GW2: All Classes At 80: A Retrospective

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?


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.


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.


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?

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.

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.

Things Heart of Thorns Is Doing Right

HoT City
Recently I wrote about the philosophy shifts in Heart of Thorns and why they’re wrong. The TLDR version is that, while some of the changes actually bring the game more in line with what I would have designed the game to be, the fact remains that eighty level’s worth of content is still in front of it. I still believe that, but I didn’t want to leave you with the impression that I absolutely hated Heart of Thorns, so I wanted to share a few of the things I’ve really enjoyed about Heart of Thorns.

The Revenant
The revenant (the class, not the recent movie) has been everything I love about a Guild Wars 2 class. There really isn’t a weapon combination that I hate; on the contrary, I actually hate that I can only have two weapon combinations slotted at a time. I like the way legends work, changing my role with a touch of a button. Best of all, there are decent group healing options available. But perhaps more important is the fact that they added a new class. As someone who loves nothing better than creating new alts, I hate it when games refuse to add classes. I get it, balance is hard, especially in PvP, and adding a new class will inevitably throw off that delicate balance for a while, but for me it sells the expansion better than a new zone or a level cap bump. I don’t expect games to add a new class every expansion, but if you don’t, you either shouldn’t charge full price or you should give me something really big and interesting to do with the characters I have, not just a handful of new zones.

Elite Specializations
In addition to the new class, Elite Specs have renewed my interest in several classes. The chronomancer’s shield is cool and has some nice support mechanics, the scrapper’s hammer and drones are a nice addition to the engineer’s already varied arsenal, and the thief’s daredevil spec is just fun all around. I’m not sure if it counts, but the additional defense and healing shield with the revenant’s herald spec has saved me on more than one occasion. It’s a great middle ground between the simple WoW-style skill trees we’ve seen in so many games and some of the more intimidating systems like the original Guild Wars’ dual classing or Rift’s soul system. I just hope we don’t have to wait a couple of years for another expansion before we get another set of elite specs for all of the classes.

Guild Wars 2 has always tried really hard to be story driven and fallen flat every time. Aside from some dubious decisions regarding gating areas behind (admittedly, one time) mastery grinds, Heart of Thorns has done a much better job in that department than either the base game or the living world story. It has been a lot less predictable and trope-filled than the original story (despite still revolving around slaying a magical dragon). The best move is replacing the weird looking-past-each-other (which I’ve complained about many times, so I won’t reiterate it here) with actual in-world cutscenes, and, perhaps more immersive, voiced conversations that don’t take you out of gameplay. For instance, early on there’s a moment where you meet up with some Hylek, and you talk to them as you walk to their village, rather than talking first and then walking in awkward silence as you did in many of the base game story instances. Similarly, there are times when you find NPCs outside of instances and have to stop and chat with them to find what you’re looking for.

Specialization Skins
I know I’ve complained about cosmetic fluff being the only incentive for certain content, but I love the idea that each elite spec has a themed weapon (and, in the case of the Revenant, an armor set). The scavenger hunt to collect all of the random items could only feel fun in a game where cheap quick travel points dot the landscape, and it gives level 80 players a good excuse to visit a lot of the pre-expansion zones.

All in all, despite a few annoyances, I think Heart of Thorns is a solid expansion. ArenaNet can’t help it that they made some choices when developing the base game that didn’t pan out the way they had hoped, and now they’re doing the best they can to stay faithful to the original vision while forging ahead in the direction that the majority of players want. Also, as discussed in a recent episode of the Massively OP Podcast around the 17:30 mark (I promise I’m not just linking that because they answered my question about LotRO in the mailbag section), ArenaNet has always been good at trying something new, and, if the players don’t like it, admitting it was bad and scrapping it. And for that, if for nothing else, I have to give them a lot of respect, because that’s really hard for a lot of companies to do, MMO developer or otherwise.

Philosophy Shifts in Heart of Thorns, And Why They’re Wrong

If you follow the Guild Wars 2 community at all, you’ve probably noticed a lot of chatter about the fact that the design philosophies behind the game seem to have shifted over the last few years. The changes have their good sides and their bad sides, but either way a lot of people (myself included) have seen the changes as a concession that some of the ambitious concepts around which Guild Wars 2 was designed may not be the best for an MMORPG. Let’s take a look at what some of those are.

No Trinity -> Kinda Sorta Trinity(ish)
Part of the Guild Wars philosophy has always been that you can throw any random group of characters together and have a dungeon party. You don’t need to find a group with the traditional tank/healer/DPS group makeup because those don’t exist. As long as everyone knows not to stand in fire you’re good. But with Heart of Thorns came a lot of terminology that sound a lot more like Azeroth than Tyria. Most notably the inclusion of raids, but also a few little things like a “heavy healer” (the ranger’s Druid elite spec) and tanks with taunts. That said, this is still a Guild Wars game. There may be taunts, but all they do is force the target to attack the taunter for a given period of time; they don’t actually generate extra threat. And it’s not like your raid is going to wipe every time because you didn’t have a tanked out Guardian in the mix. You may have a designated healer, but they’re going to be spending a lot more time doing DPS than they would in another MMO. In other words, kinda sorta trinity(ish).

Everything is Soloable -> Group Helpful
I almost labeled this section “Group Required,” but then decided that that’s a bit of an exaggeration. I’ve successfully soloed all of the content I’ve done so far, aside from occasionally wandering in on a group event in progress, but I’ve definitely spent a lot more time on the ground while soloing in the expansion content than I ever did in the base game, even in the notoriously frustrating Orr zones. Designing a zone that requires players to help each other sounds good on paper, and honestly, right now, while the content is new, it works fairly well. But what happens two or three years from now when the vast majority of players have completed all of the zones and aren’t interested in going back? Interestingly, this seems to be how Orr was originally designed as well, and ArenaNet has had to go back and nerf the whole zone several times, thinning out mobs and making quests and events easier, even creating a solo version of the story’s ending dungeon. Apparently they didn’t learn from Orr, because I predict they’ll be doing the same thing with Heart of Thorns within two years of its launch.

No Grind -> Masteries Grind
One of the more notable design promises that ArenaNet actually delivered on quite well in vanilla Guild Wars 2 was the idea that leveling wouldn’t feel like a chore. This was accomplished by handing out XP for, not just combat and quests, but just about every activity you could think of–crafting, gathering, events, PvP, and literally just walking around places you’ve never been. The one-to-cap leveling time is shorter and easier than any other game I can think of (there’s a reason why I have three 80s in Guild Wars 2 and in most game I’m lucky to even have one). Perhaps if the game hadn’t done this so well with Central Tyria it wouldn’t have felt so jarring to be presented with such a grind when we got to Heart of Thorns in the form of masteries. And it doesn’t help that many of them seem so contrived. Some of them, like the various improvements to gliding, seem like natural progression, but others, like Exalted Markings or Itzel Language, are clearly just barriers to slow you down so you can’t blow through the content too fast on your first time through. It has been argued that all games do this, and those that don’t get complaints that there isn’t enough to do, and, while that’s true to a certain extent, the difference here is that they didn’t do a very good job making it feel interesting.

I’m sure others could come up with more, but you get the idea. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “But you like some of those things in other games! You’ve complained before about the lack of trinity in GW2! Why would you call these things ‘wrong’ now?” The answer is that they’re making these changes too late. If the game had launched with these philosophies, it would be great. But it didn’t, it launched with the philosophies on the left, and now it’s trying to backpedal. The problem is that all of the content made under the new philosphy is gated behind 80 levels of content designed under the old philosophy. In other words, short of a radical retooling of the content that was made before (i.e. dungeons, fractals, and all of the zones in central Tyria), which we all know isn’t going to happen, people who like the kind of content in the above right column will have to dig through 80 levels of stuff that isn’t made with their preferred game style so they can get to the stuff that is. What’s even worse is trying to force the two styles together. For instance, one of the fundamentals of Guild Wars 2 that still holds true in the expansion is that there’s none of this dreaded gear treadmill stuff you hear so much about in WoW clones. Since that’s true, why would I want to do raids? While I haven’t even set foot in any of the new raids, the only reason I’ve heard so far is to get gear that’s just a new skin for gear with stats that I could have gotten before the raids existed. Furthermore, what about all of the established players who liked Guild Wars 2 because of the philosophies that it was originally built around? Sure, none of that old content went away, but you can only go so long on old content before people start to get bored and leave.

So while, personally, I’m really ok with the philosophy shifts above, I know a lot of people who aren’t. The changes aren’t “wrong” because I don’t like them, they’re wrong because they don’t make sense with the game as a whole.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also be interested in the followup, Things Heart of Thorns Is Doing Right.