GW2: Expansion Wishlist


We know an expansion is near at hand in Guild Wars 2–late Summer or early Fall based on what’s coming out of ArenaNet–but we know virtually nothing about it. Yes, there was that leak on Reddit, but I don’t like reading or encouraging leaks (though I must admit I skimmed through the images briefly) and there’s still a lot those don’t tell us. It’s a little ridiculous that we’re supposedly this close to the expansion and we don’t know much of anything, but I’m guessing that releasing too many details, maybe even the expansion name itself, would be spoilers for the end of Season 3. Kind of poor planning if so, but whatever. Regardless, I’ve been thinking about what I’d like to see in the next expansion to Guild Wars 2.

A New Race And/Or Class
Ideally, I would love it if every MMO expansion had a new race or class to experience. Too many expansions are basically just a level cap bump and a continuation of an existing story (I’m looking at you, SWTOR), but Guild Wars 2 doesn’t do level cap bumps, and it gives away Living World story updates for free, so without something more, that would seem like even more of a ripoff than in other games. New classes give me a whole new way of playing, breathing new life into even old content. You may recall that I didn’t really dig into the Heart of Thorns expansion for months because I was having so much fun leveling my Revenant. New races, too, give me an excuse to roll up an alt and see the world from a new perspective. The problem with adding races is that Guild Wars 2 has kind of painted itself into a corner with its personal story; it wouldn’t make sense for a member of a race we’ve never seen before show up and become the pact commander and slay a couple dragons years before we’ve even encountered that race. A new race would either have to start out at 80 and jump straight into the accompanying expansion (which would be kind of lame) or have a full 1-80 story all its own, which would require a lot of writing, voice acting, and several new sub-80 zones, all of which seem unlikely. Sadly, adding new classes also presents a problem. You can’t really add a new class every expansion or it will eventually become overwhelming. As much as I love creating new characters, some people don’t, and new players can be intimidated by too many options, especially if they see that some of those options (maybe the ones they really wanted to play) gated by expansion paywalls. Elite Specs further complicate the issue; assuming we add one new class and one elite spec to all of the existing classes, the new class is always going to be one behind, since it wasn’t around for the Heart of Thorns wave of elite specs. None of these things prevent them from creating new races or classes, but right now it certainly seems like it will get less likely with each expansion.

More Elite Specs
I’m pretty sure this is a given at this point. I really like almost all of the classes in Guild Wars 2 as they stand, but more choice is always better. I love the idea of being able to make major changes to the way my class plays based on what spec I choose. Classes get a new weapon, several new slot skills, and sometimes even end up being able to fill a new role (most notably the ranger’s druid spec). It’s a nice middle ground between the rigid classes of more WoW-like MMOs and the overwhelming amount of customization available in games like Rift and Elder Scrolls Online. Right now there is only one elite spec for each class, and it’s almost universally better–at least for PvE–to have your elite spec slotted, even if you don’t use the weapon that it gives. But very soon that’s all going to change, and I’m excited to see what unfolds.

More Masteries, Less Grind
I like that Guild Wars 2 has chosen to not bump up the level cap with its expansions. Level cap bumps only serve to invalidate old gear and make old content irrelevant, especially in a game with level scaling. The problem is that you really need some kind of mechanic that slows players down, a brake that keeps players from simply binging through the story and coming out feeling unsatisfied. That mechanic should be fun, and Heart of Thorn’s mastery grind wasn’t particularly fun. There were a couple of problems. First was that, if you knew what masteries you needed to progress in the story ahead of time, you could focus on those masteries as you went, and it didn’t feel so much like the game was saying “ok, now stop and grind to an arbitrary level before continuing.” But there was no way for you to know unless you looked up a guide or talked to a friend who had already been through it. The Living World stories did better at pointing out the elite spec before you ran into its gate, so hopefully the new expansion will do the same. Second, I think the system would work better if there were a whole bunch of little masteries that cost one or two mastery points each instead of each tier costing more, up to twelve for the really high end ones. I know that’s probably easier said than done, but I think it would give a better sense of progress and feel less grindy.

Flatter Zones
My biggest annoyance with Heart of Thorns was not the mastery grind, it was getting around those awful zones. There are so many sheer walls and layers on top of each other that the map is practically useless for navigating. Auric Basin isn’t bad, Verdant Brink would be tolerable if there weren’t random mastery- and hero points that you have to glide to from a boss fight in the sky, but Tangled Depths is the absolute worst. I basically only go there for the story and if I’ve absolutely run out of reasonably doable hero points in the other zones. Add to that the fact that the number of waypoints per zone in these areas is about a third was it was in the vanilla game, none of them near where you’re likely to die, and it’s just an overall frustrating experience getting around in the newer zones. Masteries make it a little easier to get around, but even with them it’s incredibly frustrating. I think ArenaNet has learned their lesson from Heart of Thorns, as the Season 3 maps have been a lot easier to get around in. Draconis Mons is the only zone with a lot of layers, and with the grappling hook-like Oakheart’s Reach mastery, it’s actually fun to get around.

A Story About Something Other Than Dragons
Two stories in a row about dragons is fine. Whatever. But there’s so much more you could do! If the living world story is any indication, I may be getting my wish, but I’m still not convinced they won’t throw a random fight with Kralkatorrik in there just for good measure. Oh, but [minor spoilers] don’t kill him, because apparently killing dragons is bad for the environment or something.

Why Do MMOs Hate Summoners?

Ultrons EverywhereMaybe it’s because I cut my teeth on RTSes before I even had an always-on Internet connection, but I’ve always liked the idea of summoner classes in RPGs. Hunter style pets are all well and good, but how much better would it be to have four or five or fifteen little minions following you around? In games like Marvel Heroes, I gravitate toward characters like Squirrel Girl, Iceman, and Ultron who involve a lot of pet management. In Torchlight II I played the Engineer because of his various bots, and one of the first mods I got into was a necromancer class. Yet in the MMO realm, I almost never play summoner types because they’re almost universally lame. For instance, in Guild Wars 2, the Necromancer has the potential to summon a horde of pets, but they don’t heal out of combat, and there’s a longish cooldown to resummon them, which is just annoying, and also they’re not really as good as just focusing on DoTs or direct damage. And, as far as I know, they’ve only gotten worse since I’ve been playing. The same can be said for the much smaller number of summonables that the guardian, elementalist, and engineer get. It’s the same story in just about every MMO I play; summoning playstyles either aren’t available or focusing on them severely reduces your damage output.

Supposedly, a lot of this is due to technical limitations; if everyone had an army of pets running around it would put too much load on the server and clients. First of all, I’ve used the “technical limitations” excuse myself, and nine times out of ten it’s simply programmerspeak for “I didn’t optimize my code well enough, and now it’s too hard to go back and fix it.” Second, aren’t they basically just NPCs that fight for players instead of against them? I know this is a gross oversimplification of something I don’t fully understand, but still, if the problem is purely one of technical limitations, shouldn’t summoners be getting more and more common as technology progresses, not less?

More plausible is that it’s more an issue of balance. In the tenuous and ever changing ecosystem that is MMO balance, I can imagine why tuning one-versus-one fights would be easier than tuning one-versus-five-little-things fights, and I can imagine it gets steadily more complicated the more players and enemies you throw into the mix; pets are part player, part DoT, and part AoE, and aren’t always predictable, especially in group settings. Still, it seems like, of all the various MMOs we have out there today–especially with so many that don’t seem to put much thought into balance–someone should have done it.

Thinking about this makes me all the more sad that I never got to play City of Heroes/Villains, as the Mastermind looks like it would be exactly what I’m looking for. Sadly I will never know, and, because NCsoft decided to rub salt in the wound by adding one of their least popular characters to their new MOBA, whatever small chance there was of an indie studio ever reviving it is pretty much dead. Hopefully one of these fan-made City of Heroes clones will pan out to be decent, but I’m not holding my breath.

GW2: All Classes At 80: A Retrospective

all-80s
I never thought I’d achieve it in any game (not that it’s really much of an achievement in Guild Wars 2). In the final days of 2016, I finally got the last of the nine classes to 80. Yes, I’ve had the Tomes of Knowledge to get them to 80 for quite a while, but I don’t like to use those without at least the majority of the work normally. I think it’s now safe to say that Guild Wars 2 has had more staying power than any other video game that I’ve played. I’m not quite sure why, but I’m ok with it. Now that I’ve got all nine classes at 80 and messed around at least a little bit with their elite specs, I thought I’d share a bit about what worked and what didn’t.

My first 80 was the engineer. I was initially attracted to the class because I thought I could play it like my STO engineer; build a bunch of turrets to support and deal damage, then finish off anything left with my dual pistols. Unfortunately, as I got closer to endgame, it became apparent that ArenaNet hates turrets, and I swapped them out for grenades and a flamethrower. Spamming giant, long-range AoEs is fun for a while, and the flamethrower is fun visually, if not terribly good damage, but eventually I moved on to other classes. Now I, sadly, almost never play engi. The addition of the hammer with the Scrapper elite spec was interesting, but not enough to hold my interest.

I have a lot of trouble deciding what my favorite class is. For a long time I said my necromancer was my favorite, and he’s still the character I did all of the expansion and living story stuff on first. Necros do lots of damage over time and their survivability is great, even for someone like me who often forgets to use the shroud form. The thief was a very close second for a while, but they tend to have a very simplistic ideal “rotation,” consisting mostly alternating between their autoattack and whatever gets them the most damage in this fight. Thieves are also lacking in the ranged damage department, which proved to be a big problem in Heart of Thorns. Now, however, my favorite class may be the revenant. Maybe it’s just because it’s newer and shinier, added in the Heart of Thorns expansion, but I really like it for its versatility. I play my revenant as a group support build, but they have great survivability, can do a little tanking (at least as much tanking as any class in a game with no tanks can do), and they crank out good DPS with either direct damage or damage over time.

The mesmer is the class I find both the most unique and the most difficult to play. Unfortunately I’ve never felt very rewarded for all of that complexity, so it’s one of my less played classes. They have some nice utilities–stealth, speed boosts, portals, etc.–but that’s never been enough to keep my attention for long. The chronomancer makes some nice additions to its selection of support abilities, but it still wasn’t for me. Also up there in the complexity department is the elementalist, who I initially hated, but eventually grew to love after I played around with the different options long enough and eventually settled on staff, alternating between fire and air. The overload mechanic introduced by the elite spec really adds a lot to the way it plays, in my opinion, giving you a reason to switch elements, but also giving you a reason to stick with that element for a while.

So what did I do to celebrate the accomplishment of getting all of the classes to 80? I promptly bought a new character slot and rolled another thief. I think I have a problem.

2017 Predictions, Hopes, and Resolutions

Well, here we are, another trip around the sun and the world hasn’t exploded, civilization as we know it hasn’t come to an end, and the MMO industry hasn’t completely evaporated. I know 2016 was getting a lot of hate, but as for me, I had a pretty good year. And I think the gaming industry–especially the MMO industry–had a pretty good year as well. I thought I’d use the first post of the year to talk about what my predictions and hopes are for next year, and what would a New Year’s post be without resolutions?

Predictions

A New Guild Wars 2 Expansion
This isn’t much of a prediction; we’ve heard very strong rumblings of a new expansion to Guild Wars 2 set in an area from Guild Wars 1. Sadly, I haven’t played much of the original Guild Wars, so I have no specific predictions there, but it seems reasonable given the direction the living world story is going. I predict that it will include a new class, probably something revived from Guild Wars 1, and a new zone that’s less vertical/gliding-focused (and, by extension, hopefully less awful to navigate). As much as I’d like to see a new race, I don’t think that will ever happen; it would be a lot of work to fit them into the existing storyline. I don’t think raids are going away, but I think we’ll also see a couple of new dungeons in 2017. I could be totally wrong on this one, but I think the community hasn’t been as thrilled about raids as ArenaNet thought, and I think they’ll finally break down and give us some new dungeons.

WildStar Sunsets Near the End of the Year
It really saddens me to make this prediction because I love Wildstar, I love its combat, I love its setting, and I love its housing, but I just don’t see WildStar lasting much longer. What’s worse is that it becomes kind of a self fulfilling prophecy; everyone keeps saying it’s dying, and nobody want to get invested in a game that’s going to shut down in six months, so no new players come in, and the game shuts down. But hey, it’s possible that it’ll just downsize and put content out more slowly than before and keep on keeping on for years to come. I really hope so. Only time will tell.

LotRO and DDO Flourish Under New Management
Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online recently went indie with developer Standing Stone studios. While the fact that they’re being published by Daybreak isn’t exactly comforting, as Daybreak has been making some weird decisions ever since it changed hands from SOE, not the least of which was the media silence and eventual demise of EverQuest Next, I think the fact that Standing Stone was willing to pick up development of the games says a lot about its future. I’ve popped my head into LotRO a few times over the last few days, and the community seems cautiously optimistic. I’ve talked to a few long-time players that say that the game was better when Turbine was indie, and hope that this is a return to that standard. It seems like the excitement is even bringing some past players back, which is always a good sign.

Kickstarter Falls Out of Favor
To say that 2016 was not kind to kickstarters would be like saying that a few celebrities died in 2016. Mighty No. 9 was a colossal failure, VR was (predictably) not as game-changing as Oculus et al. claimed it would be, the Pebble smartwatch sold out to Fitbit and canceled most of its Pebble 2 preorders, John Smedley’s Hero’s Song failed it meet its Kickstarter goal and then closed its doors just after Christmas, a variety of kickstarted MMOs suffered from setbacks, delays, and disillusioned backers, and that’s just to name the ones I was following. I think people are starting to realize that making a video game is a very expensive endeavor, and that maybe paying for it before it’s even produced isn’t the best way to motivate inexperienced developers to release a quality product. I really like the idea of crowdfunding, but I’m going to need a lot of convincing before I back anything else.

Hopes

A Strong, Traditional, Western MMORPG Appears
It doesn’t have to come out in 2017, but we really need an announcement of something to fill the void that EverQuest Next left. I’ve played EQ2 for maybe a couple hours total, and even I was extremely disappointed in EQN’s cancellation. I’m not saying that if one of these games doesn’t materialize in 2017 the entire MMO industry will be doomed to stagnation and death, I’m just hoping for this because I enjoy playing new and different MMORPGs. All of the scrappy Kickstarted indie MMOs floating around out there are nice, but I don’t know if they’re going to have the presence, impact, and drawing power that EQN would have had. I think we need a big AAA studio to come out and make a statement that, scoff all you want, but there’s still lots of money to be made in MMOs, and plenty of life left in the formula.

SWTOR’s F2P Gets Better
Star Wars the Old Republic has always had one of the most restrictive free-to-play options. I know of no other game where you have to pay to hide your head slot or have enough hotbars just to have access to all of your skills. But with the addition of the Galactic Command and the removal of weekly content passes, they’re basically telling free players not to plan on doing any endgame without subscribing. I was really hoping that SWTOR’s business model would get less restrictive over time, not more. I’m really hoping that there’s enough negative feedback that at least some of it gets reevaluated, but I’m not holding my breath.

Resolutions

Play More Mobile Games… While Exercising!
I have a desk job, and my MMO hobby isn’t exactly the most active one, so my wife and I have been looking at putting our Christmas money toward an elliptical, and I really like the idea of motivating myself to exercise by finding a game that I only play while I work out. I’ll probably be looking for something turn-based like Hearthstone or the various Final Fantasy games available on Android, so if you have any suggestions, let me know.

Spend Less On Steam, More On MMOs
I have over 350 games on Steam right now, and I’ve only finished a handful of them. Generally, the average Steam game I buy gets played for a couple of hours at most, yet I’ve spent countless hours this year playing MMOs. Why, then, do I tend to spend way more money on single-player games than on MMOs? I want to make a conscious effort to spend less on Steam and more on the MMOs I play. I just wish MMO cash shops had as many sales as Steam does.

I’ll pull this post back out a year from now and see how I did on everything. Happy new year, everyone!

My End Goals in Various MMOs

I’ve been playing a good amount of Star Wars the Old Republic lately. I’ve been meaning to get back in and see the last couple of expansions’ stories if nothing else, and Dark vs. Light gave me incentive to do that. Then recent announcements about changes to endgame that basically say that they don’t want my money unless I subscribe (cliffnotes version: no engame gear for F2P players, F2P players can no longer buy weekly passes for dungeons, raids, PvP, etc.) had me ready to ragequit, but, when I thought about it, I realized that I have literally never done a raid in SWTOR, and it’s been years since I did a dungeon with anything other than a PUG. Sure, this means that I will never expand beyond this kind of occasional, casual play that means I will give them little to no money, but still, it doesn’t mean much for the way I play right now. This got me thinking about what I really want out of my MMOs. The answer I came up with was that every game’s end goal was unique. Here are a few, in no particular order.

Star Wars the Old Republic
Since we’re on the subject of SWTOR, let’s start here. Since BioWare has basically told me the only thing I can do as a free to play player is story, that’s all I’m likely to be playing. After all, it’s what BioWare is best at, and what their focus has been on for a while now. If I skipped this expansion it wouldn’t be the first, but Knights of the Fallen Empire has me interested, so I’ll probably stick around at least enough to see the story once. I bought a couple of character slots while they were on sale, so I’ve been playing some vanilla content I’ve never seen before along with the newer stuff, which has been fun. It’s not likely to keep me in the game for long, but it’s fun for now.

Guild Wars 2
I created a new guild with some friends, and, in the first couple of weeks, the eight of us have done more as a guild than I (and several others) had done with their much larger guilds. This, combined with running the Halloween event (I finally got the Hexed outfit!), has, strangely enough, renewed my interest in the game. I’m looking to get enough hero points to finish off my elite spec on a couple of my favorite characters (necro is mostly done, working on my revenant now, as well as my healing ranger a little) and I’ve been running dungeons with friends more often. I’ve somehow never done fractals, so I’m looking to do that soon. Maybe even get into some raids eventually?

Rift
I like Rift, and I finally have a couple of characters that I like, but I’m still not sure what my goals are for this game. I’m certainly not playing it for the story, and I’m not sure I’m dedicated enough to want to get into endgame dungeons or raiding. I guess I’m just playing for the sake of a new game to level in? Nothing wrong with that, I guess.

WildStar
I actually have a decently geared Esper healer, and I was signed up to go raiding with my guild shortly before they fell apart. Finding a new guild has severely decreased my interest in playing, which is sad because WildStar remains one of my favorite MMOs, and it needs all the players it can get right now. The death of my guild has, however, freed me up to finally check out the opposite faction. I’ve been slowly but surely leveling a Dominion engineer, which has been a fun experience. I may have to level one on the Exile side when I’m done. I like the Exile faction a lot better in general, but man, their capital city is a dump. The one for the Dominion is so much prettier.

Elder Scrolls Online
This one is almost the same story as Rift. The story is a little more interesting, but I don’t have any clear goals, and the angst that comes with building a new character is paralyzing. I decided to put this one on the shelf until One Tamriel came out, but now that’s here and I haven’t decided on a character to play.

Lord of the Rings Online
Really, all I want is to simply walk into Mordor.
Seriously, though, my only goal is to see all of the world/story content in this game. I keep getting right up to the gates of Moria and stalling out. The rune-keeper class really clicked with me, and I want to get back to this one as soon as possible.

Is It Possible To Balance Melee and Ranged Classes?

It’s a perennial problem for MMOs: either melee classes have the advantage or ranged ones do. In WildStar, the constant moving and dodging out of red means ranged classes have an advantage simply because they can keep attacking while they move. In older MMOs like Lord of the Rings Online, where most of the ranged classes are rooted casters and most of the melee classes have a lot of instant casts, melee classes have the edge. From what I’ve heard about SWTOR, it seems that they’ve recently swung the pendulum; melee classes have always had more DPS/tanking potential, but many of the recent dungeon and raid bosses have included mechanics that require melee classes to move back to avoid massive damage, thus limiting their output. Maybe it’s just me, but I find that I do better with melee classes in games with action combat like Elder Scrolls Online because I’m more likely to miss with ranged attacks. Sure, this isn’t really a balance issue so much as a “stop failing” issue, and probably less of an issue in dungeons where, if it’s anything like every other MMO I’ve played, most bosses are the size of a small house, but still, this is a genre where people create massive spreadsheets of damage output to determine the META, and I’ve seen people literally complaining that one race or faction has an “advantage” over the others because their casting animation is a little more subtle.

The best solution I’ve seen to this problem is in Guild Wars 2’s, where most classes can be either melee or ranged depending on what weapon you’re holding. This allows the developers a lot of freedom when designing fights because everyone should be able to step back and hit things from range at least sometimes. Unfortunately, it also means that you really have to have at least one ranged weapon set to be viable most of the time, which is annoying because there are many classes that have two melee sets that I like (for instance, Revenant’s Mace/Axe and Sword/Shield). Couldn’t I have a whole bunch of weapon sets like Guild Wars 1?

So what do you think? Is it possible to truly balance these two class styles? Have you played any MMOs with any clever ways of bringing these two class types into balance?

GW2: My Endgame Is Indistinguishable From Leveling (and That’s Not Bad)

Incendiary Lemons level up
I bounce around between a lot of MMOs, and the one that I’ve spent the most time on in recent years is Guild Wars 2. I’ve been playing for more than three and a half years, and I have more level capped characters in it than any other MMO. Ironically, however, I’ve done very little of the traditional endgame content. Most of my 80s are lucky to have a full set of exotic gear, and not one of them has a single piece of ascended. I’ve done at most half of the explorable dungeon paths, and I’ve certainly never seen the inside of a raid. I haven’t even done anything with my guild in ages (they’re great people, and they do a lot of activities, I just don’t spend a lot of time with them). So as I pulled my elementalist, my second lowest level character who I haven’t played in probably a year or more, out of retirement, I began to ask myself why. The answer that came to me is that Guild Wars 2 has made leveling so fun that I don’t feel like I need anything else to do. Sure, the occasional dungeon run with friends is fun, but open world content is much more enjoyable for me.

Guild Wars 2 has a probably my favorite leveling experience of any MMO I’ve ever played. It suffers from neither the kill grind nor the quest fatigue that most MMOs have because the game is primarily about mapping, so you’re never doing the same thing twice in each zone. Also, because of Guild Wars 2’s level scaling, you have a lot of freedom even at a low level. I recently discovered that there was a whole zone that I had never been to. In WildStar or SWTOR I may find the occasional quest that I’ve never done tucked away in some obscure corner of the map that, but never a whole zone.

So, when I hit 80 on a character, I just go right on mapping. Sure, I may move to higher level zones, or start doing the Living World or Heart of Thorns stories, but to someone who doesn’t know Guild Wars 2, my gameplay at 80 wouldn’t look any different than the gameplay at 20. And this is precisely why Guild Wars 2 didn’t need to bump up its level cap when the expansion came out. At first I was afraid this mastery thing was going to be a gimmick, but now that I’ve actually played it, I get it. They didn’t want just another ten levels for their players to grind out and not feel any different than when they started (especially given that they stop handing out new skills for leveling so early on), they wanted to do something unique to the setting of the new expansion, because the game is as much about exploring as killing monsters.

Because I’m an altaholic, I don’t have 100% map completion on any of my characters, but if my characters could all gather together in a room and compare notes, I’m sure they’d have at least two full maps of the world between them. I feel like some day I should do it all on one character (probably my necromancer, since he’s my best geared character with most of the world already unlocked), but I really don’t feel bad about it. I’ll get around to it eventually.