The gorgeous looking young man in the photo is my main character on GW2. I called him Vokhtah in some kind of psychological sleight of hand. Perhaps I thought the name would remind me that I had ‘work’ to do. Or perhaps I just wanted to assuage my guilt.
Whatever the motivation, I have managed to restrict my gaming addiction to a couple of hours a night. Unfortunately, the combination of superhuman self-discipline, and the tyranny of timezones, has meant that I’ve had to do most of my gaming solo.
As Vokhtah [the character] is a Ranger, I had no trouble leveling him to 80. The low level, open events were a great help, and gave me the illusion of being part of a team. I say illusion, because these open events are mostly zergs.
For non-players, a zerg is a free-for-all that involves no strategy and precious little teamwork. Basically an event begins, players show up, and everyone just spams their most destructive spells or weapon skills as if they were playing solo.
Nonetheless, there is scope for teamwork, even in such open events, and there were times when I did nothing but heal players who could do more damage than me. Those were probably the events I enjoyed the most as they involved some thought. At higher levels though, such zergs aren’t terribly effective, and the ability to join in without even having to join a group means communication between players is minimal.
Once players reach the higher levels, and have to move on to Orr everything changes, and not for the better.
The three zones of Orr – The Straits of Devastation, Malchor’s Leap and Cursed Shore – are an order of magnitude harder than anything that has come before. The density of mobs [enemies] is much higher and they all seem to have debilitating crowd control skills that can leave you helpless. Apart from the normal mobs, there are also far more veterans, champions and areas in which the player is assaulted by briars, lightning, supernatural elements etc which you cannot fight.
These deadly map elements can be countered, up to a point, by using the appropriate signets, but signets have cooldowns [a period during which they are unusable because they are 'refilling'] while the map elements do not. Add normal mobs to the mix and you may find yourself spending a lot of money on equipment repairs, and a lot of time running back from the nearest available waypoint.
The lack of available waypoints is another sore point. In Orr, almost all of the waypoints are contested, and hence unavailable. Group events are meant to release these waypoints, but these group events are either not happening during the times I can play, or they are not happening at all. So dying can be a terrible time sink.
If you are just farming, the extra dangerous areas can usually be avoided. However if you have an obstinate desire to complete the map, you will become very frustrated very quickly because skill challenges are often located right in the middle of these hotspots.
I am one of those obstinate people who need to complete the map, and it was not until very recently that I learned something not mentioned on any forum I have been on – namely that the game developers have provided ‘back-doors‘ into many, if not all of these hotspots.
Some of these back-doors involve following a well hidden path to the skill challenge. Others involve waiting until the Champion guarding the skill challenge moves far enough away. A nifty one I discovered last night involved reviving a friendly npc and having it distract the Champion while you run around the back and grab the skill challenge.
I might have thought I was just being particularly clever had the skill challenge not worked almost instantly. [Communing with a skill challenge usually takes a couple of seconds]. Clearly my strategy was exactly what the developers had intended with this particular back-door.
I’ve managed to reach some of the more impossible map elements by attaching myself to the odd group, but thanks to my time-zone, such groups are incredibly rare. Most of the time I’m on my own and shouting for groups achieves nothing because no-one else is on.
Why not join a guild, you ask? Hah. I’m in two guilds and there’s never anyone playing during the short window in which I can play. Or they’re afk. Or they’re not interested in playing in Orr.
To be honest I don’t enjoy playing in Orr either. I have spent weeks completing other parts of the world map, but now Orr is pretty much all that’s left. Plus I really do want to complete my personal story arc, so here I am. In Orr. Playing solo and dying a lot. Upgrading my equipment to Rares and Exotics has helped, but wasn’t gear supposed to be less important than skill? In Orr, being a reasonably skilled solo player is less important than have the best gear possible.
To be fair, the developers always intended Orr to be the more traditional, massively multiplayer part of the game. That means groups going out with a plan, clearly defined roles and the intention of playing together. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be much of that happening. And of course, even if there were, I’d still be playing solo because I only allow myself 2 hours of play a night.
Before I wrap this up I’d like to say a word about crafting in GW2. I love crafting, and I have to say I’ve enjoyed making things in GW2, but I can’t say crafting is particularly useful and I have had to buy 99.9% of my gear.
As in most games, you have to level your character so it can survive long enough to gather the higher crafting materials. Even if you do nothing but gather and craft, it’s next to impossible to make worthwhile gear for yourself. One way around this is to gather materials for one of your other characters so they can stay safe in a low level zone and just craft. Unfortunately this is not much fun because it requires grinding the same zone over and over again until your crafter can move up to a higher level. Now that my ranger has reached 80 I am spending a lot of time just gathering, but it is a grind.
Before GW2 was launched, the developers touted it as the mmo without grind. They also touted it as the casual-friendly mmo. I’d have to say they’ve achieved about 80% of the no-grind promise, and about 70% of the casual-friendly one. They have also created a top quality product that is subscription free.
No matter how you look at it, those results are pretty impressive. But. We were lead to expect more, and I am a bit… disappointed.
I have never had the time, or the inclination to play dungeons, so as a solo player I would have been satisfied with completing the world map, and my personal story arc, with the same level of enjoyment I had in the lower levels. Orr killed that. Now I have to think long and hard whether there is enough left in the game to tempt me into leveling up another character.
“We shall see,” said the blind man.