Tough Love

RIP sitjumping and sleepjumping. I’m a little sad to see it go, It was fun while it lasted.

I’ve had a lot of good things to say about Guild Wars 2, but this post is going to be about some instances where the game needs work. I should clarify what I mean by that, because the fact is AAA games routinely ship at the level of quality and polish of the most recent beta weekend, receiving and deserving high praise. GW2 is shaping up awesomely. However, as a fan and a long-time Guild Wars player I know ArenaNet is capable of more, of doing even better, and it would be awesome if my feedback helped the game’s development. I hope that my criticism is more helpful and constructive than the idle whining often seen on forums and in /map chat.

My most detailed criticism concerns event scaling, specifically for groups of 20+ players. I hinted at this in a comment on The Pale Tree and I’ll expound here–it seems like outside of specifically-marked Group Events like the Shadow Behemoth or Blood Witch, a sufficiently large group is basically indestructible. Players can stand in one spot and pump an absurd amount of damage into one target/location, killing most monsters instantly. This is a problem because my individual contribution to the group effort felt very small when a large group was steamrolling everything in sight. Foes often died before I could get in my big hits, or I was laying down controls but it didn’t really matter because my targets died so fast, et cetera. In other words, I lost the feeling that my character was a badass fantasy action hero.

The best way I can explain this in more detail is with an analogy to one of my favorite groups of badass fantasy action heroes of all time–the Fellowship of the Ring.

Oh hi Eddard Stark! What are you doing in Moria?

The Fellowship embodies everything that is awesome about fantasy action heroes. They’re impossibly agile, possess ridiculous fortitude and stamina, and skilled beyond reckoning in the craft of slaying evil minions. Fill one with arrows and he’ll keep on fighting till his last breath. Attack another with a giant elephant and he’ll climb it, kill its crew, and put arrows in the beast’s brain without breaking a sweat. Most of all, they can win against all odds in a last stand. Good fantasy games, including GW2, make the players feel this way when they win.

But when I’m in too big a group in a poorly-scaled event, I don’t feel like Legolas or Aragorn, I feel like one of these orcs. I’m in this huge epic battle with my crude spear, and my best bet to help out is to just stab whatever I can before the people next to me do. My contribution to the fight is small and identical to everyone else’s.

Now is a good time to talk about the events which made me feel like an orc. The first of these is Defend the Bear shrine. There was always a swarm of people at the Bear shrine because of the Renown Heart tied to it, so to use my analogy I was only ever an “orc spearman” in this event. As soon as the Sons of Svanir spawned they would walk into one of three spots and immediately die at the hands of a dozen players. Another example of this was centaur bridge repairs–even if centaurs came in large groups, they converged on a single point only to be swallowed whole by a mass of AoE attacks. I never once saw either of these events come close to failing.

Both of these events share what I see as the problem: the focal point of the event is one small area, forcing players on top of each other in order to get in on the action. As more players join an event more enemies are thrown into the mix, but the area that must be defended does not grow to match. Fortunately, I think this can be easily fixed. For the Bear shrine event, the Sons of Svanir spawn in a congested wooded area, but the Bear shrine is right next to some wide open shallows–just add spawn points on the opposite bank and the players will be forced to fight on multiple fronts. For the bridge repair event, rather than having the centaurs run to one spot on the west river bank, have them also jump down into the river bed and do repairs from there. Send centaur reinforcements into the river bed and have them hold position to defend the workers. Have Centaur archers attack from the elevated east bank too.

In an event scaled for a large number of players, each party/subgroup or two should have its own front where it must fight as a separate unit. After all, a team of 20 Legolases would get in each other’s way.

So the key to making combat events scale is to add more fronts of battle over an increasingly large area. GW2’s maps are all very expansive so the size of an area should not be a problem. Furthermore, there are already a few excellent events which demonstrate this pattern.

  • Killing the spiders in Eda’s Orchard. The spiders spawn randomly throughout the large orchard, forcing players to spread out.
  • The aforementioned Shadow Behemoth. The Behemoth itself is huge and has tons of health so it’s not a problem that it’s a single target for everyone to slash and smash. But, demonstrating my point, when not vulnerable it spawns 3 Underworld Portals a decent distance apart from each other, again forcing players to split up and pick a portal to close.
  • Defending the submarine in Ascalon Basin. This is predominantly an underwater event, and the 3D space of underwater combat helped spread players out a lot.
  • Defeat the Flame Legion Shaman. You might be cocking an eyebrow at this one because he represents a single convergence point, but in BWE1 the Shaman was actually very difficult to get close to because of his ridiculous PBAoE abilities. However it seems like his health was decreased significantly in BWE2, so he went down before even getting out of the cave. A group of 3-5 shamen with that much health would be more challenging.

I realize that I’ve cited more examples of well-scaled events than poorly-scaled ones, but I assume that the events I’m criticizing are part of a pattern that repeats itself throughout the game. Even if there are way more good events than bad ones, that still means dozens of bad events to be slogged through or ignored. I could find more examples of events that don’t scale well and explain them, but I’d be repeating myself.

tl;dr GW2 characters are not rank-and-file soldiers fighting in tight formation, they’re badasses who need some elbow room to be fun to play. Make combat events scale in area as more players join so that each player/party can contribute meaningfully rather than as part of a zerg swarm.

Let’s move on–fortunately my other issues can be summed up much more succinctly. I think unlocking weapon skills takes too long–especially skills 4 and 5 and underwater skills. As a necromancer it also took a very long time to unlock the skills for my Death Shroud because it’s not ideal strategy to get kills with Death Shroud up. (There’s a certain irony that the final Death Shroud skill, Life Transfer, is great for getting kills.) As a warrior or an elementalist, it takes a long time to unlock all the weapon skills simply because there are so many different weapons (plus attunements for ele) to choose from. To fix this, I would simply decrease the number of kills needed to unlock the last couple of skills in a given skillbar.

Next I want to mention the dye system. While BWE2’s dye system was better than BWE1’s–it featured actual dye vial drops rather than just confusing dye seeds–the fact that dyes are character-based rather than account-based is a real sticking point with me. I don’t like it because you can’t preview your new dyes before they become permanently bound to a character. You could look at the wiki, but with hundreds of colors the one you want probably won’t be documented for your race or armor type. Sure having lots of dyes on a character reflects progress, but what good is that if you never use most of it because you couldn’t “try before you buy”? I say make the dye palette account-wide, or add some way to preview a color before binding it.

To close this out, I hope ArenaNet can implement server guesting before the next BWE–I couldn’t play with one of my friends last weekend because my server was full.

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12 Responses to Tough Love

  1. CeleOOKIE says:

    Just a short comment, with the patch that happened on Saturday evening (I believe) they changed dyes to be account unlocked versus per character. Dyes from the “dye pack” are soulbound unfortunately, which means if you receive doubles you’ll be potentially losing real world money. Something I’m not too particularly pleased with.

    • Interesting on all counts. The dye pack issue sounds like a bug–the pack should be soulbound since it’s a gem store item, but it should do a check to make sure it only gives you dyes you don’t have unlocked. Maybe it should even refuse to sell dye packs to a fully-unlocked character. Hopefully community feedback will bring attention to these issues and get them sorted out in a way we all agree is right.

  2. SlothBear says:

    Nice post!

    Re: Events
    The Bear fight was one of my favorite events so I think you are right that the scaling must have been off when you were doing it. I was doing it with like, five or so other people and it really did feel like a desperate heroic struggle.

    Re: Weapon Skills
    Yeah, they take way too long to unlock. I don’t see the point in having to unlock them at all.

    Re: Dyes
    I don’t really care much about account v. character but you’re right we should at least be able to preview before buying. I found colors named “Butterscotch” and “Shy Iris” that didn’t look a thing like you’d guess from the name.

    • Yeah, I think 5 is the sweet spot for most events, so your experience with the Bear shrine makes sense. More can work, but once you reach the 20s you can end up with the problems I described.

      My favorite defense event was in Plains of Ashford where you’re defending a Charr fort from ogres; there are two entrances where ogre forces can pour in. You can wait for them to get in or you can hold them off outside the gates. There were as many or more ogres than players in each wave, so it was really important that everyone play effectively.

  3. João Carlos says:

    It is strange, but I feel the event Defend the bear shrine diferent…. maybe because the first time I tryied it the players get overrun and killed and we had to regroup for attack the Sons of Svanir.

    IMHO, if we see the “Fellowship of the Ring” or “orc army” will depend upon how many players we have around. Take note too that when the players get to higher levels, the population at each zone will be more randomlly equal.

    • Yeah, the glut of new characters we’re seeing during beta certainly contributes to the problems with scaling we’re seeing. But, the events should still work with any number of players. Based on your and Verene’s comments, it sounds like the Bear shrine event is actually too hard with a small number, so it doesn’t scale up or down! :p

  4. Verene says:

    I actually had no problem with the amount of time it took me to unlock weapon skills – when I was playing my charr Ranger Saturday evening, I unlocked everything for axe, sword, and torch before I was level three, and I’ve unlocked every single available weapon skill on my Mesmer (it took maybe an hour to finish the torch off-hand after you gave it to me, and that was with a lot of running around).

    Last BWE I was doing the Defend the Bear Shrine event and we failed horribly. And there were about 20 people there. We wound up mustering a counter attack when I started running back and managed to fall through the top of the cave on accident, and I started ressing people from there :P

    • The weapon skill problem really showed itself with warrior (because many different offhand items,) underwater (fewer kills,) and stuff like Death Shroud. Ranger and Mesmer are pretty standard as far as weapon skills go, so I can see that they don’t need an adjustment.

      It’s interesting that I had such a different experience with the Bear shrine event than you. The event system is really versatile, and that’s awesome! It sounds like the event might have some scaling problems at both small and large group sizes.

  5. dreamyorke says:

    Really nice post, thoughtful and by no means obvious… For what it’s worth, you’ve earned a reader :)

  6. Pingback: This week in Guild Wars 2 | GuildMag - Guild Wars 2 Fansite: Magazine, Podcast, Editorials and more

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