GW2: First Thoughts on the Feature Patch and the New Leveling Experience

Truth is, it’s going to take me a while to absorb everything that just came down in a big info dump in the Game Update patch notes.

I haven’t quite made it through all the profession changes yet, just sort of went through the guardian notes that are my primary interest and glanced at the rest.

collections

The Collections are interesting, if a tide underwhelming at present. I’d been under the impression that many little tchotchkes would become easy collections to get some achiever dings over – things like food, or drinks or bags of loot.

Instead, the only fun one seems to be the junk collector with the Honorary Skritt title and the rest look a little more laborious. There’s -some- food, but only steak so far. No burgers, no pizza, no soup or vegetarian collections or stuff like that.

There’s certainly potential to expand, and I hope it will soon(TM), but at the moment, I’m finding it more attractive to offload some of the named exotics I’d been hoarding in the bank, wondering if they’d ever turn into precursors – looks like they won’t, but at least they’re collectibles now – at the currently inflated prices.

combatlog

The Combat Log is something I’d really like to gush over.

I think it’s gone unnoticed by many, but it’s actually USEFUL now.

The color scheme used in the combat log is a touch eyebrow raising, but sort of oddly reminiscent of oldschool MUDs where stuff is color-coded with a bunch of esoteric meaning. Presumably, since only those interested in the technical and numerical stuff would ever look at it, it’s ok.

Purple is being used for condition damage and orange for direct damage and green for healing, as far as I could tell from a quick glance at it.

All the condition damage is being reported *swoons in ecstasy* and even my clone damage from exploding was captured, so I presume other professions’ pets are also getting logged. That’s really really sweet.

I don’t know if someone will figure out a way to parse this yet, but there’s at least some -clear- data here.

One still can’t see other peoples’ damage and so on, which I think is for the best, since that might lead to comparisons and exclusion, but in the interests of -personal- improvement or optimization/efficiency, this is at least a tool that can actually be read and used now – rather than having to video record stuff and manually count white damage numbers and guess at other things.

The Miniature changes are surprisingly underwhelming for now.

I bound a few of my favorite minis that had been sitting in my bags, but was mildly dismayed to see that it was likely going to be hidden all the time (even from me!) on my toaster settings anyway.

Considering how I normally struggle with frame rates, perhaps it’s for the best that I don’t even see my own puppy following me most of the time. (Though if I’m alone and wandering the open world, even if the map is crowded, you’d think I ought to be able to see my own mini until I walk into the equivalent of world boss or WvW zerg congestion on my screen.)

The Trading Post changes have been mildly disorientating.

I’m not sure if it loads faster, and I kind of miss the tab that was just for taking items away from the TP. Right now, I have to load the whole damn TP and extra info just to collect some money, feels a little more clunky in that respect.

I haven't sold a Foxfire Cluster in forever, those are definitely NOT "my latest trades."
I haven’t sold a Foxfire Cluster in forever, those are definitely NOT “my latest trades.”

I -do- like the new filters, though it takes a bit of getting used to, after you’re accustomed to the old way of doing things.

Searching for armor my new mesmer alt could wear, within his level range, and with some Power on it, was a lot smoother and gave easier to choose from options.

The new filters are nice.
The new armor filters are nice, as sifting through on my guardian demonstrates.

But then again, I tried to type “Superior rune of the flame legion” into the search box and ended up cut off before being able to specify “flame legion” – which led to a whole bunch of other superior runes displayed.

Instead, the right keywords to use are “sup rune flame” or something oddly truncated like that.

That character text limitation is a little annoying to work around.

selling1

-Selling- things feels like one has to absorb a lot more info than before.

Having to drag a slider bar when one could previously just click a button to sell all is a step up in annoyance.

Sure, you list both fees now, but you don’t even helpfully provide a net profit summation, so now we’re expected to mentally subtract both fees ourselves. I think it’s -far- more likely that more people will be deceived by the total price and continue to pay TP tax without realizing it.

It’s more than a bit annoying to see that only the last 5 prices are visible at any time and that you have to scroll down to see the rest.This is a lot more game-able than the old system which let you see more prices at a glance, -if- you looked up the buy prices. Many won’t bother to scroll down. Expect traders to put up little honey traps in groups of 5 to knock the old prices off visibility.

selling2

Take, for example, this random rare dagger that drops as random loot.

The first trap is easy to spot, someone posted one for 64.46 silver when the rest are selling at 66.46 silver.

selling3

If you take the trouble to scroll down past the 66 silvers, there’s a jump that’s almost invisible here, between 66 and 69 silver.

It is entirely possible that someone may buy up daggers up to this price on a fairly regular basis and that if you post this dagger for anywhere 69 silver and under, it’ll sell. How many people will be bothered to look through this, scrolling through a pathetic 5 prices at a time? Much less than before, I suspect. Expect lots of lazy selling at whatever minimum is offered.

I don’t know if all the changes really made anything clearer or not, it just feels like there are different places people will get caught out, and different places wily traders can come in to profit from those too lazy to work it all out.

And finally, the New Player Leveling Experience.

I’m not really radically against it, like many screaming over the forums and on Reddit.

I took a new charr mesmer up from level 1, playing through like a complete newbie, up to about level 9.

The tutorial tips that show up seem to be quite explanatory, with the option of leaving it up or quickly closing it via pressing the ‘X’ for close window. This catches that group of slower tactical learners who want time to read through instructions over just jumping in and doing it.

The leveling experience at low levels does seem to have been sped up slightly, which means that those used to the game can very quickly speed through the most limiting and annoying ‘locked weapon skill’ stage past level 2 and 4.

In truth, the only time I really chafed at the weapon skill lock was when I was trying to tag mobs in a crowded Defend the Armory from Flame Legion event, which had somehow attracted a good seven veterans or so – presumably in search of the new hearts. Only having mesmer scepter skill 1 is NUTS, it is so SO SLOW when you’re trying to tag or cleave as many things as possible before all these crazy exotic-geared 80s blow everything up. I got about 2 of every 4 mobs that spawned, if I was lucky.

I was really happy to finish that heart and get the event xp and then run as fast as my little clawed feet could take me out of there and go back to slowly and methodically single-targeting random mobs to death.

Going from heart to heart following the content guide did offer a more streamlined experience than previously, rate of experience gain included.

The profession loot seemed to be working for me, as I got a number of white and blue drops that were usable upgrades. Some +Power clothes that I could wear, and very attractively, new weapons like a sword, pistol (level 2, but not usable until level 7 when offhand unlocks, *gasp*), a greatsword and a staff.

Since I was getting bored out of my mind with the slow rate of the scepter autoattack – but the torment isn’t half bad if you can successfully block with skill 2 and layer 6-7 stacks of torment on , and the skill 3 confusion stacks are SICK, thank you combat log – I took advantage of this to swap and try out the other weapons, presumably as intended, though lord knows if new players will figure it out if it isn’t spelled out for them too.

Plains of Ashford apparently had two new hearts added to it. My memory isn’t the best, but it appears to be the cows immediately next to the starting drop-off point and the skritt/cannon area, which I did always think was a little weird that the area had nothing but a skill point and a dynamic event up there.

The clarity and fanfare with each level up does feel more pronounced now.

Can't you just hear the guitar riffs? It's as if a dev said, "Not rewarding enough, eh? HERE!"
Can’t you just hear the guitar riffs? It’s as if a dev was thinking, “Geez, they keep saying it doesn’t feel rewarding enough! Well, fine, HERE!”

Around level 9, I started getting a bit restless with the pace and took a break away from the content guide, heading into the Black Citadel and for the nearest Trading Post. Why they removed the handy one near the starting drop-off point is beyond me – too confusing for newbies? A little subtle proding to veterans seeking convenience to pop one if they want to use one, maybe?

There I grabbed all the usual twink gear – the cheapest +Power stuff at the off-level of 6, minor runes of +Power and level 10 +Power jewellery, wandered off the beaten track to hit a few yellow mobs and push myself to level 10.

Then I went through the Personal Story in a big chunk and rather enjoyed it. Mobs stayed at level 10, even as the Personal Story completions were awarding XP and pushing me through the levels, so things felt more doable and there was less of those old ‘stuck’ points where you were facing a +3 level challenge and unwilling to go off and get more levels before coming back, leading to repeated deaths and restart at checkpoints. I was level 12 by the time I finished.

Considering that I hadn’t even map explored through half of the Plains of Ashford, -HOPEFULLY- this will finally stop those ridiculous complaints of “help, I’m underleveled and have completed my starting zone” and the equally ridiculous advice to jump through portals and map complete another race’s starting zone to fix that. HOPEFULLY, newbies will find themselves level 15 at the point they’re really supposed to transition to the level 15-25 zone.

The one thing I did find a little disappointing was skill points being pushed so far back to level 13. This invalidates a number of skill trainers in the starting zone, which give you the “successfully passed” message and is somewhat disorientating, especially when you realize later that you’ll have to retrace your footsteps -back- to them to get SP. That’s… more than a bit weird.

So far, so good, I guess. I got to level 13 in a couple of hours, which -seems- like the pace that newbies would expect.

The biggest mixed feelings I get from this new player experience is the distinct sensation that we’ve moved over from stressing an Explorer experience to focusing on an Achiever one.

Personally, it doesn’t disturb me too much either way because I have tendencies in either direction. I can adapt to Achiever signposts if a game chooses to go that way, and I can jump into a sandbox with the best of them and explore and go read third-party wikis and websites to figure out what to do next.

I’m an EASK, after all, both playstyles are my primary and secondary, and I’m also strong enough an Explorer to figure out how to set the defaults back to the way I prefer it.

I mean, if I really let my inner elitist speak, I’d say, “If folks aren’t Explorer enough to figure out how to shut the upper-right compass off, then they’re the subset that the straightforward little arrow was meant for.”

That was the FIRST thing I went for, when I logged into my level 80 main and went, OMG, what is this awful thing in the corner, TURN IT OFF, TURN IT OFF.

So I brought up the Options menu, read through stuff, saw the new “Content Guide” drop down bar option, and promptly set it from Default to Off, glancing through the other options in the process and thinking, ok, those might come in useful when I’m leveling a new alt or going on focused map exploration. (It -would- be handy if we could set it per character, and not a one-size-fits-all account setting though.)

Then I went for my regular jumping puzzle visit, popped an Enchanted Map piece, went “Kewl, a sekrit to explore!” and promptly ran around visiting jumping puzzles I hadn’t visited for a long time, hoping to pop another map piece. Somewhere in Diessa Plateau, I overheard mapchat complaining bitterly about compass arrow, how it was hand-holding and so on, while another person asked if it was possible to turn it off, and the complainer went ahead and said something like, oh, I don’t think it’s possible until you hit level 80 or complete the Personal Story or something.

Rolling my eyes with the utter INCORRECTNESS of this, I had to speak up over mapchat and pointedly “handhold” the map into looking at Options => Content Guide, whereupon they realized, OH, we -can- turn it off, after all, while other people went, oh, these other options might be useful for map exploring, etc.

PSA: You can turn off the compass or content guide via the options here!
PSA: You can turn off the “compass” or content guide via the options here!

No, really, some things -aren’t- obvious to everybody, and I don’t see too much harm in clearly spelling it out for them if they require it. The clearly demarcated dodge tutorial, for example, at least ensures that more lowbies will figure out that they do have a dodge button. If that’s what they need to learn, so be it.

The only sadness I get is that it’ll be a bit trickier to guide an Explorer down this Achiever centered road now. Gone is the “world is completely open and ripe for the plucking” feeling from having weapon skills unlock from use, from having a wealth of skills and traits and options at an early stage. What is “overwhelm, too many options, too little direction” to an Achiever or a newbie is the “world is my oyster, ooh, so much complexity and depth” discovery feeling for an Explorer.

We somehow have to get the message out that it’s still going to be okay to turn off the Content Guide and strike out cross-country, immersing into the world, poking one’s head into every nook and cranny.

I know I will, on my other alts when I want the exploration and world immersion feel, but I’m used to the old way of doing things and can figure these things out for myself.

Maybe I guess it’s better to trust that the Explorers will know how to tweak settings to match their preferences over the Achievers. Maybe.

Did we want to risk losing the Explorer cohort in favor of the Achiever crowds? I guess one subset pays better than the other? Or many of the Explorers are already here and past the lowbie experience… the novelty of new content is still pretty far away in November, though.

Dunno. Certainly there’s still one thing Explorers can explore. The entire new level up system, its rewards and the whole ‘feel’ of taking a character through it.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see on how it plays out over time, once the knee jerk reactions to sudden change are done.

GW2: There May Be No Spoon, But One Sure Will Try Collecting Them All Anyway

Going down the rabbit hole here...

I wonder if the disconnect comes from semantics, or merely wishful thinking.

When your average player hears the word “feature,” they think of content. They want their new dungeon, their new zone, their new shiny reward that usually comes in the form of better stats or better looks. They want what’s labeled on the box as “features” – new class, new race, new skills!

They don’t give much thought on just how much this new stuff might imbalance or invalidate the old  stuff. They don’t care, the designers better have figured it all out beforehand, because players will be players and will optimize towards the most efficient path, and WoW has already shown that the way ahead is to just say ‘fuck the old stuff’ and pile on the new shiny on the next rung of the ladder to keep climbing forward. New players? I guess we better just fast-forward them past all the old bad stuff so they can catch up. Instant level 90, here we come.

Urgh.

Me, I play GW2 precisely because it isn’t WoW.

When I hear the words “feature patch,” and I’m probably in a minority of players to do so, I think of it in the way the Anet devs are using it – to reference things that aren’t content. Systems. Tweaks and improvements and little balance nudges.

Things that probably take a heck of a lot of coding work and behind-the-scenes stuff to make it more invisibly smooth-flowing on the front end.

The irony of it is, if the work is done well, no one will notice when the UI just got that much less clunky or when new players move on from level to level without a hitch and without quitting in disgust. (It’s only when it bugs or creates some kind of stopping or frustration point, that the bulk of the bitching starts.)

And there’s actually some good stuff coming down the line this 9th of September, despite the never-satisfied cries of increasingly bored players looking for new content (not new systems, per se) and new stuff to do, and despite the meat of it being spread so thinly across three weeks in some sort of weird marketing attempt to keep interest/hype going for the length of time it’ll take to deploy the patch.

The Collection Achievements system is one of those things.

You see, there’s this perennial complaint from players that such-and-such piece of content isn’t ‘rewarding’ enough. That there’s no reason or motivation to do this slightly more difficult thing over another, the devs better give us some external reward to get us to do it…or else.

Never mind the deplorable fact that many players won’t do anything without an external carrot.

(I dunno, I sometimes do content just because it’s there. I give up 2-3 hours of my time to PUG a TA Aetherpath when I get the sudden whim to, because I think it’ll be interesting and somewhat entertaining and internally rewarding to gently coax a group of players who don’t really know what they’re in for, but are desperate to get it done for their Dungeon Master achievement, through it.

The last few days, while on my platinum ore harvesting rounds, I’ve been throwing myself at the Champion Risen Spider near Flamefrog Waypoint in Sparkfly Fen, trying to figure out how to solo it – and mostly repeatedly dying. It’s turned into an almost Liadri-like compulsion by now. Eventually 2-3 other players turn up and we kill it, but dammit, I’ll get it one day. My best efforts have only reduced it to half hp so far.

It’s really infuriating because it immobilizes so much, and has an annoying egg spit attack that spawns additional spider mobs if not dodged/blocked/gotten out of the way of. That spawning can get runaway uncontrollable very quickly, so my best guess is that it -must- be -always- dodged/avoided/prevented from spawning. This is much much easier said than done, because you can’t dodge when immobilized, and I still end up confusing its egg spit attack animation with its other attacks, all of which involve twitching and lifting of its abdomen.

Reward? None but eventually satisfaction, I suppose. And a screenshot of me over its dead body… ONE DAY. SOME DAY.)

Thing is, what kinds of rewards can be given?

There’s a limit to vertically progressing rewards, since GW2 is not that kind of game. And if it tried, I’d be the first one to quit in disgust. I don’t want to be “forced” or “motivated” aka “pushed” into doing a particular dungeon simply because it gives +5 more Power stat on its gear than any other dungeons so far… and then the next new dungeon will have +10 Power to chase. *FAUGH* *spits*

Shiny new skins may have a certain temptation, but there’s always going to be a manpower limit on how many the artists can crank out at any one time, without eliciting howls of distress over lack of hair, lack of tails and oh god, that clipping. And what if the player doesn’t like the skin on offer? Then it’s back to the forums and more whining on how this and that skin is ugly as sin and not “rewarding” enough to make him suffer through that new dungeon or piece of content, I guess.

Increasing the amount of gold reward is just going to end up a tail-chasing fly-swatting game of players gravitating to the ‘best’ gold-giving dungeon for the time spent, and all the other dungeons ignored…until the next patch which increases gold rewards of some other dungeon. Not to mention, making inflation worse with every ‘fix.’

So enter a Hall of Monuments variant.

A structured system of multiple lateral options for -personal- progression, all of which will count towards accruing some points total at the end, and presumably offer direction and signposting for grabbing lower-hanging fruit before working one’s way up to harder and longer to obtain stuff.

That’s the potential I’m seeing in this new Collection Achievements system.

Players will have an external ‘reason’ to do X new content over Y old content because it will have its own ‘reward track’ where doing X related stuff will yield X-based rewards. And when content Z pops up, Z will have its own reward track too. It’ll be like trying to go for the Dungeon Master achievement, you’ve got to visit every dungeon if you want it.

(If you don’t care about it, then proceed on your merry way, of course. Like how life in GW2 has always been. All these systems are just for the Achievers who need things spelled out for them, or they quit. There’s just -so- many Achievers, though, so it’s worth creating systems for them.)

On a personal level, the collector and pack rat in me is super-thrilled.

These things have always been in GW2, but never really celebrated or made very clear.

I’ve never finished collecting all the cultural armor available… mostly because I can’t figure out which pieces I have left, and it would be a pain to have to log every single character and check what they’re wearing. (The only good news is I don’t throw away anything… Oh hey, I guess I could also use the wardrobe function now that I think about it. But that would still be a little annoying to sift through.)

I just visited a slew of Heart vendors in Fireheart Rise the other day and picked up the light, medium and heavy armor cosmetic sets that were being sold there. I never got around to it for a long time because I never needed it. Until I decided that my sylvari necro could use one piece of that look (via the Wardrobe) and so may as well since one is going there, pick up all the other sets and complete those too.

If there was some ArenaNet Points and a final shiny reward at the end for doing that, that would certainly be a little more of a motivating push in the butt to go do that kind of thing. It’s really easy low hanging fruit at that. I was sitting on 5 million karma and just never got around to using any of it on karma armor.

It’s quite a kick in the butt for the economy too, as I suspect this is going to add some new value for previously ignored shiny skins that more people will be motivated to collect.

And of course, *sinister chuckle* there’s nothing like creating account-bound stuff (like binding skins for personal use in the wardrobe) to reduce supply or “dedicated” miniatures to take these things out of circulation and sink them, so there’s always going to be demand, rather than a round-robin exchange of swap-the-same-minis so that everybody gets AP.

I can see some people thinking they’d cheated the system being a little upset by that.

To which, I can only indulge in a little Dark Side collector laugh. Seriously, did you think that you could spend hundreds of gold buying minis, get that little AP ‘ding’ and then sell them all away again to recoup most of your gold… would be valued as equivalent to someone who spent those same hundreds of gold to KEEP every last collectible shiny?

mini1

mini2

mini3

True collectors hoard shit and take them out of circulation.

It’s going to be slightly painful when it comes time to take them all out of these collections and account-bind them. That’s a LOT of gold I’m going to be throwing away. (Or spending on myself, rather.)

I’m half-considering just leaving them in the collections tab to sit for a while, but I have a feeling all it’ll take is seeing the new achievements and AP and titles for me to cave.

And it’ll be nice to be able to swap between a whole bunch of them without having to juggle stuff in my inventory. That’s at least 2-4 bag slots freed for all my characters.

To reiterate, coming down the line for the feature patch:

  • WvW – new month-long Fall Tournament with weekly match-up rewards and supposedly more unique worlds matched up with each other (I’ll believe it when I see it, BG and JQ and TC have been seeing each other since the last league), Siege Golem mastery, new Siege Disabler trick.
  • Commander tags – will now be account-bound, cost 300 gold, and have 4 shiny colors to choose from.
  • PvP – some new world tournament thing with shiny rewards for pro-PvPers, standard enemy models for Team Arenas, new PvP armor cosmetic reward (one presumably super-shiny variant for the top-tier, and one less shiny variant for the hoi polloi to earn via PvP reward track)
  • Balance changes – Elementalists weep as FGS and Tornado-Meteor combo get nerfed, mesmer scepter gets torment added, necromancer dagger gets a two-target cleave, warrior adrenaline gets played around with, and a whole bunch of less used and less popular skills and traits from all classes get some kind of adjusted boosts to try and make ’em more attractive (guess we’ll see how the new meta shakes out)
  • Guilds – will now be global, and all those leftover influence and upgrades and other things abandoned on server transfer will now come back home to roost. Guild mission experiences on the megaserver system -may- be further improved, by letting the first guildie joining a map to do a (presumably-active) guild mission reserve spots on the map for other guildies zoning in, so that half the guild isn’t spread out across several maps. May. Caveats for guilds of a very large size, which will probably still get smeared across various map instances and have to taxi in on each other. To be improved further (TM).
  • Megaserver – still getting plenty of tweaks to increase good experiences over bad ones, will attempt to sort EU players by language a little better, language chat filter back to being disabled by default so that EU players aren’t mysteriously plagued by a horde of seemingly deaf individuals in maps that keep requiring communication and coordination, fingers are crossed as to how much toxicity and harassment will result versus community-forming and a reminder to frickin’ use the report function on the worse of the toxic xenophobic lot so that the mapchat can improve.

Also, when megaserver maps drop below a certain number and need to be emptied out and closed, leftovers will be asked to volunteer to move maps back to more crowded ones and get a little bonus buff for doing so. What this will imply for organized groups trying to move to and fill new Teq and Wurm maps with people that actually care to listen to instructions and cooperate remains to seen.

  • Dungeons – will now have no instance owner. As long as someone stays in the instance, it stays open, so gone are the days of getting booted out when the opener leaves. What this might end up enabling remains to be seen: there are a few unscrupulous toxic people frequenting dungeons who might get extra-kick happy and may get some jollies out of kicking PUGs and inviting guildmates (though why they wouldn’t just run with the guildies, I dunno) or selling the path after using PUGs to do their dirty work (which I suspect is far more likely, and will no doubt keep Anet’s GMs occupied for some time.) Three-person kick is apparently in the works, but will not be in time for the feature patch.
  • Performance tweaks – More improvements to back-end stuff that will -hopefully- improve performance and frame rates at crowded events like world bosses and WvW.
  • Crafting – Crafting UI will allow for opening and viewing recipes to subcomponents at the same time as the main recipe. New cosmetic crafting backpack skins as a little mini-reward as you go up in crafting tiers. New recipes for leveling items (aka twink items) that will go up to an exotic-equivalent for low levels.
  • Profession loot – will make it more likely to get drops that are usable for one’s class. Makes it more exciting and logical for low levels to get drops that they can actually use, may sneakily tweak supply and demand of materials based on the population of classes actually being played on a regular basis.
  • Fresh Start – New player experience will be given more clear direction and guidance as to where to go. Experienced players can ignore this and turn it off, and wander Tyria as before. Leveling up will be made more shiny and WHEEEEEE, YOU LEVELED to make it feel more rewarding per level. Various existing GW2 systems will be drip-feed introduced to newbies using this guiding/unlock system, such as downed state at level 5, “hey, WvW exists, come try it out” at lvl 18, “you can PvP too, it’s not just all hearts” at lvl 22, etc. (Experienced folks who don’t need this will still be able to access WvW and PvP at lvl 2 on alts by jumping into a portal or using a hotkey, once unlocked on one character, all future characters will have the button unlocked.) More shiny item rewards for leveling up. Personal story will come in chunks using this system as well, so they can be played through at one go, instead of getting spaced out by really weird level gaps. Stats may come in chunks to also make it feel like one is getting stronger – everything will end up the same by level 80.
  • Collections – Miniatures and finishers will now end up in the account wardrobe. Both minis and finishers will be previewable in the wardrobe, minis will also be previewable via TP and chat links. Wardrobe has had some UI tweaks to make searching through it easier. Minis can be turned into an account unlock, available to all your characters to equip, simultaneously if desired, and will follow you from zone to zone with no more work needed to display them. Doing so essentially “dedicates” the mini, making it no longer sellable/tradeable as the mini item will vanish and exist as an “account skin” instead.

An entire Item Collections systems will be introduced via Achievements to reward the whole compulsion to collect everything under the sun. Shiny weapons or armor skins, food consumed, loot bags opened, spoons, you name it, it goes in it. There will be rewards attached to collecting various um, collections – equipment, functional unlocks, recipes, AP, stuff like that. Naturally, if you collect it, you can’t sell it and profit from it. More sinks, more demand, more money-making or money-sinking opportunities, gems-to-gold and gold-to-gems, more motivation to do one or the other, TP tax and economy churnchurnchurn, here we come!

The last announcement, due tomorrow, is titled Trading 2.0.

If it doesn’t contain Trading Post improvements, like *cough* certain filters that have been missing since the beginning of time, I’ll be very very surprised.

All in all, I think this feature patch definitely offers some very promising foundations for proceeding forward on. It’s good to have some rock solid bases to build that ‘new content’ on, after all.

Path of Exile: Forsaken Masters First Impressions

There's actually some neat art for some gear. If only wardrobe customisation were a thing...

It’s really fun.

Granted, it’s from the perspective of a slow lowbie or a noob’s eye view, but as a representative of the beginner player subset, I think the latest update for Path of Exile goes a long way towards making the game more interesting when you simply play through the game.

(As opposed to more ‘endgame’ or ‘alternate’ gameplay modes where one speedruns through everything, racing though maps or levels, or sit around repeating instances and farming for loot – though it probably does make life more interesting there as well.)

First off, the UI has changed:

The Old UI
The Old UI
The new UI
The new UI

The most obvious addition is that of an MMO-like ‘quest tracker’ to the right side of the screen, that probably makes things a lot clearer for newbies as to where they’re supposed to go and what’s optional and what’s not.

Even though I’ve played through the Acts enough times by now to have memorized the sequence, it’s still nice to have a quick reminder of what quest stage one is at, without having to bring up the entire quest objectives menu.

(Now, if only I can figure out how to stop the damn square exclamation mark from popping up every time I fulfill a quest objective. Any Path of Exile pros have any tips on this front? It’s driving my OCD nuts to have to press U to clear it every time.)

It would be a little better if it were more customizable, but small steps forward, I guess.

The strange rune-like icons on the left have been replaced with a single pop-up menu button that expands out to show all the options in detail. Again, a more newbie-friendly change. Experts will already have memorized the keyboard shortcut by now.

The cryptic dollar sign has been replaced with a more clearly labeled “SHOP” button for the microtransaction shop.

And the flasks have had a little pretty visual upgrade, complete with recessed shadows that conform to their shapes.

Anyhow, I logged in with barely contained glee onto my level 65 Shadow, full of confidence that Forsaken Masters would make everything better.

analysisparalysis

Then reality struck.

They’d literally reset ALL of my points, since duh, I’m a Shadow, and that part of the tree got completely rearranged.

That’s 81 skill points to reallocate.

uhhhhh

As if that were not intimidating enough, going into the passive tree warns you that the patch gave your character a full one-use skill tree reset, except that if you allocate any passives before using it, it will be lost.

(Not that the Shadow really needs it, they already reset the whole thing for me!)

yeahhhh

Finally, one looks at the whole relevant part of the skill tree, trying to take in all the changes, while still trying to figure out if my previous playstyle can still be built for, without totally gimping myself again…

…crap.

I am perfectly aware that there are skill builders on websites that I can use.

Those rather assume a bit more knowledge and familiarity with the tree than I start out with, nor do I have the interest in staring at and reading each node online, then spending three hours tinkering with it without playing the game.

(Those kinds of things are fun -later- after you’ve mastered the basic game. I spent plenty of time playing with City of Heroes’ offline build creators, slotting IOs to eke out that last percent of optimal, but that was -after- leveling a bunch of alts and being familiar enough with the powersets to pick the arrangement I wanted without thinking about it.)

Granted, the new layout does feel a lot better.

Just going through the Shadow-related nodes, you can see more distinct paths where you can be more an elemental spellcaster, or a melee user – and pick up more survival-focused nodes at the beginning.

There’s a very clear Trap focus, to give the Shadow a more distinct specialization, as well as damage-over-time through poison/chaos damage, and daggers / claws, etc.

It gives some promising ideas for new Shadow characters later, but trying to find the right nodes for my rather quirky design vision was a little more challenging.

All in all, I wussed out.

I decided that the best way to explore the newly rearranged part of the tree was to make a NEW character, checking out each node organically as he leveled, with the express purpose of trying to recreate the same playstyle.

If the new character did well enough through the levels, then I could copy the bulk of that tree over to my 65 Shadow, with any extra improvement tweaks from playing and feeling out the weaknesses on the new character.

It was also a good opportunity to check out the new Rampage league.

Rampage is the standard not-hardcore league, with the twist of having a killstreak mechanic for chaining multiple mob deaths.

The more kills you increment on a counter, the more things happen around you.

Hit 15, and a handy dandy projectile stun spins out in all directions – it’s very nice for my lowbie Shadow, since all the mobs obligingly hold still to be stabbed.

Other stuff that happens include animated weapons showing up, and some kind of corpse explosion, but I tend to lose track of anything happening on screen at that point, besides trying to stab things with red health bars until there aren’t any left.

relic

There’s a nice synergy to this with the Loremaster Elreon minigame.

You see, each master apparently has a miniquest activity associated with it.

I’ve only met three so far, because I r a slowbie.

elreon

This is Elreon, and he seems to be the Templar class representative.

He has little ‘defend the relics’ miniquests, that can be as simple as one relic and one small circle:

relic2

Or something like this:

relic3

Yep, 4 relics.

The 4 circles above crashed my game, by the way. I assume there were just too many mobs generated for it to cope at that point, as the servers were a little jittery at the time with concurrent users – there was a queue of several thousands when I tried logging back in, something I’d never seen before – though granted, it only took a few tens of seconds for hundreds to enter at once.

Couple minutes wait, at most.

All in all, a fun minigame, which rather reminds me of the Mythbusters’ zombie special:

Haku the Armourmaster, on the hand, opens up a separate mini-area when you talk to him.

haku

Here, you’re supposed to retrieve a Karui spirit for him, in what is possibly the most streamlined version of an escort quest yet.

There is no slow-moving NPC to lose your temper with.

The spirit is essentially an object you pick up.

Except that it’s like frickin’ dynamite when you DO pick it up.

Most of the time, you can choose to fight through or run your way to the spirit as you desire. Sometimes, you’ll have to kill a mob to free the spirit.

Once you do grab the spirit, MORE mobs will spawn and chase you, while a ‘self-destruct’ mechanic will trail you like a most persistent hound. Fire falls out of the sky, blood explosions gout out of the ground where you’re standing, and they all HURT.

Moral of the story: Don’t stand still.

I ran around being on fire and trying to kill an endless stream of mobs, draining health flasks like water, for all of the first instance before I figured it out – you’re not supposed to stay there and kill everything until it stops moving. You won’t, you’ll just die instead.

Instead, it’s like a little training tutorial in introducing newbies to the concept that yes, you can run away from trash packs of mobs, and juke around them (and hope you don’t get stuck and die from desync.)

NPCs have never made it back to the quest-giver so quickly, when the player can pick them up and carry them, and then is promptly given a sizeable inducement to GTFO as fast as possible.

There may still be a few tweaks needed. The Path of Exile Reddit is all busy talking about the “Rocks fall, everybody dies” Haku miniquest which seems to be near-certain death. Me, I’m just glad I haven’t seen that variant yet.

Tora, the Mistress of the Hunt will request you to track a series of appearing footprints (or green blood pools, in my one specific case) back to a miniquest entrance, to which you enter and do a short kill quest.

wtfisthisdoinghere

It was a bit of a dead giveaway when I stumbled on the miniquest entrance before even finding the master. It was like, “hmm, this is odd… guess I better run around and check the map to see if there’s a master here…”

There was.

Doing these quests for the masters nets you faction reputation for them, and places them in town, where they become vendors that sell armor for the class they represent.

That’s kind of nice, in a way, since that’s another source of gear where RNG -may- possibly favor you.

Eventually, as you build rep with them, they can offer to create a hideout for you with a specific tileset, and then provide crafting stations in those hideouts if you invite them to it, or some such.

Wouldn’t know yet, I only have enough rep with Haku and am waiting to find all the masters and get them into town first before deciding on a hideout.

(Preferably -after- all the PoE veterans have put the info on a wiki so that I can make a decision I don’t regret. The whole thing is apparently shared by all the characters in the league. The good news is that this is the Rampage league, so it’s sort of a four-month trial run. Faction rep will combine down with the standard league when the Rampage league ends, apparently, so it’s not wasted time either.)

The last interesting change is that some of the early bosses seem to have gotten more of an upgrade in combat skills.

merveil

Merveil, if you let her get away from you, starts calling up a bunch of adds and whirlpool tornado things.

Brutus, in the Prison area, also summons up adds and has a few more interesting attacks.

I rather like it, since it seems to balance out a bit more of the prior slightly weird difficulty spikes, where everything seemed like a cakewalk until BANG, you run into mobs that start using high-damage elemental attacks and here you are, with no clue that resistances are a priority… or BANG, here’s the Piety or Dominus fight where the bosses suddenly have multiple phases and understanding the specific attack mechanics of the fight is suddenly important.

I’d already been learning this through rather painful trial and error on the higher Cruel and Merciless difficulties with my alts, but it’s nice to know that newbies won’t have to go through the same experience.

Now, from the start, you expect that boss mobs will have a whole bunch of weird attacks, and that reading animations and dodging these (hey, just like GW2!) is important to avoid damage, rather than just running up to the mob and killing it… until you suddenly can’t, one day out of the blue and explode into little perplexed gibs.

All in all, a very nice patch.

Knowing there may be different masters in an area encourages an interesting tension between being thorough in exploring versus being speedy and just rushing through to the next zone.

Encountering the different masters also changes things up in that procedural generation manner. Prior concepts from various leagues are also in – so you may encounter Strongboxes of loot, Corrupted Areas for vaal gems, Ambushes from various rogue exiles (aka sort of elites or mini-bosses).

Altogether, it becomes more varied an experience.

Though farming may now be more of a pain. I’ve been trying to figure out if there’s a consistent way to get a corrupted area to try and find a Vaal Summon Skeletons to make my new character more resemble the old one, and it doesn’t look very promising on the RNG front. Since I’m neither willing to manual trade, nor do I even -own- a chaos orb’s worth of currency, it’s a bit of a moot point to get it via other players.

The good news is that for the other kind of playstyle that I normally prefer – ie. not building and matching a character to a specific design spec, but working with what RNG doles out to you and creating a unique playing character from it, this sort of varied roguelike map layout matches pretty well.

For example, I picked up Cold Snap and tried it out, and discovered that it actually synergizes quite well. Freezing enemies in place for a short time gives more room to a) survive damage, and b) stab things.

I still miss my Vaal Summon Skeletons ‘elite’ or ‘ultimate skill’ but well, one makes do with what one has, for the time being.

GW2: So What Did You Do On Feature Patch Day?

sylvarinecro

$10 and 30 gold later, I finally got around to updating my necromancer’s look for PvP and his PvE condition gear.

(Whose stat type I didn’t actually own before today, either. And I opened the two Tequatl’s Hoards I’d been hoarding, for a dagger and staff to go with my Wand of the Sunless.)

Worth it.

I didn’t really need that frost wasp axe or drum this month anyway. 😦

This patch has been fiendishly devious in terms of giving new lateral progression things to do.

There’s the new grandmaster trait unlocks, which I suppose will get done over time as one does temples and such.

There’s trying to relearn and get used to all the new UI changes and whatever the hell they’ve done in the traits/profession rebalance.

I fixed my major character’s traits back to what they were using, and it’s been…hmm, different and same.

My one-hand crit guardian seems to have escaped the worst of it, and feels like he’s even gotten better in low leveled areas, thanks to the improved downscaling of crit damage (erm, ferocity.) Of course, his main purpose is to exist in open world PvE areas and kill things very fast – no group support needed and the bare minimum of survivability, so that’s not very high requirements either way.

The axe/horn banner warrior may have lost a bit of dps, but since he wasn’t optimized for super-duper-100%-efficient DPS and went the more group support route instead, it doesn’t -feel- that different. Still yet to test it out in tougher content though, which will be crucial since he’s my dungeoneering and wurm-killing main. I may have actually lucked out by going for empowered allies and group banner support before this – what was once second best and merely decent now seems to be becoming part of the new meta, now that the old meta build had its feet and DPS kicked out under it.

My thief seems to have gotten the worst hit, I kept trying to stealth-backstab random mobs and going, what, IS THAT IT? Totally unscientific since I failed to record prior damage numbers before, but it didn’t -seem- to be hitting as lethally as before. Still yet to fix his shiny new account-bound WXP traits and test him out there, nor have I gotten around to the WvW asura guardian either.

My necromancer is a total mess stat and gear wise. A month ago, I took him out of his stopgap minion master axe/horn zerker build that helped me get through the norn and his dog in the Queen’s Gauntlet, and swapped him into an experimental death shroud/well power build for PvE, running a few easy dungeons as a test and change of pace. (Did passable to fine, didn’t get kicked.) At the same time, he was in Dhuumfire/terrormancer condi PvP build for mah dailies.

Today, I said, “Ok, today is the day I get him shiny new PvE condition gear and get him all set up looks-wise like my other mains.”

Except I somehow managed to edit my PvE traits while sitting in the Heart of the Mists pondering what would be functional for PvP (I blame the trait trainer who oh so helpfully offered to bring up my traits panel.) Thankfully, the PvP build copied itself off the PvE build, so I didn’t have to change it a second time and now BOTH builds are specced towards condition and bleeds and I’ve forgotten what the hell the dungeoneering power build was.

Then all my attention ended up in the wardrobe trying to design the new look.

Naturally, the only gloves that I wanted were those I didn’t have. (I really should have bought those toxic gloves. I hope they come back some day.)

Eventually, vanity won over frugality, and the remaining $10 in the month’s gem store budget went to buying Trickster armor for a pair of really neat gloves. (Granted, the rest of the armor doesn’t look half bad and I might be able to use pieces for my mesmer some day. Having the skins permanently available in the wardrobe really nudged me over the edge. Sorry, drum. Next month.)

Then I spent 30 gold on one miserable piece of T3 sylvari cultural armor, thinking I’d gotten really lucky that the cultural armor was the rabid stats I wanted. Only when I looked at the vendor, did I realize the blasted thing only had rare stats. Gah.

I’m feeling a bit too poor to buy one more chestpiece of exotic stats today, especially since it has also hit me that his jewellery is all still zerker.  Some day, but not today, I’m going to have to sit down, rummage through my bank and wallet and see what exotics or ascended of the right condition stats I can afford and fix that up properly, stats and runes/sigils and all.

For now, he’s sitting in a PvE limbo of neither condition or power. Bah.

There’s a dreamcleaver axe and staff skin waiting in the bank for his power build too, when I get around to designing a second look, when I actually figure out what his power build should be. *sigh*

All in good time, I suppose.

Feels like being pulled in a dozen directions at once, and being completely confused and penniless at the same time.

Who needs an expansion to shake things up when one dang feature patch is all it takes, eh?