Guild Wars 2 Shadow Behemoth

How was it for you?

In one of the most anticipated gaming weekends of the year, hundreds of thousands of players rampaged through Tyria in the first Guild Wars 2 pre-purchase event. I am thrilled that I can engage with readers/viewers/listeners/telepaths who have actually played the game — as well as those still pondering jumping in.

It was fascinating to watch the variety of reactions to GW2 — including a few that made me scratch my head somewhat.

So in order to try and process the sheer size of the experience over the last few days, here are my top seven thoughts on Guild Wars 2 and the initial response from the players.

1) Once More Unto The Breach…

WvW was an absolute smash hit.

Eternal Battlegrounds were full through the weekend on various servers. What many didn’t realize was that you could go to the other borderlands in order to get some massive PvP going on. My favorite scenic route was heading to the garrison at Lion’s Arch, where there was a portal for each map — red, blue or green borderlands included.

Last night the GuildCast brigade went on the rampage along with 60 members of the GAMEBREAKER community to pwn faces and take names. After realizing that you couldn’t take the opposition’s names, we just focused on pwning faces.

Heading into the Blue Borderlands, I ran around with a few folks to take the Temple of Storms in the middle of the lake. This fun addition to the map — that many hadn’t known was there — is a weather generator that can be powered in order to damage the opposition with the weather. Ridiculously cool.

Communicating across guilds — more on that issue later — Larry “Shaddoe” Everett and I coordinated the two GAMEBREAKER collections “Agreeance” and ” W A Space” to meet up with Elisabeth Cardy and Richie “Bogotter” Procopio in four hours of utter blissful mayhem.

I’ll deal with that in a specific post and video later in the week. But as a quick overview:

  • Arrow carts hurt
  • Siege Golems are bloody awesome — cheers, Carmex and Air Stegalkin for running ours.
  • The challenge of taking a well defended fort can be monumental — as was the satisfaction of taking it.
  • Communication makes all the difference. When the team chat is fully implemented it will be invaluable.

On that last point, when running around on your own it could feel confusing. The sword icons on the map will appear and disappear quickly in many cases. Some of those fights are simply a crew crossing the land and taking out some NPCs along the way. Being social in WvW takes a fun time and makes it into something truly special.

Every great game has moments that you can recall instantly and that you talk about fondly for years — often leading to people remembering they’d left the oven on back at home, oddly — I already had one of those evenings in Guild Wars 2 and it hasn’t even launched yet.

2) I Wanna Hold Your Hand.

There was a lot of confusion around this weekend.

There are things that need looking at in order to ensure that the information the player needs is available in-game with a little effort and willingness to explore. Not having the gathering tools on the respective tradeskill merchants was one small item that could cause unnecessary frustration — the tools were on regularly named merchants, ArenaNet has already said they’ll make them more readily accessible.

That was one example of how some things need more ease of illumination, however much of the confusion came from years of just playing MMOs that do things differently.

I’d spoken at length about how it was going to make some adaptation to come to terms with GW2‘s lack of hand-holding compared to some games. Of course there isn’t the vast depth of community-created guides and so on that will be there soon enough to support those who need it. But Guild Wars 2 requires you to go exploring, not just for new places of interest but of your own character and many of the game’s mechanics.

I saw some complaints from people that they had spent too much time in the same area against similar mobs. The obvious response is “Then go somewhere else.” But many players are so accustomed to absorbing all of the content of one area in order to go to the next one in a linear fashion that it was actually confusing to be perfectly able to pick and choose events in a location, or ignore them completely and go roaming elsewhere.

Things are much more open in Guild Wars 2, if you want to change your scenery — some utterly spectacular scenery at that — there are plenty of other places to explore, don’t wait to be told where to go, just find them.

It’s the intrinsic beauty of the game in my opinion, the ability to get lost in such an expansive world is one of the things I love the most about it.

For some it was genuinely confusing.

I can completely understand this, but I hope people adjust to that different paradigm of gameplay, it is incredibly rewarding.

3) Full to Overflowing

The overflow system works fantastically well.

Some people might start throwing things at me for saying that, but hear me out.

There were many complaints that the overflow system had separated players from each other, inhibiting the fun of playing with friends which is utterly essential to Guild Wars 2, both in customer satisfaction but from how intrinsic that social element is throughout the game’s design. That is a perfectly valid complaint.

There are some things to take into account:

  • Not working as intended. ArenaNet stated on the forums that there was an issue causing the separation that was being addressed.
  • If you formed your party then headed to one of the cities — or any zone that wasn’t full — then had the leader open a new map, the system managed to keep many groups together from then on.
  • Would you rather be separated from your party on an individual adventure, or separated from your party watching a queue counter?

There are things that need to be worked out, but the system itself worked beautifully. My play experience was very rarely interrupted even on the busiest server in the game — Darkhaven was a bit popular. Folks have howled in righteous indignation from having to sit in queues for hours at a time even at launch in many games.

ArenaNet certainly has a challenge on figuring out how many servers will be needed and how to handle the concentration of populations that often happens — taking care of lag issues, overuse of overflow etc. Some of our good friends and colleagues were unable to come play with us this weekend due to the servers being so busy.

I was gutted about that.

But that is an entirely separate issue to the overflow system.

One that every MMO has to contend with.

4) On The Ball

ArenaNet has things nailed down behind the scenes.

Many people suffered with lag pretty extensively on Friday. A quick patch later and things improved immensely.

The initial server rush had caused big imbalances in WvW. Some servers had dominated so quickly, that the others struggled to get out of their own area. In response, switches were flicked, levers pulled and dials twisted — apparently I think Guild Wars 2 is maintained by The Wizard of Oz — and servers were quickly switched around. The balance was suddenly much closer and the entire experience blossomed.

The flexibility in the core management systems of the game were plainly obvious.

This is incredibly encouraging for the work being done between betas and the responsiveness of the dev team when the game goes live.

A lot was learned in observing the game “in the wild” this weekend, the next beta event should be an absolute cracker.

5) Kids Meet Candy Store

To say I like the guardian profession is like saying The Hulk can get grouchy.

A slight understatement.

What I got chance to do this weekend was flit in and out of different professions and get a feel for them.

I was blown away.

Not only were they all very distinct in their style and approach, they were all very easy to pick up, but constantly surprising.

I never thought of a greatsword wielding mesmer as being a viable option. Not only was it viable it was ridiculously fun.

I was very quickly smitten by the elementalist, the versatility of being able to switch between some ferocious AoE damage, to fantastic healing and support along with the phenomenal look and feel of it was dazzling.

The engineer was some John Woo fun out of the gate — I just need doves flying by as I let off some rounds from my dual pistols — and just kept getting better.

Every profession I tried started out fun and then got better as I learned the options available organically. I loved not being lead around by my nose, not having to hit buttons at the prescribed time that my rotation demanded. Instead as a situation occurred, I experimented and trial and error taught me how to best adapt.

I think they call it learning.

While rampaging across the lands in WvW I was having trouble catching up with the opposition as soon as they started running. So for the open ground fights, I put my staff as my switch choice and put my mace in my bags to replace it with a sword.

It completely changed the conflict for me.

I’d drop Symbol of Swiftness just ahead of me, get a speed boost to close the gap — as well as give the same boon to my slaughter-happy companions — then hit my weapon switch key and use Flashing Blade to teleport to my target and unleash hell.

No one told me to do that, it wasn’t in a tooltip, it just made sense as soon as I saw what the problem was and thought about how I could solve it.

The flexibility and depth of each profession is utterly staggering. It will take time to learn how to master your favorite character type. You will not have icons flash/grey out/make a noise in front of you to tell you when you need to do something. You will have to learn it by playing.

I bloody loved it.

6) Everything Is Bigger In Tyria

Due to setting up a few guilds, I spent an inordinate amount of time in Divinity’s Reach.

I got nowhere near seeing the whole place this past weekend.

If I had specifically gone on a completionist, obsessive compulsive tour, of course I could have got to all of the points of interest and waypoints.

But the experience just does not implore you to do that.

I mentioned in one of our live streams this weekend, that how obvious is the effort that has been poured into this game.

The stature of Dwayna rests near the heart of Divinity’s Reach at an upper tier. It looks great and overlooks a huge, multi-levelled road that looks spectacular. In many games, the designers would have been happy with that visual feature and seeing that the area is so big, left the immediate vicinity for more homogenous backgrounds of houses and streets. Instead, 30 yards away there is a hallway with a truly beautiful walk-through aquarium.

Being willing to produce such obvious design standouts so close to each other shows how utterly fearless the design team is in putting layer upon layer of immersion around you as a player. Divinity’s Reach is brobdingnagian in scope, but there’s never a spot that’s just filler to take up room.

It’s all individual, handmade and gorgeous.

If you want to see what a labor of love looks like, walk around Divinity’s Reach. Or The Black Citadel. Or Hoelbrak.

And certainly Lion’s Arch — more on that later this week.

7) Beta Is Like A Box Of Chocolates…

…it’s perfectly easy to know what’s inside it as long as you read the instructions — sorry that Forrest Gump line is one of the dumbest in history.

There were a number of bugs.

There were three GAMEBREAKER guilds. After Saturday afternoon, I could only see the one guild that I wasn’t the leader of. This made invites and a number of other things very difficult.

Did I wail and gnash my teeth?

Well, yes but that was due to getting thumb cramp after a marathon PvP session.

Of course, in response to the bugs, I brushed it off with the phrase “It’s beta.”

There were frames per second issues not evident in the previous press event. A quick look at the forums — I’m staggered by how many folks never went there — showed that optimization was not in place and that the game was CPU locked.

Of course these things are frustrating, but for an immensely good reason:

The rest of the game was working so well, people were having such a good time, that those issues were comparatively highlighted.

There are server balance issues, a lot of optimization needs to be done, niggling problems that can be barely noticeable or very restrictive on an almost random way are evident.


This is beta. Not Sparta.

Personally, I think it went incredibly well as this was the first time the game has operated on such a scale. Right now the devs at ArenaNet are looking through some vital analytics through particularly bloodshot eyes. All of it will inform where the game goes next.

Already some things have changed since the previous version — including the experience orb chests being removed — and I cannot wait to see how the next beta weekend goes.

From what I’ve seen so far, I’m definitely not alone.

So the big question is the one I asked a couple of thousand words ago:

How was it for you?

For more thoughts on the BWE, be sure to tune into our livestream of GuildCast each Tuesday — normally at 6pm, but on May 1 at 8pm Pacific.