State of the Game – Guild Wars 2

It’s been three months since the launch of Guild Wars 2. Still a baby, compared to the (slowly decreasing) average lifespan of an MMO. Even so, ArenaNet’s second foray into the no-subscription-fee online RPG managed a respectable launch (for the first day anyway). New content continues to be added at a reasonable pace, including a once-off event that – if you look past the technological issues that hampered its unveiling – was great fun to be a part of.

So how has Guild Wars 2 managed thus far, in these three short months? We look at the various improvements and changes, after the break.

The Quick Rundown

After launch, as is expected with any MMO, there were lots of rapid changes in the form of near-nightly patches. Bugs were fixed, events tuned, difficulty adjusted, and classes tweaked. Even so, the demand far outstripped ArenaNet’s ability, and a lot of Personal Story missions remained broken in a progress-blocking way for some time. It wouldn’t happen to everyone, but to those that it did their frustration was understandable. In the open world, certain Dynamic Event chains would break, preventing the entire chain from progressing. Which in areas like the Straights of Devastation would essentially mean the entire zone is shut down, as it relies on multiple converging chains meeting up, to start the assault on the Temple of Balthazar.

Lately, Dynamic Events don’t break as often. You’ll still occasionally come across the odd NPC here or there that’s just, standing there, instead doing what they need to do. As far as I know, Personal Story breakages are gone, or at a minimum. Which, considering the amount of missions involved, and variant paths through the plot due to choices made by the player, is no small feat. As it stands right now, Guild Wars 2 could be considered “mostly working”. The issues, where they do exist, tend to be in outlier situations (like World vs World vs World balancing, bots that break the economy by farming materials and offloading them on the Auction House, and so on).

The Slow Rundown

The excellent Guild Wars 2 wiki maintains a detailed list of all the game patches released so far for September, October, November and December. There are thousands of small changes and weaks to things like skills, balance and so on, they’d be impossible to summarize here. Instead, I’ll be focusing on the more surface-level changes and additions, things a player tends to play, not number-crunch.

Overflow and Party Grouping

At launch, it was not uncommon to be shunted to an “Overflow” when entering a zone. The high population in low-level areas, would cause the servers to try and load-balance. Initially, this would be problematic for people playing together in a party, as it wouldn’t always put groups together on the same overflow server. One could try to join the specific overflow server of a group member, but it would generally fail. That’s no longer the case, thankfully. Overflow tends to happen much less now, due to the population being more spread out across the zones (though that comes with its own problems). If you do get separated  joining on someone now works most of the time. During special events that force the game’s population into select areas, like Wintersday, it’s still common to be placed in an overflow server.

It is still possible, and an intentional feature, to group into a party with people playing on different realms. Then when one member enters an instance, like a dungeon or a Fractal, the entire party joins in. Guesting, the ability to travel to another person’s server without actually transferring all your characters, is still not available. ArenaNet recently talked about it, saying it’s very close to revealing details on when it will be enabled.

Crafting and Collections

Initially, when you wanted to craft or discover new crafting recipes, you had to be carrying the materials in your inventory to do so. You could (and still can) access your bank and Collections (where crafting materials are stored) while at a crafting station, allowing you to transfer them to your backpack, but it was still a pain. It didn’t take long after launch before crafting and discovery was changed, so as to use materials straight from your bank and Collections.

More recently, new Collections categories were added for Rare materials and Special Event materials, like Candy Corn from the Halloween event. This frees up a lot of bank slots, especially if you craft often. Certain items, like Dungeon Tokens, are showing a disabled menu for Depositing to Collection, even though there is no category for them yet, so it’s likely they’ll be depositable in a future update.

You still can’t store more than 250 of an item in the Collections, which is unlikely to change if Guild Wars 1 is anything to go by.

The Lost Shores and Ascended Armour

In November, a special event occurred which introduced the new Fractals dungeon system, a host of large class fixes to all the classes, and a one-time, never to be repeated event that introduced the new Southsun Cove zone.

The Fractal dungeon system is an interesting idea: you play a series of three randomly-chosen mini-dungeons with your group. If you succeed in completing all three, you’re able to set the difficulty for the Fractals one higher, which provides a steeper challenge and better loot. At specific intervals, you’re also placed in a special Boss fractal. The Fractals exist outside the conventional timeline, so they’re very imaginative and show scenarios you wouldn’t usually see in Tyria. Such as a derelict, long-forgotten Rata Sum, who’s sole Asuran survivor is a crazy cat-golum lady.

As the Fractals become more difficult, enemies may place a new debuff on players: Agony. It ticks down your health, healing can’t stop it, resulting in eventual death. To counteract this, you need to find Ascended-class gear, which can be slotted with new Infusion upgrade components, a nice callback to Guild Wars 1 where you needed magic to protect against the Mursaat’s Spectral Agony. Ascended gear weren’t meant to represent a new tier, but rather as an intermediate step between Exotic and Legendary items. Very few Ascended-quality items have been added so far, with more expected in future patches. The Fractal dungeon system provides a lot of content for people looking for something to do, but still have some problems. If someone disconnects midway through a series of Fractals, they’re unable to rejoin, thus screwing over the rest of the party. ArenaNet is aware of this issue, and recently issued a statement saying a fix is “nearly done”.

The one time event itself, which had players landing on the beaches of Southsun Cove after a Karka attack on Lion’s Arch, was quite something. Players had to escort woodcutters as a path was cleared through the jungle, assist in establishing basecamps (which provide critical waypoint teleporters), and eventually, drive the Karka back into their nest and destroy the hive mother. There were technical issues with the start of the Lost Shores event, the initial Karka assault on Lion’s Arch bogging the servers down to a crawl. Too many players crammed into one area, lots of tough enemies, thousands of spell-effects. It’s a wonder the servers didn’t explode. The players that participated in the event were rewarded with a few nice items, and a 20-slot bag (which aren’t cheap).

Holiday Events (Halloween & Wintersday)

In keeping with the spirit of Guild wars 1, both Halloween and Christmas have their own special multi-act events that persist for the duration of the event. These will occur every year, presumably with minor alterations each year to keep them fresh. Halloween introduced trick-or-treat bags with various prizes, a special (and punishing) Clocktower jumping-puzzle, a small boss-fight dungeon where you faced off against the Mad King, and lots of other little things like new permanent additions to the world in the form of small areas to explore. There was also a Player vs Player event themed around Defense of the Ancients, which I’m hoping returns next year.

Christmas (or Wintersday as the game refers to it) involved an Asuran inventor Tixx, and his festive golum Toxx, arriving at each of the major cities in turn via a giant flying blimp. Each day had its own special event dungeon where you could win toy frames, used in the construction of new themed minipets (or transmutation potions that turn you into the toy). The final (and currently ongoing) event in Lion’s Arch, is the Toypocalypse finale: a cross between Horde mode and Tower Defense, as you try to protect a bunch of gift-carrying pack-animals from hordes of malicious toys. A much easier jumping-puzzle was added for the duration of the event, as well as a Guitar Hero style music minigame, and a snowball-fight Player vs Player event.

Moving Forward

Three months is not a long time. The average player, playing a realistic and reasonable amount of hours per day, would in three months have perhaps gotten at most two characters to level 80. They would likely not have explored the entire world 100%, though it is possible if you focus on it. Personally, I’ve spent just over 600 hours in the game, and I only have one character (a level 80 Engineer), and my World Completion bar is only 92% full. Getting to level 80 in Guild Wars 2, is not hard. It’s actually the easiest thing to do: almost everything gives you experience. Finding new areas, harvesting materials, crafting yourself new armour and weapons or food – the game practically pushes you towards 80 as hard as it can, without devaluing what it means to reach level 80. I’ve not attempted all the dungeons, and I’ve barely touched the Fractal dungeon (I’m waiting until disconnects are no longer an issue). The armour and weapons I’m still using now, I got probably around hour 300, and I’ve never felt the need to change them. It’s a pretty standard Exotic set, with high Magic Find. I do carry around a Grenth set in case I need to do something more serious, which I bought on a whim using the stupid amount of Karma built up over my playtime.

Guild Wars 2 still has a lot of growing to do. It lacks a Dungeon Finder, which makes finding a group for dungeons rather difficult, unless you have four friends or are in an active guild. The population is mostly clumped at the high-level and low-level zones, with the bits in-between (level 20 to 60) having a much lower player density. That’s the nature of having a level-appropriate zone structure, unfortunately. While higher-level characters can play in lower-level areas and still receive fair compensation (Dynamic Event rewards are based on player level), it’s unlikely they will spend much time there, except perhaps to snag Points of Interest.

ArenaNet claims that come the start of next year, they have a huge content update planned that is larger than all the content patches they’ve done so far, combined. “It’s practically an expansion”, they claim.