Flameseeker Chronicles: After beta action report

Guild Wars 2 -- you have NO IDEA how long I've been waiting to use my own screenshots
Well there you have it, ladies and gents: The first Guild Wars 2 beta weekend over which people had direct control over their participation has come and gone. It was quite the exciting weekend, and it's amazing to see the volume and content of feedback being provided. If you missed out on a chance to get your hands on the game, feel free to form some vicarious impressions; there's tons of footage out there from oodles of people. Massively has a few streams recorded, and I have a niggling feeling that someone will have plenty of extra footage.

It was great to be back in the game, it was great to get to talk about stuff with people and stream and share pictures, but mostly it was great to see the world populated the way it really needs to be to feel alive and whole. Beta being beta, that brought its own set of challenges and learning experiences -- mostly for ArenaNet -- but on the whole I hope that most people agree that this was, if not a truly delightful weekend (I can't expect everyone to share my taste in games), then at least a solid and informative one.

The world population over the course of the weekend was a marvel. I never felt like the presence of other players was being shoved down my throat, which gave running into people all over creation a very pleasant feel. Find the crazy diving board in Lion's Arch? Better use your most impressive bellyflop -- there's a pool party going on at the base of the diving tower. Wishing (like I did) that you'd brought a pal along because there's no way you're handling this puzzle boss on your own? Look around -- there's a handful of players wishing the exact same thing. Dive into the deeps to explore quaggan cities? There are already people floating around and listening to the quaggan sing.

Gain a little, lose a little

While the way the game handled playing with strangers was awesome, one of the most important pieces of feedback (and certainly most oft-repeated) I've seen coming out of the weekend was regarding playing with people intentionally.

The overflow server technology that ArenaNet's using to virtually do away with queues and wait times for players to enter the game was heralded as yet another sign of the second coming of the savior of MMORPGs. While I still think it's totally awesome and still did a little jig every time I was able to just transfer to an overflow server rather than queue up for goodness knows how long to wait to play, the mechanism definitely needs some love before the game goes live. Why? Because it kept some people from playing with their friends for the entire weekend.

Login problems aside (and I do feel pretty OK about discounting them, since by Sunday they seemed to be pretty much fixed, and the whole point of betas is to find and fix stuff like this that can't really be anticipated outside of wide-scale and open testing), there seemed to be almost nothing standing in the way of players who wanted to hop in game. In that respect, overflow servers functioned beautifully. However, the social experience is crucial for MMOs, and so anything (like, say, overflow servers) that keeps players from sharing their experience with their friends is a pretty great leap backward. Once a player was landed on a server, overflow or otherwise, she seemed to have little to no control (or, occasionally, knowledge) of where she was, and that's problematic.

Overflow servers aren't server-specific, as far as I can tell, so I understand why I as a player don't simply have the option to switch to the overflow server. Something needs to happen, though -- maybe something that only exists if a friend is in your party and on a different overflow server, and then you can say that, yes, you want to leave the real server and go to her server. As it stands now (and until we know the exact mechanics of "guesting"), it looks like you might be in a better place if you rolled on your WvW server of choice, so long as it was not the same server where you intended to PvE with friends. Basically, you can control what server you guest to (and I assume it's bound to your friend because the language on ArenaNet's blog seems fairly specific) but not whether or not you're on an overflow server. I understand that the queue is probably not overlong, but if the whole point is getting people into play immediately, and the game is an MMO, it seems sensible that you'd also try to get people to play with specific other people immediately. As it is, this only bothered me infrequently (I did a lot of solo play this weekend; the majority of my grouped-up time was spent in WvW), but I know that it was really frustrating for a lot of people.

I heard a few times over the course of the weekend that Guild Wars 2 feels like a single-player game. This server mishap is the only way that I personally see that impression being supported. "Playing with your friends isn't important," it seems to say. "You never really needed them anyway." I really hope that this is fixed or worked around for the future.

While I'm taking care of lodging my complaints: particle effects, always particle effects. I know that this has been brought up time and again before, and I know that it has been said that things are being done, but I feel pretty strongly about this one. ArenaNet has put a lot of emphasis on visual literacy in this game, and the importance of battles being easily "readable." Nothing about this battle is visually informative, though:

Guild Wars 2
At this point, my concern isn't even about framerate while this is going on. I know that these sorts of battles turned into slideshows for some people, but that wasn't a problem for me. Deciphering what was going on or even where my target was, however, got pretty problematic.

And other stuff

If you'll excuse me, I have a week left to reap as many rewards as possible from this year's anniversary celebration. Should I go and hunt down elusive greens? Rack up some Lightbringer ranks on a previously-neglected character? Vaettir farm in hopes of MOAR CUPCAKES? The possibilities are endless.

To begin with, though, I think I'll AFK on Nine Rings a bit while catching up on some much-needed sleep. This weekend was not one I was eager to miss much of. For those of you who spent your time in or near Tyria: I hope you enjoyed it.

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.