Just Plain (or Playin’) Mercenary Now

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It figures. I go all gung-ho and farm Mordrem body parts for two days, because my compulsion to complete was reaching OCD standards… I bang my head against the Dodgy Crowd and Wicked Rodeo achievements more than a dozen times solo, before finally surrendering and looking for extra help in a group…

…and the big plan was to then title the next blog post “Mercenaries of the Silverwastes” and write some commentary on that.

Then Anet pulls the rug out from all of us with the announcement that Living Story will pause for Wintersday break and only resume on Jan 13.

Oh.

Hrm.

That feels like a bit of a letdown. Kinda deflated, really.

I think the biggest problem I have is that the story continuity kinda goes nowhere with this sort of pacing. One needs to have a sort of mini-arc come to a more-or-less satisfactory conclusion, before declaring a break.

One doesn’t just ramp up and build up mystery and suspense, plonk a big cliffhanger of a door in the way and say, well, wait 2, no, it’s 5 weeks now to find out what’s next!

Especially not if you’ve built up the expectation that the story will be explained in two weeks, and then suddenly extend it to five.

Did one really have to wait a week to announce that kind of thing, especially if it’s already scheduled? Just putting the Jan 13 date out there the moment Seeds of Truth launched, to say that it would continue then, would probably have mitigated expectations a little better.

Also, people wouldn’t have looked at the ridiculous amount of artificial Mordrem bodypart grind (two bladder pieces, wtf?) and freaked out.

Honestly, beyond getting strung along with a story that goes nowhere, I don’t have a big issue with the concept of a break for Wintersday.

It’s Christmas season, many people get busy irl, work takes a holiday in many companies, and personally I could use SNOW AND ICE for a while, instead of SAND AND ROCK.

It’s been…what, six weeks of the Silverwastes? There’s a limit to how novel the zone can feel, and as much as I’d really like to see what’s behind the west wall of vines that are ever extending outward (especially with the Shadow of the Dragon-sounding roar that echoes every now and then when you hang out between the Amber and Blue forts), it might do us all some good to have a break from the zone and go elsewhere for a change, before coming back refreshed.

(One will,  however, be a bit pissed story-wise, if we come back to find Camp Resolve strangled by vines. No, seriously, there’s this big giant vine creeping up on the camp here. For weeks. Cos plants grow slow, I guess.

If we can light signal fires to artillery barrage the forts, I humbly suggest that we turn the front part of this vine into a bonfire to signal the big guns to light it up further…)

Oh well.

If anything, it mostly comes as a bit of a relief.

Steam was offering Van Helsing II at 66% off the other day, and while I didn’t pick it up yet (I figure 66% ought to happen again during the Christmas sale, and I’m always hoping for 75%), it did remind me that I’ve always been intending to try out Van Helsing I, which has been sitting in my “to-be-played” list for an eternity now.

So I cranked it up and discovered that action RPGs seem to be a rather good accompaniment to an MMO habit. Quick to start, lots of mobs to fight, interesting skills and build pondering, plenty of loot drops/reward factor, and the ability to just log out and pause everything/put all progress on hold until the next time you feel like playing it.

(Between Path of Exile, Marvel Heroes and now Van Helsing, I’m racking up quite the collection, here.)

Van Helsing is entertaining in the sense that it feels a bit like a cross between a regular RPG and an action RPG. There’s a bit more of a story going on, with quests you pick up from NPCs, and sidequests. Stuff is supernatural-themed and you seem to be a bit of a mercenary hunter with one main plot you’re investigating, but along the way, you do a lot of other things and help various people – standard RPG schtick, really.

You have a nice interaction/banter occuring with your ghost “companion”, which sort of acts like a more elaborate Torchlight pet (she’ll be deadly insulted if you call her a pet, though), that will pick up items and gold for you, and go to the shops to sell stuff, plus a whole lot more besides.

There’s a bit more of a stop-and-start feel to the skills than something like Path of Exile or Diablo (the older versions anyway, I -assume- 3 is similar),  but not as awkward feeling as Marvel Heroes.

The challenge factor is a lot more appealing than Marvel Heroes, in the sense that one actually feels threatened by the mobs and can die to them, unless you do a lot of fancy footwork to kite stuff, or use healing potions and prep accordingly.

So at least I’ll have more time to play that in the 5 weeks that Living Story is more or less on hold.

Wintersday this year is in Divinity’s Reach, so I guess that’s something new and novel, to see the grand city dressed up in Winter finery.

I finally got Wynne’s Locket:

Picked up the Do Not Tread achievement after a lot of practice with Caithe and her skills and finally avoiding getting trampled or charged by acting like a total wuss and single-pulling centaurs out to the edges of the battle to murder, while letting Faolain tank the rest of them. (Stealthing in to rez her again if/when she goes down. Gotta match her for being a manipulative bastard, y’know?)

Was brought near to the point of tears and surrender with the other two achievements, and finally decided to join a group for the Wicked Rodeo achievement, if only to see how different it was when other people got to have their own skills.

It wasn’t a bad time, actually, though we wiped twice. Each go at it sort of showed us a bit more strategy on how we might actually progress with it.

Eventually, we settled on killing the elementals near the sides of the walls, leaving the nasty sand pools there, while avoiding most of the wind walls around the arena.

At the same time, I was playing Caithe, and decided to switch my gear around to 4 parts of Soldiers and 2 parts of Clerics, which made me a lot tankier than my usual Zerker stuff. (Died the first time to too many windwalls, died the second time to stumbling backward into two sandpools and getting conditioned to death with all my movement abilities on cooldown – which was stupid, but look, was avoiding windwalls, okay?)

I could pretty much just sit there and take one of Togron’s normal rock shard attacks without flinching, fer instance.

This also had the added bonus of turning me into a magnet for the elementals, so I could just tap them and bring them to the rest of the party gathering by the walls. They quickly made short work of them while I just spammed 1, afraid to do anything else and then move out of position with the rest of Caithe’s very movement-oriented skills.

The rest of the group was also more mobile and long-ranged, so they then pounded on Togron to bring his hp down while I just sat around at far range attracting his rock shards again, and preventing him from his close-range attack of creating sand pools.

That went really super smoothly, to the point one of the other party members asked if that felt like there were less waves that round. No, we just killed the elementals and worked his hp down really fast. -Really- fast. Cos no one died.

That experience gave me enough encouragement to try for Dodgy Crowd again, on normal, solo. Being really careful with Caithe and putting the eles near the walls before killing them, so as not to make nasty sand pool obstacles for myself.

After a few more times banging away at it, I got it, which makes me happy to feel like I accomplished something.

With that strategy, I might just give Wicked Rodeo a go again solo. Some other time, though.

I did get curious enough to join another group for Wicked Rodeo, this time playing myself, not Caithe. And yes, you can indeed reflect or absorb the windwalls. I got tons of mileage out of Shield of Absorption, and a lesser amount out of Wall of Reflection (problem with reflection is the windwalls will bounce away, so you better be standing in the right place.)

That group was a little less coordinated or organized. I kept mum on the strategy my original group had pulled off, cos I wanted to see what this one would come up with first. It ended up with most of us dead and one person finally managing to stretch it out and solo the last part of it, after repeated tries wiping. Still a viable enough solution, as far as it goes.

And I’m really just quite relieved that I’m done with the stupid Mordrem bodypart grind for now.

I ended up being one of those self-focused leechers for a bit, getting some hits in on a mob and then booking it to another. That’s just how the system is set up, right? It doesn’t actually matter if the bosses die or not, you still get the body parts. I don’t -want- the greater nightmare key reward, it gives glove boxes, which I don’t need right now. I just want -more- body part bags to open so that I might actually get a damned spleen or the second half of a bladder.

So one stops playing the Silverwastes properly, instead taxi’ing like mercenaries for hire into the next Silverwastes instance above 50% completion. One taps the events, does the bare minimum of defence, and runs around looking for lost bandit chests instead.

(Look, RNG and me don’t get along, all right? I’ve opened about 300 of them so far – 159 of them on a dedicated chest farm run – and only got one boots box out of it. On the 300th or so box.

The only good thing I can say is that I’m making quite a decent killing on materials that come out of the champion bags.)

Once the breach happens, hop into the first most-likely-to-die boss that you need (that’s usually Troll or Thrasher), tap it, bail when it feels like you’ve got enough damage in, and run, do-not-pass-Go, to the next boss you need (Husk or Terragriffs) and stay around to kill that (readying up an extractor to click the moment the first one dies.)

That’s at least two parts, and maybe even three, if you get the timings just right.

They might fix it eventually, but hey, not for 5 weeks, apparently. *coughs*

The good news is, I don’t need to do that anymore. I can now stay around like a good person and focus on killing one mob, so that other people who still need the parts can run from place to place.

The bad news is, I’m probably still going to pick an easy mob to kill first and go to the harder ones later.

That, and the fact I’ll beeline for any chest first over actually doing a Silverwastes event now.

GW2: Sandy Dune Caves and Drydock Scratch

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To call it merely a jumping puzzle does it a serious injustice.

Even if I feel like I should be in a jungle outfit to be Indiana Charr in this section.

Even if I feel like I should be in a jungle outfit to be Indiana Charr in this section.

What it is, is an entire cavern system that only happens to contain a jumping puzzle.

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GW2 does not shy away from the vertical. You know those deep and varied underwater places that are so awesome? This is the caves version.

I spent far more time squeeing over the vast variety of cave environments depicted so adeptly than worrying about jumping.

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I also spent an equally long time on the outdoor aboveground portions, taking grand panoramic screenshots of the Silverwastes from angles to die for.

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That vine!

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That view!

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That airship!

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That view and that airship!

(Yes, there were also plenty of impact craters.)

I’m glad that feedback from Not So Secret appears to have been taken to heart. Near the later stages, a skritt will helpfully rez you so that frustrated raging and having to restart right from the beginning due to one unlucky slip is not necessary.

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The gigantic thing is broken up into milestones, that essentially can save your progress over gameplay sessions, if you remain in the map. My first exploration took me through 3 milestones before I ran out of time and had to quit. I’d assumed I’d have to rerun the thing from the beginning, but no, when I logged back on, I still had the 3 milestone stacks, along with my coin buff.

The coin buff is an interesting exercise in self-chosen player difficulty mixed with a goldsink.

If you pay the NPC 1 gold, you get a buff that lasts for an hour that lets you use any handy skritt tunnels (conveniently placed near post-plummeting locations) to go back to the last milestone.

If you’re a more miserly individual, you can pay 1 silver to get a teleport to the second last milestone and 1 copper to the third last.

I started out paying a silver because I’m cheap, but near the end, because I was so captivated with exploring and iterating my way through the new stuff of each checkpoint, I coughed up the gold so as not to waste my own time.

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And yes, I did the entire thing sans Dulfy guide, because content like this is chicken soup for my mapping and exploration soul, with the reward of wonderous vistas and the satisfaction of forging your own path through.

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Even if it’s dark as hell.

(Though the last part was indeed slightly hair-pullingly frustrating from the many false trails/choices that landed you at the beginning of that checkpoint.)

What I didn’t really like was the randomness of the choice, with little indication of what the “right” tunnel to hop into was.

I got past that frustrating portion by calling on my infinite patience when it comes to being more bullheadedly stubborn a mapper than the designer. There’s only a finite number of paths they can create, right? Well, we are brute-forcing EVERY path to figure out where each leads!

So I hunkered down, resigned myself to restarting from the bottom many times, and systematically went down every damn skritt tunnel to see where it would go.

Maybe I was being stupid and missed an obvious clue, but I don’t believe there was any real indication of the ‘right’ path.

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Much shiny, though.

The good news was that I didn’t have to pull out the pencil and graph paper.

After being essentially forced to iterate from the start a dozen times over, simple visual memory was taking over and locking in landmarks to differentiate one section of the puzzle from another.

“Oh yeah, with these two ramps here, the correct tunnel is X. And the one over here with the bright yellow sand area and the two planks, do NOT go to Y or there will be a great gnashing of the teeth. Instead run over to Z, which is way over there, yes.”

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All in all, this seems to be the biggest slice of content that arrived in the Seeds of Truth patch, assuming one doesn’t cheapen it by just blindly following a guide. (Of course, if you hate stuff like this and just want the shiny at the end, then guide away to waste your time less.)

I forsee figuring out how to get all the Gold Lost Badges (a few of which I passed while doing the jumping puzzle, tauntingly placed out of reach) will take another hefty chunk of time, along with a hefty chunk of gold from waypoint fees from failed assumptions on where to climb, and simple failures to balance appropriately on the tip of a pin.

All good though. Finishing the jumping puzzle netted me 16 already. I expect another trip through the puzzle keeping the ctrl key down and eyes open might net a few more.

If one is really stuck, there is always googling for the solutions of other people. But until then, I’m enjoying the satisfaction of figuring it out on my own.

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(After all, this isn’t vanishing in two weeks, right?

What in the world are these skritt up to again? There's a lot of them... doesn't that mean they're alarmingly smart?

What in the world are these skritt up to again? There’s a lot of them… doesn’t that mean they’re alarmingly smart?

Right?

Has anyone noticed the little baby skritt doing a rain dance? And the upside down boats that are somehow still staying afloat? Do skritt get -magical- if there's enough of them?

Has anyone noticed the little baby skritt doing a rain dance? And the upside down boats that are somehow still staying afloat? Do skritt get -magical- if there’s enough of them? Or is it proximity to something else giving them magic?

Or maybe it might significantly change visually after a month… the whole structure should still be there, though.

Right? That whole byline about “Points of No Return” is just marketing speak… I hope.

Or maybe Mordremoth will wake, and we all know what happens when Elder Dragons move.)

GW2: Seeds of Truth and Kernels of Opinion

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I’ve heard it said that it’s short. Others are a little more positive about it.

I don’t know if it’s because I’m a “play everything” person in GW2, or if it’s because I’ve had to increase work hours (with corresponding decrease in play hours) to afford my shiny new computer, but I’m looking at the length of time it’s going to take me to play the content and it’s -not- short, in my book.

It took me the better part of one night (~3-4 hours) to finish the latest Living Story chapter on normal mode.

So sue me, but I actually talk to NPCs and enjoy the pacing when it’s presented to me for the first time.

A friend was going to run his second character through it, and I said, “Nah” and ducked out of the party because I wanted to savor the moment of novelty, rather than end up focusing on entertaining and accommodating the friend and missing the story.

I enjoyed it.

Just, er...ignore the anachronism over yonder. *hides mini quickly*

Just, er… ignore the anachronism over yonder. *hides mini quickly*

For one thing, it gives a look back at GW2 lore, with linkages back to GW1.

An actual in-game look at events that have previously only been touched on briefly outside the game on wikis and fansite interviews.

Regardless of how popular the Sylvari and (even more) Trahearne are, I personally liked getting to see the interaction of the Firstborn with each other, and the Secondborn. This is lore. This is history.

Hooray, they're not just wiki entries anymore!

Hooray, they’re not just static NPCs or wiki entries anymore! Newborn technicolor sylvari! Firstborn and Secondborn!

We even get a Caera cameo, which hopefully, over time will build up and when the first season’s Living Story finally gets re-released in permanent form, Scarlet will end up coming a lot less out of nowhere than when we experienced her for the first time.

We get the asura reaction to the new Sylvari race (and vice versa) shown to us, rather than told to us.

Suffice to say, they don't hold hands and sing kumbaya together.

Suffice to say, they don’t hold hands and sing kumbaya together.

For another thing, the mechanics of this chapter again harkens back to GW1, where we had story books we could enter and play a historical personage with new and unique skills. New lore was exposed in the course of playing through the book chapters, along with a new content challenge in the form of learning and mastering the new skills in order to get past each chapter.

Coming to a gem store near you: Caithe's purple blossom daggers!

Coming to a gem store near you: Caithe’s purple blossom/lotus daggers! (Disclaimer: Just me talking out of my arse, but I wouldn’t be surprised…)

I didn’t mind playing Caithe.

It’s an interesting change to be brought back to the same level as everyone else, unfamiliar with the skills and no longer able to rely on muscle memory.

It’s just like one of the seasonal minigames where you get presented with new objects with new skills to use, after all.

I thought Caithe’s skills were well picked.

(Yes, I died a lot because I have no patience being stealthy.)

(Yes, I died a lot because I have no patience being stealthy.)

She’s a thief, and many of the skills had a resemblance to a normal dual-dagger thief (with the exception of dagger 5), with a unique slightly-OP Caithe spin to it.

First skill is your regular slashy slashy dagger attack, but where a normal thief poisons on the third hit, Caithe gets to petrify – which also interrupts. (Dayum.) In stealth, she gets to pull off a backstab variant with it too, complete with helpfully shadowstepping to the back in question.

Second skill is normal thief heartseeker… on steroids. She leaps super far, and does nasty damage with the leap, and then poisons to add insult to injury.

Third skill is a dagger spin that evades and bleeds, similar to normal thief Death Blossom.

Fourth skill is a dagger ranged attack, but where a normal thief cripples, Caithe immobilizes.

Fifth skill is the most different. Normal thieves stealth with Cloak and Dagger, Caithe gets a Daggerstorm variant here.

Basically, the elite and fifth skill has switched places, as Caithe gets to cloak with her elite and stay cloaked for the duration, even while attacking, iirc.

Utility skills are a dash (that evades while in movement), a trap (of ridiculously humongous radius) and a pull similar to scorpion wire.

The interesting add-on effect of all these skills to produce a fighting style that is recognizably a GW2 thief, but plays out differently than the more standard stealth-abusing one that many thieves are used to.

Caithe is very much a movement-based evading thief (which some GW2 thieves do still use), but taken to extremes. I learned the hard way that she isn’t a stand and deliver sort of fighter, through multiple deaths from attempting to salvage botched sneak attempts, but found relative success when darting through crowds of asura, hit-and-running before dashing off to heal up.

I’ve yet to try the hard modes for this chapter yet, but I expect it will require a bit more mastery of her skills than my first go at it.

Your definition of “content” may differ, but anything in my “to-do-one-day” list for GW2 counts as content to me.

Speaking of which, we have the Silverwastes “grind” that some people are complaining about.

I have yet to find all the Lost Badges (because I don’t really feel the need to check a guide until I decide I want to finish something ASAP), and now I have Golden Lost Badges to also collect, and a jumping puzzle that I’m intent on giving a go sans guide until I’m stuck and frustrated.

Content.

I happen to like playing the Silverwastes events, and still live in the perpetual hope that there will be eventually a ‘need’ (or strong motivation, rather) to semi-organize in similar fashion to the Marionette.

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Those three western lanes have still so far been unused, and the vines sprouting from that corner appear to be in greater and greater need of a pruning. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the 8th (and last?) chapter.

Content, hopefully.

In the meantime, there are the Luminescent armor collections.

Content.

The Mordrem bodyparts are an obvious RNG time tax for those who cannot wait. If you choose to collect the most current body parts, you buy the green extractor and you hope RNG smiles on you. A basic understanding of probability would suggest that this gets harder the more potential parts show up on the loot table.

If you’re a little more behind, or a little more relaxed on not getting the newest shiniest thing NOW, you should eventually be able to use the white extractor and pick the part you need later, once you’re past the two weeks of the current bodypart of the fortnight.

Ditto the carapace boxes. If you need them NOW, you’re going to have to grind very intently for them, opening tons of chests or accumulating 1000 crests to buy them.

Or you can just play the content over the course of two weeks and see if you get lucky enough with drops, or worse case scenario, build up 1000 crests if you’re unlucky.

So far, I haven’t had to spend 1000 crests on any carapace pieces yet. I got two glove boxes from the Greater Nightmare Chest in the maze, and will just get the shoulder boxes from playing through the relevant chapter with multiple characters.

I am given to understand that one more armor piece in this latest update works similarly, playing through the Living Story chapter multiple times will get you the box, and the last piece is RNG from Lost Bandit Chests or through crests.

I still am not seeing the problem.

We need those chests opened, since Ascended recipes are going to come out of those now, and there has to be some kind of motivation for players to keep digging up those chests. They need shovels, so they’ll keep playing the Silverwastes events, and keep the zone functioning.

Working as intended, no?

If you hate or are now bored to tears with the Silverwastes, it’s time to go elsewhere and do something else. The only one keeping your nose to the grindstone is yourself.

Zone design is still fantastic, considering it's all mostly red rock.

Zone design is still fantastic, considering it’s all mostly red rock.

Take Dry Top.

It’s a little bit more deserted now, but there does still seem to be enough people running around the zone to occasionally take it to T4 – which is sufficient for (rather expensive) Ambrite weapon recipes.

If you’re a cheap bastard like me, who cannot bear the thought of paying extra for anything, then you have to wait for the right time and participate in an organized attempt to get to T6.

Which so happens occurs every week, one hour after reset, on Friday and Saturday (which is my Sat and Sun morning, perfect) by a Dry Top guild that has generously decided to take on the task of herding cats.

Eventually, even if regular player interest in the Silverwastes dies out, there will be the weekly or bi-weekly organized event to do it successfully.

Especially if there’s a final raid-like world boss waiting at the end of the zone. *keeps fingers crossed*

Any feeling of player urgency is self-imposed. You want the shiny stuff NOW. That’s the heart of it.

The NOW demand is what lets other players profit off the impatient at the TP. Been there, done that, from both angles.

It’s a tradeoff that you just have to suck it up and recognize. Same as in real life.

If I want to play Evolve when it launches, I have to pay $60. (*nervous twitch* Why yes, I’m still brooding over that decision.)

If I’m willing to wait a week or few months later, I can probably get a 25-33% discount. If I hold out to a Steam sale, I can probably get it at 50% in about half a year to a year, tops.

If I’m feeling miserly and not terribly in need of the game, I can probably get it at 75% off some time in between one and two years, and it might even drop to $5 like Left 4 Dead after two years.

If I want to be one of the first all shiny Luminescent and being a “Light in the Darkness,” then I’m going to have to play a LOT of Silverwastes and spend many hours in the zone. (Weren’t people asking for a time-and-effort based prestige armor, rather than gem store armor some time ago?)

If I wanted to be one of the first people with Mawdrey, I probably had to drop a ton of gold on the Trading Post, buying outsourced effort for the materials.

Or I could take my time with it and work on it as a long or medium term goal, when the demand has dropped and things are cheaper. (Or in the case of time-and-effort-based objects requiring groups of players, it may take longer. But one will still get there in the end.)

Finally, beyond the Silverwastes, Seeds of Truth also comes with a new spruce up for PvP.

Much shinier UI. I kinda wish they'd allow us to choose what rank emote shows up when we /rank. Kinda reluctant to move beyond Dolyak.

Much shinier UI. Still not much of a PvPer. I kinda wish they’d allow us to choose what rank emote shows up when we /rank. Kinda reluctant to move beyond Dolyak because Dolyak stampede is so shiny.

Despite my limited time, I got two games in.

I was mildly amused with being able to vote on which map came up.

-Especially- amused when RNG picked the 1 person who voted for one map, while the other 4 and 5 people had voted for other maps. (Why can’t I have 1 in 10 lucky RNG like that in the PvE game, eh? For the record, I was one of the 5, so maybe not so lucky.)

I honestly can’t say if the matchmaking’s any better or worse than before, but I do have to say that it’s a lot easier and more encouraging to hit “Unranked Arena” and just -play- a proper game, rather than be relegated to the dregs of hotjoin where people shamelessly stack their way to victory.

I am going to assume it’s easier to actually queue up with friends as a party and play Unranked (without risking your MMR plunging), as opposed to the old system where if you actually wanted to play a proper game, you HAD to play ranked, and your only choice was between Solo queue or Team queue.

There’s content there too, in the form of a new crowd attracted by the changes (though time will tell if it’s temporary or if it lasts.)

Anyhow, with my limited time these few weeks, I’d rather spend more time playing GW2 than blogging about it, which I guess speaks volumes about what I think about the last few updates.