Welcome to Jester's Trek.
I'm your host, Jester. I've been an EVE Online player for about six years. One of my four mains is Ripard Teg, pictured at left. Sadly, I've succumbed to "bittervet" disease, but I'm wandering the New Eden landscape (and from time to time, the MMO landscape) in search of a cure.
You can follow along, if you want...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Why is this fish so bloody good?

The arc of the Hitchhiker's books -- and if you haven't read them, stop reading this and go read them -- is arguably about the growth of Arthur Dent from noob to bitter-vet to eventual contentment (maybe).  Spoilers ahead, so skip the next two paragraphs if you haven't read the books.

While the books are funniest when Arthur is a noob, in my opinion Arthur's story is funniest when he's in the bitter-vet stage.  By this point, Arthur has realized that many of his actions in the first three books result directly or indirectly in disaster, and the universe seems quite interested in making his life as unbearable as possible without actually killing him.  By the fourth book of the series, Arthur has fully embraced his bitter-vet status.  But once this happens, Arthur falls in love.  His luck reverses from that moment; after that, (almost) everything goes well for him.

This leads to two or three amusing chapters of Arthur having to deal with that... and waiting for the other shoe to drop.  The situation comes to head in a restaurant when Arthur grabs a waitress, points to his food, and demands "Why is this fish so bloody good?" like it's a conspiracy and the waitress is in on it.  ;-)  The woman with whom he's fallen in love looks at the waitress and says "You'll have to excuse my friend.  I think he's having a good day at last."  It's a classic bit if you're an Arthur Dent fan.(1)

And that brings me to Guild Wars 2.  Why is this fish so bloody good?

Let's start with the basics.  I've been inundated with multiple repetitions of two questions: "Do you like it?  Should I buy it?"

Yes, and yes.

But before you rush off to find your credit card, let me open with a caveat: I'm still very early in my career in this thing, and I haven't tried PvP yet.  So this post is about first impressions of the game, the mechanics, and the PvE, which are obviously subject to a lot of change.  But those first impressions are very, very good.

Before I give you those first impressions, though, let me remind you of my MMO background so you can put what I say in perspective.  EVE Online was my first MMO.  I've never played World of Warcraft, never even looked directly at a computer monitor playing World of Warcraft.  All of my experience with WoW is heresay, and what I've seen on various YouTube videos and the like.  I'm familiar with WoW as a concept, of course, but I've never been tempted to play it or subscribe.  I did play RIFT for a while when it was in beta but that's as close as I've come.  Other than RIFT and Wurm Online, I've never played any other fantasy-based MMO either, though of course I'm an old hand at virtually every fantasy single player game that's come out.

As a result, some of the things that I think are well done in GW2 might be common to WoW or other fantasy MMOs that I haven't played.  Got all that?  OK, let's go.

The early game of this thing does so many things just right, it's really remarkable.  Nearly every choice the devs have made is the right one.  Character creation and introduction to the world is as good and smooth as I've seen in any game.  Once you're in, anyone who is reasonably familiar with fantasy computer games will pick up the basics almost instantly.  There's no tutorial, but there doesn't need to be.  The basics will see you through the first couple of hours and by the time you need something not-basic, you are subtly encouraged to discover how it works.

That's the concept the entire early game is built around, as far as I can tell: subtle encouragement, at just the right time, to learn one new thing about the game and add it to the repertoire of what you're already doing.  It's masterful game design, and a couple of examples will suffice.

Very early in the game, you're told about the game's dodge mechanic and how to use it.  But the early creatures are quite easy to destroy without ever using it, so you can spend that time concentrating on learning other things.  However, by the time those things are mastered, you're suddenly presented with a creature that looks like a standing rat.  These standing rats can only attack once a week or so, but their attacks hurt.  You find yourself thinking... "wait, how did that dodge mechanic work again?" and within minutes you're an expert at it.  It's a fantastic example of player management in video game design.

Again and again and again and again, Guild Wars 2 does this.  I've never seen anything like it, and I've been gaming for decades.  Without there being a tutorial and without even knowing how you intend to play this game, GW2 places these obstacles in your path confident that once you hit them, you'll want to learn how to overcome them.

Here's another example.  An isometric 3D platformer sounds horrible in theory, and yet GW2 has these elements in it.  I groaned when I first realized that from time to time I was going to have to time jumps and leaps over obstacles from this perspective with a wonky camera and movement system (more about them in a second).  But again, there's subtle encouragement: "vistas" which are multiple points for each map where you can get a glorious overall perspective view of your current area.  Once you hit one of these vistas and the game gets to wow you with the visuals, you find the GW2 world is so beautiful that you want to see more of them.

And each vista teaches you more and more about the movement system and the wonky camera until you can use both instinctively and with relative ease.(2)

When you find yourself ready to try different weapons, they fall into your hands and you're encouraged to try them.  When you find yourself ready to try out crafting, you're suddenly gifted with what you need to do it.  When you find yourself wanting to see what other players are making, you suddenly find yourself pointed at the game's quite well-done in-game player market and are subtly encouraged to use it.  As I said, this kind of thing happens again and again, apparently effortlessly.  It's like the game was reading my thoughts and was showing me what I wanted to see next.

This isn't a learning cliff, or even a learning curve.  It's a learning sidewalk.

So much for the mechanics.  The early game itself is incredibly fun, challenging, and engaging.  And again, there's subtle encouragement (and from time to time, subtle discouragement) used to guide you in the right direction.  The world feels very open and populated and you can quickly and easily get yourself lost.  But as you travel, the game subtly encourages you to take on creatures slightly tougher than yourself and then lets you know when you're at the right level with the best "near-death" system of any game I've ever seen.  Push too far and you're gently pushed back.  It's nothing overt and you can ignore it if you want to.

Even better than this, though, the game encourages player cooperation without requiring player cooperation.  And even better than that, as players are out there doing their thing, you can jump into their things, and these "events" are many and varied in a way that I've never seen before.  It makes the world feel alive and vital and active, and operating even when you aren't around.  Groups will flow together, try to beat some major obstacle, flow apart and break into clumps or singles, the clumps or singles will take on various smaller challenges nearby and sometimes these smaller challenges will morph into a bigger challenge that causes the clumps and singles to flow together again.

Or if you want to skip all that and do your own thing, you can.  But if it gets too tough for you, there's always a few people just over the hill that will jump in and help you through.

In short, the PvP is going to have to be damned good to beat the PvE, and from what I've heard the PvP is damn good.  I'll let you know when I get there.  For now, the game subtly encourages (there's that phrase again) you to get to level 30 before trying it out.  You don't have to but it seems pretty clear that it would be quite advantageous to do so.  I'm not there yet, so I am going to explore this new world a little bit more (he said with glee).  It's no hardship: the world is a delight, filled with surprises around many corners.  I've never been inclined to "explore" EVE, but I spent three hours doing just that in GW2 last night and not only did I enjoy it, I was subtly enco-- never mind.  You get the idea.  ;-)

All in all, based on my first impressions, I highly recommend this one!  It's a gem.  More to come.

(1) That said, I tend to be more of a Ford Prefect fan myself.  ;-)
(2) However, in very close quarters the camera's still pretty bad, but that's something the devs can work on.


  1. As much as I love fantasy, I just can't get into these kind of games anymore. Never played WoW either, never wanted to. They just feel so empty compared to Eve. Until Eve came along, MMO's just seemed like such a huge waste of time to me (to be fair, so is Eve, but damn if it isn't a seductive waste of time in ways these other MMO's can't even touch).

    I watched all of the Angry Review on GW2 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ax-_06Acj8Y), and it does indeed look like it's breaking the fantasy MMO mold in quite a few ways, so good on them. But I won't be playing it.

  2. I'm in the same boat. EVE is the first MMO that I've ever played (I prefer BF3, and Mass Effect type games). Your review (from the eyes of an EVE player) coupled with a few other reviews that I've read and watched has encouraged me to try the game out.

  3. Got it. Tried it. Thought it was shit.

  4. You can chat across servers and even join guilds across servers, so if at some point you want to post your name...

  5. i played daoc for 5 years and tested a lots of mmos like wow, war, starwars galaxies or how ever it was named.

    none of these games had an tutorial or something like that. i think thats one of the good things of a themepark mmo.
    you start here and then you go a pre defined way through the game and after every few steps you get another new thing to learn/use.

    in addition fantasy elements are much easier to understand. a sword hurts your taget and a shield protects you. bigger sword= better. glowing swords are also better then not glowing swords. you dont even have to look at the stats.
    if you are lv5 and a quest gives you a shield, that is probably a perfect shield for lv5. if you find a shield with lv 10 it is probably better then your old lv5 shield.
    and so on. there is a very strong logic behind fantay themepark mmo. thats why so many play them.

    and now you start playing eve. you undock in your noob frig, warp in the first belt , kill that red X in your overview and you find a conjunctive gravimetric eccm scanning array I. hell yeah! i bet 50% of the eve players older then 1 or 2 years could not eplain when it makes sense to use this.
    i dont think there is any possible way to make it easy to enter eve. the only way is to join players who can tell youwhat you should learn first

    on the other hand in a sandbox mmo you can play endgame contaent just a few days after creating the game.
    i do a lot of jumpfreighter logistics and in one of the lowsec systems i use there lives a small pirate community. most of them are pretty new to eve. there was even a 3? month old guy with security -10 who was mining with a t1 mining barge in a belt. he warped to station when he saw my cyno, docked and undocked in a hurricane and tryed to kill my jumpfreighters ^^

    i mean in daoc i had to lv 50 which took me more then a half year befor i could think about pvp. and this guy with his few month in game time could (if i would make mistakes and he would know how to exploit those mistakes) kill my 8 bn isk ship which is piloted by a 4 year old char

    i think you cant have both. the option to create a char, join your friends who play since 5 years and be usefull in their endcontent playstyle and at the same time have a few month long instruction to the game which teaches you one thign after the other.

  6. The dynamic events were amazing in the starter areas right as the servers opened with dozens and dozens of people flocking all over the place. As I've progressed through the game I'm finding the population extremely thinned out, quite often with events running unattended, and occasionally 1 or 2 other people around to help. It's made things extremely difficult for my squishy kite-y character. I'm hoping it will improve as I get towards the endgame L80 areas

  7. Guild Wars 2 does a very good job of keeping you engaged. There is always some way to get experience. That could be killing monsters, exploring the surroundings, crafting things, etc etc. The game is very casual friendly. HANDS DOWN though....I LOVE structured PvP there are still balance issues there always will be in any pvp game. But you can create a new character and switch metas with impunity. This is because gear...HAS NO EFFECT on your overall stats. Everyone the day 1 noob to the 3 year vet has the SAME stats available to them. This makes for a much more even playing field. Though honestly the good players still crush the bads....but it does make one feel much more satisfied knowing you won because of your skill and not just because your sword was better than their sword. Now the World vs World is a different matter gear does affect you in there but good tactics and the design really don't let you even notice half the time.. That said WvW is kind of like SOV fights....while structured pvp is like Small Gang Warfare...This is just my humble opinion though....

  8. Can I kill people, loot their shit and make their lives miserable?
    Yes: I'm there!
    No: Don't care!

  9. Oh JT, I feel subtly stabbed in the heart. This is purely an irrational emotional response to your unfaithfulness that can not be explained.
    You really should do better in hiding your affairs away from EVE.

    Jes' kiddin', but there is many a truth spoken in jest.

  10. Hm... I didn't like this article... well wasn't written by you but well, most guys who try the game says the same things, being now or old MMOs players it's the same.
    What I really wonder, is how people think after playing 1-2-3 months.
    And what are the "little things" that people don't like.
    I don't want to buy GW2 to enjoy it 2 weeks that stop playing it ever... if I buy it I want to buy it for a while, as a MMO, to want to come back to it even after I'm max level and saw lots of things.
    Sure there's no monthly fee so you can blablabla... I don't care for now, I have a shitload to others guys to try, from the steam summer sale...
    I want to know if this game is cool long time, and I still haven't found an answer to this.
    I heard some guys who didn't like it, like not enough different skill, and you learn almost all directly. Or that there's not enough need to find new stuff, thing like this... that I can understand it may be an issue.
    And there's the server population problems... I dunno how is the situation now, but I heard of waiting 5 hours for WvW and things like that...
    On these comments for example, someone said lots of regions are already desolated... and so the events are limited... as people said before that the GW2 events system is wonderful, that's a big issue if there's not enough people to use them often...

    Hell, I'm searching a GW2 bittervet to tell me his poison, that's the best option to know if you really want to try this game that to ask something who is already bitter by it xD

    1. I've been playing an hour or three a night since GW2 launch. A few comments on your comments:

      - If you like the game at the start, you'll like it all the way through. There is no sudden shift to endgame, no buildup of funds/skills before you can go into 0.0. There's very little you can do at lvl80 that you couldn't do at lvl1 or lvl10. (some people don't like this, and WANT to build towards some notional endgame. Those people will be disappointed).

      - The game's core is about exploration. You get rewarded (xp) for almost everything. If you like feeling out the nooks and crannies of stuff, this is a good game for you. If you want to blast to max level and then complain about the lack of content, then do yourself a favor and skip it.

      - My personal experience with WvW wait times has been good, but I play east coast time and fairly early. At launch, there were overflow servers galore, but now that it's almost 2 months into launch, the wait queues are gone and I only see overflow servers for Lion's Arch.

      - IMHO, a lot of folks who try the game and say it's crap maybe didn't pick the right class. Try a few before you settle in. Unlike some games, there's actually a difference in play style between the classes. For example, I thought the Warrior was boring.

      - It's a much better social experience for me than WoW or EVE. In the PVE map, there's little reason to compete with anyone and every reason to coordinate and cooperate. I've only been in ONE "party" in the past 6wks, but have grouped with hundreds/thousands of different people for a few minutes at a time.

  11. They don't wear space suits. They walk on....SOIL ! I cannot go out of my way and make me a character with pointy ears with furry tips...

  12. People will say that the game sucks because:

    a) it's not a sandbox
    b) it is very easy to reach an equal playing field once you level cap (i.e. no gear progression, very easy to get into your Best-in-Slot gear, no "carrot" to chase)
    c) it lacks any meaningful rewards, very limited skinner-box type of gameplay (playing for fun, who does that).

    If you can get past these three bullet points, you will enjoy GW very much.

  13. The first of this type of MMO will usually be awesome. Whether it was Everquest, WoW, or even ToR. If it's the first once you've played, you will love it to death for a while. Eventually though, you will get board. I still look back on the "golden age" of WoW fondly. But I won't pick it up now, or any other similar style really.

    Then again, I also got board in EVE and quit. Though that was probably lack of time contributing. And for some reason I still religiously read about it daily. Odd really.

  14. im in the same situation Jorn, dont play eve, but read about it alot. dont know why

  15. Anonymous commentor, the one with the bullet points sums it HP very well. Most traditional MMO players will poi t those out as flaws, especially if the still enjoy the traditional MMO mechanics. There are also the MMO locusts that will complain about lack of "endgame." It doesn't matter that the game is only a month and a half old or the level scaling that makes the entire world "end-game" content. I am a fan so I'll leave it at that. You can enter structured PVP after leaving the opening zone, about level 2, and while there be upscaled to max level, with maxed gear (with stats of your choosing), and all skills unlocked. Making you identical to an actual level 80 with max gear. There is no reason not to try it out if interested. You can get there by hitting "K" and going to the Heart of the Mists." It's also a good way to test a profession before dedicating play time. WvW is where you benefit more the closer you are to being 80. Your stats scale to 80, but you maintain your gear and current skills, placing you at a disadvantage. Still, I've soloed many 80s there with my level 20 and won. Take that as you will.

  16. Great anaology for GW2 why IS this fish so bloody good?

    "But once this happens, Arthur falls in love. His luck reverses from that moment; after that, (almost) everything goes well for him."

    Jester, you haven't read Mostly Harmless, have you?

    1. I have, but I choose to believe it takes place in an alternate multi-verse (not universe) from the other books. Douglas Adams himself admitted that he was in a bad mood that year. ;-)

    2. Yeah, "Mostly Harmless" always struck me as "You want another *** sequel? Fine, here's your *** sequel. And perhaps if I burn the world down around you all I can make it impossible to do another.".

  17. GW2 is a kinder, brighter world: it's refreshing mouthwash after the :bittervet: and :grimdark: of EVE.

    It has depth, detail and story. There's no particular need to power-level, and it's fun to explore the snippets of story at least once by chatting to named NPCs as you see them. It works just fine as a solo game and better with friends, where the damping mechanic means you can all muck in together even if you have different amounts of gametime. It's fascinating, as someone whose MMO expectations were shaped by EVE, to watch how it encourages cooperation between strangers.

    On my current trajectory I expect to spend another month, maybe two, focused on the PvE. I've dipped my toes into WvW since about Level 6, although mostly, I admit, to have a look around and get quick access to my bank through a crafting table while inconveniently far from an access point in the "real" Tyria. It has potential. Would be better with a group that acted as a fleet with voicecomms, and I haven't gone out of my way to look for that yet. I'm curious about whether it will avoid the problems of EVE's FW, since that's the model I'm comparing it with. Haven't yet tried sPvP, although the recent announcements about ArenaNet wanting to develop and support GW2 as an eSports platform have got me thinking about the next steps after learning to play your characters.

    The player market is explicitly built with an awareness of EVE's market. It's a simplified version, and people are still getting their heads around things like taxes. It's also without the ability to modify orders, which makes things very different: you can remove and re-make an order, paying the full fee again, which is a disincentive to one-copper trade wars.

    Some of the crafting lines are conceptually and aesthetically beautiful. Others are a bit grindy: "And now I make seven more things at the next level, one for each of the different sigils, and then sell or salvage them at a loss because I can't store them".

    Coming from EVE there's the occasional culture surprise about what's considered okay and not okay. It's aiming for a different culture. I'm looking forward to seeing how it develops.

    I've had a few bugged events, and a few times where a cut-scene lost half a voiceover (fixed now), but nothing that I coudn't shrug and move on over. I've been defeated in some embarrassing ways, including by Big Bird when I was using a weapon option that bounces and pulls aggro from any aggressible nearby NPCs. There were some load problems in the early weeks, but the FPS and general handling of things now is... pretty stunning, actually.

    Standard disclaimers: It's not perfect and it's not for everyone. It is, however, very, very good.

  18. Can GW2 get even close to this http://swiftandbitter.com/eve/wtd/, with every branch requiring hundreds of hours of gameplay to be fully explored? If it does, then I think it'll get me quite involved...

  19. GW2 has something called Structured PVP, or sPVP for short.

    You can read about it here: https://www.guildwars2.com/en/news/structured-pvp-iceberg/

    I have no experience with that but found this quote informative: "We’re always listening to our player base, and taking their feedback and ideas into account. We watch the forums on multiple sites. We read the comments on Guild Wars 2 articles. We take off our guild tags, sit in crowded maps in game, and eavesdrop on your conversations and unfettered opinions. Who watches the watchers? We do."

    I really wonder if they actually do that.

  20. Well, I've been playing GW2 since just after launch and i still love this game. I still have a ton of exploring to do. My lvl 50 warrior is only at 25% of world exploration. I'm always finding new things even in areas I thought I already explored.

    I really like being able to just help people out without there being some kind of stupid penalty. I'm a solo player in every game I have ever played, even though I did try out guilds or corporations at times. I'm not a joiner in that regard. Still, I like to help others so this has been a real boon for me.

    There are lots of bugs in the game, this is true. Even with this though, the game is overall amazingly well done. WvWvW has issues so be warned. ANet is working on this game in a very well handled, professional manner, which is refreshing as hell.

    All that aside, you are missing the most important thing in the game. HALLOWEEN! I have played quite a few MMOs and Halloween is simply the most fantastic online event I have ever experienced. GW1 was great, so I have high hopes for GW2. This is their first one in GW2 so I fully expect it to be bugged to high-heaven, but that's fine with me! Love, love, love Guild Wars Halloween!


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