashed a little like something just "loaded" onto my model, but nothing changed. In the end you get a very stock like product. Not ugly or bad, just not at all the level some entirely F2P games offer, like Perfect World, Aion, TERA, DCUO. I mean, really... 40 dollars strong into the box purchase and a mass budget from the success of an entire franchise and that is what trickled out? 

You then design the colors of your clothing. So from now on, every piece of armor you pick up will be automatically colored to the selection you chose here. This is sooo lazy! I love picking up new armor and mix and matching the looks and unique colors. That even gives the player the growing stage where they are changing out of noob armor so much they end up looking funny. Like leather pants, chain shirt, and feather hat..All mis matched because we are gathering and changing as we level up. But no. This game predetermines your colors and they are basic. Even Star Trek Online has more customizable pieces. I was very sad and the bland color choices. Once in game, I noticed higher levels wearing some modified gear. And it just was not all that. It reminded me of my RIFT experience where I would look at the end gamers in town and think "Wow, that end game armor is not at all exciting.". I also was given, as a new player, a transfer kit. So I can take the look of my current gift set and glue it to another armor set. I also changed 3 armor sets already thought level 10 and 2 of them were identical! Very big let down for a game that is not F2P. You would think there would be more love. They made a point to go as FAR away as guild wars as possible, yet to take the lazy cheap design route, they try to stick to the "single player" Guild Wars model of "one class, one uniform". Look. Disappointing. But all in all, I like the looks better than RIFT. So I can put up with it.
(Like what you see? Don't get to excited. You can't climb anything or explore anything that is not meant to be DIRECTLY explored. I am talking about the environment...not me...perverts XD)

I also do not like the character design section. Please look at the direction Guild wars has ALWAYS gone in. A more human combatant feel and look of their characters. One of favorites being Nightfall, where to be different, they used a mystical approach and played on the human form. In the MMORPG that is Guild Wars 2, they have ONE humanoid class. One silly looking elfish class and the rest are abominations. It is kind of silly, because again, they are trying to change something that is not broke. They try to replace gnomes with some ugly small Asura class. "Intellectual giants" the website calls them...wait, I remember a race of small people being super smart...World of Warcrafts gnomes. So to make these gnomes "different" they just copy and pasted the faces of the other race they made, the Sylvari. IT looks like a deformed cat and humanish face. Then mix in the other beast like races and it just goes into cartoony land and loses all sense of "humanoid" game all the other series brought. This also kills a human element and the need to communicate with each other and feels very slap stick when you see groups running around, no factions, no guild wars, and no real reason to be doing anything together except that we are on our way to level.

Lastly, this character design also does something that has plagued this mmorpg since launch, the need to find satisfying content. Because there are no factions and unique character design, they have to create MASSIVE story arc content, otherwise, anything else would make no sense or have to cater to class design (leading to crys from other classes that it is not balanced). IF you take WoW as an example of how to do it right. The content possibilities for pvp territories, land, and each races and classes story are rich in the world and each update effects one side very specially. In GW2 they kind of ended up, because of cheap design measures and lack of "doing their homework", in a bind to please every one. Hence, they rolled out some cheesy 8 bit play ground, jump puzzles, and now the entire story arc has to be so general and distracted from the actual world, because it has to awkwardly apply to ALL races directly without any special lore added to why it matters. Just group up, get the loot, and enjoy the story, regardless if it has nothing really that concerns your race.

But we are getting into gameplay now, so lets start that.

Game play:
In my trial experience I started out saving the castle from invading centaurs and some strange power force thing just outside the gates. Again, the same thing happened on my newly paid character. Unlike last time, I start with new player gear package. A nice little cosmetic touch to help me drop my noob gear and get a little stat boost. The camera still felt a little wonkey and was cumbersome to turn during certain combatscenes, like how this giant boss thing was basically so smashed up against the camera I really did not need to apy attention to what I was doing, just spam attack. That worked. 

Like last time, there are not traditional quest that pile up in the quest log...well they do, but it is not as evident. They went for a more "enter zone and experience the game" feel. But this falls flat on it's face. You can not really wonder off where you want, you are still pigeon holed in very very specific areas. Just because you do not PHYSICALLY add a list of quests to do in order to move on, they are still there, when you are around the right zone, the quest randomly pops up. Like, "kill bugs, help milk cows, or kill mobs in the area". Now, there is an experience bar that fills up for each task. But guess what, the heart of this means: "Kill X things to finish quest". Again, they TRIED SO HARD to change things and to be "unique" that ruined the game. In the end, you still are killing X number of monsters or other tasks to get exp and move on. They also cut their own throats when using this model, you cut out all possibility to create any dynamic quest elements. Because instead of scripting the quest lines and creating dynamic events around your progress, they now have to script the enemies to react and hope you are in the right area. So, what this leads too is less story and more silly mob grouping. To compensate they just added a handful of things to interact with, like "Centaur clothes line" and you can destory the clothes line....
Here is an example of a good quest system: You are given a quest to infiltrate the camp with a disguise, plant a bomb, escpae. When you escpae there is a cut scene showing you lose your disguise and suddenly you have to fight a few guards to get out. You feel accomplished, epic, and you like how the quest was composed. 
In Guild Wars, they can not do this without creating an instance (for your main story arc). Because the entire WORLD has to move with the mobs. So, no story catered to the hero, just "Pump up this place with mobs, make some good npcs run around like it is a "living world", and have the player need to kill "X" of them. To make it feel "unique" just remove the quest from the list if "out of range". 99% of game play is about how to sneak in and over power the enemies or pull them just right. Otherwise there is no reward for going deep in enemey territory except to find mob grouping, and perhaps a named and "discovery". Which means just look around at the scenery. But that adds NOTHING to your personal development or story line. It is just "look what we made! A den with mobs in it". Thank you Guild Wars. Thank you. That is a nice cave...but I think I will skip it since it has NO IMPORTANCE. Knowing this, they tey to get you enticed to push youself by putting achievment marks inside like "View point" 1/10. They even have the nerve to call these collectable areas: "Places of importance" on the map. Little square boxes that are filled in and counted towards your "collection of places visited". But it does ZERO for your character and has ZERO to do with the story. It is just a little thing to prick your interest. Like: "Well, your are here...and this makes no sense...but it looks go on in and check it out.".

(GW2 lesson 1. Turn off player name tags. Lesson 2. Do not quest. They are useless. Just farm world bosses...all the cool kids are doing it Lesson 3. Hate your hotbar. It is ugly and slot 1 is a waste)

Proof this system fails is the player behavior in game. In my server, on my level 1-17 map. The players say "Bus." in general chat. this means mass group of players moving together at a place to camp world bosses. Then "Pumba (the fat pig boss). Wasp, troll, or Wood" There are the walking low level world bosses. To hard to take on with 5 people, but great mass group gank fest. Since you get the rewards of kills for just touching it and not working for it, everyone just follows the OP players and touch the enemy once. This then gives every one goods and exp. No one is questing. No one is exploring. Everyone just jumps the boss bus. Because there is not need or interest to "quest". I really really find this a very stupid feature in Guild Wars 2 and it is a pity they try to re-invent the wheel.

That said, the tasks that you take the time to do are down to basic escort, gather, or kill. The escort missions are GREAT! You can revive dead npcs, the npcs serve as henchmen that battle beside you. And the scenery and sense of danger "around the corner" is there. It is a good challenge but does not really break any mold as far as "new game play". The mob placement is horrible it balances on "Mobs you can kill that give no real good exp" to " Mobs to high and will gank you". They are very grouped together so that almost all battles are a group of mobs on you. Thankfully some npcs help or passing players. I just wish the social aspect was better. It is not as easy to communicate as other games and I think this has to do with the mass disconnection to player and character (non humanoid models) and the ease to level by not helping anyone.

The UI, in my trial experience, I noted was ugly. It still is. It looks very blockish and sort of last thought added in last minute. No beautiful details on the borders, no nice presentations etc.. It has a very very clunky hot bar system. The first general attack options are 1-4, and then the other important "assistant" skills are on the far right as 5-9. The problem, is that the finger acrobats to press necessary skills. In my case, a roll back to avoid an attack is number 8...I often just take damage and do not roll back since I do not want to throw my finger to number 8 in deep battle. I guess I need to redesign my entire button schematic. Kind of lame. And it is forced. I can not switch any order of my skills. The only thing you can do is swap skill type, but it HAS to be planted in that slot. Meaning my number 5-9 skills can never be moved to 1-4....
Also, there is an energy meter that burns energy by rolling. Sadly, only forward or back, not strafe roll side to side. This is more of a combat discussion but, I Thought I would mention it now as gameplay because of the next point...You can not run! It would feel so natural if we could run a little by holding SHIFT. In fact, several times it felt so natural I would hit the button..and look at my energy expecting it to go down as I sprint a even once. So lame. Again, it just felt half planned out and they just added enough to feel "different". 

The story line is very well done as far as getting me engaged to know what happens next. But, again, because of no real quest progression, it feels a little fake in the rhythm of the game. For example, you start the story line, then can not progress because you need some new levels, so you go out, explore, bash bugs and peoples brains in, help save three farms from trouble, then return back to the large city to do the quest...which then picks up where you left off...which feels a little forgoten and out of step with the progress you were just doing out on the farm. Then you finish the story line up to a point and then back to the basic running around doing whatever. No coherence = no real sense of belonging or needing to do anything for any sense of urgence except one thing: Loot and power. But it looked good. And that is where GW2 shines. It looks good.

Majority of the game is all looks. Like Aura Kingdom there are ALLOT of 3D nice things to look at, but once you get close to it, you just slide off or bounce off it. It is all just decoration. Like a fake water painting on the wall you can not touch. This feels stupid and detached for 2 major reasons: 1) The jumping. You can jump. and with such an open world and emphasis on exploring, you would think jumping would be able to do cool things. For example, in WoW, RIFT, and AION, I would explore some areas by using the jump. I am not sure if the designers intended it, but we would find amazing points to get around danger, or just discover short cuts or unknown areas. Sometimes you think you are "exploiting" a spot, and then you will see a little temple or something from the developers, a sort of "haha you made it this far, check this out". In Guild Wars 2, I often tried to do this. I tried jumping up wood planked wall that looks 3D and possible to jump up, only to slide right off...Mountain sides, slide right off. It feels plastic and cheap. They only want you to walk where they designed, and jump where they want you to jump. A very controlled simple land, despite it's size (or illusion of) it is really a small linear world. Most people not opening their eye's, or who have not experienced the joy of a true open world, will not understand or catch on.
2) The details in the cities are extensive. But the reality is, you are just walking past fancy wall paper. All that detail for nothing! I have tried climbing a high stair case, taking in all the beauty, then thinking, "I should jump off into that fountain". Nope. Invisible barriers. I have to walk al the way down this pretty stair case and get back to railed walk ways...but beautiful railed walk ways. It just made me miss the freedom I had in other games. Also, all the nooks and corners and tents and spaces to put fake commercants that we just pass by and do NOT care for...yet they do not have centers of business for things like the MAILBOX! REALLY??? Any one in gW2 play WoW??? The most socially interactive game in a city center is the mailbox because we are all there to get our goods, write to our friends and check out other peoples, no, mail on the go. This is odd, because they took the time to give you different color sacs to make you have that unique feel. But they do not place a center for mail in the city. They even have a center for a bank...but not mail. This leads to the next major problem:

That horrible UI. The menu system is a mess. AGAIN (*shakes fist*) WHY try to change the normal! I loved opening my bag, and opening my character slot, and then draging or clicking the item onto my character. Not in this game. This game you can open and double click and drag, but once you hit H button, it opens to the character model, and all the items to equip are listed on the top left, the character on the right, so wtf is the use the bag if it is just replaced by a menu list in the character window??? Also, under one window the other things are listed like skills, but it took a little to adapt. It is using the same traditional method of all mmorpgs! Unlock, add points, put in hot bar. But to "BE DIFFERENT" they have to divide out to the skills in their proper hot bar slot since the bar is locked. For example, you have one tier of spells that apply only to slots 1-4, to see the other skills you have to drop down a menu....In addition, Tiers of other spells CANNOT BE READ! How can I plan what I want to spend points in if I Can not read what my next spells do??? For example, I have 3 locked hot bar slots. I will unlock them at level 8, and when that happens I can now drop new skills in that are locked. But before that, I have points to spend or save. So, should I get some of the cool skills at level 5 (as it is pressing me to do), or wait for level 8 when it unlocks? In other mmorpgs, you hover the mouse over and read what the next spell does. This game, when hovered over, just tells you "Spell unlocked at level 8"...What? It looks and feels cheap. I am not sure if this was to force us out to the forums to study? OR force us to build blind, then redo our skills? I am not sure, but it is messy...
Also that friends list. Friends on my list, you can not see what level they are always, they have their account number attached: "Nanbo.556" which is odd. They do not properly tell where the character may be at. This gets BAD once in a guild. The GUILD LIST CAN NOT BE SORTED BY PLAYER NAME, RANK, and worse: "ONLINE OR OFFLINE". If it is possible, I am sorry if I judged, but I tried pressing on buttons all around the list screen and it was not working. I also notice some people in a PvP group called Jade Ocean...But in a guild called "Killer Kats" there are a sort of pvp faction thing??? I am not sure, but I also heard in a rumor you can join several guilds at once...I honostly can not fathom that menu night mare. And all they had to do to make it good was NOT BREAK THE MMORPG SYSTEM! Just strop trying to "look" different! So much effort for so much fail.

(Lag and loading graphics. This NEVER HAPPENED during my Free Trial. I am now afraid to participate in PvP. I can image it is horrible. And of course, this is like this AFTER I buy the game...Check out my original trial review, this never was an issue)

Chat is a pain. So much guild chatter runs over the important world chatter, affind another tab means I have to switch tabs as much as I cast spells and my fingers are tired of it. Also, the chat stays the same. So when I click WORLD chat, and chat, I hop over to Guild, and type in a phrase thinking the chat changed to guild...nope, I am still in world, and I just spammed the wrong people...It takes getting used to, but one word to explain GW2 menu systems: UN NATURAL.
In my trial, I had no lag or graphical problems. After I purchased this game...I am having major lag spikes and some slow loading graphics. This can not be my computer since I ran the same game perfectly in the trial...I think they just are neglegting the server service. One thing I REALLY HATED was that I have no idea what server I am on. You just sign in and go. No realy direction or idea how many people are in the world. Kind of surprising for a game called guild wars that encourages PvP. You would think they want to represent your server etc...Exactly like GW1 and World of Warcraft...

It is broke. 50 / 50 = broke right down the middle. This is the most backwards badly designed combat I have played. Now, before you get mad, let me explain. The combat is smooth. and the animations are nice. It has that for it. But it can not decide whether it is an open combat action oriented game or a tab target this is not talking only about how you target enemies, but how your attacks execute. For example. I press 1 to do a normal attack. I swing in the wide open at nothing. So it is a free range action combat move. You just stab in the air. If an enemy is close, it hits it. So ok, I like that. Then, if I run, back turned to the enemy, and press 1, I just attack in front of me in the air, normal! But if I press 2 ( a spin attack), I auto lock on to the enemy, and I shoot towards the enemy. This took me by surprise! What happened to the Open action combat??? Why did I lock on and fly at impossible angle at the enemy? This almost got me killed once making this mistake. It is like SOME SKILLS are open action, and should be adapted to as such. The other skills are tab target lock on, cant miss spells...which feel different and be careful because it could get you killed. The brokeness of "locking on" tab vs. open world also made me fall off cliffs more than once. If I am fighting a mob by a cliff or bridge, and I hit my 2 spin attack, I launch my body in the air at the enemy, which stops EXACTLY at the enemy, but if the enemy dies, and I hit the same attack thinking he has a little HP left, I go flying off target on out into the air and off the mountain side. The problem is, in mass mob areas, I hit TAB often to get to next targer, then hit 2, thinking I will auto spin around...which happens 50% of the time, the 50% the TAB target search really does not connect, and I go flying off the mountain....I have never played such a brainless design. I have time in TERA, where it is equally open, and you have to time those hits just right, but the entire world and camerea angle is designed around this action combat...I have played tab targeters where TAB search gets you in the action fast...GW2 takes both of these, trys to force them together, and slaps on beautiful animations...And voilĂ  a half cooked system.
Another think. Because the hot bar is locked, SLOT 1 is just "basic attack". THIS SUCKS! It burns an entire slot. In most mmorpgs, we take out the basic attack and drop it for a more important number 1 skill because double clicking the target will auto attack for us. Even TERA knew how to get this right...GW2...nope. Basic attack slot 1 for life you gangster.

Encounters are not dynamic. In TERA, the combat means allot of epic encounters. In GW2 it is "if it is your level, just close your eyes and spam skills. If there are beasts a little higher, you might need to get combo fingers going. But in the end combat is level guided. This may be why most progression requires you to escort NPCs to areas levels higher than you. To give you a real sense of danger, because if you stayed in your level, it just gets "normal" really fast. And from what I hear, end game just consists of OP mob grind. Again, I blame this on the relation between bad quest systems and bad combat systems. 
I do enjoy the shooting physics. If an arrow is off mark, it will miss, you can dodge the incoming elements, or hide behind trees. But again, that is on it's open action elements, and does not break you as a target. One thing, as a rogue, that we love inmmorpgs, is when some one has you TAB targeted, you cloack and drop physical target. In GW2. NOPE, you just drop agro for a little. But pick it right back up on visibility.

(That is me. Level 10. Next to me. A level 80. Not allot changes...Except she gets sparkles...I saw a level 80 with a bright purple jacket. meh. The "everyone wins and looks good at all levels" approach to gaming is LACK LUSTER!  BUT better than RIFT's gear, so I can handle this)

Music and sounds: Very enjoyable. I like it and can not complain. I wish they had a VOIP in game program to speak to each other. Otherwise the nature sounds and the echoes of npcs make it feel "alive". The battle noises...ehhh...DO not really match the epicness of what is going on. I expected a little more crunch n punch. But over all GW2 has a great sound track.

(My armor upgrade. Uglier than my level 1 armor and stays the same color I chose at character creation. SIGH)
It is hard to really change from my free trial experience. And to be honest, I am being held down and buying into this game by the "living" story content in the end. So many games I have end characters in, the game just sort of ends end game or is not interesting. To know this game has content that has been pumped in and for free, has me invested. And I would like to see how this games evolves. Perhaps these early game imperfections get better...but since they are core game elements that would require entire game rebuild, I doubt it. There are allot of silly gimmicks like showing my talents and hot bars locked, and the price of somethings are silly...I am in a B2P Guild Wars game, you really think my things will be locked? Stop trying to make it look like a F2P game. You really think the repair bill is menacing or the need of money is important? This is a B2P game, you BETTER give me what I paid for ehehe! I did notice my early game armor in the auction house had decent prices. So the economy seem good. I was tired of looking at games that require I grind or open my wallet. So that is a nice breath of fresh air. Porblem, is, what it is offering is not really amazing. Leaving me wondering if I should have just put my 40 dollar box price in a F2P cash shop game of my choice.... 
I give the game at levels 1-10 a solid 2/5. Very standard. Very dull and out right "broken" in allot of ways. The over all feeling of "Wow! A AAA quality game with a huge franchise! This has to be the wow killer" only to be given a mediocre experience in a laggy world left me sad. 

On that note, some things that bothered my from trial to full purchase. I did lag more in the full version. I never had lag or graphic loading issues during the trial. Now that I have paid full price I get these problems? I just keep my depressed head hung and keep pushing on. Perhaps things will pick up and pump me with a sense of epicness! See you next time in Review levels 11-20, where the score could rise, fall, or I throw my computer out of the window in frustrations and end this!
(NO one is questing...we just farm the boss...SIGH. TO think I have to log in now to hit level 20...motivation level 0)

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