GW2: Heart of Thorns Day 1 Impressions

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If we measure success by the sheer number of things that one could do, without doubt, GW2’s Heart of Thorns expansion is an unmitigated success.

One look down the achievements list (sorry Bhagpuss, it’s still here), the collections tab, the new masteries, the legendary precursor sections, the Heart of Thorns zones, the Heart of Thorns story chapters, the new guild initiatives, and oh, there were elite specializations and a new revenant profession, wasn’t there? (haven’t had time to even progress on any of those.)

Not to mention, all things WvW and PvP related that I haven’t even glanced at.

Oh, did we mention Halloween is in full swing in Lion’s Arch, so you -could- also be grinding out limited time festival goodies for shiny skins if so prioritized?

Drooburt up to his old ways in the afterlife.
Drooburt is still up to his old ways in the afterlife.

If we measure success by server stability and lack of game breaking bugs or everybody-can’t-login-or-play crashes, ArenaNet completely blows the competition out of the water on this one.

So far, most of the problems I’ve been hearing about are related to people being impatient and jumping straight into the game once it’s downloaded past the “playable” mark, and then charging headlong into a new zone or a story chapter where the content hasn’t fully downloaded yet – whereupon it either pauses/hangs or unceremoniously crashes the player out.

Duh.

I was patient (albeit in a knuckle gnawing, restlessly listening to others on Teamspeak, “I think I shall go and have some lunch while I wait for the full download” manner) and downloaded to 100% before logging in, and the whole experience for me has been silky smooth and perfect.

The servers are holding up in a remarkably rock solid manner, considering that my online friends list that usually is about half a page of people online stretched out to about 2.5-3 pages of people all online and checking out the shiny.

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Impressions?

The jungle feels a lot better than I thought it would be.

One thing that’s definitely helping is the music. I turned it back up from silent to appreciate the new scores and wow, the one on the character loading screen has to be heard to be believed.

Everything has a new coat of HoT shiny. The launcher now features a green tinted charr (Rytlock?); the character selection screen looks super-dramatic and shows off more helpful information, including which crafting professions are on which character.

The new HoT zones feel better when they’re all interconnected in one giant three-tiered map that goes from treetop canopy to roots, as opposed to one tiny section on reveal during beta. The former feels expansive and freeing, the latter felt small and cramped.

hot2
The fun of a launch zerg – an event turns into an impromptu sniper rifle shooting gallery.

Add on some good accompanying background music, a little mob clutter, some NPCs (though some of them are chattering away at a slightly abnormal cranked up pace) and they become zones that seem worth exploring.

It also seems to me that they may have populated the floor with more jungle plant entities, which helps the atmosphere greatly (though I have no idea if this is an issue for older, slightly less updated computers now. The ‘perils’ of enjoying a new-ish rig.)

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I need to find the time to figure out what this says… It appears to be some wreckage from the Pact fleet.

The story feels promising.

I just passed chapter 7 – Personal Possessions (which made me rage quite a bit, I’ll tell you, frickin’ latency and zephyrite-ish jumping puzzles = most of the drama and pacing taken out by multiple fall/deaths to the point where one was running as essentially naked charr), which properly segues us into the next zone past Verdant Brink, Auric Basin.

Given that there are two more zones past Auric Basin, and that I’ve only uncovered about three-quarters of the Verdant Brink map and definitely not touched a great many events and mastery points and adventures in VB itself, there appears to be a sizeable chunk of content on offer.

hot5
I’m trying to avoid major spoilers, but I suppose by now, most people do know there’s a city of gold somewhere in the jungle with some strange things called the Exalted. (End of minor spoiler.)

It’s the chapter before that lets us meet some old friends and has significant plot movement.

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It’s amazing how many people have rushed past the story and into just wandering about the new zones though.

I would have really appreciated some alone time playing through all the story chapters, but I knew one of my guilds was looking to claim a guild hall ASAP, so most of yesterday was spent with Teamspeak voices in the background, doing my best to power through some masteries while waiting for the expedition so that I wouldn’t miss the essentially one-off event.

Turns out that one was still lacking an Exalted mastery to get past a gate, but fortunately, there are mesmers to help guildies skip through that part, and I managed to zone into the instance.

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Wasn’t too bad. It definitely needed some communication and cooperation, along the lines of “split up your zerg, you morons.”

Whatever messaging system the devs were using for cues and instructions -needs- to be used and repeated in future zone events and even raids, imo. The pop up message was concise and offered feedback of the direct “shove it down your throat” kind – you failed this, this consequence now happens. Try doing X instead.

Given the mess of 40+ players running around, whose first impulse tends to be “follow the other yellow dots and commander tag,” the direct messaging was very helpful.

It took a bit of turning like an oil tanker (and one failure phase, but not failed in its entirety) for the group to learn and figure out what it had to do, but it was done in the end.

hot7

Oh, speaking of other guild changes, the yellow dots are an interesting touch.

Some people don’t like it, but I’m fairly neutral about it. I kind of like that it makes me feel a bit more interconnected with the other people in the guild, in that I can see their names repeated in my daily game encounters (leading to a sense of familiarity) and at a glance, you can also see if there are any fun congregations of group activity going on in certain zones.

The multiple guild chat channels, though. FREAKING GODSEND. ABOUT TIME. HOW DID WE PLAY THREE YEARS WITHOUT THIS.

That one change makes my chat window suddenly worth looking at and reading, rather than mostly ignoring.

Makes the whole place feel a lot more lively and social now.

(And I don’t even talk much. Just listen to the chatty ones mostly.)

My one criticism of the Heart of Thorns expansion?

The 6 new stats sets being introduced.

Apparently, even though we are not having any increase in item gear rarity ever (so sayeth Colin), someone has figured out a clever little workaround and decided that they can get away with putting two primary stats and two secondary stats on new gear, as opposed to the one primary and two secondaries of old.

Um, are we power-creeping a little here? Did we just obsolete the desirability of things like Berserker or Sinister because now everyone should want one of the newer stat combinations for that secondary stat bonus now?

Not sure. I haven’t looked at the actual numbers to compare yet, but I’m sure someone will be doing those calculations sooner rather than later.

And then we shall see if there was any attempt at equivalency or just an outright “this gear is better, by X%”.

In the meantime, there are masteries and lots of candy corn to chase.

And I suppose I should make that revenant some day. (I’m in not that much hurry, I don’t think the asura name I have in mind will be grabbed any time soon.)

Blaugust Day 26: A Birthday to Dye For (GW2)

A couple days before the “challenging group content” (unofficially now shortened by Reddit to “CGC”) announcement that I’m anticipating with equal parts excitement and dread, our first-born head start characters in Guild Wars 2 officially turn three years of age.

And receive something special.
And receive a little something from the GW2 Team.

ArenaNet have definitely trumped themselves on this one.

The first birthday gift yielded our first encounters with an experience scroll to level 20, a celebratory birthday booster that gave a character all sorts of bonuses for 24 online hours, and a nifty little Queen Jennah mini.

The birthday booster was always welcome.

The experience scroll was relatively convenient and useful to those who didn’t like the slow leveing start. Though speaking as someone who actually enjoys the leveling process, I mostly sat on the scrolls and banked them… until I realized I was accumulating so many that it was in my best interests to just use up some of them for my bank mules anyway.

The mini Queen Jennah was nice the first time, but shortly overstayed her welcome as more and more characters turned one year of age and one accumulated an uncountable number of mini human female mesmer clones. Especially when account-bound minis became a thing.

Why, yes, I am still taking advantage of the materials storage slots to hold extra minis.
Why, yes, I am still taking advantage of the old materials storage slots to hold extra minis, by not ever bothering to remove them. NINE JENNAHS, not inclusive of the one I used to account-bind the mini, plus any extra alt’s Jennahs that will no longer fit neatly into this and get tossed away.

The second birthday gift gave us mostly more of the same – celebratory birthday booster, experience scroll to 20 (that didn’t stack, prompting an “Uh oh, I think I should start using those” reaction), a skill point scroll awarding 5 SP (now retconned into a bag of 5 spirit shards), plus the Birthday Blaster (aka the cake gun.)

cakegun

That was a fairly entertaining toy that each character could use, providing short term buffs to self and others, and was something distinctive to show off that your account was at least two years old. (Also a great way to see the Scarlet’s Kiss skin, because very few people are ever going to lay their hands/eyes on the actual thing.)

This time around, we get -2- birthday boosters, an experience scroll that goes up to level 30, five teleport-to-friend items, a permanent birthday finisher and a celebratory dye pack.

birthdaystuff

Definitely outdoing themselves here, making each item better than the previous gifts.

(The teleport-to-friend is somewhat questionable, but possibly may see some use once Heart of Thorns hits and one needs a port to some Mastery-locked area, and/or be handy for really infuriating jumping puzzles. I would bank that, personally.)

The boosters are always welcome.

I’m really tempted to use the experience scroll on the asura elementalist who is still level 5, and start leveling from there.

I LOVE the birthday finisher. It’s supremely gorgeous, elegant and showy, and even includes the signature red dragon motif of ArenaNet. Someone (or someones) did a lovely job on its animation.

The majority of players though are absolutely head over heels with the celebratory dye pack, which offers a free (but account-bound) choice of around 60 rare and mind-blowingly expensive dye colors.

I have to say, ArenaNet really hit a bulls-eye with this one with regards to the majority of their target audience. Choice, not RNG. Cosmetic customisation, allowing for vanity and prestige factor and to show off something previously thought unaffordable or too spendthrift to save up for.

You might note I’m speaking in a general sense, and yeah, I guess I personally fall into the minority that is slightly… bemused over the reaction.

Not that I don’t welcome the concept. It’s great. I get a free expensive dye. I get an extra color. Dye prices plunge, making traders groan, while buyers benefit from the lowered prices.

It’s just that for whatever reason (and it’s something I’m very thankful about, because it saves me a fortune) I just don’t feel personally compelled to go ga-ga about completing a dye collection or -needing- to have a color that is just fractionally slightly different from another cheaper color.

A while ago, I bought up all the cheap common dyes and got about halfway through the uncommon ones, before wondering if I really needed any more, given the already spectacular array of colors I had to choose from.

Part of the fun, I felt, was finding a color scheme that worked and looked fantastic with the so-called “cheap” colors I had available, instead of desperately hoping for a color just a shade lighter or darker and sifting through a hundred dyes on the TP to realize that they hadn’t quite gotten around to including it as a dye color option yet.

Still, given the number of people who buy the seasonal dye packs, open and trade its contents, there’s a market out there ready to go as crazy over colors as I personally do over minis.

So, hurrah, glad that there’s a bonus alternative way for folks to get their hands on colors they really really like.

I’ll definitely be picking up mine as well… just not really looking forward to figuring out which one to pick, given the lavish spread of options and no actual character or gear that presently needs a recoloring to drive my decision.

This post was brought to you by the letters B for Birthday, Belghast and Blaugust, and the number 26.

Blaugust Day 19: Gone Home? Not Really…

Artsy fartsy title screen for an artsy fartsy game...

As part of my optimistic attempt to work on my Blaugust To-Do List and clear 0.1% of my Steam games list, I got around playing Gone Home tonight. Finished in 2 hours – 116 minutes, to be exact.

I have to say… I didn’t really like it.

I admit I was a little spoiled by glancing through reviews that basically said: “Nothing really happens.”

Therefore, I did not allow myself to be the least bit scared regarding the 1001 horror movie tropes that Gone Home attempts to inflict on you. Flickering lights, creaky noises, coincidentally well-timed lightning, the works.

I think that part of it was the major let-down, so to speak.

It feels like the game was purposefully trying to pull your strings, show you a horror movie trope, let you imagine for a breath or two something stereotypical and dramatic had befallen… and then way too quickly, it also shows you the “logical” mundane explanation for what’s going on.

It just makes me wonder… why bother then? A good story should have rising action leading to a climax…

Conversely, Gone Home is filled with vignettes that let you briefly think /something/ might be approaching rising action, and then just as quickly, it lets you down and you deflate again back to mundania.

Gone Home is not
Gone Home is not as crass as to -actually- let any dramatic violence occur, stereotypical appearances to the contrary…

The central plot is okay, very prosaic in the larger scheme of things, the clues all support it… even if they end up rather “coincidentally” arranged so that you wander from room to room in a channeled linear fashion, picking up one key after another that unlocks a room with the next revelation (and the next key.)

I guess that was my main problem with Gone Home.

I just couldn’t stop from thinking meta and design thoughts.

At no point, did I really immerse into the simulation.

I started out blind and amnesiac, not even knowing who “I” was, with regards to this Katie person, whom “I” apparently am, says my luggage tags on the doorstep of this house.

That made it supremely hard to feel fearful, or indeed, even know how “I” was supposed to feel. A little more background at the beginning might have helped, perhaps.

I know I personally felt a lot more spooked in Vampire: Bloodlines’ haunted house – I had made and named my own character and chosen her vampire clan, I “knew” who she was, her background and could roleplay/immerse how she would feel. Furthermore, in the supernatural Vampire setting, -ghosts- may very well be very real creatures that might do horrible things to my health bar…

In Gone Home, the game seems to go out of its way to imply both super-mundanity (real life setting, absolutely nothing paranormal is going to happen, even if some characters believe some occult stuff) and game immortality of your avatar (she’s not going to get hurt, unless stumbling into a specially scripted event, right? And there can be no specially scripted events if the game is so hell bent on being mundane…)

So yeah, no fear. Just methodical turning on the lights, one after the other, and casing every room in a left-to-right systematic fashion, trying not to get lost.

Ha. Ha. Too clever by half.
Ha. Ha. Too clever by half. Is that a meta commentary on how the player has been acting so far? I’m still not laughing.

Oh yeah, the other “meta” thought that I couldn’t shake? “This damn house is too fucking big. Awfully convenient of this fellow to die and will this monstrosity of a manor to the family. Where’s my ‘run’ key? Why don’t I have a ‘run’ key? Surely simulating panic ought to be important, if you want the player to pretend like they’re worried at any point? Also, convenience factor and all…”

gh-stars

Oh, here’s one thing I -did- like. Playing with glow-in-the-dark stars that do actually glow after you turn out all the lights you turned on.

Well, glad I got it finished, anyway. One more game off the “maybe should try” list.

Bottom line: I didn’t find it as spectacular as some other people might say.

Verisimilitude-wise, it is very very good. If you like an old house simulator where you can pick up and rotate various modeled items like soda cans, tissue boxes, potato chips and toilet rolls… none of which actually contribute to gameplay or story and merely a little to the atmosphere… Gone Home is good in that regard.

Story-wise, it makes sense. It doesn’t cheat you in that respect either. It’s just a very ordinary and mundane story, that unfortunately appears to be hiding under the cover of being some kind of ghost or horror story.

Problem is, you can go from mundane to supernatural themes, and overall tension and interest rises.

Take it the other way around, and it mostly ends up as a giant yawn.

This post was brought to you by the letters B for Belghast and Blaugust, and the number 19.