BWE2 impressions – A different experience

Still smiling

by Raymond – also including impressions from Sheik and screenshots from Tsskies

Overall experience:

I had another great weekend! While some things weren’t as fresh as the first BWE, there was a lot new for me this time around and not all of it was added by the developers. The community seemed a bit more adjusted this time and I had a much easier time communicating and cooperating with my server during events and other PvE content. I also took the time to play more than one character to try out new professions.

Overall I would say my experience was different, but equally as fun.

Also this time we had an increase in guild activity. For those of us who were around for the first event, I would say we had just as much fun this time around. However for one of our members, Sheik, this beta weekend was his first. Here are some of his first impressions:

” Lion’s Arch nearly gave me tears. Manly tears. It’s a huge metropolis in the center of the world where all the races live and fight evil together and I adore how they set it up.”
 “I loved the facial options for female humans and norns, but the male humans need manlier options. I want to make a Harrison Ford looking character you know? Not a Final Fantasy protagonist.”
“Fighting is fun. I like how areas off the path are dangerous if you’re not careful.”

I agree with Sheik. LA is beautiful, we need manlier men in the character creator and fighting was very fun. His first experience seemed to have been very similar to my own, the betas really are a whole lot of fun packed into three days. Fore my second beta weekend there were some things new to me, and I would like to share them.

1. Social interaction

The guild was much more active this event. We did a few events together, some of the personal story and hung out for the final event. However, in addition to the guild I was surprised how much more interactive the rest of the Maguuma server community was this time. Here’s a basic list of what happened to me on the social front:

1. I made a friend through a conversation that started in the /map channel
2. Cooperated with a small group to take out the mini-dungeon boss in Diessa and gained a potential Ascalon Catacombs ally
3. Coordinated with two others to take out a Svanir boss, just the three of us. We maintained good communication with “/say”
4. Participated in and helped start a slumber party when the end event didn’t spawn

While it was a bummer that our end event didn’t start in time to enjoy it, we could probably say that we were the only server to have a slumber party. Either way, it seems that communicating was much easier this time around.

I think the community is on the right track. There has been much concern that Guild Wars 2’s auto-cooperation features have actually eliminated the need for community interaction, but I think we need more time before we worry about that. The new /say channel was a BIG help, but I also feel that many of the players were more adjusted to the game this time around and more ready to communicate.

Overall, people were more cooperative in BWE2.

2. The dye system

I love the change made to the dye system. I actually felt like I was gaining dye colors when I went out exploring. Before the change I felt more like I was gaining work and using up my inventory space for something I did not want to go deal with.

I stand by the choice to have the dyes character based instead of account based. I had an issue in the first Guild Wars where I ran out of armors that I wanted to get for my characters, and there was no way to customize armors beyond the simple cash=dye system. Essentially I ran out of personal reasons to play those alt characters. If I had further customization for them I would have had a goal for them. A reason to play. I can Guild Wars 2’s dye unlock system really helping extend the cosmetic experience. I believe the idea of this system is to give you more progression toward additional customization options even after you found your favorite armor.

However I do hope there are some ways to bypass the random system and work toward a desired dye color. Because if there is a specific dye color that you want, I don’t see why you should have to loot dyes a possibly infinite number of times for a chance at getting it.

3. Healing

I played monk a few times in the prequel, and while it was very useful, it was not fun for me. I thought I would give healing another shot in Guild Wars 2, so I created an elementalist and focused on water magic. It was great! I liked healing with a Guild Wars 2 elementalist a lot more than a Guild Wars monk.

I like how the healing system relies on the cooperation of the non-healers much more in Guild Wars 2 than it did in the orginal. Water magic heals are AoE and leave behind a combo field. I equipped a “blast” combo myself finisher because I knew I couldn’t expect the other players to always watch for my water skills after only four to six days of experience, however at some point the players will get used to helping the healers help them. Healing in this game is really now much more about watching the battlefield than it is about watching people’s HP bars.

It looks incredibly weak at a first glance, but it’s actually not. Alone I was able to get most players’ health up about 25%, imagine how much more they could gain if there were multiple healers or if more people were paying attention to my water fields. So if I was able to manage roughly 25% in AoE  healing, it should only take three to five elementalists to keep anything from a single warrior to a large group very well healed. If a single healer was able to easily refill health bars, then things would get a bit overpowered when more than one showed up.

I had a great time healing, and I loved that I could mix it with serious damage dealing as well. I will be creating an elementalist when the game launches, that’s for sure.

4.Pets

That’s actually not a pet.

Despite spending the majority of my Guild Wars hours on a ranger, I was pretty convinced that I would not be playing one in the sequel. I didn’t want to be stuck with a pet. I just wanted it to be me and my bow, nothing else. However, I decided to give those big furry creatures a try in this beta anyway .

What the heck?! I actually like them! They can come help rally me when the other players aren’t paying attention. They can tank for me and keep my enemies at a good shootable distance. And the pig can dig up some pretty awesome healing environmental items.

There are a few situations where a pet was a burden, but they did not outweigh the benefits. They are also fixable.

1. Sometimes pets will just charge at enemies for seemingly no reason. Even when they aren’t in range, nor is the player in combat with them.
2. Pets still get in the way of screenshots.
3. There’s a Queensdale renown heart that involves trapping crabs, but its difficult to get the crabs close enough as they attack your pet.
4. Non-tank pets spend most of their time dead. I feel like the idea of no-dodge, no-block, no-retreat melee just doesn’t work without tanking abilities.

Either way, the ranger was REALLY fun and the pets increased survivability be a lot. Actually it was so fun that I will be playing this profession as my main character again.

(Hopefully this time it’ll get PvP-nerfed AFTER the skills are seperated between PvE and PvP, not before.)

5. Game User Interface

Goodbye old dodge bar. You will be missed. Well actually… no.

There were many changes to the GUI and I loved them all! Well except the cursor. I liked the old yellow painterly one.

Oh well, still using it as my desktop cursor so its all good.

The rest of the UI changes were brilliant. The position switch between the buffs/conditions and dodge bar was a really good change. I like the line in the middle of the dodge bar letting me know about how many dodges I had left. Also it felt SO MUCH easier to watch my conditions over my utility bar than I did with the previous UI.

The rectangular minimap was a step in the right direction. It really combines the compass and mission map from GW1. Some changes I would like to see though:

1. Separate the stacked NPC vendor and other icons when at full zoom. There was a POI in Queensdale in the hunting lodge that grew a merchant icon right on top of it. It was hard to see if it was complete or not.
2. Keep the icons the same size when zooming out. They were hard to see on anything but the closest zoom.
3. Allow the user to draw on it by left or right clicking. Holding shift to draw just doesn’t feel right. You should be able bind ALL of the map’s movement and zoom options to the left click and scroll wheel freeing up the right click completely for drawing… or the other way around.

The party window tracked better, but there still was a time I had to relog to see my members in the same area on the mini-map. It would also be cool to have a clearer depiction of who is offline and who is online. The best way to do this, if possible, would be to always render the icons of party members’ characters if they are online. No matter what map they are on.

6. Optimization and sound

I have an Intel Core i5-750 2.67 GHz. It ran at a frame rate between 16  and 50, but stayed at 25 most of the time. In lonely situations, this was almost exactly the same as BWE1. However, unlike BWE1, it remained at that speed even in large crowds rather than dropping to like 5 or 10 frames per second. It’s amazing how much smoother heavy action was this time.

I bet my frame rate stays above a constant 60 by the time the game launches. Which is amazing considering how many players, npcs, animations and projectiles are in an area at one time.

I had a few sound issues, but this time I ran into far less muffling and stuttering in combat.

1. After a few rounds of sPvP I lost all combat sounds coming from my character. Had to relog to get them back.
2. Cicadas and crickets in Queensdale at night were giving me a nasty headache. ArenaNet has already responded to the issue and plans to have it fixed for BWE3.

Thanks team! Otherwise, your game sounds GREAT!

7. Personal story

I tried the story missions this time and I was impressed. Compared to the original Guild Wars missions, I felt like the story here was more intriguing. Something about it always drew me to want to play the next mission to see what was going to happen.

Now I did not actually get very far, but if I had to do a comparison I would say:

Guild Wars: More interesting mission structure, less interested in the story. I wanted to play the missions for completion, not see see what would happen next.
Guild Wars 2: Less interesting mission structure, more interested in the story. I wanted to play the missions to see what would happen next, but so far the actual combat/exploration part of the missions has been very basic. (Except for the stuff that happens in your own home instance.)

Though it was really great when Faren and a bandit got stuck sideways in a bridge. It totally looked like they were making out. It’s Faren though, he can do what he wants. He’s rich you know.

Conclusion

I think I can speak for all of the community when I say that we sincerely hope that the feedback from this beta was enough to clearly define a release schedule for this game. Whether its just around the corner or several months away, we would like to know.

From what we’ve seen, the game is in really good condition, and many would consider it to be sufficient for release once the optimization is done. Based on that, it should be easy to meet any set-in-stone release date so why not announce one now?

We’re eager to wake up one Monday after a weekend of Guild Wars 2 and still be able to log into the game servers that morning with the knowledge that our characters and the log-in servers will be with us for years to come.

A few combat clips compiled by Tsskies

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