[GW2 Press Beta] The Richest PvE Experience, Part 2

In continuance with apologies to Zubon for ending my Guild Wars 2 beta content a little late. Blame it on eye infections and little ones with fevers and gastronomic pursuits.

The End of Beta Game

After “beating” Queensdale, which I will return to in a sec, I headed to Kessex Hills, which is the humans’ second zone going from level 15-25. Kessex Hills is the Wild West warzone to the Queensdale bread basket. The theme of the zone encompasses the centaur battles in the north and mysterious or perilous occurrences ringing around the southern edge. One of my favorite spots was a bit of swamp in southwest Kessex Hills where a sylvari defense force valiantly defends against Zhaitans death minions, the risen. It’s nice to get a bit of sylvari feeling in a “human” zone with their Shadowheart defensive post filled with strange fauna, but the risen bring a new bit of gameplay pervasively found throughout the zone.  The mobs are starting to get more tricks in their “classes”.

There is a brute risen, who appears always crippled. They walk about with one working leg holding a huge 2-handed hammer, and if they get close to player multiple knockdowns are imminent. Any players that have not learned to attack and move will learn to do it the hard way against the brute risen. Then there are some small asura risen. These guys work themselves into a gremlin frenzy and run at the targeted player like a fast zombie. They are glass-jaw attackers, but seeing something running at me at double the pace with an attack buff was a bit unnerving. The quaggan risen, if I recall correctly, were the ranged risen in this area that dealt poison. A bunch of these types of enemies all moving about in one area creates many different tactical situations that I needed to adapt to on the fly.

The centaurs, bandits, and destroyers (lava dragonspawn) all follow suit. Players that ignored things like dodging, weapon switching, and even simple combat movement will quickly learn all these things if they want to retain any sort of efficiency. One enemy bandit that I hated, in particular, dodged my attacks himself by rolling out of the way. How dare he use one of the player mechanics! It is a good time for a warrior to learn a ranged weapon or a ranger to pick up a melee weapon to be able to respond to the different threats. Still, I wouldn’t say that it becomes any sort of rock, paper, scissor game; it just becomes apparent that having 5 extra weapon skills in the toolbox really helps.

The starting zone does feel a bit more relaxed. There are plenty of areas in Queensdale where even a soft-armored necromancer can stand in one place and use skills regardless of the mob. Player efficiency will skyrocket if one simple tactic is used: circle-strafing, but it isn’t necessary. The ability to use skills and move does not make an active combat system when the mobs don’t care either way. I have a feeling many players, such as I, are going to wonder where this exciting active-combat system is going to come in to play. It comes in to play in the level 15-25 zone.

The sidekicking system was also really well done. As a level 30+, I journeyed into the Diessa Plateau (charr zone, level 15-25) with my human to experience some of that content on a developer’s tip. Even with my elite skills and better traits, there were definitely some challenging content as I was down-sidekicked automatically to the appropriate sub-zone’s content level. It is quickly apparent that there won’t be situations where I can just close my eyes and AoE until everything I over-aggro dies simply because I am 10 levels above. Missed or overleveled content will actually have to be played.

Events and Meta-Events

In the north of Kessex Hills there are constant battles between the centaur-folk and the Seraph, which seem like the human National Guard. These battles are expressed to the player as a meta-event. First, I have to talk briefly about events.

When an event occurs the UI updates in the upper-right to let players know what the heck is going on. The mini-map also helps unveil objectives. There are large gaps in some event chains though. For instance after a defensive post is rebuilt in Queensdale, which is one event, it might be quite some time for the centaurs to attack the post, another event. This tale of the defensive post as a wood bastion against the evil, hoofed monsters, while linked together, is not so much a story as a string of related occurrences.

A meta-event is a story encompassing multiple events. Like the event UI, when a player is in a meta-event zone the UI updates to let a player know the status of the story. In Kessex Hills, the centaur-human battles can encompass multiple events at once each at different battlefield objectives leading a player to attack on multiple fronts. Some of the meta-events have “win points” too while others, like the centaur-human battles, have lulls instead.

In the Godslost Swamp of southeast Queensdale, a shadow behemoth will rise out of a meta-event. Unfortunately, I did not get to play the whole meta-event as I always seemed to arrive during the shadow behemoth fight, if at all. In Diessa Plateau, there is the Flame Legion Battles meta-event, which are a chain of capture objectives between the allied charr and enemy Flame Legion. If players can push the Flame Legion all the way back, the Flame Legion actually open up a mini-dungeon called the Font of Rhand. Players can all enter this puzzle and trap-filled dungeon en masse. The open-world dungeon is closed unless the meta-event is beaten. I died a stupid death in the Font of Rhand, alone and stupid, and when I finally warped back near the dungeon entrance the Flame Legion had closed off the dungeon portal as they had reclaimed a part of the meta-event.

Meta-events are great, but sometimes it feels hard to delineate between a simple event chain and a meta-event. I was a little disappointed that one of the last bits of Kessex Hills, the Shadowheart, where the sylvari battle the undead risen, did not have a meta-event attached even though it had a constantly-active event chain. The meta-event in Godslost Swamp, on the other hand, seemed mostly inactive except for the UI portion. If the Godslost Swamp meta-event activated it must have been completed rather quickly from start to shadow behemoth death finish. The meta-events in Kessex Hills appeared to be unending wars. So, it just becomes a little confusing seeing how they plan on using meta-events.

I guess my biggest beef is with Secrets of the Swamp meta-event in Godslost Swamp. I spent a lot of time in the area trying to be part of the meta-event, yet most of my time was spent staring at the ‘swamp is all quiet’-status identifier. If the meta-event is going to be inactive or “won” or peaceful 95% of the time then it feels like a red herring to keep it up on the player’s UI. The meta-event identifiers for the rest were quite appreciated because if there wasn’t activity, it was always on the verge of activity. They act like beacons to draw player activity where it is usually needed.

One thing I really liked about Queensdale and Diessa Plateau was that it felt like there was a capstone to the zone. There was a thing to beat even if the majority of the zone wasn’t aimed at that event. ArenaNet has said there would be chains of events leading up to the two dragon bosses we’ve seen, and I am excited to take part in the open-world meta-event that would summon the dragon bosses. A culmination for a persisting zone is a nice way to move on rather than simply wandering across the next portal.

Hidden Bits and Lore

Before I head on to the final leg of PvE, the personal story, I want to take time to note all the hidden bits in each PvE zone. There is life everywhere. Children run around laughing. Seraph attack centaurs regardless of player activity. Quaggan are taken as krait slaves. Ettin fight destroyers over land rights. If time is taken to stop and smell the roses, players will definitely notice a ton of energy was taken to add all sorts of virtual life to each zone. This isn’t even touching the cities, which are absolutely teeming with activity.

There are also hidden gems around the PvE zones. Jumping puzzles are one such gem that will likely become wiki bait fairly quickly, but there are tons of other out of the way places that reward explorers. My favorite was a hylek village secreted away through an underwater tunnel in Kessex Hills. There’s a friendly giant living a hermit life in a less traveled part of Kessex Hills. There are secret underwater passages in the norn starting area, and I also really enjoyed the overlook near Beetletun in Queensdale.

Many of the hidden bits can be found in talking to NPCs. A human’s first meeting with the bird-men tengu will occur in southern Kessex Hills where destroyers are teeming out of a magma pool. There is also a huge wall blocking the southern portion of Kessex Hills, and the local renown NPC is a tengu. Mechanically, simply killing the destroyers will show players that the tengu NPC appreciates that, yet if a little time is taken to chat up the local tengu then players can learn about the wall, the tengu, the destroyers, and all sorts of things. For another example, in the Shadowheart area there is an event to stop some elite undead krait from raising an undead army to sweep the area. One sylvari pontificates on the relationship between the elder dragon of death, mastery of death, and the krait.

All these small things cement one huge point. Players that take the time to explore will get rewarded with fun experiences and trivia. Sometimes, like in the hylek village there will be things for sale, but ArenaNet made sure to reward explorers in a way I feel the E’s will appreciate.

Personal Story

The last pillar of Guild Wars 2 that I haven’t discussed yet as part of my press beta experience is the personal story. Although I played a handful of characters, my main personal story experience was as a human street rat that never found his sister’s body. There are other character creation questions that I answered, but I am pretty sure my socio-economic origins and my biggest regret started the path for these two story branches. I’ll try and be as spoiler-free as possible.

Guild Wars 1 players will feel immediately at home in the personal story because they operate like the “personal story” found within Guild Wars 1 missions. Players join an instance where their character is the center of attention. There are conversations, mysteries, and problems that act out more like a T.V. show than the organic experience in the persistent PvE zones. The main difference is that players will have choices, which will impact later stories as well as the character’s personal instance. These choices act as a tapestry of the player’s decisions and the character’s personal story. For vaporous example, if I decide to go save a friend, that friend could become part of the personal instance from then on, but if I forego saving my friend’s life, another NPC would fill that spot. So it’s never a “wrong choice is made” instance I feel in many BioWare games, where I feel I have to be the good guy to get more content. It’s more of a “which color for my tapestry”-decision.

Anyway, I enjoyed the personal story part of things. It was a nice guidemap to the PvE zones as the personal story does its best to correspond to play area and character level in the PvE zones. The instances were challenging and complete. The stories were pretty good too. But, I still feel like the decision-making part was what kept me coming back. The branches diverged at a wide angle so it didn’t feel like the end outlet would be about the same regardless of my decision. My favorite decision was made at the start of fixing my biggest regret when I was asked what my human nationality was. This was a character creation question expertly planted in the middle of a personal story. I had not even thought about it, but I stood there for five minutes trying to decide. I didn’t care about the results of the answer; I cared about the question. Making decisions like these is what I feel will keep players coming back to the personal story.

Conclusion

ArenaNet has made a really rich PvE game in Guild Wars 2. The original design was well thought-out, and although there are a few rough spots in the crush of content, the system holds together amazingly well. The constant activity of the renown tasks keeps players around for the fun events, which can lead to some pretty epic culminations, and the personal story gives players the feeling that they are the hero of this story. There are hidden gems throughout every area of PvE, and there is life everywhere. Then dungeons combine events and personal story into a shared group experience sure to challenge everybody. Rarely did I feel that the area I was in was simply a checkerboard placement of mobs for me to kill regardless of my actions. Rarely did I feel that anything was filler. There were no “Kill Ten Rats.”

My biggest regret was that I went so fast. I tore through content to be able to write content here. I enjoyed everything, but I didn’t give it a chance to sink in, which might be a good thing because right now I am absolutely fiending for more. I feel I came across the most complete, richest PvE experience in an MMO, and everything else seems to pale in its shadow. ArenaNet has raised the bar for MMO PvE, which is a great thing for our genre.

–Ravious
Abbasso la Kill Ten Rats!

34 thoughts on “[GW2 Press Beta] The Richest PvE Experience, Part 2”

    1. He’s talking about PvE and the first thing that comes to your mind is “DAoC2”? Seriously? ;)

      Nice writeup – definitely looking forward to it.

  1. Another nice write up. I think you are one of the few people on the web who is writing about PvE aspect of the game.

    Even after reading lot about GW2 PvE after this beta weekend, I am still very puzzled why they even have levels in this game. They seems to serve no any meaningful purpose in game.

    You don’t need to have character levels in order to have PvE progression. What they should have done is stick with max level of 20 (like in GW1) and may be added parallel side progression in the forms of alternate advancements etc.

    1. I think they reverted for two reasons:

      (1) to provide some linear flow, in my case going from Queensdale to Kessex Hills all the way up to Orr, apparently. It’s a big game and just throwing down a huge amount of PvE content with no direction is worse IMHO than putting up rails.

      (2) to keep it simple. Alternate advancement could be complex. Like what if you needed to build a resistance against Orr magics to get to Orr, but then needed a separate resistance against Inquest or Jormag’s ice minions….

      ArenaNet opened up the railing a lot since you can sidekick up by grouping and also level in WvW. So while I agree that you don’t need character levels to have PvE progression, I do think that they serve a purpose in Guild Wars 2.

      1. I had to comment that “just throwing down a huge amount of PvE content with no direction” is a good description of Skyrim, which is a phenomenal success. Levels are in Skyrim but they don’t determine what you can or cannot do. I’m not sure I can go back to glowing level numbers telling me whether I can defeat the monster or not, or whether I “should” be in an area or not.

        BUT it seems to me GW2 is attempting to do something like Skyrim – they cannot adjust the content to the players progress but they can downsize the player instead. The outcome is much the same, i.e. that you are sort of free to roam all over the world no matter what level you are, and not worry too much about whether you are “supposed” to be in this area or not.

        MMOs need to become more sandboxy again and I hope GW2 is taking the genre in that direction.

  2. Personal story choice details nomnomnom!

    We, I mean, this was a really satisfying writeup that got to the nitty gritty so much other press didn’t get to. Much appreciated!

    1. 100% agreement. A really fun read, and much greater detail than I’ve seen at many other stops around the interwebs.

  3. I could read your musings on guild wars 2 all day :)

    As mentioned above you have really put the paid press to shame, awesome write up.

    P.S whens the next one scheduled ;)

    1. Aww shucks. :)

      That’s it for beta musings right now, but feel free to ask questions of course in any of the posts.

      Next beta is apparently end of March, but I am not sure whether I will get a press pass again (or even if they will allow press to speak) or even get in to that beta from the million man (and woman) selection pool.

  4. Thank you for such a well-written focus on PvE content. I was a little concerned about the dynamic events being over hyped and failing as they were in Warhammer Online and again in Rift. It sounds like the event-branching is assisted by the meta-event system and does well in bringing the world to life despite some of the limited branching in non-meta-event events (heh).

  5. “I have a feeling many players, such as I, are going to wonder where this exciting active-combat system is going to come in to play. It comes in to play in the level 15-25 zone.”

    …while the rest of us will be cursing ArenaNet for it. Especially combined with…

    “It is quickly apparent that there won’t be situations where I can just close my eyes and AoE until everything I over-aggro dies simply because I am 10 levels above. Missed or overleveled content will actually have to be played.”

    …which means that many will have to say goodbye to ever being able to passing content if they find themselves unable to do it the first time they’re in the level range, which will be especially bad for the personal story.

    No need to go so in depth trying to describe what a “meta-event” is – it just the zone’s storyline. No big deal.

    But what I think everyone wants to know about the Kessex Hills is: is the [url=”http://i4.photobucket.com/albums/y106/TheeForsakenOne/Guild%20Wars/gw098.jpg”]floating castle[/url] still there? :)

    1. I am not sure why you think players wouldn’t be able to pass content. Seems like a pretty unfounded statement. It is easier content if you are level 20 and return to your level 10 personal story instance… just not on the level of a level 20 WoW character returning to level 10 content. You can also always bring help.

      Yes, there is a whole, creepy town built up under the floating castle, with earth elementals doing all the work while the humans kind of watch. They regard the mage-person in there (sorry forgot name) as their lord. There’s a skill point there so most players will be led to that area.

  6. An excellent article that evokes an RP-related curiosity.

    What were the nationality choices available in your Personal Storyline?

  7. Great post as always, Ravious!

    The one concern I have after reading this article, is that the meta events (and even some of the normal events) might prove hard to enjoy after the initial leveling flurry at launch. Perhaps more worrying, I start to feel nervous that a PUG could find much success in these meta events at all.

    Reading your description of the meta events, I started to feel that old panic welling up – the feeling of, “damn I have to make sure I start playing right at launch, and keep up with the herd leveling, or I’m going to be stuck in a zone with one other guy and unable to do any of these meta events”.

    On one hand, in GW2 there should be more high level or alt players in these zones. But on the other hand, more low level players will just be off doing their thing in PvP or WvW, so… I don’t really know what to expect here.

    It’s a brave new world, I guess.

  8. Thanks for the GW2 articles, I really enjoyed them all! As an explorer type of player, I’m really looking forward to release, so I can see some of these places for myself.

    1. Levels provide an easy way of tracking where you are and where to go next. I’m level 3, so I can do this level 4 heart, and then once I’ve levelled up I can head towards that level 5 heart, but if I run into level 8 monters I know I should probably turn back.

      And as someone who could *never* remember what the five classes of ships were called in EvE and which order they went in from smallest to biggest (frigates, cruisers, battlecruisers, something?) I strongly protest against replacing simple, straightforward numbers with arbitrary adjectives.

  9. great post, kudos Ravious! enjoyed every bit of it. Thank you very much!

    I’m really happy to read about growing difficulty (it’s not normal, since other mmos have quite easy endgame-pve content). I’ve a question though: you wrote that sidekicking worked good. Do you remember the level you got sidekicked (as a lv.30 in a lv. 15-25 zone)? The devs (Colin in a recent post on guru) told us about some areas in a zone that are challenging. Did you find such places? Are there mobs higher than the max. level of the zone (e.g. a level 28 mob in a 15-25 zone)? Do you think that these challenges are really hard, even for good players downscaled from lv.80 or only for guys who know that dodging is important.

    I’m still not sure about this. There is a video on youtube where a good warrior (lv.6) fought a big troll (lv.11 – group event). He did very little damage and it seemed really challenging and fun until a higher level guardian (don’t know the level) came by. He never dodged any of the trolls attacks and they defeated the troll quite fast. They told us that higher level players won’t break the experience for lower level players. In this scenario the guardian broke the experience for the warrior imho.

    take a look:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RR0-S9SQCW4

    the second half

    1. First off an underleveled player fighting a champion at a higher level is probably going to lose eventually. I must admit that the warrior was doing awesome, even though he was using the wrong weapon to solo kill a champion. You can see the system ding him with all the glancing blows. Two good hits from the troll would likely down him. Unless he groups with a higher level person he won’t get sidekicked up.

      Notice also that the guardian is firing off virtues and does die at the end. Veteran elites are “easy” and this felt about right for a champion, which should be tough, tough. A level 20 downkicked to level 11 fighting a level 11 champion will likely more than not eke it out.

      So I guess I mostly disagree that the guardian broke the experience. I do think the fight should’ve been a little tougher, but not by much.

      1. watched it again, the guardian was a lv.10 (you can see it at the end of the fight) and could survive all the enemy-hits from a lv.11 champion. Perhaps a ?-lv.10 zone… Hmm.

        didn’t see the virtues-action at first, one of the few guardians in the videos I’ve seen so far who actually used his virtues ^^ but still I think he shouldn’t have survived all those hard champion attacks (in a group-event).

        At least it’s nice to see that is was a really close battle, didn’t notice the downed guardian too… I guess I call you Eagleeye Ravious from now on.

  10. Thanks for the awesome article and giving your positive and negative opinions about GW2.

    I may have spotted a typo, or just misunderstood you at one point. At the end of the first paragraph in the section ‘Hidden Bits and Lore,’ you wrote:

    “This isn’t enough touching the cities, which are absolutely teeming with activity.”

    I understood what you were getting at judging by the context of the paragraph, but the sentence itself didn’t make complete sense. Did you mean to write “This isn’t [even] touching the cities…”?

    Hope that helps!

  11. One question about the personal story: does it scale to your level too? If you forget about the ps and level via WvW, for example, does it scale up to your levelrange?

    1. You scale down to it. So if you are on the level 10 step, but are level 30, you will be scaled down to level 10 in pure stats but still get to keep your elite skill, etc.

  12. How big is the scope of a medium sized DE like the sylvari and undead? is it a 1 off and repeats or is a chain of 5 PQ that go back and forth dependent on if the players win or loose?

    1. That area had three events that I saw. One was a group event to kill 4 krait risen, and when that was completed the swamp cleared a little bit (mostly graphically, but I think some risen lessened), and the other was a 2-part chain where risen attacked the base camp, and could take it over leading to the other event of regaining the base camp.

  13. you said: “there were definitely some challenging content as I was down-sidekicked automatically to the appropriate sub-zone’s content level”

    what do you mean by sub-zone’s content level? If there is a 15-25 zone, do you mean that there are sub-zones (like 15-20 in this zone) so that you are sidekicked down to lv.20.

    Or are you sidekicked to lv.25 in the 15-25 zone and will also encounter lv 15 mobs (as a lv.25 player)?

    1. Each zone has pockets of level content. You get sidekicked down to that pocket. So in one area of Queensdale your level 25 would get sidekicked down to level 4, and in another area your level 25 would get sidekicked down to level 14.

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