The weekend was quite literally a doze of euphoria as I’ve waited for far too long. I grew tired of the endless streams of gameplay videos, media previews, or even official blogs as they no longer satisfy my hunger. After playing Guild Wars 2’s Beta Weekend Event, I now feel tranquil (or perhaps, withdrawal?)
People say a picture is worth a thousands of words, and I say a weekend of playing is worth a thousands of gameplay videos. So before I say anything negative, I just want to point that that: It was a pleasure.
Now getting to the point… In this BWE I played only one character–a Charr Engineer of Iron Legion–and put all my time into the vast PvE content (anyone surprised? Yes, I’m a care
bearcat). Though the personal story (main story quest chain) ends at lv20 in this beta, I somehow got to lv27… mostly by casually attending dynamic events and complete local quests. Although the beta experience still upholds my general expectation to Guild Wars 2, there are several major issues, discussed below the cut, that must be addressed by the developers.
ArenaNet temporarily shelved pre-purchasing of the game on their website for a reason. The reason became obvious a few hours into the BWE on Friday, as the server then became extremely laggy, and consequently had to be rebooted. Same thing happened on Saturday rather unexpectedly, and this time the server stayed down longer than an hour.
Yet I don’t foresee server capacity to be a huge problem after the launch fever is past. The solution for heavy traffic should be easy; it is more about quantity of servers, than debugging code or balancing game content. Either way, players should have the option to switch to a less populated server (for free of course, at launch). The current “overflow” mechanic works as adding an extra “channel” to a supposedly single-instance zone on a server that experiences high traffic. A common feature within MMO games, though gameplay reasons, such as how dynamic events favor single instance field on a shard, makes sense. Yet the system does not have the flexibility of simply switching channels: players have reported that they were separated from their friends and other party members, without ways to get back together other than waiting on a queue to get into the main instance.
The next BWE will definitely have the same amount–if not more–people participating, thus I truly ANet will add more servers by that time.
Game client graphics optimization
This issue has been brought up repeatedly, and ANet is aware of it. Currently the beta build of the client is badly optimized, and people such as myself, with mid to high tier rigs mostly have low frame rates at crowded areas, while the hardware being under-utilized. Starter racial starter cities have massive structures, and with the huge influx of new players at start of the beta, I can only categorize the experience as excruciating, seeing my frame rate dropped around 10~15 FPS if I stay in certain area. It is said that the game is currently CPU-bound and not using enough GPU for whatever it means. The CPU consumption I was getting is around 80%, yeah… I still think I’d call something CPU-bound if something slaves my Quad Core Q9400 around 100% usage, like Battlefield 3.
Needless to say, this must be fixed. Good thing is that ANet acknowledged the issue, and I can only assume that they’ll start working on it soon.
Not saying that PvE in GW2 is too hard… but more balancing is much needed. From what I’m reading gw2guru and the official beta forums, Engineers and Mesmers are the two professions require most player skills to play, while Ranger and Elementalists are the easiest to play in PvE. I can understand design principles that inevitably make some professions “harder” (as in player skills). Yet it is rather odd for some Rangers complain the PvE is a “repetitive skill spam”, while I had to do trial-and-error using my skill points the hard way to identify the good and crap skills of my own profession.
Another more observable discrepancy is that the Charr starting areas (lv1~25) are visibly harder than that of Norn’s. The Norn fields are more open and have less situations where NPC foes are closely cramped up together, which is problematic for all professions, and lethal to ranged professions that rely on kiting. ANet is aware of this and adjustment is expected in the future. Hopefully the Salvari and Asura starting areas, which are unavailable during this beta, will be more or less balanced once players are allowed to play those two races.
Melee vs ranged on bosses
Somewhat an extension to the previous topic. The general design philosophy for GW2’s PvE is: Melee -> higher risk of taking hits but deals more damage, and ranged -> lower risk of taking hits but deals less damage. It is a simple formula fits GW2’s combat system, which is advertised as a complete lack of traditional “holy trinity”: Tank, DPS, and Healer.
Barring some isolated quirks, melee and ranged attacks work in synergy. All professions in GW2 can wield at least one ranged weapon; though unsurprisingly, some professions are better at melee and some are at ranged attacks. The problem arises when most boss creatures in GW2 has nasty PBAoE that makes melee an inferior option compare to dealing damage at a distance. In theory, melee characters can dodge and use skills to mitigate damage. But in practice, those bosses hit hard (as much as 2 hits kill a full HP character at same level), and combined with insurmountable distraction as the result of the game rendering a huge amount of overdone particle effects, and higher network latency associated with being in the same place with many other players, this has become a priority issue.
Once again, ArenaNet is noted of the issue. Though to balancing out melee and ranged skills is no small feat, especially for the possible implication on PvP. On a plus side, I heard melee and ranged are balanced in pvp, where many players favor to get close up and personal.
GUI and “Hidden Features”
It was a minor frustration to find out about two minor, yet vindicating features of GW2, after the BWE was over. First of them: crafting materials can be directly “send” to player character’s bank, which has a special vault that stores all kinds of material without cluttering up the normal space. Another one is the “switch weapon” hot key that supposedly allow the player to have two sets of weapons equipped and swapped at will in combat. Cruel humor it is, in a sense that these features are of the “if nobody told me it was possible I’ve have never guessed” kind.
Good thing I know them now, so I’ll have less hatred toward managing my inventory during the next BWE.
I suppose the only other beef I have against the GUI department is the camera control. It looks like a hybrid between GW1 and Tera, where I can only move using 4 directional keys, but without the TPS aim locking scheme that Tera sports. I really miss the ability to click on ground and move; I think the only reason to remove mouse cursor movement is to make mouse movement tie to camera, like Tera. But in GW2, right clicking is necessary to move the camera angle, and often than not, holding RMB for an extended amount of time is tiring. AWSD movement is fine, but having to press F1 to F8 and 1 to 0 keys while moving is asking for either superhuman abilities, or a completely remap of the skill hotkeys.
While ANet has not acknowledge this being on their backlog in any way, I’ll be remapping my keys. I think F1~F4 can use QERT key, 5~8 change to FGCV, heal to C and elite skill to X. Not sure about F5~F8 since they are generally not important enough.
Guild Wars 2 still does not have a release date as of now, and the general consensus believes the game will not launch until Q3 of 2012. From the observation of this BWE, I fully agree that it will take even the best team over two months to finish polishing this game to a releasable state. Guild Wars 1 has been a polished product since long time ago, so I don’t have a reason to doubt ArenaNet’s ability as of now. The next BWE will be the golden opportunity to evaluate ArenaNet’s progress, and until then, I consider my pre-purchase still a money well spent for all the other good qualities of this game.