Category Archives: Guild Wars

Battle Bards Episode #22 – Guild Wars and a Winner!

This March is going to be a hectic time full of exams for me and therefore with fewer blog updates than usual. I can’t really control my blogging and social media intake (I’ve tried) – it’s either all or nothing and right now my evenings need to be filled with studying and last minute panic. This means the Battle Bards podcast will be keeping my seat warm in the meantime, with two brand new and special episodes for this month!

gw1

After a slightly longer break than usual due to holidays, the Battle Bards are back to old Tyria and the wonderfully familiar soundtrack of original Guild Wars. Having recorded a show on both the first game and Guild Wars 2 now, it was interesting to discuss how the music of Jeremy Soule has grown over time and as always, we are not quite decided which version we like best.

I am also declaring the winner of episode 21’s special speakpipe challenge in this new episode, so if you made an entry or are curious which MMO blogger won the pot, make sure to listen til the end of the podcast! Thanks to everyone who participated in this first (but far from last) Battle Bards challenge!

Episode 22 show notes

  • “First Light”
  • “Ashford Abbey”
  • “Over the Shiverpeaks”
  • “Under the Dark Span (Asura theme)”
  • “Eye of the Storm”
  • “Factions Theme”
  • “Festival of Lyss”
  • Mailbag and speakpipe winner!
  • Direct Download

World of Shameless Magic

Most MMO players would probably agree the best MMOs they ever played during their gaming career had the full “package”; that ominous word all of us understand and nobody can explain (well). MMOs are different from other games not just due to aspects like character identification, development or longterm dedication – they’re also virtual worlds and simulations, which means above all they need a coherent theme and setting, they need a past, present and future which are also realized through narrative. That doesn’t even brush the pandora’s box that is gameplay yet. When Angry Joe claims the most important aspect of any game is gameplay, he is probably right – but for that to even matter MMOs especially need to best so many hurdles first and do so many things right in terms of package, it’s unreal. Frankly, it is a miracle there’s even a handful of MMOs out there right now that people love and keep playing for years!

I think theme is one of those things that gets overlooked or at least underestimated in some MMO debates. When Tobold talks about how innovation is “not enough”, I fully agree with him – just like I agree with Kemwer that it’s no MMO player’s “duty” to support (= pay for) games he doesn’t actually enjoy, just to make a statement pro innovation. That is a ludicrous (and risky) idea; why would I support something that doesn’t even appeal to me personally? Whenever I refer to the refreshing aspects of GW2 for example and all the ways it’s innovative, I am actually talking about innovations I enjoy. Innovations that to me are worth supporting, to drive the genre forward. First and foremost though, I am looking to play good games – innovation is a bonus and (just) a part of that whole MMO package. Or in other words, as commented in Kemwer’s thread (and edited for typos ahem) –

“If there’s a thing we know about suc­cess­ful MMOs then it’s that they need to have the full pack­age; pol­ish and a wide appeal. only THEN can we also start talk­ing about inno­va­tion, the way WoW took a con­cept and improved on it — and the way GW2 does too. but for that to even be appre­ci­ated by a wider audi­ence, they need to do an awful lot of things right first. and they actu­ally need to know which things must NOT be inno­vated on in order not to alien­ate your audi­ence entirely! it’s a very tricky line to thread.”

So…what role does overall theme/setting actually play in package? While Tobold dismissed this aspect rather quickly by making fun of “don’t bother innovating too much or giving us anything other than swords, elves and dragons”, I think that point in particular warrants further thought. Can we really dismiss that TSW serves the more niche horror or “goth” theme in regards to its current playerbase troubles? I say no. At the very least it plays an equal role as other popular concerns, such as the gameplay formula, looks or lack of polish…in fact, I would go further than that.

The unlimited fantasy formula

If we turn back the clock to consider all MMOs that there went ever since Ultima Online, the common denominator of almost every game with wide appeal is fantasy setting. A world of classic sword & sorcery – a world of magic. Yes, I know about City of Heroes, Fallen Earth or Eve Online; I would argue that superheroes are awfully close to mages and paladins though and that to some extent fallout and sci-fi themes still share many aspects of fantastic journeys. That said, Eve is the only MMO of the non-fantasy lot that can claim anything resembling “wide appeal”. On the other side stand MMO giant WoW, Rift, Aion and Guild Wars – and a not inconsiderable amount of players invested in anything between LotRO to DDO to the FFs. There is plenty to choose from in fantasy games!

Why is that though? Are developers just scared to seriously attempt non-fantasy MMOs since y’know, “UO and EQ started it all and let’s not risk it” – or is it the absence of players in games like CoH or Fallen Earth confirming what most of them suspected all along? And if the majority of the MMO playerbase indeed wants fantasy settings – is there any point / need in going for different?

There are several reasons why I think the classic fantasy formula works so well and why it IS risky to attempt innovation in this particular corner. MMOs are already a niche to begin with, so any developer would need to consider if breaking down that audience further is actually the sensible thing to do. Especially if you cannot also provide a very polished package. But let’s look at some pro fantasy points:

1. Not just “elves and dragons”
To state that fantasy is basically limitless is well duuhhh…but the fantasy genre is actually huge and almost all MMOs borrow from a much wider palette than just sword&sorcery tradition. Fantasy encompasses everything from fairytales to folklore, mythology, medieval history (Age of Conan is a fantasy MMO that actually keeps a focus on the world of humans), ghost stories, steampunk….you name it. Strictly speaking everything that isn’t a reality simulation could be included, certainly science fiction and horror do too. However, let’s stay on the more romantic and magical side of things for now and consider that scope alone. It’s vast – and unlike creating a “pirate MMO” or “zombie MMO”, it isn’t nearly as thematically restricted. There is diversity enough to actually create an entire world out of it, a world with a past, present and future that players like to explore and dwell in for longer. Which brings me to point 2.

2. Where would you rather build your home?
Whether the game literally allows you to or not, MMOs are about building a second home for yourself / your character – or that’s how it used to be. Despite some doomsaying concerning “casual MMOs” in this context, I believe an awful lot of MMO players are still looking for that immersive experience, that virtual world they consider a home – or at least a cosy and familiar place to return to, to relax and unwind. Developers certainly want to create this appeal in order to keep a longterm playerbase around. So, let’s put this to the test: all MMO players who feel like pitching tent longterm in one of the following sceneries, please raise your hands –

(Click image to enlarge)

…No? I thought so.
Yeah, I’m being intentionally dramatic with these image choices; yet, TSW is certainly no charming, frivolous or particularly relaxing world. In fact there’s a lot of grimdark to be found and just how much of that will you serve yourself with the frequency MMOs are “supposed” to be played? It was really a comment by Bhagpuss that drove this point home for me:

We cancelled both out TSW accounts yesterday[…] In both “reasons for leaving” forms we included the unremittingly bleak, depressing settings and subject matter. There’s nowhere near enough conspiracy and far too much horror. It was sold as “everything is true” but it turned out to be “everything is much worse than you ever imagined”.

I love the quality of the writing and the wonderful detail and art direction and I don’t actively dislike the setting, but all horror all the time is just wearing and not much fun in the long run. Needs a lot more light to go with all that shade.”

Dark and gritty themes work well for single, shorter session gameplay; it’s why zombie shooters are popular or taking in that one hour fright dosage in Amnesia. In fact horror games can be a lot of fun like that. But to dwell in such an atmosphere all the time? No thanks!

3) Kicking magic ass is awesome
Not much to explain here; humanity has been obsessed with and certainly entertained by the idea of inexplicable magical forces, abilities and powers since forever. Marvel superhero or fire spec mage – we love to dream of otherworldly powers (rather than just physics and mundane technology), committing heroic deeds and conquering vicious foes with our sword of awesomeness. Or else what’s the goddamn point??

4) Fantasy Fans, Geeks, Gamers
There is a very fluent line between people calling themselves geeks, fantasy fans and gamers in that demography I personally familiarize with. I would take all such labels with a pinch of salt but it’s no big revelation than many MMO players are also fantasy fans who read fantasy books, collect artbooks or love fantasy movies. My personal experience proves that many (not all) of them do – and if you ever run a forum poll on “which one of you has seen the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy more than once…extended?”, I predict the outcome would be exponentially higher in an MMO forum than let’s say a FPS or errr…tennis forum. Just sayin’. Players impact on genre and genre impacts on players.

…All in all rather strong arguments pro fantasy setting in MMOs. Even if it weren’t any of the above though, there still gotta be some very good other reasons why developers think the fantasy formula so safe. “It’s just lazyness” is insufficient an explanation. There’s an obvious, assumed risk so one must ask about its origins. Why do not more developers bother to go all out and create a polished, full package, non-fantasy MMO? Speculations welcome.

The fantasy in Guild Wars 2

To end on a GW2 note and live up to my current tune, Spinks recently reported how “it’s been awhile since I played a fantasy game that wasn’t afraid to be magical.” This didn’t occur to me at first, so dazzling and colorful, warm and welcoming are the vistas and general atmosphere of Tyria. The world is so soaked in magic that you take it for granted and while it’s not all srs bzns, it doesn’t compromise and relent on that point.

Tyria is the kind of world where I can go to be a magical hero. It’s the kind of world where I want to build myself a home under that old yew tree, next to a murmuring river bend. A place to rest this adventurer’s tired old bones for a good while. A place that never gets old.

Myself  shamelessly magical in GW2

Reverse Psychology

http://www.perrinwatchparts.com/images/prod/73.481-300.jpgSome people wonder – how does this B2P or F2P model really work? How can they give away so much stuff? There’s gotta be a catch, I bet the game is just bad!

…Of course it isn’t. Of course they don’t just give away stuff for free. Well, they do – but not in the way one might think. They’re way more devious than that.

If there’s something to be said for GW2 by now, then that it’s a master of opposite effect. Scores of players who never knew the word journey before are suddenly confessing to putting on that explorer’s hat every night, looking to climb mountains or swim down the deepest caves, for another vista, a point of interest, a jumping puzzle – or just one more stunning land mark discovered. Because the world is vast and beautiful like that and the next bend of the road is rewarding. To anybody.

Players proud to be die-hard soloers, sick and tired of stale grouping mechanics, find themselves partying up with strangers on a regular basis, chatting and cooperating more than ever – even crossing half a zone just to get a fallen player back on his feet. Finally, an ally. Not somebody to race to that next node.

Those sworn off questing permanently still enjoy the more random, dynamic events that spawn around heart areas, following narratives up to the big baddie at the very end. Maybe there’s a chest, maybe not – either way it’s fun and while it’s still questing, it lacks the orchestrated linearity to actually feel like it.

Then, there’s people like me – done with the holy trinity. Done with setup gripes and inflexibility, to a point where the idea of tanking or healing has become appalling. Lo and behold, GW2 brings back some of the fun about these jobs. Why? Because roles aren’t strict and nobody expects you to stick to one of them.

“Hear me, I am a fickle creature! I don’t want what I have and I crave what I have not! That which I am forced to do, I loathe – that which I choose freely, I cherish. I am homo sapiens!

The ultimate move

So, by that same rule of reverse psychology, how would a smart MMO developer (with the whole package) go about his B2P (or F2P) business model, getting his audience to spend a little more than just what they “have to”?

….But of course –

ColinJohanson.2394:
“No need to buy them, Gw2 will feature consistent free content updates and in-game events going forward. Our goal is to make it so you get more from Gw2 for free than you get from a game you pay a subscription for.
On top of a large amount of free bonus content, we will be expanding on offerings in the Black Lion Trading Company going forward, as well as be doing large-scale expansion content down the road.
We’ll cover a lot of the details on the kind of support and plans we have in place over the next month or so on the Gw2 blog and with our press partners.
We do appreciate that you’d like to buy lots of new content, but we’d prefer to give a lot of it to you for free, cause that’s what we think a responsible MMO company does!”


“Thanks for the response and I’d just like to say that the attitude you just described is why you guys are my favourite games company! It’s also why I’ve bought bank space, dye packs and 2 character slots already, even though I normally spend nothing in cash shops & never buy dlc.”

Of all the comments and articles on GW2 I have come across these past two weeks, this forum conversation is the most remarkable, awe-inspiring and uncanny one of all. Love or hate this MMO, think of ANet whatever else you like – this is free-to-play marketing done to perfection. This is convincing your audience that they’re making such a superior deal, they might as well re-invest those imaginary savings! And all delivered with an air of casual frivolity. My god ArenaNet, you do know what you are doing!

In that same spirit of effectiveness, I wish you all the most horrible weekend and many awful adventures in Tyria! I know you will have lots of them.

Underestimating your own product

With their digital sales “embargo” recently lifted and a somewhat bizarre, misbegotten trailer airing two weeks into official launch, ArenaNet have inspired a great deal of raised eyebrows in the community lately, and many sarcastic comments along the line of Syncaine’s –

“Since they sold more boxes ‘than expected’, I’m guessing someone lost a bet at Anet and their kid’s art project was made the release trailer, in the hopes of curing some of the overflow issues and reducing WvW queues. I think the trailer will prove most effective in this goal.”

While you can argue how smart a move a temporary stop of sales is, or guess at all motivations involved, I have to say I am a little puzzled by the way ANet prepared for this launch and their very obvious underestimation and miscalculation when it comes to GW2 sales and the impact of their game in general. Have ANet, used to their own faithful “cult” following for years, been somewhat out of touch with the greater MMO playerbase out there during development? Considering the latest trailer, a cynic might suggest a certain lack of relation might be involved….

In any case, it’s all a little surprising to me given the high anticipation for GW2 well before its launch. I’m not talking about die-hard GW fans here but a much wider audience that has been intrigued at the very least for about two years now, being vocal on forums and blogs. During that time ANet gave me the impression of following things closely, with a clear focus on target audience and market share: when the development progress of GW2 finally became more public (which was not the case for at least the first half of the development process), they got out there and communicated in no uncertain fashion what (or rather: whom) they were after and where they were going with GW2. In case you’ve never seen the humorous comic strips released on their official site in 2010, I suggest you have a look sometime.

ANet went for a bigger fish with GW2 and it’s always been clear that this MMO was going to target a much wider, more mainstream MMO audience than GW did. It’s obvious too where ANet expected a good chunk of that target audience to migrate over from. Unlike Bioware or Funcom, they were wise enough to stick to a business model that allows for a more seamless and unproblematic integration of a new player in today’s much-contested MMO market – “Buy-to-Play? Wait….you mean I get to play the rest of the game for free? Sure, why not!”

Smart move. Mission accomplished. Apparently more than expected.

Which only leaves me with the initial question of this topic: how come? Did they not actually anticipate this game to break 1 million sales so early on? And what do we do with this information – make happy toasts to over-achievement or brood over all the implications and potential capacity issues yet to come? You tell me.

New to this World – Musings on MMO Tourism

When Kleps described a particular type of MMO tourist the other day, something about that label stuck with me even though I couldn’t feel further apart from such tourist mindset. Be it in MMOs or in general, I immensely enjoy new experiences and I’m a sucker for exploring strange lands and cultures which is no doubt partly due to very mixed heritage. I’m a traveler in real life as much as virtual worlds with quite a long list of countries that I’ve visited in my backpack (more to be added!). Had I been bestowed with substantial wealth from birth, I would probably have become a full time gipsy, releasing travel diaries or guides and shit…for free. The road is ever calling to me and those five weeks of annual holidays I get nowadays are sacred. Next summer’s trip is already greatly anticipated!

I’m a strong believer in that traveling is one of the most beneficial and eye-opening things we can do as human beings, something that will shape and educate your understanding (and hence respect) for other, different places and people more than any theory in a book or well-polished political speech ever could. It is humbling to be a guest in a strange country and be treated as a friend; to break bread with people who have no reason to offer you hospitality but share the little they have; to discover first-hand just how similar we all are despite all hyped cultural differences and outward appearances. To realize how much wealth and beauty is out there that the daily news never talk about. But this we can only learn by actually leaving our own doorsteps – you cannot smell the roses by reading about it in a book.

Yet, for all my personal inclinations, my love for travel, languages and cultures, I am still feeling a bit like a tourist in GW2 right now. Not the willfully ignorant tourist described further up, but a tourist in the sense that while GW2 is a truly immersive MMO with the most amazing world, there are moments when I feel more like a guest or even intruder, rather than somebody setting up his own home. I happen to know exactly why that is too.

So close and yet so far

I never played GW(1). I mentioned briefly once why I didn’t and I’m currently in very good company when it comes to people who skipped GW but are now invested in GW2. It’s not just the timing but the fact that the two MMOs are very different in many essential ways. GW2 is not exactly a “sequel” and yet, ANet have obviously conserved much of the world that was old Tyria for their faithful player base – the lore, characters, setting and atmosphere first and foremost.

That’s where my misgivings, which are completely self-fabricated (just to clear that up) come in though; it might sound bizarre but a part of me feels like I have no right to be here. I’m the newbie in Tyria and not just that, I am the player who didn’t support the first game, now showing up for its shinier, more mass-market successor. YIKES!

While the olde GW community is taking a sad goodbye from a game they called home for years, I get to enjoy the moment without any ambivalence felt. It’s great articles like that one or like Jeromai’s that remind me just how little I know about this world; how much there has been before and how I am unable to draw connections the way longtime GW players can. It’s also hearing a new ingame acquaintance (met during anonymous questing zomg!) talk about how she’s waited on GW2 for five years (I waited two to be fair) while being an avid GW player, and how disappointed she is in many respects because “GW2 is not like GW” (and where the fuck did the monk class go…). Which I can actually empathize with when seen from that perspective.

(She also mentioned that “coming from WoW or Rift, everything must seem really great of course”….I know there is an insult there somewhere!)

It just bothers me that I am likely missing a lot of details and hidden meaning while playing, even if much will get clearer in time. It bothers me too, that I simply cannot fully connect or give comfort to some players that are now in my own world but still feel strangely apart. They’ve been longer in Tyria than myself and I feel like they have much more right to it. Does that even make sense?? Ah well.

http://www.theparentreport.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Social-Anxiety-Disorder.jpg
“Hi, I’m new! Hope it’s alright if I join you guys!”

Sometimes I wonder how all the new, heightened attention for GW2 must feel to GW veterans right now – other bloggers like Hunter for example who have been dedicated to that game forever. What a bunch of enthusiastic party crashers we must look to them….

I am probably exaggerating at this point and frankly I wonder if I managed to explain my feelings very well. It’s all extremely silly in many respects, first and foremost because ANet surely want more players to enjoy GW2 than played GW, after having put seven(?) years into its development. I know that, trust me! Also, I’ve no resentment whatsoever towards GW veterans in case there’s any doubts – quite the contrary – and I don’t even know if they truly see the likes of me coming from other MMOs as party crashers or greenhorns or whatever (although I could understand if they did). It’s just….now that I’m immersing myself in Tyria with every intention not to stay a tourist for long, I’m a little sad that I missed its “past” – the history of that world others were there for. I’m clearly not used to not being “there from the start” for MMOs I consider a big deal, even if paradoxically I was there for bloody head-start (of doom).

There’s an intangible generation gap and a little bit of self-cringe for blundering into a world with such wide-eyed ignorance that other players are already familiar with. Gawd…I hope we are welcome here and don’t make too big fools out of ourselves in zone and party chats! Sigh.

[GW2] Voices of the Blogosphere

As expected, Guild Wars 2 has set the blogosphere on fire and I am trying to catch up on all the great articles that have been released these past few days, while I was also frankly playing a ton of GW2. I haven’t played as much of any game since WoW…and boy, did I need coffee this Monday morning! All that said it feels awesome – awesome to feel like an MMO player again, rushing home after work, eating at your desk with your red eyes burning from staring at the screen. Never mind sleep, sleep is for the weak!

While I take a precious break from playing the game, just a few (far from all) blogger highlights that caught my attention:

  • Bhagpuss is at his usual, delightful posting speed, sharing many interesting GW2 details with a sharp eye and overall impressions. He is also asking the question of how serious that future “events desertion” worry truly is, considering that fun is an individual factor in MMOs and that frankly, this issue is far from new nor unique to GW2. Personally, I call premature hype on the matter. Yeah, it remains to be seen what happens to some of the mass events later in the game. Tadaaa!
  • The ever keen-witted Klepsacovic compares WoW’s hegemonic influence to the stereotypical American tourist, lacking the open-mindedness to accept different cultures as equal. While most MMO players tend to vigorously compare games they play, there must be room for a new game to do its own thing and also time granted to evolve in areas WoW had years to polish. No doubt, there is a fraction of the MMO population approaching GW2 with very WoW-tinted glasses right now – alas, that really is their loss! Or as Syp from Biobreak recently pointed out so beautifully: “I keep thinking, if you can instantly dismiss GW2 and hop on the backlash wagon, there’s just no saving you whatsoever.”
  • Meanwhile, Chris from Game by Night struggles with playing his Asura thief; something just feels wrong with that particular race-class combination! He goes to explain how especially in GW2, the accomplished overall story and setting for the five races impact heavily on players’ class choices. I’d be interested to hear how others feel about this issue!
  • Rohan takes a stand talking about all the ways in which GW2 does not appeal to him, naming lack of story, combat mechanics and character models as main offenders. I think he makes some good points, although I disagree completely where combat and events are concerned. It was interesting to read all the balanced comments to his post – yes, the blogosphere can actually deal with nay-sayers! Whoever expected a flock of trolls to show up for that article got disappointed.
  • KTR, namely Ravious and Zubon, have been busy bees sharing their GW2 launch experiences, covering a lot of ground: Zubon is “full of love” for all the ways in which GW2 let’s you complete heart challenges, while Ravious highlights the not-to-be-missed meta-events (!) and comments on ANet’s unorthodox, yet effective way of dealing with their community. I was impressed with that reddit thread; while ANet could have communicated more here and there in the past, it does feel like they’re much more active and approachable ever since official launch. (Considering there’s still so much to fix in the game, that is a good thing.)
  • And last but not least, Keen turns a critical eye on the speed at which the first GW2 player reached max level, already during head-start weekend. Is this a sign of bad pacing in the game and something developers should/could prevent in MMOs? I agree – leveling in GW2 is rather fast, it seems to happen in spite of you. However, this also steers focus away from the whole leveling process which is quite enjoyable. The fact that the gem store still offers EXP boost items is somewhat baffling in that context!

Naturally, all these short summaries are meant as teasers and you should absolutely go and read up on all articles! So much for today, with no doubt more to come. Happy Moday everybody, inside and outside of Tyria!

[GW2] Light Armor Styles and Sets, Levels 1 – 35

One of the wonderful things about GW2 armor sets is the detail and of course the dye system; even if many items look similar, it never feels as if everyone around me is wearing the same stuff. Gear looks different on a tall Norn than it does on other races and with the endless color variations, you get a way more individual look for players than in most other MMOs, already at a low level.

Another nice thing to notice is that instead of limiting armor classes to very specific materials, such as cloth, leather or mail, GW2 introduces light, medium and heavy armor. This means in terms of fabrics and material, there’s a lot more variation for every class in what they can wear. My Elementalist is currently adorned in a mixture of cloth, leather, fine metal and bone. Depending on the gear I choose, I can look like a classic caster clad in soft silks or then a tribal warrior princess. Even the dyes will react to different materials: if you use the same color on a soft fabric, it will produce a fuller color than for an obvious leather strapping for example. I love this level of authenticity!

Naturally, like I did for Skyrim or WoW before, I’ve had a look at what armor sets and generally shiny gear combinations GW2 has to offer for my level range and armor class. My bank is currently stuffed with some of my favorites (seriously wtb more bank slots!) for potential transmutation use later on. For my fellow MMO fashionistas, here’s the four more unique, classy light armor styles I’ve mainly used up and around level 35, including names and some information on where I got them. Many different level items in GW2 share a model and often vendors in the same area sell stat variants of the same item (with prefixes such as “strong”, “mighty”, “honed” etc.). So, checking the market place would be another solution or alternatively Guildhead to find similar item models.

All styles are mix and match with a focus on chest, leg and shoulder pieces (I personally don’t care as much for gloves or shoes and I usually don’t display the headpiece) and no gemstore items were used. Enjoy!

(click image to enlarge)


Information (numbers from left to right):

1) Items: The entire “Oldgate set” is acquirable from the lvl 15 heart vendor located at Nolan Waypoint, west of Oldgate Clearing, Diessa Plateau. Other heart vendors in the vicinity sell same-model pieces with different stats. The set includes a rather nice hood not shown on the picture.

2) Shoulder: “Conjurer Mantle of X”, random drop, levels 30+
Chest: “Magician Coat of X”, frequent random drop
Skirt: “Magician Legs of X”, frequent random drop

3) Shoulder: “Johan’s Cloth Mantle”, lvl 26 heart vendor in Snowblind Peaks, NE of Gendarran Fields
Chest: “(Hearty) Student Coat”, frequent random drop
Skirt: “Bronson’s Bone Leggings”, lvl 28 heart vendor in The Bloodfields, NW Gendarran Fields
Note: Same-model items and matching pieces can be obtained by crafting the “Shadow Armor” set with tailoring. The patterns can be bought at the lvl 24 heart vendor in Jormabakke Stead, NW Snowden Drifts.

4) Shoulder: Norn Cultural Tier 1 armor, lvl 35
Chest: “(Strong) Country Coat”, frequent random drop
Skirt: Norn Cultural Tier 1 armor, lvl 35
Note: All unique Cultural Tier armor 6-piece sets can be acquired in the capital of each race. The first set is lvl 35 and costs approx. 3 gold in total. I skipped the chest piece due to money shortage (and not liking the huge bare midriff very much).

So, what’s to say that being a noob means you also have to look like one? Level up in style, I say! =D

A Beginner’s Guide to Guild Wars 2 Combat

I’ve been pondering a quick introduction to GW2’s combat ever since the beta weekends and now that so many players are deep down that rabbit hole, I’ve had plenty of time to analyze my own playstyle during various encounters and listen to others experiences. As many have pointed out, combat in GW2 is both similar and different to older MMOs which means depending on where you’re coming from, it will take more or less adjusting.

Naturally, the following beginner tips are all based on these personal experiences, having played several classes during beta and mostly an Elementalist since headstart. If you’re handling yourself just fine in GW2’s combat, then congratulations – this guide is not for you! If you however feel slightly frustrated with the new playstyle, things like damage taken or frequent deaths, maybe you can find something here. For myself, I know it takes time to evolve a playstyle that fits with an MMO this new and comparing notes is always the way to go for me before reaching final conclusions and judgements. I’m still learning how to properly move and work with my Elementalist and here and there I am carrying old MMO baggage in terms of combat mindset. GW2 has different, tactical elements from WoW or Rift for example and beasts of habit that we all are, I think it would be a lie to claim I am not affected, nevermind my general enthusiasm.

So, the following recommendations are sweet and simple my observations and tips for getting into GW2 combat for fellow rookies:

1) Move it, move it, move it!
Level-inappropriate mobs and bad pulls aside, the majority of all my deaths in GW2 so far can be attributed to not moving and dodging enough. I’m not just talking obvious red rings on the ground; many attacks and mob-specific specials can be anticipated and dodged with some experience. Circle- and side-strafing IS your friend to keep tougher mobs at a distance which can’t be kited as much as maybe in other MMOs (they reset quite soon). This is particularly important for all the more squishy, ranged classes out there: mobility and timing are key, which is easily forgotten while taking unnecessary hits. You can move while performing most attacks, so make use of that advantage and remember that most GW2 attacks/spells/projectiles aren’t homing missiles!

Some illustrations for the visually inclined (images expandable):

Take the hit? I don’t think so!
Use line of sight / Circle strafe while casting

If you find your fingers playing twister more than usual, consider using a keybind for lock-on-target that suits you. Obviously mouse key bindings are fantastic for various commands.

2) You have more than 5 attack abilities!
My partner commented that, having played a ranger just a short while and then reading up on it, he had completely missed much of that class’ full potential. Using a more “classic hunter approach”, he had stuck to one pet rather than swapping frequently, and within the same encounter. While at a first glance GW2’s 5 attack skills appear very straightforward, none of the classes actually only have 5 of them and they are also not “your spec”! I am not a fire elementalist; I switch elements all the time during longer fights, to cycle through AoE or kiting abilities as needed or to avoid spells on cooldown. At any given time, I have 20 attack skills to use within the same encounter. More when I switch weapons between fights.

For other classes weapons work the same way in combat, or pets, or turrets. This is your versatility – make use of it and don’t stare at cooldowns unless you want to! If you’re the type that gravitates towards a “rotation”, consider that your rotation can include a lot more than the attacks currently seen on the action bar. If you dislike the use of F-keys for switching, change some key bindings.

A note on auto-attack: At first, the auto-attack in GW2 takes some getting used to. The best way to think of it though is as your “bridge attack”; its not the strongest attack, but it let’s you cycle through different weapons, elements etc. looking for other, active attacks while not doing nothing. Considering that GW2 does encourage frequent switches within longer encounters, one auto-attack ability used as “time bridge” is incredibly well conceived an element. (You can actually re-assign your auto-attack by clicking ctrl+mouse2; I would advise keeping a no/low-cooldown ability though for obvious reasons.)

3) The show ain’t over at death!
Hunter wrote an interesting article pointing out that in GW2 parties don’t just wipe because one or two people are down. If you find yourself in a 5man dungeon for example, there’s the option to rez at a waypoint and run back to your (hopefully) still-fighting buddies as fast as your two feet will carry you. I’ve always liked this approach in other MMOs I’ve played – just because someone is down shouldn’t mean the entire group surrenders! Where’s the challenge in that? Players should be able to make up for each other and try outlast such situations. It can be an incredible rush and fun to make it despite all odds!

Obviously, having no focused roles in GW2 means it’s easier to outlast critical deaths. Roles are fluent and there are no more or less “important people” in a party, the often unforgiving way you’d have it with a holy trinity. This adds tactical and potentially chaotic elements and decreases the sort of downtime where some party members are constantly forced to kill themselves because of others. No, you can still do it – so, don’t give up yet after a death, keep fighting and/or running back!

4) Know your utilities and adapt
It’s easy to get used to the same buffs and abilities in your right skill bar, but many skills have situational value and are worth swapping frequently depending on encounters. If you notice survivability issues for example, maybe it’s worth choosing more oh-shit abilities and debuffs (blind, paralyze, slow etc.) for a while, or pets to get some mob focus off yourself. In some areas enemies use status ailments frequently – that’s when otherwise shunned dispel abilities come handy.

In general, quite a few utility skills you can buy in your character tab probably look a little “useless” at first; however, if you think of them as less permanent and more situational, things change.

5) A word on traits
It’s worth mentioning that your traits especially have significant impact on your overall powers and abilities. Unlike skills which you cannot reset (there are skill points available to buy what you need in abundance), you can reset your traits at your class trainer. Experimenting can make a great difference and it’s how your personal preferences and specific playstyle really come through and impact on overall combat. Is your gear low on a certain stat? Choosing traits accordingly will let you balance that.

…Of course, it only took me 24 levels to realize I actually had traits at first. Oh, blessed are our newbie days! All guides and good intentions aside, enjoy them is all I can tell you – they are wonderful and not here to stay!

P.S. I’ve written a similar overview for leveling and gaining experience points in GW2. It can be found here.

[GW2] …And then we didn’t fight anymore

A while ago now I posted an article on matchmaking in MMOs in which I described how, much to my personal chagrin, my longtime partner and I are incompatible when it comes to our questing “mode”. This has always been something I eyed with resignation, since I’m the reason he started playing MMOs in the first place. How nice would it have been to explore and level up together peacefully? Well, in WoW we only ever managed this so often.

I’ve explained and no doubt unnerved a few of my readers with all the ways I believe cooperation in GW2 to be different, with a potential for much better than in MMOs past, recently on this blog. Alas, I have to inform you that I am not quite done yet and won’t be for a while when it comes to analyzing this particularly fascinating topic. Now that we’ve begun to immmerse ourselves in the real Tyria, this will be an aspect to revisit and re-examine, to see where expectations were adequate and where I set my hopes too high. I know that especially longterm things will probably look quite different from right now, now that everybody has just started off and quest and event areas are crowded with new folk. This very real issue applies to all MMOs I’ve ever played.

And then we didn’t fight anymore

Back on topic, one thing I did not dream of was for GW2’s questing experience to not only prove generally more enjoyable for myself, but more enjoyable for myself plus my partner! When the borked overflow mechanics actually allowed us to, we’ve given exploring together several shots over this last weekend. Lo and behold, not only did we not bicker the way we used to but enjoyed killing things together (oh, the romantic moments among gamers!). I could actually run off and gather that “peacebloom” (formerly known as warbloom…) without calling things to a halt. He did not wait impatiently or worse, keep pulling and killing himself while I trailed off somewhere else entirely (and yeah…I do that). There is no such coordination and focus needed to constantly do the one thing at the correct time; there are no roles and hence co-dependencies, so when one of us is off to gather or sell items, the other one simply continues to look after himself. Or in other words: if you die, it’s your own bloody fault, pal!

“Ohh, teh harmony!”

Looting too is no topic anymore: “do we choose group loot or FFA?”, “you still need to loot that corpse over there!” and “how many more do you need??” are non issues. These may seem trivial changes and petty issues to somebody else, but for me our past questing experiences together were constantly disrupted by things like that. Now, loot is something that just “happens” while you’re off exploring – just as leveling up is. As an explorer, I love for the focus to have shifted thus.

More recent, unexpected revelations

Another thing I sure did not expect to happen, is that I actually choose to switch to water spec with my Elementalist quite often to spare allies some healing during bigger and tougher events. I’ve declared quite publicly before how fed up I am with the healer role since WoW – and I still am. Only, in GW2 it’s not a role and more importantly: it’s not a role I’m expected to have. And that is probably precisely why I enjoy to include some healing in my greater rotation again – because I am not expected to! Nobody is taking it for granted and I will sure as hell not get a hard time for not healing anybody. I believe every or most GW2 classes have an area heal like that (for example Engineers have a healing turret) and while CDs are long and it’s nowhere near an all-powerful tool, it gives you a sense of support and versatility. It’s fun!

…See how I am reacting towards this lack of “pressure” or rather entitlement? Now don’t get me wrong – I know if you play a healer in WoW you should want to play a healer and can be expected to heal (demanded to too?), that’s natural. However, having played a holy priest for years myself, I got really fed up with the way my role was treated by many, especially public groups; the way blame was usually appointed and how it was just a given that priests are heal, buff and ress-machines. In GW2 healing is appreciated more for its sparseness instead of being “your job after all”. Or as the ever-insightful Tesh recently commented in my topic on individualism vs. collectivism:

“That which we are forced to do, we do grudgingly, and good memories stand out for their rarity. That which we choose to do, we do gladly, and bad memories stand out for their rarity.”

I have a feeling we’ll see a lot more of that over the coming weeks. I am excited to see what else will reveal itself over time as I level my character in GW2. At this point, technical aspects aside on which I fully agree with Klepsacovic, I got no reason for complaints.

[GW2] Panaroma Screenshots

“I see trees of green…….. red roses too
I see em bloom….. for me and for you
And I think to myself…. what a wonderful world.
 
I see skies of blue….. clouds of white
Bright blessed days….dark sacred nights
And I think to myself …..what a wonderful world.”
Lion’s Arch – Full res version here

 

Queensdale – Full res version here
Godlost Swamp – Full res version here
Shiverpeaks Mountains – Full res version here
Snowden Drifts – Full res version here