Flameseeker Chronicles: The I-word

Guild Wars 2
I like to poke fun at ArenaNet staff members for their use of the word iteration. That's not because I think it's a cop-out or self-aggrandizement or anything. It's because I like to think of it as being at the top of an internal buzzword sheet with all the blogpost writers trying to work it into their text to earn an extra nickel. It's a patently whimsical notion, and I have a special spot in my heart for the patently whimsical.

It's nice to see that concept of iteration lending real benefit to the game. Sure, it's caused forumites no little angst; when we heard that the trait system was being reworked, for example, certain people were convinced that the iterative process meant that the game would never launch. I don't understand the panic-stations mentality. Any game company exists to make money, and you don't make money by spending five years developing a game, taking a demo on the road for two years, and never releasing it. You also don't make money by releasing a crap game. ArenaNet wants to make a lot of money. That does not make the company evil. It motivates the team to make as good a game as possible because people like buying good games.

Despite those so-called fans who look for the slightest provocation to bring out the sackcloth and ashes, the strength of the iterative process is shown every time we get to see a new demo of Guild Wars 2. Beyond just seeing a higher level of polish, we can see that certain events have been reworked, and the changes are to only the players' benefit.

From the way they tell it, ArenaNet devs have improved everything in the game through the iterative process. I know; I've asked. Everything from character art (the redesigned Sylvari and boobless female Charr) to skill resources (traits and energy) to the game world itself (events and city maps) has gone through the process of iterative refinement, and for every improvement, there is someone who's convinced that the game has been left better off because of it.

So let me tell you a little bit about why I have been totally happy to wait for as long as ArenaNet wants to make me wait to actually buy this game and go live with it.

Guild Wars 2
It's because there are more ways to do things.

This closed beta weekend has been at least our second time seeing each of the three available playable races' starting areas. We got our first glimpse of the human starting zone way, way back in 2010. Although the area is still clearly recognizable and even familiar, definite changes have occurred. The same thing goes for the Norn and Charr areas. I was especially impressed by the Norn starting area and how much it's been improved. It's not like there's been a monumental shift and suddenly it's totally different, but now there are additional ways to complete most of the hearts on the map as well as a general beefing-up of the content. Where before "disrupting Grawl worship" in Wayfarer Foothills mostly meant just killing any Grawl you could set your eyes on, you can now upset them by killing them and by defacing their wall paintings and by destroying their stuff. That's 300% more ways to piss Grawl off, people!

There are other new things being added all the time, along with better ways to understand them. For example, it's always made sense that events in a certain area would be related -- if everything's tied up in what the centaurs are doing, it follows that one event likely has an impact on another. Now that's being elegantly expressed. In the personal story/event/challenge part of the UI, there's a little captioning that lets you know what the meta event, the unifying schema of different linked dynamic events, is all about. If you're adventuring in the Godslost Swamp area, that little caption will let you know whether everything is quiet or something is stirring or holy-cow-you-need-to-go-kill-that-Behemoth-thing-right-this-moment (maybe not in those words). This helps make the map, and the events in it, more accessible. Maybe you wouldn't be able to see the Shadow Behemoth stirring otherwise, and this lets you know what's up, and suddenly you're a lot more into things. I'm all for more ways of finding out what awesome stuff is waiting to be discovered.

It's because things get better.

I spent some time in the new layout of Hoelbrak this weekend. However, I spent significantly less time in Hoelbrak than I would have if it still conformed to the old layout because the old layout was large, hard to navigate, and more of a timesink than any city has a right to be. I say that with all possible love. I was flabbergasted when I first entered the old version of Hoelbrak; I found it beautiful and wonderful but also frustrating. It's nice to see things being improved upon, like the Sylvari -- we didn't see a lot of them in their old layout, but I'm pleased with what we've seen of their current state. They're much less the happy-flower-elf-children that I originally dreaded their becoming and much more the awesome-celtic-fae that I can't wait to play.

And energy going away as a resource! Really, if you have energy, and you have energy potions, all you have is a resource sink. You're asking me which I value more: my in-game time (spent resting between encounters to regenerate my energy) or my in-game gold (which would be spent like crazy on the strongest possible energy potions because I definitely value my time more). That question is gone now. In its place is a much more sensible mechanic: gear damage.

Don't start scattering those ashes of the receipt for your preorder just yet -- it actually makes sense. Gear damage shows, much more than energy consumption, how you handle yourself during an encounter (or a stretch of encounters). It's a money sink, yes, but I had to do repairs maybe four times, maximum, across all my characters this weekend, and two of those were immediately following a dungeon. I almost never got to the point that my armor was broken rather than simply damaged. That's an important distinction. When you're defeated (not downed), one armor piece gets damaged (not broken) each time; after all your pieces are damaged, they begin to break one at a time, and that's when you're in real trouble!

Because you're advancing so easily and armor pieces are dropping so nicely, there's never much of a concern about finding undamaged armor. I couldn't even tell you how much armor repairs cost because it's effectively negligible, which is kind of the point of a gold sink, I know. My point is that if you're doing challenging-enough content to get yourself hurt badly enough that you need to repair your armor, you're also doing challenging enough content to have good enough rewards to be able to afford repairs and more. In summary: gear damage does what the ArenaNet devs expressed they wanted energy to do, which is to make players aware of how they're comporting themselves within an fight and over a longer period of time while rewarding skilled play.

Guild Wars 2
It's because the game gets more awesome all the time.

After running through the Catacombs of Ascalon dungeon, I found myself momentarily at loose ends, which is when Mike Z mentioned the possibility of showing me something that had been showing up in chat and catching my attention over the previous few days: jumping puzzles.

Let me be up front with you about this: I have found my new favorite thing about this game. Maybe it's because of the way I was introduced to them, or maybe it's just the magic of something brand-freaking-new, but whatever it is, I love these jumping puzzles even though I suck badly at them. They're pretty much exactly what they sound like: in-game puzzles that mostly have to do with figuring out how to get places. They're largely tucked in out-of-the-way areas; the first one I tried was on the side of a mountain that I'd never have thought to try to climb, and the second was in a cave between two rocks I might have thought to investigate, maybe. There is a lot of jumping involved but also (sometimes) some timing. After leaping from one precarious ledge onto another, I had to then time my leap to the next precarious ledge so as to not land while one of the instakill traps was active.

There's fighting, too. I don't really want to spoil one of them because it was charming, but in one of the two puzzles I got to visit, there was an Ooze champion and all its little Ooze underlings. But mostly, there's adventure, exploration, and reward. While there are some cool drops and goodies to be found by doing these puzzles, item rewards aren't really what I'm talking about. I'm talking about seeing things just for the fun of discovery, completing challenges just for the pride of knowing you beat 'em, and exploring the world just because it's so awesome. And in case we lost the thread of how this relates to iteration somewhere along the way, it's this: These jumping puzzles have never been in any version of the beta or demo versions before because they are, so far as I can tell, entirely new.

And that, my dears, is why I think it's totally well-deserved when ArenaNet staff members use their "iterative process" refrain. There's still stuff that needs to be refined -- they'll be the first to tell you that, and I'm probably not even second in line. Morever, I'm willing to wait because just because what we've seen is pretty well polished doesn't mean that the whole game is. I'm not saying what we have is perfect, because perfect is a silly, amorphous term. I'm saying that I really enjoy what we've seen so far -- it panders to me as a gamer and an admitted fan of the series. I want all the content to receive this kind of care and attention from the dev team, and I want things that aren't up to snuff yet (and they exist, I admit this freely!) to get fixed. But not only have we consistently seen them making good on their wild-sounding claims about how much cool stuff they're going to do, but we've also seen them making things that were good enough even better.

Oh, holy cow, guys, I didn't even talk about crafting.

Apparently crafting's been iterated on, too -- who'd have guessed? All I can say is that I'm hugely impressed with it in its current (final? maybe?) state. OK, I can say a little more: I collected just crafting-type drops on one character for maybe three or four levels, then went into the city to see what (if anything) I could actually make of all that. I ended up gaining more than 25 crafting points in two different professions and a tad fewer than that in two others, some legitimately useful weapons and armor (crafting beginning apprentice rank weapons as a level 13 Warrior left me crafting stuff that was at least on par with what I was already wielding), and plenty of stuff left over. What's also nice is that all of that took me less than an hour -- and I never once wanted to pull my hair out due to frustration. I doubt that will always be the case: I can very easily see getting to a certain skill level and having a bunch of random drops in your inventory with no idea how to make them into something cohesive, or where to even start looking to make the next step forward. That's something that will have to be tested out -- but for now, I'm cautiously optimistic.

While I've got your undivided attention, allow me to shamelessly plug this human character creation video that one of our awesome streamers, Richie, made.



I'll catch you next week, and I'll try to talk about other interesting things that came up if they haven't been talked to death already. There's pretty interesting stuff that's been going live over the last day or so; you should check it out! Actually, scratch that. I don't really want to wait a week to ramble at you about cool tidbits from the closed beta test. You can join Shawn and me live on GuildCast this Wednesday at 7 p.m. EST, so think up some questions to ask us live! I'm obviously not a dev, so you shouldn't take everything I say as gospel (and I obviously am a fan, so you shouldn't assume I'm trying to sound impartial), but it should be a fun way to get out much more information (that's a lot more tailored to what you want to know) much more quickly.

Elisabeth Cardy is a longtime Guild Wars player, a personal friend of Rytlock Brimstone, and the writer of Flameseeker Chronicles here at Massively. The column updates on Tuesdays and keeps a close eye on Guild Wars, Guild Wars 2, and anything bridging the two. Email Elisabeth at elisabeth@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.