On The Edge of Irrelevance: Guild Wars 2’s PvP Nosedive

I am going to toot my own horn, but it’s a really sad tune I’ll be playing. I was right, but I really didn’t want to be right about this.

We Saw This Coming

One of the main complaints from the PvP community about the choice of Conquest as sPvP in Guild Wars 2 is the Capture Point rule set. This doesn’t mean that capture point games aren’t common or unpopular, but that they rarely become the accepted test of skill in PvP type games.

And once you neutralize or capture, then there is no benefit to hanging around. There is likely a contested area or node that needs you more at the time. It is possible that you could design your team to have sets of two players who feature a highly supportive and defensive player with someone of decent damage output to take a node and sit on it. The problem then becomes that the battle is a war of attrition. Prolonged battles and over-balance are two of the major reasons the Guild Wars PvP scene died off after being so healthy for years. If your ruleset and map dictates prolonging fights to preserve nodes then it shrinks the type of builds and strategies to use.

In larger head-to-head battles you have more room for builds to specialize into different roles and for players to coordinate their playstyle with the playstyle of their teammates. What this means is that you could have a six on six head-to-head battle with different team makeups on each side, as opposed to a standardized Cap Point team.

In Capture Point, if you try to stick together as a single swarm, then you’ll likely lose. You can’t force large battles in Conquest. If most of your team is at one spot then you give up the other two nodes. Running, delaying and interfering matter most. What the PvP community wants are those team vs team situations where the battle is all out, and it’s a matter of supporting and controlling both sides. Players want to be sized up against the whole of the other side. They don’t want to succeed at their node running, just to realize they’re losing because of something that is happening on the other side of the map for which they have no input on or access to. Players also want the extra strategy of team builds.

What ArenaNet risks by going fully in with just Conquest is alienating the playerbase that would make the sPvP attractive. You can’t be bigtime without the respect of the community because you won’t draw the community to care and be competitive about your game. You will get, and forgive the elitism here, the second and third tier players to fill in the gap of talent. In other sports, there are minor leagues and spinoff leagues. There has been basketball leagues that use trampolines and favor dunking because it has a high entertainment value. These minor leagues don’t ever rise above the level of sideshow because nobody truly respects them. They don’t draw the top talent and thus don’t draw the big attendance. I feel this is the same for E-sports. ArenaNet can’t go out there and try to push E-sports while being PowerDunk Ball.

–  The E-Sports Charade

I wrote those blocks of text over a year ago on May 24th, 2012. It was a warning about the future of PvP in the game if they stuck with Conquest. I think the PvP community will find those “warnings” extremely relevant right now, especially the final paragraph.

The Tournament Finals Swansong

At the one year anniversary bash, ArenaNet held their tournament final between the top European team and the top North American team. If I could describe the feel of everything about this in two words, it would be “awkward” and “depressing”.

The Anniversary Bash stream was above 5k viewers during the early parts of the event. People watched the opening address and the Q&A. The final part of the event was the match between Car Crash and Sync for the PVP championship. At this point, the twitch fell below 5k viewers, and then loss more viewers as the match went on.

However, it was already awkward before that. The devs kept trying to pump up the match, but the live audience issued a muttering of applause, seemingly clueless about the two teams, or just not interested in the event itself. When it came to Q&A time, a lone player from Crystal Desert asked why there wasn’t more modes for PvP in the game, and where the beloved modes from Guild Wars 1 were to be found in the game. In response, the Dev Panel looked at each other, somewhat clueless and scared. There was not a single spvp dev on the panel. The closest person to this was Devon Carter, who handles WvWvW. After the group sat quiet a second, Colin Johannson jumped on the “grenade” of a question, and effectively dodged it with a rambling bit of PR.

Meanwhile, the entire twitch stream was filled with people spamming “GvG” in the chat for the entirety of the event. The entire thing felt like a trainwreck for PvP rather than the showcase ArenaNet intended it to be.

The Victory Funeral

Following the championship, players took to the forums and expressed their issues with the handling of the PvP question, and how generally uninteresting the match was itself.

Players complaining on forums is nothing new. However, long time sPvP player, and large contributor to the cause Xeph announced his retirement from the game the following day. He said his reasons were numerous, but you could sort of tell the Anniversary Bash and its recent news was a tipping point.

The post was deleted, but the damage was done.

It’s Not the Incentives

Xeph felt the PvP lacked incentives to attract players, but that’s never really been a big part of highly successful PvP. Most of the reward comes from winning and the winning actually meaning something. Ultimately, there must be some pride in the accomplishment of winning. Guild Wars 2 lacks that feeling. It lacks is because Conquest mode is Powerdunk Ball. it’s not what people care about, and ArenaNet never listened.

And now their planned high moment is a depressing final death cry.

Can it be saved? Sure. It’s not like ArenaNet is facing any real competition in the MMO PvP space. However, they need to focus on what people care about in MMO PvP. Don’t be a MOBA. Don’t spread small skirmishes across a map. People are getting that already, and there’s a whole other audience being ignored. That audience wants tactical, skilfull, and gear balanced team fights. It doesn’t have to be deathmatch. You can establish a goal to fight over, but that goal must involve two teams fighting together.  People watch MMO PvP for the group play, Remember that.

Prevails

A strange thing happened upon the way to Guild Wars 2’s one year anniversary: it became very successful. According to some research,Guild Wars 2 is the fastest selling MMO based in the Western part of the world. Taking a gander at NCSoft’s quarterly reports, and making an idiot’s guess at the numbers, it seems the game is making ANet about 9-10 million a month.

Also, ArenaNet has moved towards a 2-week update schedule for their patches and Living World system.

But perhaps you thought all MMOs failed. Perhaps you heard that the game was dead. Perhaps you are wondering how this happened. So, let’s take a look at why Guild Wars 2 prevailed where other MMOs failed.

Oh boy, a numbered list of reasons!

    1. Those other MMOs did not fail. This is important to understand. Those other MMOs switched business models, and that’s important to this list, but let’s not continue the chant of “fail”. Many of the subscription MMOs that went towards Free-to-play or Buy-to-play models did so because they could make more money from those models. And guess what? They did. Check out Zenofdesign blog for a look into SWTOR’s tranisition. It’s a good read.
    2. ArenaNet budgeted correctly. Those that have played Guild Wars 2 know the game doesn’t have grand, impressive cinematics. ArenaNet has changed their story presentation in a way to better accommodate the speed of development, but they never spent as much on cinematics as their competitors did.And despite the hype at launch, there wasn’t a lot of advertising for the game. It carried out its message through social media and word-of-mouth, both exceptionally cheap forms of PR. There was a launch commercial made, but it was awful and quickly and quietly done away with. These sort of decisions reduced the game’s development cost.
    3. ArenaNet and NCSoft created a fair Cash Shop.  The MMO community sometimes finds itself stuck in the world of fools and idiots. “F2P is P2W.” You can still people say this phrase even though many former sub MMOs have gone F2P with little change in the user’s experience. However, it was important for Guild Wars 2 to clearly stand in opposition of this viewpoint. To get around this issue, the GemShop was created. Most of the items in the cash shop are cosmetic items that sell o power advantage. Other items are boosters, and account services. Account services have long been a pay-for feature in MMOs, so that’s nothing new. Boosters are also random drops as rewards from chests, dailies, and can be attained easily through food buffs.The game does have a jackpot mechanic in its Black Lion Chests, but there’s never any source of power advantage within the chests. Not losing money on these items is a matter of self-control.Most importantly, the gold to gem conversion allows any gem shop item to be bought with gold, and many have taken advantage of this.
    4. They released a quality game and supported it. Recently, Wildstar and TESO have announced that they will be releasing as sub-based MMOs. Carbine Studio’s Gaffney, I believe, said of releasing an MMO that the pricing model isn’t as important as the quality of the game. Well, not exactly Gaffney. Unfortunately, there’s been some decent to good MMOs released that have struggled to maintain because they were over-budgeted and had to live via subs while there was already a fat, behemoth of an MMO swallowing everyone’s subscription commitment and time, leaving little for the competition to scoop up.The truth is that quality is a pre-requisite for MMO success, but not the determining factor of an MMO’s success. It is something that has to exist at launch, but beyond that an MMO must find a way to get player’s time, and to keep player’s engaged. It’s those last two parts that involve the business model, but also involves updates and support. ArenaNet has found a way to make money with their game without fighting for subs and then support the game with a plethora of updates that feature a variety of types of content. So far, it’s working very well for them.

In Closing, yada yada, and banana turnbuckle.

Guild Wars 2 is different. It was different enough to succeed with its original play while others struggled with their own plan. It could be claimed that Guild Wars 2 and World of Warcraft are exceptions to the rule about MMOs. However, I feel there is almost awlays reasons why a thing is so. Does WoW decline in players because it’s too casual? No, it was most successful at its most casual. It’s declining because its an old game facing more competition. It’s declining because F2P and B2P models have shown to offer more competitive environments in the East and those models are just now starting to take hold in the west.

So how do future MMOs not crash and burn? My firs tip: dot listen to the MMO community too much. I’ll get into that in a future blog post though.

Rata Sum 101: Geometric Splendor for Bookahs

Let’s Measure the Area

Wandering the Asuran capital city you will notice the repeated shapes and patterns of the city. You’re walking on hexagons, you’re chilling on an updside-down pyramid, or you’re staring down a pentagon shaped hallway. Everywhere you look, a triangle looms and angles align. So, I decided to do some screenshotting of the city with an emphasis on the geometric.

The skyline of Rata Sum lives under the oppression of triangles. Every corner of the main floor of the city presents you with a view of these pyramid-framed horizons.

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Triangles also appear in places not so overbearing with their architecture.

Here, two towers align along a pathway up one of the sea-floor buildings. The lines of the towers and the angle of the stairs create suggested triangles.

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Inside the city, hallways are triangles lined up within triangles.

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And below the sea, two masts on the Asuran sailboats meet to create another suggested triangular shape.

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Shapes within shapes are a big theme of the city. The dam meets the water as the meeting of two tetragons, and through the rectangular hexagon opening on a shipping boat, you can see the cubic grandeur of the city above.

 

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One of my favorite examples of the use of geometric shapes in the city is the view from the sides of Rata Sum. Just beyond the crafting stations are these hexagonal openings. Looking out from the sides, you see the pyramid edges of the rest of the city. The lovely bit is that the plateaus to your right and left are the same shape you are standing in, only now it’s cut in half. An oblong hexagon sliced in half to create two quadrilateral kites and then each kite jutting out an angle from the hexagonal opening.

 

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Of course this does-anyone-care-but-me discussion would not be complete without looking at the floor patterns. During this fictional photography adventure, I’d often raise my camera directly overhead to see the geometric shapes as flat floor patterns.

gw2 2013-03-29 16-55-04-936

 

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Such as this. The above may be my favorite shot out of all of these screens. Who wants to play with building blocks?

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How to Horizontal Boogie: Improve Traits Not Stats

The Outrage

If you’re a Guild Wars 2 player then you may have heard about the new Ascended gear added to the game with the Lost Shores patch released this past weekend. The release of information on a new tier of gear being added to the game caused a major uproar in the community. People have quit the game or are threatening to quit the game over the addition of new gear with better stats.

I think the first important thing to do is to present what Ascended gear is, how it will grow into the game, and why people are angry.

Tiers of Grief

Ascended armor has been explained as not a new higher tier, but a tier to bridge a gap between exotics and legendary items. What is new with Ascended gear is a stat increase over exotics and the infusion upgrade slot. The Ascended items themselves are unique, meaning that you likely cannot equip two of the same Ascended item, and in addition to this, the secondary stats of the items cannot be modified in the same way current items can.

The only types of Ascended gear in the game currently attainable are back pieces and accessories. Previously, each of these slot types of armor had an upgrade slot that could be interchanged with gems of various types and statistical benefits. In the case of Ascended gear, the upgrade stats are built into the item and cannot be changed.

Instead, Ascended items have infusion slots that can be changed, and come in different types. There are offensive, defensive and omni infusion slots. How this operates is not entirely known, but we have seen that the infusion slots can add Agony Resistance as well as stats like power, vitality and precision.

Agony is a new Damage over Time effect that occurs in the Fractals of the Mists dungeon starting at the level 10 difficulty tier. The Ascended items and the Fractals dungeon go hand-in-hand, as earning the items requires playing the Fractals dungeon, and so far the Fractal dungeon is the only place in game that has the Agony condition.

ArenaNet has stated that they plan to add more ways to acquire Ascended gear, including through WvWvW, but currently Fractals of the Mists is the only way. They also plan to slowly introduce each new type of Ascended item into the game piece by piece. There will be Ascended helms, shoulders and weapons, but these will be introduced months down the line.

Why They Scream You Lie

ArenaNet has been unwisely quiet in response to the anger about Ascended armor. They have spoken once in response, but the explanation provided did not truly quell the fears of the populace. One claim in particular has been a bone of contention.

Ascended items have been explained as a way for ANet to bridge the gap between Exotics and Legendaries, but people have challenged that assertion by saying there never was a statistical gap between Exotics and Legendaries. In response, the gap alluded to can be explained via rarity and the general ease of acquiring an Exotic versus the long trudge of attaining a Legendary. This too has not held up as people have pointed out that not all rares or exotics are equally uncommon or attainable.

There is a large gap between a crafted exotic such as a Pearl Broadsword and that of something like Legend of the Foefire or Vision of the Mists. For example, the Pearl Broadsword might run you 3 gold on the Trading Post, while the Foefire or Vision of the Mists will cost you at least a 100 gold to buy. Below the level of these status symbol swords are craftable weapons of the Corrupted and Destroyer type that require rare, expensive materials. Higher up in costs from these weapons are the Legendary precursor weapons that can often go for over a 100 gold.

Even rarity between statistical tiers are not consistent. The tier 3 cultural armor is much less common and harder to acquire than crafted Exotic armor or karma armor or even the dungeon sets. Much of the populace doesn’t have the 100 gold it takes to get the full set. So, while statistically the armor is weaker than my gear it is far more of a status symbol or reason to brag due to its high cost and consequential rarity. This holds true for tier 3 cultural weapons. My Peacemaker Greatsword gets more oohs and ahhs than my dungeon exotic scepter even though the original item itself is of only rare quality in stats.

All of these are examples of tiers within tiers that act as gap bridgers in rarity that have nothing to do with statistical differences, so ArenaNet’s explanation struggles to really hold up to criticism. Many have claimed that they created the gap themselves by introducing Ascended items with a new ceiling of stats.

And Why They Keep Yelling You Lied

The heart of the issue though is the claim that this introduces a gear treadmill to a game that promised no gear treadmills. This argument then sort of swindles out of control into dismissal of the game as a new WoW’-clone.

Overall, There’s too much histrioics within the anger and I worry it damages the legitimate concerns of the game’s core audience. And that core? I would describe them as a mix between Guild Wars veterans and those who had tired of the way things have been done in MMORPGs for so long. Both sides want a statistical plateau to tiers and skill over stat based gameplay.

However, is this now a treadmill game? No, not at all, but it does open the door to the treadmill, and the situation really makes me wonder why ArenaNet would even let that door get kicked ajar. There are multiple issues the game has in its current form and many things people want addressed or improved, but new statistical highs doesn’t seem to be high on that list.

Areas of Concern

The sPVP side of the game is struggling to retain players and it is easily the least developed side of the game. It also suffers from there being only one type of map, so while they did introduce a new map in beta form, its still the same type of ruleset with the same issues as the rest of sPVP. As long as structured PvP remains Cap Point mode, the game will be a never ending meta of bunker vs roamer, and tanky versus spike. I feel I have gone over the issues with Cap Point quite a bit here, but it’s the larger PvP playerbase that is starting to feel the limits of the map type.

WvWvW players are looking for incentive to keep playing, but as well, they are the group suffering the most from the game’s culling issues. It is known that culling is a top priority for the team and likely wont be an easy fix, but WvWvW issues go beyond culling. Players are starting to question whether they should keep dumping gold into upgrading and taking keeps for their Guild only to have all their investment vanish overnight.

PVE on the other hand requires more bug fixing and more variety at endgame. Orr is a jump in difficulty but a step down in variety. Lost Shores introduces a new max level area, but again has little in the ways of variety of events or enemies. Loot drops have also been a problem with far too much RNG involved and rather poor loot tables, but that at least began to be addressed with the Lost Shores patch. New bags of goodies were added to dungeon chests, new items with a rare chance off bosses, and the Fractal dungeon themselves offer more chances at valuable loot. Yet, beyond this, the game needs to make exploring more rewarding, that again being an issue of incentives. There’s a lot of great areas of the Tyrian world not being populated because the zerging of mobs that increases chances at valuable loot and the high-end gathering nodes that are essential to money making are only available in max level areas.

Somewhere far below these concerns lies new gear to chase. To some, those used to the old MMO model, that concern for new shinies may be much higher, but its hard for me to envision let alone support gear treadmill addicts being drawn to Guild Wars 2. Once you realize that power creep puts you in the same place in vertical progression game as you are in a horizontal progression game, that gear treadmill loses all value.

Horizontal Boogie Time

So how did the original Guild Wars support continual PvE gametime? How did the PVP and PVE continue to be populated and active without new statistical tiers? There’s one major element as to why: skills and encounters.

The card game-like skillbars of Guild Wars allowed the game to continually progress via new build ideas and strategies for many years. As well, new encounters that involved new situations and limitations created the need for new build ideas that again refreshed the play experience.

For Guild Wars 2, the original idea was that traits would provide this customization and variety that skills provided the original game, but the traits themselves have needed a serious overhaul since beta.  Too many of the traits are outright boring and uninteresting stat increases of no difference from gear changes. My Phantasms do 15% more damage? That doesn’t change my play-style anymore than stacking more power into my gear. My Glamour skills blind, oh wait, now all blinds confuse? Now my Glamour skills provide extra functionality and versatility. My Engineer’s pistol range is further? Well I suppose that makes my character more functional. My bombs heal? I create a bomb on dodge? Now being a bombing Engineer is also a support Engineer.

These are the differences between traits that have limited the horizontal progression in the game. There are some traits that add functionality and thus add variety to playstyles, but there are too many traits that only add vertical increases or functionality that should probably be there to begin with.

Beyond this, the traits are often bugged for many classes. The Necromancer class has suffered the most from this problem, but even my beloved Mesmer is not free of these issues. Hilariously, ArenaNet stated in their patch notes that Phantasmal Fury “now works”, but in actuality it still doesn’t work with Phantasmal Mage which was one of the main parts of the trait that was not working previously.

Overall, the issue with traits are holding back the side of the game that should be adding interesting options for daily players. Due to this, the game has not opened up like it should be opening up at max-level.

What To Do Now

I really feel ArenaNet needs to come out and directly address the elephant in the room. They need to announce whether or not there will be more statistical increases in gear between now and when a new level cap is introduced. They need to answer the gear treadmill question with a firm yes or no and stick to it. There is too much PR-praddle and silence coming out of their offices.

Part of the reason this has not happened yet is because ArenaNet has been poor at communicating with the public. A Public Test Realm like server would do the game a great good in bug testing and in letting the public in on what’s going on and what will be going on. Seeing is believing, so let the public see whats in store, and take it hands on for themselves. I imagine the PR disaster that Ascended has been could have been avoided if the Public had a chance at Fractals and seeing the stats themselves. The great misinformation that exists about Guild Wars 2 can be blamed a lot on ArenaNet’s dismembered communication lines. Not everyone is going to read the forums, reddit, twitter and random in-game chats to figure out what exactly is going on.

After that, the traits need an overhaul that sweeps the vertical progression and functionality traits off the table and replaces them with new interesting options that reward smart combinations and builds.

Once these things are done, the game will smooth out and the audience will be a bit more sure of where they should be. T

Sorrow’s Embrace: A Quick Look

The Dredge Alert

The Dredge Alert!

Welcome to Mole Talk!

Yes, I am honoring the emblem of my blog with some more Dredge discussion. This first piece is on the story mode of Sorrow’s Embrace. I have more to say on the explorable mode and the stories within, as well as more of the visuals associated with the Dredge in game. (My Mesmer is sporting a transmuted Dredge Blaster currently.)

So, let’s get to it by discussing one of the longest dungeons in game.

Leave My Dredge Alone!

The plot of the Sorrow’s Embrace dungeon can be roughly summed up as the Inquest are involved, and the Dredge are being used as their workforce.

Yes, the Moletariat prevailed right into another subjugation. Like you did with Molenin before, you will be facing armies of Dredge as they toil away underground for someone else’s grand scheme. Due to the Inquest presence, you will also be facing Golems and Asuran technology, and as well, the strange Dredge technology, and, finally, a monstrous hybrid between the two.

Remember the Past

One of the more captivating set pieces of Sorrow’s Embrace is Molenin’s Tomb. Yup, that’s a lore reference. Molenin’s tomb is the sight of a Dredge Public Assembly. The tomb itself is a colliseum of sorts, and large groups of Dredge stand in formation at the bottom of the tomb as a military leader shouts out a speech from a high ledge. In story mode, you don’t fight the military leader, but he seems like a prime tool for explorable mode plotlines.

See No Evil, Hear My Sonic Death Ray

The Dredge mobs of Sorrow’s Embrace are range heavy and feature the use of sonic rifles that shoot ground rumbling, directional projectiles. There are touches of the Dredge’s mechanical tech here and there, but many can also be found outside the dungeon in Dredgehaunt Cliffs.

Subtarrean drill-cars often sigbal the arrival of a new pack of Dredge. These vehicles drill up and out of the ground, and the Dredge forces pop out the back. The dredge themselves also have the ability to tunnel underground (much like Wurm mobs) to travel from one point to the next.

Another interesting note about the Dredge mobs is that since they are mole people, they are naturally blind and effectively immune to the blind condition. This provides a nice change of strategy for typical dungeon setups that may rely heavily on blinds to mitigate damage in other dungeons.

Bosses of an Epic Nature

The Sorrow’s Embrace dungeon features some of the most tiresome boss fights, but also some of the coolest fights, and coolest bosses. The Story Mode contains one of each. The next to last boss is actually interesting  in design, with three different phases, but suffers from too high health pools on its various meta-bosses. The encouter became too tediously long a fight at the time of my running the dungeon. It’s beatable, but really extends the encounter time of an otherwise smooth flowing dungeon. I hear they have done some work to tone down the health bars of the bosses you fight in this encounter in the past few weeks and that should help turn the fight from work to play.

The last boss is a treat. I won’t spoil what it is, but it’s likely that many people have seen this boss before entering the dungeon. It’s featured in one of the game’s early trailers, and the fight itself confused me at first, but then quickly made sense. I suggest to not stand on the bridge looking at the boss unless you like death rays to your face.

Next Up

Explorable Mode and Dredge Art design!

Welcome to Launch!

Lion's Arch

It’s a big world out there

 Tres Bon Voyage

If you’re a pre-purchaser like myself, then you’ve been in the world of Tyria for a few days already. Officially, the game launches today and that means many retail purchasers will be joining the rest of us. Apparently, the game has already reached over 400,000 concurrent users in pre-launch. With over a million players to boot.

Though I have played many MMOs, this is my first launch-day experience. Overall, it’s going about how I expected. Launches of online games are always a rougher experience than playing that same game six months after launch. Current issues are server backend problems that have limited access to the Black Lion Trading Post and Commerce Page, an issue with Guilds and their rosters, and grouped players not being able to stay grouped and within the same shard.

ArenaNet has started to relieve the difficulties created by Guild Issue, though I hear invites are still not working properly. I was locked out of my own guild that I created for most of Sunday, but had access to it again by Monday. The lack of a Trading Post has turned Lion’s Arch into Trade Chat spam, but that’s nothing new to Guild Wars 1 players. I thought they might fix the Black Lion Trading Post for the real launch, but its still currently unavailable.  The biggest issue is the grouping problem, as it really works against the social and cooperative nature of the game. From what I hear, it is also making dungeons a pain to do as well.

Despite these issues, this has been a pretty decent launch. MMOs have a long history of nasty launch problems. Even ARPGs like Diablo 3 had major problems at launch, keeping people from even playing the game. At least ArenaNet has managed to keep the game up and running. There was one period of maintenance downtime in the middle of the night on Saturday of the pre-launch, and Europe, I believe, had another period of maintenance over the weekend. Outside of these times, the game has been fully playable and I’ve had little issue with lag on the server’s end. The one real annoying bit is trying to keep grouped with my friends.

First Impressions of the Real Deal

I have several beta impressions on this blog, but my launch impressions will likely be different due to playing the game entirely different at launch from how I approached the beta. There are a few key differences that make the experiences different, but the main two are that I have all the time I want to do whatever I want and that now all my friends are here in game with me.

This change in approach from beta to launch has given me a much better experience. In Beta, I was testing specified elements of the game, and namely, I focused upon the elements that concerned me. Now that I’m adventuring with friends at our own pace, I have come to feel that levels and experience aren’t my major concern. Progress in the manner of levels is something that just comes along with the adventure of the game, but it’s not the meat or the point of the game. It’s just the side salad. I find my exploration percentage to be a more adequate test of my progress. It’s not a concern that going to the Plains of Ashford is returning to a starter zone. It’s a concern that there might be something cool in the zone that I haven’t seen yet.

If it’s one thing that I would entice others with about this game it would be these adventurous discoveries. Whether it’s a waterslide dive through a cave that looks like a skull, or a game of stealth with the Ash Legion, or a family of giant frost worms at the bottom of a cave, or the jumping puzzle and treasure chest after those Frost Wurms, or just a Privateer’s secret hangout full of drunk ornery pirates and their singing captain, or a hidden waterfall with a vista and skill point, or a hidden cabbage farm defended by bandits, or a Quaggan city off the edge of the sea shelf, or just a nice mansion in the city of Divinity’s Reach, I simply smile and say, “you got to go see it.”

Seeing the Rest

Of course, beyond these elements of the world, there are more standard faire such as instanced dungeons and story quests. These two parts of the game also represent the most difficult part of the PVE game. My first dungeon run escalated my /deaths to three times its former modest number. The story quests aren’t much easier, and some are frightfully hard to do alone. Difficulty doesn’t bother me, unless its unfair difficulty. I’ve only run into situations that felt unfair two or three times so far.

Not a Closing Thought, but a Rejoinder

This last paragraph I chose to delay until a week had passed since official launch. Many launch issues have been resolved in that time, and the Trading Post is functioning most of the time now. It’s first return was a laggy version of the TP, but it’s much quicker since another fix. I haven’t had grouping problems in a long time, but I did discover adding someone to a in-progress dungeon run is a big mess. The game just doesn’t seem to be able to put anyone outside the instance back into the same instance with the rest of the party.

So, fixes are coming along pretty quickly, but not very quickly. There have been issues with bugged story quests that get resolved in 24 hours most often. I have been able to use the Trading Post with ease the past couple of days, but there’s always the worry that it will go down again. The sPVP side of things has had some downtime and reward delays. My tournament winnings arrived to me hours after I had finished the tournament, but others have waited days for their rewards.

Still, the game is playable and nothing has really gotten in the way of being able to play the game. Those that still needed to setup their email authentication did have this trouble though and were kept from playing the game for days. That one pissed quite a few folks off. I hope to see issues weeded out by a month’s time.

Atop a crane in Skrittsburgh

The Heart of Skrittsburgh

Welcome to Skrittsburgh!

No, wait, get out of Skrittsburgh you unworthy foreigner. Oh, nevermind, come back in.

This is life as a visitor to the Skritt city. Sometimes the doors are open to you and sometimes they’re sealed shut. Is it because you smell? Do they only let humans in on Thursday? The Charr on Monday? Maybe the Charr get in on Caturday. Of course, Asurans get in on the winter solstice, to celebrate the shortest day of the year.

Actually, Skrittsburgh is the central cog of an ongoing, large dynamic event within the Brisban Wildlands. When the city feels protected, the gates of the city are opened to outsiders. When the city is under siege and the Skritt King has fallen, then the doors and gates close. Foreigners are only let back in when any nearby threats to Skrittsburgh are eliminated, and the Skritt have chosen a new King. Total access to Skrittsburgh is not entirely denied, as the cavernous city also has outer boroughs that offer the player hearts to complete, and some peculiar lost goods thrown around, as well as a beautiful waterfall area. It is normally these outer boroughs which are the key to entrance into the inner sanctum of the King, his treasure chests, and the special Skritt vendors.

A Dynamic Circle

Asuran Tech

The Skritt have taken Asuran technology for their own use.

The Skrittsburgh center is sort of the mini-city reward of the greater circle of dynamic events within the area. When the city is closed, you can normally find a dynamic event going on in one of the outer boroughs. These events will wipe out the NPCs in the area if not stopped, but if you turn the invaders back then you’ll please the people of Skrittsburgh. Invaders are the key word here, as Skrittsburgh is walled in by various threats. From the east, the Nightmare Court may arrive to take over the city. From the north, human bandits have set up camp right outside the entrance, and to the southwest, the Inquest is looking to regain some of the disassembled technologies the Skritt have claimed for their own. Worst of all, the Destroyers are still lurking below the surface and may rise up at any time to do what Destroyers do: look ugly, make lava, and destroy everything.

Things don’t calm down for long once you’ve defended and freed the city. There is normally a quiet handful of minutes, until some new dynamic event alert pops onto your screen. Yup, more invaders, but this time if you don’t stop them, they’re heading straight through that open door to take the city or to slay the King. I helplessly tried to stop a Destroyer army and its giant crab boss from eating the King, but I just sort of ran around from the

Destroyer boss until one of his minions gave the King a killing blow. Immediatly after that, all the friendly Skritt NPCs became hostile, and shouted to kick the foreigners out. Next thing I know, I’m booted out of the city and back to one of the outer boroughs.The end effect is that keeping the city open to players will require players to cooperatively push back invaders. It’s tough to stop two invasions at once. Whether it’s the bandits up north or the Nightmare Court coming from the east, it’s more than one player can handle.

Skritt Throne

The Rat King has moved out of the sewers.

Tell Me Of Your Rat-nest Usul

Once inside the heart of the city, you’ll be treated to a town made out of junk. Yes, junk, and I mean that in the nicest way. The Skritt love shinies, and shinies seem to be everyone else’s actual shiny things, or everyone else’s forgotten old junk. It looks like a refugee camp in some ways, like something out of District 9. Still, Arena Net managed to make a junk city look visually interesting. Some parts are even little creepy, with the weird carnival costumes laying around, unused and for no purpose of being there.

What the city offers the player is a full set of crafting stations, a thankful Skritt King with two treasure chests behind him (Don’t miss these!), a skill point challenge or two, some basic merchants, repairs, and special Shinies merchants. The Shinies Merchants have what seem like junk or perhaps crafting goods, like a bunch of wooden planks. They also sell necklaces and weapons, and pretty good weapons in fact. Their offerings have a level 20 requirement, but should be an upgrade at level 20 over anything you have. I bought both the Skritt Pistol and Skritt Rifle for my Engineer.

Odds and Ends

Creepy Canrival

These things freaked me out.

The heart quests in the boroughs offer some nice distractions. I wasn’t a big fan of the Heart in the grub area. It’s basically a kill grubs and collect trophies off them, then hand in the trophies sort of deal. There’s some defective security turrets you can mess with, but those are few and far between compared to the amount of grubs and grub holes waiting to be stomped. My favorite of the various Heart quests in the area was a soldier that needed help near a Destroyer den. In this area, you can kill Destroyers, stomp out Destroyer burrows, or, best of all, pick up fallen Skritt and carry them in your arms back to safety. Your can see the fallen Skritt in your character’s arms when you do this, and carrying the Skritt works like a weapon bundle that offers you a speed boost. I call this the Forrest Gump quest.

Skritt activity continues outside the city as well. A group of Skritt will ask you to escort them on a scavenging mission. This is codeword for stealing Asuran tech from an Inquest lab area far beyond the Skrittsburg borough. Normally, the escort quests in Guild Wars 2 are quite enjoyable. (Yes, you read that right.) This one proved to be the hardest escort quest I’ve had though. I am not sure if it was my relative level or the fact that the Inquest lab was swarming with Inquest soldiers. You can also run into a second dynamic event in the nearby area if someone else has decided to help out a Golemancer at the Asuran secret weapons lab. Completing the Skritt escort leads to another Dynamic Event back at Skrittsburgh, but I’ll keep that scenario to myself.

East End Waterfall

The East End of Skrittsburgh reveals a wonderful waterfall.

A Show of Things to Come?

What Skrittsburgh reveals is some of the depth and options that the Guild Wars 2 dynamic event system offers. If they can hide a small city behind the outcomes of dynamic events, then they could also hide a dungeon or a mini-game. Considering what the developers have spoken of in regards to the risen city of Orr, it seems like endgame could play out like a far crazier and larger version of the Skrittsburgh DE system. It has also been recently revealed that the city of Ebon Hawke is in the game, and they haven’t specified if this a zoned city or an open world city. Considering that there are heart quests within the city, I am likely to believe that is open world part of the larger zone its within, much like Skrittsburgh.

The key factor to this is giving the player a sense of bigger, greater, and more wonderous things to do as they level up. I don’t want WoW-raiding in the game. I don’t want gear treadmills. I do want a bigger, badder challenge set before me, and these sort of DE systems can be a part of that.

Watch This Space

A Dredge Mole

Guild Wars 2

Why No BWE Impressions

Previously, I had written up a Beta Weekend Event impression article for the previous betas, but skipped out on this for BWE3. The reasons for this being that I felt I might start retreading on things I had already talked about, and the other reason being, that as launch approaches, I felt the focus of the blog should change from general impressions to more focused topics.

For this reason, I’ll be putting up a short blog about Skrittsburgh some time after tomorrow’s Stress Test. I already have some collected thoughts on the Skritt City, but I wanted to get more screenshots of the various boroughs of Skrittsburgh.

So, watch this space?

The Burning Mantree Festival

Mushroom Engineer

The Engineer is like a cross between Team Fortress 2 and a Mad Alchemist

As promised

This previous and final Beta Weekend Event for Guild Wars 2, I decided to ditch the Mesmer for the Engineer. I had wanted to do a better Engineer write-up than the previous quick-hit on the profession that I did before. So, I rolled a Sylvari Engineer with a mushroom top, and grouped up with my friends.

I had a few simple goals with this playthrough: get a better feel for the profession, spend more PVP time with the Engy, and see how the Engineer worked in large scale combat. The third part is important, because large scale combat is a heartier part of Guild Wars 2 than it is in other MMOs.

I Am The Midnight Bomber

I suspected from my previous experience with the Engineer that the profession really opens up once you acquire some kits to use. This proved to be very true from my experience, as the Engineer’s weapon choices are limited to just three choices.

By level 4 or 5, I had gained every weapon the Engineer could use and gotten their skillbars filled out. Last BWE, I really enjoyed the pistol and shield combo, but unfortunately, the Magnetic Inversion aspect of the shield was broken in BWE and the shield far less effective and fun. This ended up pushing me towards the Rifle weapon, but this was not a sad turn of events. The Engineer’s rifle plays more like a shotgun than a Winchester. You fire of hip-shots from a distance, shoot nets, but most of all, you use the mighty kickback and force of a shotgun-feel to launch yourself in the air, spray buckshot in an enemies face, and then fly backwards off the kickback of the gun.

The first kit I obtained was the grenade kit, and as mentioned, this opened up my playstyle. While the pistol and rifle gave me basic offense and some wacky fun, the grenade kit became the AOE choice, allowing me to lob grenades that froze, dazed and shredded my opponents. Of course, with all Engineer utility skills, the grenade kit gave me a new Function key skill that allowed me to lob a large mass of grenades.

The interesting bit about the grenade kit is that all five weapon skills are aoe targeted. There has been some debate upon this, and I can understand making at least the spammable 1 skill target-based, but being able to spam an AOE does have some advantages of its own. For one, if you throw grenades at a player, and you suspect the player may dodge backwards, you can aim your grenade behind them and hit them at the end of the dodge. A target-based grenade lob would always miss on a dodge, but a ground targeted grenade can anticipate a movement and negate a dodge.

The second kit I obtained was the Flamethrower and this is where the real fun began. I didn’t expect to like the Flamethrower as much as I did, but the ability to swing a stream of flame back and forth over a group felt great in a MMO. I rarely used targeted attacks with the flamethrower. The kit also includes a projectile flame burst that can be detonated with a second click. This was quite hard to pull off at close range, but with some range the ability made for a lot of damage. It hits a target when passing through and then does aoe damage on detonation. Overall, the Engineer featured a good amount of skillshot abilities.

The final kit I attained was the Bomb Kit and this kit, along with the Flamethrower, became my go-to tools. The Bomb Kit is held back by all of the bombs being a dropped skill, meaning there are no range abilities with bombs. Each time the player uses a bomb, the explosive is laid at the players feet. The F-skill for this kit is The Big One, which is a large, hard hitting bomb. Combining The Big One with the flamethrowers F-skill, and a few more of the bombs in the kit, creates a little pbaoe nuke. Every Dynamic Event and enemy zerg rush at my friends and I resulted in an oppurtunity to blow things up.

Outside of the kits, there were turrets that I used a bit of, and elixers and strange tools like a battering ram. Overall, everything had a sense of wacky, explosive fun to playing the game.

Flamethrower Action

Sometimes a plant just wants to watch the plant life burn down

Blowing Up Other People

For PVP, I had picked out a healing based Engineer build. Namely, I was using the bombs heal allies trait, along with a lot of vitality, toughness, healing and touch of condition damage. The skillbar was highly similiar to my PVE skillset, and this was done to be familiar with the tools I was using. The build itself was moderately successful. In group situations, the constant bomb laying provided many combo fields and some aoe damage, and the small heals helped my allies, as did the med kits I would drop. Outside of group combat, I was able to last for a long time, but struggled to take down enemies on my own. The build was mostly a cap holding and group support build.

I did want to try a power based build, featuring the rifle and flamethrower, but never got to trying it out. If you want to see some good use of a power-based Engineer, then I suggest watching Quark’s sPvP engineer Twitch video here:

Quark’s Engineer sPVP

The Toolmole Tailor

The only drawback to my Engineer time was that the medium armor I got access to was far less enjoyable than the style my Mesmer had. I got a lot of cool looking weapons, but for some reason, the Sylvari starting area had less exciting medium armor aesthetics. For a good while, I was being teased for looking like a fishmonger.

Having seen some of the dungeon sets, I imagine the dredge-based Sorrow’s Embrace armor would look scary and scary fantastic on an Engineer.

A Convincing Experience

My time with the Engineer made me reconsider my primary class choice for the start of the game. I had been set on Mesmer, but the profession still has a lot of issues with its mechanics, and has honestly gotten progressively worse with each BWE. Meanwhile, the Engineer seems improved overall, and I greatly enjoyed playing it even though the shield skill was broken.

The Advantage of Choice

A Dredge Mole

Guild Wars 2 Debate

This isn’t ice cream.

This entry is brought on by the general debate over ArenaNet’s decision to change their trait system from a free and open choice to a tiered and more restrictive system. Mainly, this post is about the idea of “The Illusion of Choice”. The Illusion of Choice argument basically states that though a system may allow you to take another trait or skill point over another, the fact that certain traits or skills are obviously better makes any choice but them a poor choice. In the end, you will end up taking what’s best rather than taking the what is worst. Thus, there really is no choice, but only an illusion of choice.

This is an idea, I imagine, born from World of Warcraft players who were told of the idea to explain talent changes, and partly held up by Guild Wars players who never got deep into “Build” Wars. For as much as build making was fun and creative in Guild Wars, most of the playerbase never really took part in the experimentation, but rather just co-opted the popular builds to themselves, and in doing so, saw the system as nothing but a meta game that produced powerful builds that left them with no choice but to play them. The problem with this view of Guild Wars is that people who took this route robbed themselves of choice by never pushing the limits of what they could do. It wasn’t that there was no choice, but that they abstained from the process by which such “build wars” were produced.

Yes, that sounds a bit elitist. Yes, it casts some assumptions upon the public. But stick with me, for I have an important and valid point. Namely, that the illusion of choice only exists in a vertical progression game. In a game of horizontal progression, choice is everything.

A Quick Historical Example

Guild Wars featured a tournament PvP mode called Hall of Heroes, but it was also once called Tombs and eventually retitled Hero’s Ascent. In this PvP mode, teams of 8 (sometimes 6) players formed a party and entered the tournament. They began by fighting a group of NPCs for a morale boost, as sort of barrier of entry into the tournament and test of coordination. After this, they faced off versus one or two other teams, round after round, participating in deathmatches, flag running matches and king of the hill type game modes. All of these matches included a Ghostly Hero, which was often involved in the other mades and offered a morale boost for the team that killed another team’s Ghostly Hero. For a team to succeed and reach the Hall of Heroes, and then go on to win, it must include tools to deal with all of these game modes while still being able to defeat another team straight up.

Rather early on in Guild Wars lifespan, certain easy to play but hard to master team setups began to emerge. Air Spike was a tournament team build made up of at least five Air attuned Elementalists using the Chain Lightning skill in unison. This is where the “spike” term from Guild Wars comes in, for to spike means to have all dps players hit their one spike ability at the same time, thus firing away at a target in unison, causing a coordinated and instant attack to eat through any lifebar. This was normally accomplished via voice chat, with a target caller and spike caller using the game’s targeting system to select a single target for the whole team and then giving a countdown to the spike moment.

Spike created a healing meta to counter it and other such changes in the game, but that’s not the point here. The point is that the power of this build was not permanent. A group of players from the Penny Arcade forums stumbled upon the ability to continually stack Ranger spirits on top of each other, creating a wall of area wide buffs and effects that could be used to their advantage. This created a new situation for every other team to deal with in the tournament. It also hampered the Smite builds, which were based off an Elemantalist/Monk’s ability to stack enchants on itself and then spam quick enchants to trigger zealot’s fire on friendly Warriors. For each of these builds, the healing monks featured different skill setups. Smite Healers were in for longer matches than Air Spike healers, but both healers had to be ready for Air Spike damage, but Spirit Spam Rangers needed healers who didn’t use enchantments, removing the importance of Healing Seed from the game. Though spells like Healing Seed helped heal through focus fire and Smite pressure, Protective Spirit helped with spike builds by limiting the amount of health a friendly target could lose. These were always better choices than other healing skill choices, but when faced with Spirit Spamming rangers that constantly removed enchantments and slowed enchantments down, they were no longer the best choice. Thus, Word of Healing monks were important for Spike pressure because they were not an enchant based heal, as did Infuse Health monks (which became more popular later on).

So, right away, you see that due to GW1’s lessened use of vertical progression, the illusion of choice was more a matter of what you were facing rather than what skill rises above all. Healing Seed was very popular, as is Protective Spirit. The constant removal of enchants made these less powerful. The meta changes and so on and so on. This isn’t the limit of the historical example though.

IWAY was a build coined for a single skill called I Will Avenge You. Every Warrior in this team-build brought this skill and when they hit the skill, they did a textual shout of I WILL AVENGE YOU! Players facing off against this team quickly noted all these large bruising fellows shouting the same thing and coined the build IWAY.

But I Will Avenge You was never seen as a PvP skill. Up until the point it became popular, it was seen as a PVE only skill. What the skill did was give the Warrior a regen and attack speed boost for each dead ally.There was no choice of bringing the skill because it wasn’t good enough for PvP, because if your team was dead then what use was the buff? You had lost by then. The idea of the skill was far too situational, at least according to popular opinion and the Illusion of Choice viewpoint. IWAY belonged to runner builds or PVE tanks who wanted to survive their team dying around them.

IWAY was created by a guild messing around with a Team Arena build on a larger scale, bringing in a bunch of Warrior/Rangers with Axes into the tournament mode game. Initially, the entire team was made of Warrior/Rangers, and slowly a monk or two was added, but the healing power always remained focused on moderate party-wide heals rather than large focused heals. After a few goes, someone decided to toss IWAY into their skillbar on a whim, and the discovered that it was suddenly more useful with all these bodies laying around. The advantage was that pets counted as allies, so the Smite teams eating up the bodies of the War/Ranger pets and the fellow War/Rangers dying from a lessened amount of direct healing was quickly powering up the IWAY skill, turning a basic pressure build into an overwhelming pressure build that was able to eat through the then powerful smite balls.

But this didn’t make IWAY Warriors the best Warriors, because Smite builds still worked best with Hammer Warriors creating knockdowns for the smite pressure to be spammed through. The only thing that lessened Hammer Warriors was the advantage of the armor heavy IWAY builds against their overall team build. Yet, even the guild that popularized IWAY didn’t run those type of Warriors in its GvG games. For in GvG, what is important changes and the battle is lengthened, making survival better and battles split between points. These different situations made the IWAY warrior not as effective and the IWAY skill was no longer the best choice.

The point being that the idea of best and useless is subject to change in a horizontal system with a lot of choices. Someone can take the “useless” and find a way to force it into usefulness, changing everyone’s assumptions about what is best. This would not happen in a situation in which one trait or skill is the same as another, but just improved statistically. In games where one trait or skill has different effects or different conditional uses, then choice does matter and the choices made changes the game, and thus, choice is then important.

So That Was More Than a Quick History

Yes, I went on for a bit there, but I hope it gives some background for where Guild Wars players are coming from and the experience they speak from. Now it’s time to examine Guild Wars 2 traits and the actual problems there.

There are a few traits that are mere vertical progressions, like traits that improve your power when wielding a sword or rifle. In a battle of straight up damage, these traits will tend to be most important. There also traits that directly increase the damage of a skill such as Mind Wrack. If you’re going to play a shatter based Mesmer, then this damage increasing trait will always be desirable. The question is whether sPvP is entirely about damage and whether the problem is the ease of access to these traits or that such vertical progression traits exist.

I put forth that vertical progression traits become mandatory for anyone looking to use the skill or weapon they improve. An Eviscerate Warrior will always go 30 points into strength for the Axe Mastery trait. Tiering them doesn’t change this, it just forces players into going 30 points down a line and then picking the best traits along the way. This quickly becomes a cookie cutter build scenario. That is not to say that the previous trait system didn’t have popular builds with pretty common trait setups, but there is a big difference between the two. If every Warrior must go 30 points into Strength now, that leaves less points leftover to create variations on a common theme. You might have a lot of Eviscerate Warriors in either system, but you will have more variation on that Eviscerate Warrior in the previous system due to there being more “leftover” points. Leftover points being the trait points you have leftover after you get the primary 4 or 5 traits that make up a build. In the previous system, most builds topped out at 5 mandatory traits, some maybe six. In the last BWE, six mandatory traits seemed to be the standard due to new tier restrictions. This left 10 leftover trait points, with less options to spend those 10 points on. This pushes the game closer towards illusion of choice. If you have 30 points spent in two different lines because you have to get those two Grandmaster traits to make the build function, then you are faced with picking the best of a much smaller litter.

Previously, if I had 20 or 30 points leftover, I could experiment with either trying to squeeze any extra damage I could out of a build or provide more utility to my build or provide better survival for myself or even increase my mobility. At 10 points leftover, I am far less likely to have that many options. Since sPvP is based on Capture Point, all those other options have their strengths. Mobility matters, survival matters and damage always helps.

ANet wanted to compare their trait change to ice cream, saying you could have an ice cream parlor with 300 flavors of which only 2 are good or an ice cream parlor with 30 flavors but 6 are good. First, this is a false dichotomy, but secondly, its just a horrible analogy. Ice cream flavor is a matter of opinion. Some people love mango and some people do not. The debate here is about viability. There will always be popular builds that people swarm to adopt.

I’d rather compare it to a pizza parlor and the idea that people like pizza and that pizza is popular, meaning that a popular build is equal to pizza.  You will always have crust, sauce and cheese on your pizza for that is what makes it pizza. You can either have a pizza parlor with the 7 most popular toppings or you can have a pizza parlor with 35 toppings. In any scenario, the more toppings offered the greater variety of pizza you’ll see. If you’re a vegetarian, the 35 topping place will have more options. If you’re on a diet, then you’ll pick healthier toppings rather than the more popular pepperoni and sausage type of toppings. If you’re vegetarian but allergic to mushrooms and olives, you may be out of luck at the 7 topping parlor. Eventually, you’re pleasing less people at one parlor than the other because of your limited choice. Everyone is still having pizza, but people are having less types of pizza when you offer 7 toppings in total. You are assuming what everyone will want and what will always be best for everyone. You’re excluding people by having less topping options and you’re leaving yourself prone to burnout once everyone gets sick of pepperoni and sausage for the 100th time.

I’m not saying my analogy is much better, but it at least accounts for the fact that the game changes and nothing can be absolutely known for sure. But I feel I’ve gotten off-track, as the point here is horizontal versus vertical progression.

The Fledglings

There are certain traits in the game that have extremely limited use. These are the “on downed state”, “when reviving”, “upon rallying”, and “when taking fall damage” traits. Nobody is taking these traits due to how situational they are and how minimal their impact is on the outcome of the game. As I mentioned, you can force situations that make useless skills suddenly useful, but it’s hard to see where these traits will become increasingly valuable. For example, there is really only one point in the sPvP maps where you can take fall damage and not nearly kill yourself, and the areas where you can do this are not really high traffic spots that would make the fall effect trait worthwhile. In tower defenses in WvWvW, an “on fall damage” trait might prove more effective, but it also plops you right down into the heart of a zerg more often than not.

So when traits like these face the battle of being chosen over other traits, they will almost always lose. This is the illusion of choice, but it’s not because there’s too much choice, but because the traits themselves are poorly designed. Tiering them helps them in no way. Improving them or removing them actually does.

So what would you have instead?

If you’re going horizontal progression, which I think ANet hopes to be doing, and what I feel is best for PvP balance, then you need more traits that add functionality to an existing ability and less traits that simply increase damage of an ability and less traits that simply have too little advantage to them. For example, the Mesmer has access to traits that make Glamour skills cause blinding, and skills that make blinds cause confusion. These sort of traits evolve the functionality of Glamour skills to a new purpose and they would be desirable skills if the Confusion condition wasn’t so weak.

You have traits that make Warrior shouts heal allies, giving the Warrior more utility. These are the choices that are interesting while not being absolutely better. They improve shouts, but you may want to go in another direction with your utility skills and seek to add functionality to your weapon attacks. Both are legitimate choices. You could have shouts add a stack of might, which then makes them more viable for damage builds. It’s all a choice though whether you want to eek out more damage or provide more utility.

But ANet doesn’t seem to understand the power or functionality of their traits so far. The initial tier system for Mesmer made little sense. The Grandmaster tier for Illusions provided a 12th trait that heals the player on a shatter. This is not a trait that benefits Phantasm builds more, but a trait that adds functionality for any build that may use shatters. In fact, if you spend a ton of trait points improving your illusion damage, you are less likely to shatter and thus less likely to benefit from that trait. By isolating such a trait at Grandmaster status, it makes the trait less desirable due to the traits a player is forced to take in order to acquire it. What was once a good trait that many different builds could use is now an unused trait for it doesn’t work into enough viable builds. Immediatly, the attempt at vertical progression through tiers creates an illusion of choice where there was once actual choice. Maybe last BWE, you were picking between shatters healing you or shatters crippling your target or shatters causing more vulnerability. Now you’re not picking that first option at all. It’s no longer worth the investment. It’s not an actual choice.

Give us flavor

So, if you’re trying to argue that something only has the illusion of choice then make sure you understand where the illusion of choice comes from. There is an illusion of choice if you’re picking between having your house repainted or having your house lit on fire, but the color you paint your house is an actual choice. Preferred playstyles and roles within a team can benefit from horizontal progression. Game length benefits from horizontal progression. Vertical progression is the illusion of choice, but a GW2 system with properly designed traits will feature less direct power battles. Instead, you’ll ideally find options that provide further functionality to the base of a build.