[GW2 Press Beta] The Richest PvE Experience, Part 1

“Just play.” That’s been my tagline for Guild Wars 2 PvE, and really all of Guild Wars 2, but PvE especially. MMO PvE is so mired in invisible rules. Don’t kill steal. Don’t help other people. Don’t waste time doing X if there is no quest for it. Pass through these tasks because this task is gated. I don’t know how many times I’ve given up explaining these ridiculous rules to other gamers. I feel even stupider when I try to answer their simple question of “why”.

Right from the start, it’s apparent that strict theme park rides have given way to a big playground. Sure there are still rides, and even a few lines, but at least I can run around! Here’s an account of my run through the Queensdale zone especially in regards to renown hearts and player guidance.

It starts with a small starting area, which is really more of a teaser. I imagine that it’s extremely sharded with people exiting the first ride into the real world or overflow zone. I’ll be honest. These first areas are really striking introductions, which have very little worth in learning to play. Those games, like Assassin’s Creed, where players have uber-skills at the beginning, which are then stripped, feel analogous. The beginning zones are for show. In the human starting area, there are centaurs marauding the village, NPCs yelling at me to keep moving, children crying, and people running. In this one area it’s hard not to feel rushed and pushed. They are really nice storywise though; very cinematic experiences.

The Queen’s Hearts

Which then leads in to possibly the worst experience I’ve had in Guild Wars 2: the first renown heart of press beta. This little farm is under siege by worms, bandits, hungry cows, and every new player ever. There was still plenty to do to complete the heart because worm holes were respawning very quickly, but it wasn’t that fun. A worm hole would spawn, I would get renown for stomping on it. A worm would pop up to attack me and four players (including me) would all hit it once, and it would die. Extra sadly, no events for the farm happened for me while I was trying to fill my heart and leave. (Later I did come back to kill a super huge worm, which was quite fun.)

Thankfully, that was it. After that renown heart, it was fantastic. Community Manager Martin Kerstein put up a heat map showing player activity in Queensdale, and the big white blobs in the upper-left corner are where that first renown heart is. Everything else is really nicely spread out. I think that for the most part this was just part of the learning experience for ArenaNet. They needed to see this happen (hopefully only once), and now they can respond to iterate that first part a little better.

The first five levels occur in the northwest corner of Queensdale, and from what I saw in the norn zone and the charr zone, each level 1-5 area is a little more separated from the rest of the world so players don’t just run into an insta-death location.  Each heart in the map gives a rough level estimate so the game will lead players along a general leveling line. I’d say around level 7-8 it starts get a lot more open, and with many more weapon skills unlocked, a utility skill being unlocked, and a better idea of gameplay going against foes a level or two higher is managed fine. It definitely is a little more difficult to do it, but not bad.

I am a completionist. I hate leaving quest hubs in other MMOs with hanging quests. In Guild Wars 2, I had to complete all the hearts. I did end up getting 100% of Queensdale complete by unlocking all the waypoints, finding all the points of interest, completing all the skill challenges, and of course finishing all the renown hearts. It took quite a bit of time for the level 1-15 map. If I guessed it was about 6 hours, roughly, but I ignored crafting, gathering, and generally standing around admiring the game. I was on a mission. I fully expect that at launch I will spend likely double the time in Queensdale enjoying everything I can.

With the renown hearts, of which I think there were 20-something in Queensdale, never did I dread coming upon another one. I know I have dreaded quest hubs, which I have to complete, says my completionist inner-demon. With renown hearts I was very excited to see what was coming next. At one town, the heart was filled by training with local militia. There were a couple mini-games involving using weapons, such as attacking the defending soldier at the right moment to break her guard. Attacking her when she is behind her shield will knock the player back and down. There were two other mini-games involving a rifle and a shield. Other renown tasks involved trapping invulnerable crabs in traps, tricking ettins to go fight centaurs, or trying monastery booze.

Even the basic renown tasks to just kill mobs were nice because I decided how to play. In Godslost Swamp near the end of Queensdale, I could attack the mobs that I saw, help free spirits from their tormentors, which were invisible mobs that became visible when I wanted to help, or close portals to the Underworld to summon stronger mobs. Also completing events always nets a large chunk of renown.

Then once I completed a heart, the renown NPC would sell me goods for karma. The nicest were, of course, weapons and armor, which filled some gaps in my upgrades. In most other MMOs I ignore anything that makes me buy anything because 99% of the time it’s just better to stockpile. The axe bought at level 7 will be worthless in a few levels anyway, yet it felt different with karma. I wanted to keep buying all the cool stuff my new heart-shaped friend had to offer. In hindsight, it really is like they took out quest rewards usually given during the leveling process and let the player be in a bit more control. If I could make axes anyway, why would I want to waste time buying one with karma.

Light Touch on the Tiller

The most important thing is that I always felt like I was in control. The developers were saying “just play” instead of “play how we tell you.” If I wanted to run back to an earlier heart I filled to help with an event it felt rewarding. I would at least get karma. My carrot to keep playing was simply running after “fun.” If it wasn’t fun, like I preferred not to do escort quests unless a few other people were there, I didn’t do it, and I didn’t get punished. Yet, there was always the smallest amount of guidance so that I wouldn’t just feel overwhelmed or lost.

One light touch that I especially liked was that renown activities phased out of that heart was complete. It kind of simplified the UI and the area because completing renown tasks didn’t help anymore. Another was that once I talked to a scout who showed me unknown hearts on the map, the scout icon on my map disappeared. I could go talk to the scout again, but I felt as if the game was helpfully clearing away the UI for me as I went.

The one area where I did get a little lost was finding all the points of interest to get 100%. At the end of the map I had every heart, waypoint, and skill in my bag, but I was missing two points of interest. One was a cave with a jumping puzzle, which are supposed to be out of the way, explorer delights, but the other was the mansion on the northeast corner. I had been in that area many, many times but I had not actually gone up to the door icon, which is an unplayable dungeon I believe, to get that point of interest. I would’ve liked a heavier touch to help guide me to these, and I suppose that the wiki will be a siren’s call away when the game does go live.

The Player Herd

The most interesting aspect was how players reacted to the events. Swarm intelligence is one of my favorite hobby-science reads, and it was amazing how with very little communication players would react intelligently to the events. I was hanging about the Crossing Waypoint in central Queensdale. I think I might have been trying to sell some loot trash at the somewhat peaceful outpost. I saw another player or two killing wolves in the distance. An event struck, and centaurs were going to attack.

We instantly organized. The two players stayed on one front while I maintained the other. There was no question as to how we would beat this event and whether we would participate. There were no words said. We just played. Three of us in the middle of Queensdale beat back the centaur onslaught, and that was one of my favorite experiences of press beta. It was such an organic experience, that it felt like it transcended so many trappings of PvE in modern multiplayer games. This might sound stupid, but it felt to me like we were soldiers fighting the good fight together. There were many other moments like this during beta, but the this one stands out because the transition from peaceful farming to critical task was so abrupt.

More to Come

There are plenty of events, but the PvE game in Guild Wars 2 is not just about events. It’s hard to envision because the leveling game in so many other MMOs is just about quests. It’s easy, and wrong, to say that events replace quests because they really don’t. Playing how you want to replaces quests, and the world stays lively with events. The weirdest part is that I feel I barely scratched the surface of Queensdale. Yes, I achieved 100% completion, but there was so many things to explore. There were so many events I know I missed. Yet, I feel satisfied because I simply played to my heart’s content; nothing more, nothing less. I feel that’s exactly what ArenaNet wanted me to do.

In Part 2, I plan on discussing the level 15-25 zones, events and meta-events, the personal story, and even a bit of lore digging. So, stick around!

More later,

Ravious

20 thoughts on “[GW2 Press Beta] The Richest PvE Experience, Part 1

  1. Brise Bonbons

    Great read, thanks Ravious!

    One question: Did you notice much event cycling in your time, or was it hidden pretty well? It’s not a major concern of mine, but I’ve always been curious just how good a job ANet will do of hiding the underlying scripted nature of the events.

    To be clear, I think the design is elegant enough that even if you do catch a peek behind the curtain from time to time, it shouldn’t really impact the overall fun of the thing. Except maybe in the long term.

    Then again, you shouldn’t really look for the best longevity from the 1-15 content I suppose…

    Also feel free to ignore this question if you’re covering the topic in part 2 under events and meta events! I can wait. :)

  2. Jeremy Stratton

    I found your “invisible rule” comment interesting. I’ve been mauling over the similar concept, in relation to Runes of Magic and my guild.

    I, for instance, put almost zero stock in invisible rules and it pushes me outside the toy store to the street looking in through the window. Or that’s the general feeling.

    It’s these un-written “rules” purely spun from community, but yet at the core of the issue, I find them to be purely arbitrary.

    Loot rolling is one. I feel unaffected(largely) by going into a party or raid and having anyone of any class rolling on something. If they want it, they want it and I don’t give a hoot if they are a mage rolling on something better suited for a knight or rogue.

    It’s also just my speculation, but it’s these unwritten rules of etiquette – purely created and “enforced” by players – behind a moral and/or ethical tag that will drive a game like WoW to consider tightening rules, which will take away a players choice. Pretty soon, there won’t be loot-rolling because the developers will institute a solid one-way system to ensure everyone gets only what they can use, or everyone gets something.

    Without having read the entirety of the your post or knowing little about GW2, I suspect that is what they did. It makes perfect sense to me and is a foreseeable solution to the growing “rules” that players seem to want to live by.

    1. innuendo

      It’s incredibly easy in GW2. Every player who participated in the kill gets a roll on the loot table.

      In dungeons when you kill a boss you get a token that you can cash in for a piece of loot specific to that dungeon.

      So it’s highly incentive to team up. Play together and everyone gets loot, no more having to track equal share.

      1. Jeremy Stratton

        Sounds good. I’m only playing Devil’s Advocate, here, because that’s just what I do, but I’m not deriding it. Does it feel new? That concept seems incredibly self-evident, to me, as a means for equality in any MMO. Like a “no-brainer”.

        What with MMOs already gating with multiple kinds of currency: badges, tokens, etc…, it seems like it would be possible for any current MMOs to implement this into the system.

        Even if I look at the current design as wanting to use old loot-rolling as a means to get players to replay content, to extend the life of that content, you just increase how many of these tokens a player gets to later turn in.

        Runes of Magic does this right now. Everyone that goes into a dungeon, whether they get the loot or not, will get Mementos. After you run the dungeon to save up enough Mems, you can spend them at special vendors to get decent purple gear. However, in RoM,

        it’s not going to yield quite as good of loot as still winning a roll, but that’s easily changed. It’s only the specific quality of gear that RoM(or any other MMO) decided to give out via an “everyone wins” method.

        I like it, and wish RoM would just do that. They actually do have a surprisingly generous method for anyone to obtain the best stats in the entire game, without needing to run any dungeon at all, via another currency called Phirius Shells(obtained in minigames).

        But to just do it then seems like it’s not new, innovative or even refreshing, but “It’s about time!”

        1. gwj

          That’s what a lot of people have been saying about it, that it feels like more of a “duh” than a “wow”.

        2. Curuniel

          My view has always been that in something like WoW, it’s in the interests of the designers to make in inequitable and difficult to get the best stuff – if the players care enough to want it (which they will at raid level), they will repeat the content as much as necessary. Repeating means re-subscribing. Guild Wars and GW2 don’t have subscription fees, so there’s less incentive for them to make players repeat stuff – they’d rather we just had fun, and it doesn’t hurt their profits to let us. I think the subscription fees or lack thereof are at the root of it.

          1. gwj

            But for exactly that reason, for a lot of people viewing from a consumer perspective, it feels really obvious.

  3. bargamer

    I look forward to applying swarm intelligence concepts when Heart of the Swarm releases. XD (Just kidding!)

    I was rather worried when I heard about dynamic events, because I honestly didn’t know how any given player I met would react, in the absence of some sort of global voice-chat program, chatbox, or other means of communication. To hear that three complete strangers would willing snap into formation, AND WIN, is simply mind-boggling.

    1. The Ogre

      Don’t be *too* impressed. :) Just like in any other MMO, when you know waves of enemies are coming from different directions, especially simultaneously or if it’s random spawns and no convenient chokepoint, standard operating procedure is to split up and cover all paths, when possible.

      1. Tapioca Dream

        In any other MMO though, unless I had a quest to defend against those invading mobs, I’d have left the other two to their fate. Likewise, they would have done the same to me. And if we both had the same quest in the same area, we wouldn’t have worked together anyway because the measure of my success is an inverse proportion to theirs. Any kill they get is one I didn’t and vice versa. That’s the difference right there. A reward to cooperate rather than a penalty.

    2. Curuniel

      I keep reminding myself that since many if not most of the players in this beta weekend were already big GW2 fans, they are perhaps more likely to act like this than your average gamer. I HOPE that it will be common after release, though. If people do naturally behave like that, ArenaNet will have achieved something very cool.

  4. lostforever

    Ravious,

    Please talk about PvE progression at max level please.

    I really like the look of GW2 and the combat seems exciting enough. However I am not a PvP player and I want to know what is there for a PvE player to do at max level once you finished your personal story.

    It looks running dungeons will be pointless as hard mode dungeons will only give you appearance items. Is this true?

    I am PvE player coming from Everquest 2 and WoW. My worry is if there is no PvE progression at max level, then me and me fellow guild mates will loose interest in this game a bit like SWTOR.

    1. Ravious Post author

      AFAIK, there is no level 81 in terms of gear or additional stat/trait line. So after the leveling treadmill the game will not switch up and put you on a different treadmill just because your level is maxed.

      GW2 is a different game both in terms of business model and how to play. With the business model ArenaNet is not superficially forced to keep you around on a grind of a different color. You bought the game, and can play it until you lose interest. There is nothing wrong with that.

      The other thing to consider is all content is considered game-worthy because you can get sidekicked down to an appropriate challenge level. Going back to complete achievements and explore unseen content might not give you new gear better than your level 80 gear, but it will be challenging and fun. You can’t just AoE with your eyes closed.

      Finally looking at GW1, there is definite proof that working for appearance items and achievements are something a lot of people will do. I would guess that the % amount of raiders in WoW and the % amount of appearance grinders in GW1 are rather similar.

      1. lostforever

        Ah well, not what I wanted to hear but thanks for the info :(

        I understand GW2 is a different game with different payment system but I was hoping (not expecting or demanding) it will cater to my type of play style as well.

        I have played number of PVE MMO and I enjoyed progressing my characters in those games. I never considered appearance or achievements as character progression.

        I will still be buying GW2 and will quit once I got to max level and seen all the different dungeons and dynamic events at least once.

        You never know, may be I might even enjoy PVP in this game :)

        1. Ravious Post author

          I think a lot of raiders are in your boat, and that’s not “wrong.” ArenaNet has said a few times that they don’t intend to be a WoW-killer because they see no reason you can’t play both since theirs does not require a sub or similar commitment.

          Still this does seem to be a constant complaint, and it will be interesting to see if ArenaNet can find a way to cater to your play style or subtly get you to accept theirs. ;)

          1. The Ogre

            The amount of raiders in that boat will depend, I think, on how many get their enjoyment from the gear progression rather than from raiding itself. (though maybe they won’t like the complexity of GW2 raids since, like the giant bone and rock dragons they show off at the conventions, they’ll actually take effort to move the event chains in the direction needed to get the boss to spawn, as opposed to entering an instance and fighting your way through trash to the end boss)

          2. lostforever

            I am not a fast leveller. I do take my time to enjoy scenery and I like to get into the lore of the game world. So I take my time with it. May be by the time I hit 80, they may increases the level cap and I will continue to level and keep on play the game :)

            Anyway I think I understand why they are scrapping gear progression. It makes PvP balance bloody hard and lot of people who were into GW wre there for the PVP rather than the PvE so it only make sense for the dev to want to have strong PvP game.

            1. Curuniel

              lostforever, one of the things I’ve found most interesting about the posts from the beta weekend is the number of people who said they barely noticed their level or when they leveled up, they were too busy playing. Now it might just be a play-style thing and you might not find that’s the case for yourself, but I’m hoping that linear progression will be less of a thing in GW2 and other things will entertain you along the way. Failing which, the amount of stuff to get to level 80 should be worth the box price for you I hope! :)

            2. Roq

              Another thing is that WvWvW isn’t entirely PvP, the maps are really huge and there are PvE tasks to do with supplies and recruiting NPCs that the home world will need.

              I think if this takes off, it will be a large part of endgame play for a lot people and perhaps some normally PvE only players will find themselves attracted by the PvP too. That happened with Alliance battles in Guild Wars 1. Many of my own guild, who are quite stuffy about more formal PvP found that to be a lot of fun.

              I’m really hoping that GW2’s WvWvW will stimulate active competition between the servers and perhaps create an atmosphere and metagame that resembles competing sports teams.

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