Weekend Complexity and Simplicity

The new GW2 Path of Fire elite specs are on show on this weekend preview, but only in PvP and WvW.

I suspect they want to test out how they stress test perform versus players, hence the limitation, as quite a LOT of the elite specs play around with boons and conditions – the giving and taking away of them – which is often used in more rapidfire fashion against players rather than mobs.

I guess I’m just not -that- sort of Bartle Explorer, in that I can’t really scrutinize a list of skills and traits and then sit back and revel in build planning.

If pushed into it (aka I want or need to learn more deeply about a particular aspect,) then yeah, I could probably sit there and analyze things slowly and trace synergies slooowly until I grok what’s happening in a specific build, and then do it all over again for another build, until I finally “get it” just enough to be more confident tweaking those kinds of builds on my own for a particular effect.

But bottom line, it’s not the first thing I would do in a game, nor is it something that makes me as deliriously happy as wandering somewhere beautiful and awe-inspiring and then deciding to poke my head into where few would likely go -and- see something cool and secret at the end of that exploration.

So I’m not feeling super keen to stick around a long time in this demo, especially when you add on the fact that skills are likely to get tweaked and balanced yet again once this deluge of players has stress tested and sufficiently broken everything (or tried their very best to.)

I can only learn so much and so fast.

And I prefer to invest my time only when stuff is not likely to change too much, -and- when  I’m going to need it to play whatever content I want to play.

My primary take homes from very quick trials of the elite specs, beating on low to no opposition PvP NPCs:

  • Quite a number feel like different classes altogether
  • Nearly all of them have an enormous number of new skills / interactions / mechanics to learn
  • The level of complexity to play and master these specs is going to be pretty high skill threshold

I guess this is exciting for some people, and certainly I personally don’t mind the long term prospect of having 8-9 more completely different playstyles to play and learn over the next… oh, 3-5 years…

…but to be honest, in my current “old dog” mindset, the prospect of having to learn too many new tricks is a little scary and intimidating, and not a little depressing right now.

I suppose over the next few months of Path of Fire, if I just take one or two elite specs at a time slowly, unlocking and testing them slowly in PvE, it really shouldn’t be a problem to learn and get used to them.

But the overwhelm of getting thrown 9 elite specs on a platter, without slow unlocks, and the “here, you figure out how it’s going to interact best with 2 out of 5 core traitlines you’ll also need to take, plus which core or new PoF utilities would best serve you, and oh, look at all your new F1-F5 skills, and new UI representing new mechanics…”

…I dunno, some people like the overwhelm, and I personally do not.

soulbeast

On paper, they certainly look interesting. Take the ranger Soulbeast elite spec, for instance. You get a stabby dagger that has three of its own skills. There is a whole string of heal and utility and elite skills that comes with the Soulbeast spec.

On top of that, you can merge with your pet, and when you merge, you get three pet/you skills to fire off with your F1-F3 keys (which I have changed to shift modifiers long ago, because easier to reach) and you get a stat bonus that depends on the type of pet you’ve chosen.

This changes from pet to pet, depending on what families they are in (cat, bear, spider, etc.) and whether they are classified as a supportive, tough, ferocious, deadly type, etc. That is a LOT of reading of the pet window, and new categories and classifications to keep in mind.

Is it something I want to do right now?

Nope.

Maybe at some point in the far future, when Path of Fire is out, and I have no other game I want to play besides GW2, and when I feel like learning the ranger class in a more in-depth fashion. (That’s quite a lot of conditionals there, mind you.)

scourge

The necromancer Scourge is also interesting. It brings back shades of the GW1 Ritualist in my mind, as you summon static soul shades in a particular area. That seems very turret-engi-like in terms of being able to contest a point rather well.

The lifeforce second health bar seems to have mutated somewhat into a sort of mana/resource bar for using the soul shades’ specialized skills that seem to have a lot of support and utility and control for a group.

It also seems to have a ton of conditions coming out of all its orifices – which is about as deep and complex an analysis as I am capable of giving right now.

The guardian Firebrand is another one of those condition monsters. I’m kinda half-looking forward to learning this one, because I do sort of main a guardian in the open world. It seems to be capable of outputting a phenomenal amount of burning. I love fire.

The half that has me a little intimidated is the more channeled cast healer/support playstyle. Guardian tomes are back, replacing the normal virtue F1-F3s. One tome produces a shitload of burning, another tome has a lot of healing (presumably if you spec correctly, you can be a main healer – I’m thinking staff, and probably gear with no damage worth speaking of), and the last tome has a lot of utility, which might be very welcome in WvW.

It’s an interesting hybrid, to be sure. If I wanted to dip an itty bitty toe into an off-healer playstyle, I wouldn’t mind giving it a shot in the open world with a Firebrand.

No doubt, there will be a more specialized primary healer meta build down the line that someone will concoct because they love primary healing, and that I’m not likely to touch in group content. (I’m a simple person, I’d rather do straight up dps and/or offensive support. I’d bring the Dragonhunter spec and do that.)

One random thing comes to mind though. It will be interesting to see if down the road, these hybrids end up breaking the holy trinity mindset even further.

City of Heroes taught us that lesson rather well. (City of Villains helped even more.) You don’t need a tank, healer, dps if your class can do a little bit of each all at once. Just stack 8 of them and go hog wild, defender or corruptor team style. Your little heal doesn’t work so well? Here, take 8 little heals all together! Then everyone can have fun doing dps, and also debuffing enemies and offensively buffing each other.

Maybe people won’t need a primary magi druid any more, and the druid can go condi druid. Still can heal (but just less) and can do more condition damage. Then add on a Firebrand, who can also heal now and then, but also can burn all the things. Half-half role splits. Personally, I would like that. (Even if the role specialists are busy puking in horror right now.)

We’ll see. What is meta always keep shifting.

renegade

Some people dislike the mesmer Mirage and the revenant Renegade for not being enough of a total class change of an elite spec.

I don’t play mesmers, so I find it hard to comment, beyond observing that having so many utility skills that give a short evade that a well played mirage is probably going to be an annoying pain in the butt to fight against. Might make it easier to tank too, if someone else takes over the chronomancer quickness and alacrity duties.

I have to say that I found it almost a relief to test out Renegade. Something that -wasn’t- a complete disorienting change, and just an add-on. Some fun ranger-like bow attacks, a limited number of skills to learn – simple, manageable, and then I’ll have more brain power later on to figure out how Kalla Scorchrazor would best synergize with the other multiple aspects that a revenant can call on, and what traitlines would be best.

I think it’s important for GW2 to give choices in playstyle. Some people like playing the piano on elementalists and engineers.

I… can’t manage that.

I like simple. I’ll hit things with a sword, thanks. Or a stick. Or my head.

I’m happy to have a few relatively effective specs/builds that are mostly autoattacking to fall back on, if I absolutely suck and just need something simple to operate.

I’ll push the envelope playing something with moderate but easy-to-remember rotations to manage like the old condi ranger (push all the buttons that have conditions on them, weapon swap, push more condition buttons, rinse and repeat), the present condi ps (push buttons and weapon swap in a preset manner that try to maximize conditions/damage/efficient adrenaline generation, go into berserk mode and fire off as many F1s as you can in that time, rinse and repeat) and my new experimental dragonhunter whose meta is now in ascendance (push all the buttons that do a heckload of spike damage, just very fucking quickly because by god, does he attack FAST with quickness on him.)

A lot of the elite specs of Path of Exile all look like they’re going to be at least that moderate difficulty to play and probably higher if you really want to do well with them. *sigh*

The thief Deadeye seems more middle of the road difficulty. It’s not as straightforward Killshot/Gunflame sniper cancerous as I first thought it was going to be. In the hands of someone who has the pattern and timing down though, it’s going to be extreme evil.

Basically the thief has to troll a little with some bullets first, building up Malice stacks over time with a Mark F1 skill that replaces Steal.

I couldn’t find the Malice stacks at first, looking for them on the opposing enemies’ status bar, then my own, and then eventually finding some unlabeled fiery red dots right on top of my own health globe.

Once I knew they were there, things got slightly easier. Once they’re built up sufficiently, the thief wants to kneel with skill 5 (this limits mobility considerably, but they can still dodge roll around, fire off evades and blinks to juke opponents), quickly hit skill 4 (which is the sniper shot that will destroy a target with a 5 digit number if Malice is maxed), and then quickly hit skill 5 again to unkneel and be more mobile again.

Basically, if the deadeye goes invisible from far away after some time in combat, that’s probably a good time to dodge or block. There’s a whole mindgame of playing with stealth and being unpredictable, because the deadeye’s elite is a short stealth using the ammo mechanic that can be cast twice in quick or long succession as desired.

A deadeye has ridiculous range when kneeling though. 1500. Very long range. A well played deadeye will be a master of positioning and evading and movement.

You can give a deadeye some difficulty by getting up all close and personal with them… but then I guess you also have to take into account whatever he’s got on weapon swap, which could very well be a very lethal melee combat weapon combination. Most likely, stuns and controls and a lot of area cleave or forced reveals that disrupt their pattern is what will end up countering them.

It’s certainly very thiefy a mechanic. Winning the mindgame = a stomp of a win. Get countered and you’re likely to squish.

holosmith

Holosmith also seemed middle of the road-ish to understand.

Some new sword skills, the standard assortment of new heal/utility/elite skills, the standard assortment of a twist of F1-F4 skills based on what utility skills are equipped…

Plus a final ability that I completely forget what is actually called, but what I like to think of as “Activate Star Wars mode.”

You get a lightsaber sword effect to swing around and do very lightshow animations with 5 new special skills – presumably they’re doing good damage and additional things over your normal sword swinging.

While in this opposite variant of a berserk mode, you build up heat, instead of losing steam and eventually falling out of berserk. If you hit the red part of the mechanic bar, you take damage as you overheat. So presumably the goal is to keep an eye on the mechanic resource bar and drop out of Star Wars mode just a bit before overheating, and let it cool down over time, before voluntarily becoming a jedi knight again.

Not -too- difficult to comprehend, but will take a moderate amount of time to learn all the skills and get the timing right for heat management.

I don’t have much to say about warrior Spellbreaker and elementalist Weaver.

I tried the Spellbreaker. The dual daggers seemed fun and did quite a decent amount of damage. It certainly seems built around doing horrible things to boons – aka taking most of them away, plus quite a lot of “tanky”-like counterplay in terms of negating magic effects.

Since the golems have no boons worth speaking of whatsoever, it’s really hard to tell how effective Spellbreakers will be, from just reading their skill effects, and I have zero interest in trying to learn them now, just to PvP with them, just to see how effective they are. On paper, a class that specializes in boon stripping should be quite interesting, but I guess this would depend on just how fast those boons can come back on again versus players, and what types of PvE mobs would be susceptible to being boon stripped.

As for the Weaver, well, it’s an elementalist. What can I say. I haven’t even learned the basic elementalist at a confident level yet.

Now you add on elemental attuning that combines elements and produces a different skill per earth-air, fire-air, fire-water, earth-water hybrid…. and the only way I’m going to learn this is when a whole bunch of theorycrafters sit down and do the work and write out a “do it in this order for the most damage” rotation.

That, or I make an elementalist my main from now till Path of Fire and learn basic ele and tempest in Heart of Thorns zones, and then play Weaver in the Path of Fire zones to learn it that way piecemeal too.

Which is also a nice idea in theory, but there’s this other little game that says “fuck that.”

poebreachwoo

“Slow patient learning, pffft. Try to survive this breach instead.”

poelootwoo

“And when you manage that, enjoy the lootsplosion because you deserve it.”

Advertisements

Help Me, I’m New or Returning

The topic of the week in the particular part of the blogosphere I frequent seems to be about perceived game difficulty.

Bhagpuss has a nice piece up about how GW2 can be paradoxically perceived as a relentlessly unforgiving chaotic mess or a casual stroll in the park.

This was originally all prompted by the very valid first impressions of a couple bloggers, Ultrviolet and Aywren, who are less familiar with the specific vagaries of GW2 combat as it’s not their primary game and something they check out only now and then.

Possibly because both of us really love the game (despite its various wrong turns and lunges in eyebrow-raising directions from time to time) and would love for others to have less frustrating difficulty with GW2 so that the good points of GW2 can be enjoyed, we’ve ended up in a discussion dissecting the differences of GW2 action combat (being mobile saves lives) as opposed to more traditional tab-targeting holy trinity MMO combat.

What I want to do is bring up the other very important point that is inherent in the first impressions of players unused to the franchise and coming in fresh to check out the preview weekend or the expansion proper.

The New Player Experience

Or rather, how designers can and should scaffold and teach new players who know nothing about the specifics of that particular game, through a smooth level of difficulty curving upwards, rather than creating difficulty cliffs that are opportunities for players to get frustrated and stop playing.

Heart of Thorns absolutely made this mistake, essentially dropping off new players unfamiliar with their skills in the heart of various war zones.

Ok, they did try. I seem to recall that the original start is the Silverwastes, if you use your level 80 boost.

Which, when compared to Verdant Brink, is a relative cakewalk of flat land area… but less so in terms of Mordrem mobs who charge at you and do increased damage if they flank you (wolves), charge at you leaving acid trails (vile thrashers), don’t charge but heal up to full if you get within and stay in melee range (leeching thrashers) or have such high armor that they shrug off direct damage and are more vulnerable to conditions (husks.)

And how many new players would stay in the Silverwastes to get familiar with their class anyway? Nope, it’s off to the new zone, following the story instance. Gotta get the glider, after all.

The moment they wind up in Verdant Brink, they’re looking down steep vertical cliffs into a full out war zone and no more game guidance.

I once watched a new player streaming Heart of Thorns playing the shiny new class of a revenant with his HoT boost, and it was very telling. He struggled to figure out Masteries.

First of all, he didn’t even know where and how to bring up the Mastery screen. Then he looked at it and had no clue that they had to be trained up with experience. He thought once selected, it meant he had it, so why his glider wasn’t working was a mystery to him. Then finally, once he had enough experience, it took a while for him to figure out the UI once more and click to train the first mastery with a mastery point.

Twitch chat walked him through it. Imagine a new player with no Twitch chat to help them out.

Oh, and for the record, every time he ran up to melee a Mordrem tendril, I got triggered, though I said nothing.

Why? Because as a veteran with experience, I -know- that vine tendrils have certain attacks. They do a spinny knockback thing in melee. Thus, do not melee them unless you are prepared to negate the spinny attack somehow.

You think he knew? Course not. Knockbacks ahoy. Once, he even got punted off a cliff.

It’s something that must be learned. But I despair sometimes that some players simply don’t make the leap of understanding. I wish I knew how to broach this knowledge gap in a constructive way.

Sometimes the only way a player learns something is when another player loses their patience and snaps a sentence that helps them make the connection. Once upon a time, I got yelled at for leaving my warrior banners on top of the dungeon group because that’s where elementalists pick up their conjured weapons. I don’t play eles. I would not have known or learned that what I was doing was a right nuisance without that player snapping.

But it could also have been taught in a more constructively calm manner, like “place your banners outside of the group, so that eles can pick up their conjured weapons without accidentally grabbing a banner.” Desired action + reason.

Anyway, Path of Fire appears to be trying as best they can to avoid the unfriendly skies mistakes of Heart of Thorns…

… except that the introductory story instance difficulty is apparently still fairly offputting to someone not used to GW2 combat. (Thanks, Balthazar faction mobs.)

I do hope someone at Arenanet is monitoring deaths in the story instance or checking out first impressions feedback across the internet and tweaking accordingly.

Core Tyria’s difficulty is very carefully graded. Low level zones have mobs that are fairly harmless and don’t do any special attacks like stuns or dazes or what have you. It ramps up slowly over time, until players hit Orr – which has seen quite a few balance passes to nudge down its difficulty over time.

What Anet seems to be struggling with is teaching players how to progress from there, post-level 80.

I’d like to contrast this with the excellent difficulty pass that Grinding Gear Games has managed to pull off with Path of Exile’s 3.0 patch.

Mind you, Path of Exile’s difficulty curve has never been this good pre-3.0.

Case in point, I submit my fun little graph of Path of Exile’s difficulty curve three years ago.

poedifficulty

It used to spike substantially at Act 3, before getting a little calmer on the next tier of difficulty’s Act 1 and going up from there.

From what the devs tell of it, their player retention problem was that most casual players finished Normal difficulty, decided they had seen all the story there was, and did not bother to repeat Cruel and Merciless. They never got to the map endgame.

If a player got to the maps endgame, that was a solid conversion. GGG has that player for life, pretty much. Though they may take breaks now and again, they nearly always come back.

Some people have wondered if this was a case of selection bias. Perhaps only those players who are in love with PoE as a game and are already converted are the ones who bother getting past all three difficulties and into maps. (Certainly there are always going to be players who only play for the story and don’t stay for any endgame.)

GGG is quite confident in the magnetic pull of their endgame though, so their choice of strategy was to extend the story as one complete unrepeated narrative, allowing the player to level up to the maps endgame without multiple difficulty tiers.

As best they can, they seem to be going for something akin to this:poedifficulty2

Path of Exile players are also on an entire spectrum of skill though.

Until I checked my PoE post history, I did not realize I’ve been playing this game on and off for 3 years now. Casually, but even the most casual player picks up some knowledge over time.

My reflexes are still questionable and to be worked on. Dodging-wise and animation reading-wise, I’m pretty poor.

Izaro is a good level of challenge for me right now that I’m working on, between having to dodge traps and read his animations (it didn’t click for me this playthrough until last night that I could also try to lure Izaro into a trap for an easier time).

Every time I get back into a playthrough of PoE, I reach level 80-86 or so and give normal Queen Atziri a shot… In the old days, I never even got to her, wiping on the first pair of Vaal bosses, then getting soundly pwned by the mechanics of the trio of bosses that I’m still not super familiar with. Lately, it’s been managing to get to Queen Atziri… before absolutely wiping out from not being able to dodge away from her flameblasts in time.

It’s not ping. The Singapore server I play on is 17ms when it’s behaving.

It’s probably not build. Even though I play SSF, I followed build guides on some playthroughs, and had lucky drops like Ngamahu’s Flame that made my characters pretty powerful. (If just not powerful enough to ignore mechanics and overpower the encounter stat-wise as might happen with trading.)

It’s not knowing mechanics and not having the reflexes and know-how to properly dodge with a movement skill and not having enough opportunity to practice long enough to link up animation tell => correct strategy and correct action taken.

There are many many players better than me. They’re no problem. They rush up to the top tier maps, and have the bosses on farm. Just give ’em more bosses with different mechanics and more challenge and more rewards every league and they are super happy.

There are many many players worse off than me. That’s a problem for GGG, because each player they lose from frustration is one less possible source of monetary support for the game and one less happy evangelist.

But how do you get players from here to there?

One thing GGG has been adjusting is the level of challenge in each Act.

In Act 1, you start on a beach with some really slow moving zombies and it’s a small tutorial zone to get a new player to grips with the introductory things they must know.

There is Merveil and Brutus as little mini bosses, to hint to players that stuff will get more serious with mechanics later on, but nothing too insane as yet.

By Act 5 and up, you’re killing gods, which are little boss fight encounters with a number of mechanics to keep track of, along with larger and more complex packs of mobs in zones.

The really neat explicit scaffolding that GGG has taken it upon themselves to introduce in 3.0 -in-game- is a very well done help panel.

poehelp

A chapter unlocks every couple of levels or so, with a little optional prompt for a player to read if they want. There is also a button that brings up the entire thing for players to read like a full-out guide at leisure.

poehelp2

It’s really comprehensive, spelling out explicitly all the confusing little niggling details in a great summary.

When you have a game as complex as PoE is, it can’t be all learned in a day, but you can sure attempt to help players grasp it in parts just a little more with an explicit manual/guide.

poehelp3

Without having to google up third party strategy guides just to understand the basics.

It’s very well-written, comes with plenty of explanatory diagrams and even some video illustrations.

Whatever’s been done in 3.0 seems to be working. A number of variety game Twitch streamers like DansGaming, itmeJP and CohhCarnage are coming in completely cold and total newbies to Path of Exile…

…and they are surviving and thriving and getting past all ten Acts and hitting the map endgame. They are walking advertisements full of good vibes for Path of Exile now.

Such a renaissance and surge of popularity is exactly what GW2 needs. But it’s probably not going to get there until and unless a little bit more care is taken with what new and returning players are experiencing when they log back into the game.

GW2: Path of Fire Weekend Demo

pof13

Crystal Desert, ahoy!

pof1

Reddit is in love with the raptor mount’s animations – the sheer attention to detail is amazing.

Riding one of these feels very vehicle-like or ship-like, no quick side-strafing but more steering like a speedboat… that can leap long distances.

I created a warrior for the weekend demo.

This time around, Marauder stats were provided (similar to Berserker with less Power/Precision/Ferocity bang, but more Vitality), which I thought was a nice compromise for experienced players who can’t live without the damage potential they are used to, but had extra health pool for the new players.

I’m not sure what necromancers started out with, but both UltrViolet from Endgame Viable and Aywren reported some difficulty with the introductory instance that showed players arriving to the Crystal Desert and learning how to use mounts.

Part of it might be a problem with the preset traits and skills. The warrior started with a greatsword and rifle, which happens to suit my open world playstyle fine (direct damage, one melee and one range option) but I took one look at the traits and couldn’t quite make head or tail out of it.

I suspect they built it more defensively for new preview weekend players. “Kick” was on my skill bar, among other things. Ok, breakbar hint, I suppose, but I am totally not used to using the warrior physical skills. Especially after they changed it in the new patch and gave it an ammo mechanic in the hope of making it more popular/viable a choice, but new mechanic = something not even vets are familiar with using right now.

You can picture me poking at it quizzically with this sort of expression on my face.

lolwot

So I took some time at the start to flip things to the more standard PS berserker build I was used to, minus the banners for group support, plus Wild Blow utility and Head Butt elite skill for breakbar (I’ll take the hint).

Also, since experience versus Balthazar mobs in Siren’s Landing has taught me that Anet is very very fond of quick stacking burns as a theme on his faction (recipe for immediate “Ow!” and falling over downed), a condi cleanse might be super helpful. Shake It Off went on the utility skill bar.

Lastly, finishing off the open world utility trifecta besides a breakbar skill and a condi cleanse, a stun-break. Warriors have a number of options, I just like Balanced Stance because it gives swiftness for running around, stability if used pre-emptively, and breaks stun if used reactively.

With that, the story instance felt fine, though I did feel like I was hitting with… if not quite a wet noodle, at least a wooden sword. See, the downgrade was that the demo stats were all exotics – armor, weapons, trinkets – along with Marauder slightly diluting the max damage of Berserker stats possible.

On the bright side, I used no food, no utilities and completed it just fine on exotics, so it is doable – and I presume they tested with all exotic gear, if this is their preset demo gear.

The big issue, imo, is mostly that folks not used to GW2 combat are not used to two things:

  1. Moving while pressing skills, and knowing what the skills are so that they can be chained smoothly
  2. Reading the itty bitty tiny buff icons on the mob’s status bars and general mob combat animations and indicators that have become second nature to people who play GW2 more often

Running out of orange circles by being pre-emptively mobile and ready to sidestep is a trained reaction by now for most of us, while a new player probably doesn’t even -see- the orange circle against the beige sand of a desert setting, let alone react in time.

Reading animations is another thing. Mobs have been charging at us since Mordrem mobs in Dry Top and Silverwastes. You gain an instinctive “uh oh” hunch when a mob starts pausing and looking at you funny, gathering itself up… before you know it, you’ve thrown yourself with a sideways dodge out of the way of the oncoming charge.

This is a learned reaction. Painfully acquired over time from getting charged and knocked down and around every which way to kingdom come. Not to mention, getting shot to hell by the straight ground line of Mordrem snipers.

You go from not even knowing the mob is going to come at you, to recognizing that “ok, this mob type is probably coming at me,” to trying out different mobility solutions (running sideways will probably still get you caught, just hitting the dodge button leaves you still in the oncoming path), to realizing that the best solution is to dodge sideways, to -practising- the ability to dodge sideways (holding one key down while pressing another, are your keybinds in a comfortable place to do that?) until it becomes something you can do on demand, and even subconsciously.

(And if you are a little insane, like my particular raid group, you practice synchronized group dodging aka “dodge left” to control a particular mechanic for a certain raid boss in a predictable manner.)

Bottom line is, no one starts out ABLE to do anything automatically. It was practiced and developed over time. Frustration at the stages before “can more or less do it” is completely normal.

But anyway, after the story instance completes, you’re tossed out into the first open world map of the expansion.

Boy, were they really careful with its design.

The first thing you get is a fairly big settlement, not quite racial city-sized but definitely larger than a village or outpost.

You can run around it in relatively welcoming safety, like Lion’s Arch. It introduces the special mechanics of the map – races, bounties – and has some amenities like a bank and trading post.

What’s pretty special is that in a fashion somewhat remniscent of Warhammer Online, you can actually get “public quests” *ahem* “dynamic events” within the town confines.

You can run around and collect objects with your mount and contribute to event completion. A pack of rampaging choya (planty quaggan things, but -angrier-) can attempt to stampede into town. It gives the whole city a little more life – or at least, more action.

pof2

The real verisimilitude comes from the outside.

pof3

This -is- a big map, compared to the rest of the GW2 zones. (And mind you, one third to one quarter of it on the right side also appears to be locked off at the moment.)

Wide open is the watchword, and IT FEELS GOOD.

pof14

Explorer souls, rejoice.

The awe of gorgeous surroundings, the curious sensation of wondering what’s over the horizon in whichever direction yonder and just -choosing to go- there (without being hindered by sheer drops, puzzle updraft/mushrooms and Mordremoth’s clingy tendrils), and then finding something interesting to see – all that is back in the map on weekend preview.

I find myself sometimes just wanting to run on foot through the place, rather than mount up.

If you miss that sense of MMO as a WORLD, rather than as a meta map with a game objective on a timer, then I think you can get some sense of that back in Path of Fire, if the rest of the zones are similar to this one.

pof4

World map-wise, it looks pretty promising in potential. Given the coloration of the Elonian region, we might see bits of the Brand, the sulfur deserts of old with the junundu wurms, as well as grassy oases in the Crystal Desert proper.

Even in the first map on preview, it’s not -all- beige desert, there’s some other colors too, if you know where to look.

pof7

What I do like, that I haven’t really seen commented on:

There are some really faithful references back to Guild Wars 1, with added new combat mechanics twists.

Man, hydra farming was a thing in GW1 – which I was never very good at, but tried my hand at anyway.

And I remember they were Elementalists of much fiery rainy pain.

pof6

Hydra says “ahai.”

Now here’s something we haven’t seen before, mob skills that use a lot more verticality.

The meteors are a little mean when first encountering them (I got smashed by the first meteor before I could react, the first few times) but after a while, you realize they’re going to do that and keep moving so that you’re not there by the time it lands.

pof5

Their heads pop off. And they wiggle around like beheaded triple trouble wurms. That’s a little nuts. But a very nice effect.

Overall, it’s not just the mount animations that are worthy of praise in Path of Fire, it’s pretty much all the mob animations. Sand sharks dive in and out of the sand in a convincingly fluid manner, unsoweiter.

The fanged iboga, another GW1 throwback, with an arcing poison/hallucination style attack as befits its mesmer class.

pof11

New shapes are coming. A fire wall, in all its 3D glory.

pof12

New buffs on the mob’s buff bars to read too. It will be interesting to see if boon stealing will be more valuable a mechanic in Path of Fire.

Bounties are an interesting map activity. Basically, they are like Queen’s Gauntlet mobs. You can pick up a bounty to go and trigger them in the open world. Once “summoned,” they exist for the space of 9-10 minutes, and anyone walking by can join in the fight, dynamic event style.

They have more complex mechanics than the standard open world mobs. Apparently, they can spawn with different buff “affixes” so they may vary from bounty to bounty, and necessitate slightly different tactics to defeat.

They seem to be a good intermediate training/tutorial mechanism on GW2 combat.

For one thing, it’s not a cage fight like the Queen’s Gauntlet.  One can break off combat any time and run away far enough to get out of combat and switch skills/change traits to adapt to the encounter.

For another, multiple people can join in, help each other, teach each other, or at least in a worse case unfriendly scenario, -observe- how another person is soloing while in a downed state.

I followed a commander tag calling for help and fought a really angry giant choya on a flat mini-island in the ocean. The thing was rolling around like a rolling devil on steroids, smashing anyone that got in its way (ie. everyone -on- the floating platform of an island) and summoning up ley line energy things that spun around and did damage – essentially limiting even more of the already limited arena.

After getting downed a few times, I rolled off into the ocean to float and actually read all the mechanics on the mob’s bar. The ocean was a perfect safe zone. (It was a little tough to figure out the correct side to even jump back up into the fight.)

There were 3-4 other people there, all getting smashed to high heaven. Barely anyone was touching the break bar.

Which…seemed like the best strategy, actually, because it wasn’t going to stay still otherwise. And it was lethal once moving erratically.

So I gamely jumped back onto the platform, tried to land Wild Blow, Head Butt, and even Rifle Butt. There was one other person that also helped cc a bit. Together, we managed to knock out the break bar and stun it. Now it was a punching bag for a crucial few moments. Rinse and repeat. Bounty done.

There was another bounty out in the desert. I can’t recall what it was, but I do remember it had the Sniper affix.

What this produced was a slow-moving shiny ball that would select a random player and creep towards the player. It moves -just- a little faster than one can sidestep though. Once it hits the player, a target gets painted on the player and a ley line energy snipe of doom emerges from the bounty and does 95% of one’s health bar, if not more, and typically downs the player.

Cue an amusing sequence of everyone getting downed in turn and Benny Hill running away from the death ball.

I wanted to “solve” this mechanic, so I backed out of the combat leaving the two other players to alternate being downed and switched skills.

The first thing I thought of was to “block” the sniper hit.

I wasn’t on my guardian though, and warriors can usually only block reliably on demand with a shield… which I didn’t have on the demo character and wasn’t interested in wrangling with the gear explosion and stat selection of the demo box.

The other thing warriors have that essentially are more sophisticated “blocks” is a) endure pain (immune to all direct damage, but conditions go through) and b) defiant stance (heal for the amount of damage that hits you, within the limited three seconds or so that it is active).

So I put both of those on and went to test them out on the shiny ball of doom.

Allow shiny ball to hit me, trigger defiant stance. Boom, sniper shot heals me to full. Giggle maniacally.

Shiny ball comes looking for me again, and trigger endure pain. Boom, sniper shot does no damage. Perfect.

So now I just need to manage cooldowns so that one is always ready to go by the time the shiny ball comes to me… tricky… hmm, what about classes that don’t have the specialized skills of warriors, can they do anything? Well, anyone can dodge with an invulnerability frame… HMM…

The next time the shiny ball comes in, I cross my fingers for luck and dodge the moment it hits me. BAM, evaded, just as the sniper shot comes in.

Therrrre you go, that’s IT. That’s the solution. It’s a mini-training tutorial for dodging!

Suddenly, I am the only person staying alive consistently while the other three people also fighting the boss just keep going down when the shiny ball decides they look interesting.

I leave them to observe me for a while: a mixture of not wanting to attract the shiny ball of doom and get sniped to death while locked in a revive animation, and wondering if the other three can learn by observation and arrive at the solution.

Mind you, these were not completely new players. The lowest had a 56 mastery point level, the middle was somewhere around 143, and the last was a full 193 mastery like moi.

They downed, revived themselves, downed again.

I stayed alive, and sat at range pewpewing the bounty as a rifle warrior.

After the second time they downed in sequence, feeling a little bad that I wasn’t bothering to rez them while I was enjoying my sequence of reactive dodging or soaking the sniper shot, I tried a teaching moment.

“Dodge when the shiny ball reaches you” was all I needed to say.

The next time they revived themselves, I watched as the shiny ball hit them. And BAM, they dodged and stayed alive. Just like that. The bounty died.

These were not complete newbies. They -knew- how to dodge. What they lacked was the ability to read the mechanics and experiment with solution finding. Their first impulse was to run away from the ball, and they kept trying to do that, even when the ball caught up with them and kept downing them.

I don’t know if this problem solving propensity can be trained or encouraged, but certainly, these new mobs are a way to at least let some people inclined to strategizing have some fun, and then the best solutions will get passed around verbatim or via Dulfy guide until everyone just knows “the strategy” for the encounter.

It’s a nice intermediate step from normal open world mobs anyway, but less punishing than that in Heart of Thorns (you don’t just die and have to waypoint run from far away, running out of combat is possible and mostly the punishment is getting downed).

My only fear is that this might break in larger numbers and groups of players. If they can be zerged down like guild bounties, then it’s possible that some players will just go ahead and do that and learn close to absolutely nothing (but maybe some osmosis will still happen in the company of others.)

Still, the weekend preview map feels surprisingly empty. Either the maps are deliberately being kept at a very low population number per instance (haven’t had skill lag in here), or folks have seen what they came to see and don’t want to progress further in a demo, or exploration as an activity doesn’t actually interest the present GW2 population as a whole.

I really hope it’s not the last. There doesn’t seem to be violent opposition on Reddit to this, so hopefully, people like it. I’m personally quite happy to have more of this stuff. (Cantha is a word that comes to mind, just sayin’.)

pof9

Nightime in this zone is fantastic. What better to end on but screenshots of this?

pof8

pof10