Guild Wars 2: ten years in denial

If I had an ego problem I’d say that some dev from Guild Wars 2 finally read my blog and received enlightenment. But I don’t have that, so I simply believe that they are very slowly dragging themselves where I always stood, because my ideas have been flawless from day 1. You may think this is still way too arrogant, but the fact is that ten years later my model is finally getting adopted.

Simple story: in 2012 I ranted against Guild Wars 2 server structure saying it was fucked up (I’m linking the forum and not the blog because it has the hard dates). The reason: a good server model wants persistent/home servers for PvP, while it needs instanced PvE, in order to load balance and avoid players’ fragmentation.

So I ranted because I was realizing GW2 was going to implement a fucked up INVERSE model: PvE was server-based/persistent, PvP was instanced. Aka: how to design a system ass-backwards.

But the model of server structure I suggested is way older than that rant, and it was described in 2004. See the date of that forum post. Basically this new GW2 patch goes live in the 10 years birthday of that forum post. In 2004 the problem was that the technology maybe wasn’t ready to support that structure, but in 2012 Guild Wars 2 employed all the systems I used in my own proposed structure, but ordered them incorrectly. The forthcoming patch rectifies some of those mistakes and brings the structure closer to the one I originally proposed.

Arenanet in 2014:

It means that maps will have more players adventuring in them to provide you with the best possible PvE experience.

Me in 2012:

The solution I suggested was thought to fix both player density in PvP, and PvE feeling always “alive” with other players. Design goals are the same.

What does it all mean? Simply that my ideas, once again, get validated by being adopted. It’s like witnessing an epic long detour that eventually has to pass through HERE.

They’ll eventually get PvP too, even if maybe it will take another ten years for that. Let’s be patient?

Two of my ideas “featured” in Guild Wars 2

One is the server-travel:

Despite having several worlds, the game uses a global database so you can instantly transfer between worlds, Strain said.

Which brings me back to my concept of linked worlds.

Another is a way to carry over progress from the previous game to its “sequel”:

This hall will be located in a sort of base of operations you can establish in Eye of the North. The instanced base will allow you to store not only the Eye of the North achievements in the form of monuments but the achievements earned in all three campaigns.

Every monument earned will unlock something, from heroes and pets to weapons, clothes and miniatures, in Guild Wars 2.

Which brings me back to some thoughts about creating a sequel. In particular I was suggesting a currency system between the two games to carry over the progress:

Since the characters data is ported to the new game as the account is upgraded, all the progress made in the old world past that point will be likely lost. This will be compensated through a form of “currency” to which you can convert/recash your progress (loot, money and exp, for example) and that can be transfered to the new game. (recycle exp/money/loot gained in the old game by converting them into “currency” -> transfer currency between the two games -> convert currency into progression in the new game)

Sadly, the PvP in Guild Wars 2 will likely still suck:

“By achieving victories in these battles there will be benefits to your world,” Strain said. “Bonuses, advantages, maybe everyone gets increased energy regeneration or healing rate or enhanced loot drop rate.”

As I wrote on Q23: PvP to gain PvE bonuses? Yawn. Stop doing these gimmicks, they do not motivate anyone and never work as incentives.

Give back PvP to PvP. Not PvP tacked on PvE. Give us world conquest and territory control.

EDIT: And I was wrong. They are going to use even a third idea about adding a RTS layer on the world PvP, it seems. And with this, they basically made my “dream mmorpg”. Still assuming (and I dubt it’s likely) that they are in fact doing what I think:

I can’t give away too many details at this time but we are most assuredly NOT leaving the PvP alone. Persistence will carry over into PvP…go read the Kotaku stuff closely or find a copy of PC Gamer and you can pretty plainly see that. When Jeff Strain describes the world PvP as a “strategy game” in the Kotaku article he is talking about taking and holding territory in a persistent world. The Kotaku article is vague about this while the PC Gamer article is much more specific so if you really want to inform yourself I’d suggest grabbing a copy of PC Gamer.

Guild Wars LFG panel sucks as much as WoW’s one

I was giving a look at the latest update notes and beside the great feature of “reconnect after disconnect” there’s also the mention of a new “party search” that works along the lines of the one introduced in WoW.

First consideration: you need WoW to make a basic MMO feature take the spotlight?

That’s an important point. MMOs have been broken on a basic level for a long time. They were niche because only a niche of players could swallow the bullshit they fed us for years. Our communities kept underlining those flaws for a long time. Like it happened against questing, soporific combat, solo play, insanely long treadmills and so on. But all that stuff was blatantly ignored and considered worthless. The same was with decent interfaces and not that shit pre-WoW, with movable panels sitting randomly at the border of the screen that had no sense.

Then WoW comes and EVERYONE goes on a copying spree.

I wonder. Devs copy WoW because they understand it’s good, or they just copy for the sake of it? Considering what Mythic is doing with their PvP/RvR the answer is kind of obvious. Devs don’t copy the good part because they RECOGNIZE them, they copy just everything. Good and bad things together. They chase and love the smell of WoW’s ass.

But then we also get this. That revealed another important truth: you need talent even to copy.

Anyway, Guild Wars LFG tool sucks as much as WoW’s one. It does one thing worse and one better. With the difference that a good LFG panel would be much more necessary in WoW than in GW.

The worse thing is that it lets you flag LFG just for ONE purpose, while at least WoW gave you three.

The better thing is that when you are searching you can see the whole list of those LFG or LFM. While in WoW you had to repeat a search for each different topic listed.

So the point is: WoW is infectious.

Till WoW spreads good habits, then all it’s good, because games improve. But the same happens even in the other case. WoW does something wrong and you can be sure it will spread like a plague.

Good game design would need to go through WoW to be recognized.

I gave it a look in-game and it actually sucks more than WoW as it only “sees” players in the same location (or the different instances of it). So it’s even less powerful. But at the same time GW is a game with a different structure and there is no real need for a more complete tool. Overall GW’s LFG tool accomplishes its purpose better than WoW and its respective tool.

They were smart to use five general categories, including “trade” and “guild” and then just letting the players set their custom messages. When you open the panel you have the complete list with all the categories and this helps to have a broad view (the good point I underlined above).

It’s not surprising that people use the tool mostly in the capitals where they can reach a wider population and override the limits of the one location.

Guild Wars – Fantasy Melting Pot

Another interview with Jeff Strain confirms the same approach that I identified:

When we started working on Guild Wars and especially when we started pursuing what has kind of become the modern incarnation of the art style for the game, we really said, you know, obviously there are lots of different fantasy traditions in the world. And the fantasy tradition for the original Prophecies campaign was kind of your, very unique, but basically European kind of look, especially the early areas of it. As you point out Factions draws on an Asian fantasy theme, it’s not really Chinese or Japanese or Korean but kind of a shared cultural history between all three of them that we tapped into. And what we want to do is pursue that with future campaigns. Pursue specifically branching out into other cultures, other mythologies, other settings that are drawn from and inspired by cultures from all around the world. Guild Wars really truly is a global game, I mean one of the things that makes it different is that everybody plays together on one big virtual seamless server network, instead of being divided into shards and zones. And so we wanted to reflect that international flavor of the game itself in the art style. And so what you will see with future campaigns is we’ll pick another culture or mythology from around the world and then kind of explore that as the foundation, not only for the architecture but the character designs, costuming, the dialogue, even the quests in the story is going to be driven by that.

That’s exactly the trait I underlined with my early “review” in beta.

To be honest it’s not completely true that Guild Wars isn’t divided into zones. Europe and America are still seaparated and I think you can join foreign players only if you move to the “international districts”, which are always empty. You can port the whole account to a different zone, but even this transition isn’t smooth within the game and you can only switch an handful of times before your account gets locked permanently. A smoother travel system would be welcome in the game, considering that the technology can easily support it. In particular beween euro/american zones.

The choice to not bind the game to a precise setting is both a strength and a weakness. From a side there’s the possibility to explore freely every myth and culture, from the other it reinforces a generic feel. The player becomes a “traveler of worlds” but the strong use of the instancing and the setting-independence make the game feel rather inconsistent. I’ll return on this point but the basic problem is that there’s very little persistence, so very little immersivity. The whole game is focused on your own character and this is not the best way to feel involved with something. It is already a weak-bond.

I also continue to see the release of the stand-alone expansion packs as something not simple to sustain. It surely puts much stress on the developers and requires an high creative commitment. It is a bold choice. We usually think just about the new content added but we forget that a game isn’t just about that. With the original Guild Wars we even bought brand new technology and game systems. Those aren’t rebuilt with the new expansions but just brought over. I’m skeptical about the actual possibility to keep the game always fresh with this type of restless development. See this discussion.

It’s important that the development focuses also to expand and polish the game systems instead of exclusively on the content. The commitment to release (and depend) on these semestral expansions could be problematic to work on both fronts. It’s an incentive to reuse the same tools and patterns to optimize the production instead of allowing to shift the resources to attempt new solutions.

Considering that they need to release full-priced standalone products it may be a good idea to reverse the model and lower the price of the previous exapansion as the new one comes out. I think this could convince more players that arrive now in the game to pay another 20$ to eventually get the first chapter, instead of expecting them to spend 100$ for both.

Guild Wars: Factions – Goes live

(work in progress post)

The new stand-alone expansion is now available on NCSoft online store for the exact same price of the boxed version (49.99$). I’m trying to gather a full feature list with more details about the new game modes, for now there’s the official FAQ that explains what you can expect from the game. For other early details there’s also my previous glance.

Since it’s stand-alone you can choose to create a brand new account or add the expansion to your previous standard Guild Wars account:

If you add the new access key to the existing account all your characters will be able to access all the content from both expansions and you’ll get two new character slots, instead if you open a brand new account you’ll get four character slots but you can only enter the areas of one of the two campaigns. Considering that the new expansion adds new skills and items for all the classes it’s obviously suggested to choose the first option. It was also announced that this summer it will be possible to buy new character slots for 9.99$.

Launching the game for the first time I noticed that now all the classes have an unique look depending on the campaign you choose. So even the standard classes will have new face/hair combinations and all-new itemization. See this example about how the warrior class looks differently between the two campaigns.

I’m moving the first steps around the moebius-shaped tutorial zone. Sometimes the pup-up messages are too quick and I have already various comments/gripes. This is a quick list I’ve written down, most of these points are complaints carried over from the original game:

– The dialogue windows pop-up right in the center of the screen, obscuring who’s talking. It’s not possible to reposition this window and it would be a much better choice to have placed it more on the side of the screen, without covering the view.
– The party window is still too intrusive and ugly. It would really need an overhaul.
– Still no way to deselect your current target without selecting something else.
– I stull dislike the ground textures, with bad-looking transitions.
– Sometimes there’s a cutscene right at the beginning of a zone, it would be nice to ask the player to press a “ready” button before it starts, when the loading is complete. Preventing to miss the cutscene on long downloads (when I alt-tabbed back to the game the cutscene was over and I didn’t even know it existed)
– The chat bubbles still appear overlapping on the NPC’s heads instead of above them. From the distance in particular, the chat bubble point of origin should be the bottom instead of the center.
– Still huge rubberbanding around obstacles.
– Many monsters still have badly synced animations and “skate” on the terrain while moving.

As in the first chapter you start fighting ugly bugs (GW’s version of the “kill 10 rats”) and the tutorial is exactly what you would expect. I noticed there’s a white circle around the center of the mini-map that represents your aggro radius, I didn’t remember this in the original game but maybe it’s just my memory. I find it quite functional but it is also a limit of the game. No matter of the type of the creature or the situation, the mobs will always aggro at the exact same distance. It’s kind of a trend in Guild Wars, more oriented toward a game-y experience than an immersive one. As always 90% of what you see on screen is just prettiness without a role, for example you could see a building, but it is almost sure that you cannot enter it. It’s mostly scenery very well done, but still nothing that gives some depth to the game. Nothing that is really part of the game. Extremely abstracted.

My very early impression is that this new chapter is rather pricey but content rich. Not much changed from the original GW so if you found it bland this chapter won’t be much better. It’s not a different game, nor one much improved from the last time you played it. But at the same time it continues on what it did, many new skills to create new, orignial builds and the new PvP modes that sound more involving, with alliances fighting for the control of the territory. I’ll comment more about this part as I reach it, even if I’m worried it is planned too much around the dedicated guilds and not easily accessible for other players (which means I could never see that content). The character window shows the three factions that will give you points that you can then spend for yourself or add to your alliance pool. In this second case I think the alliance can use those points to take control of some of the PvP zones.

About the amount of content I also have a comment from EFlannum, one of the devs:

To put things somewhat into perspective our times playing through chapter 2 are roughly equal to the times we got playing through chapter one, there is overall less square footage in chapter 2 but more content per square foot. I would describe it less as an expansion and more akin to the old d&d gold box games, it’s a new standalone game experience built on the same engine and using the same ruleset.

This wasn’t necessarily the plan right from the start but it is what it turned into. Hopefully it all works out.

The game continues to confirm its setting-independence, as I wrote as I played the game for the first time, and this is confirmed by the brand new look of all the classes in the new campaign. It becomes some sort of metaverse of parallel words represented by each new expansion. So it’s rather probable that with each new one they’ll approach a brand new setting, like this one has an asian theme. Creating a mixup of history, myths and exotic cultures. A melting-pot of cultural influences and suggestions. A truly “fantasy culture”.

I’ll write down more comments and add screenshots as I continue to play.




This map screen represents the whole landmass of the expansion, if you look carefully you should notice two parallel blue/red lines that should represent the territory of the two rival factions that the players should be able to affect.









































































Server-travel is a reality

For all those who criticized and mocked my idea on server population/faction dynamic balance.

This is from Jeff Strain about Guild Wars:

Our server infrastructure is actually kind of reflective of our core technology. We have data centres all over the world – we have data centres in Europe, data centres in the US, Korea, Japan and Taiwan. As you know, when you create your account in Guild Wars, it’s a global account – you don’t pick one of those data centres or servers, you’re not even really aware of them.

What happens is that it knows where you are, and when you play, you’ll probably be connected to one of the European servers – if you’re playing with your buddies, or by yourself, in general it knows your home datacentre. But if you want to play with me, and I’m on one of the US datacentres, the datacentres will communicate with each other and try to figure out the best place to host our game. They may decide that the total experience across both of us is going to be better if it hosts the game in Europe, and so it’ll hand off my character – it migrates my character record temporarily to the European datacentre, you and I play our game, and then when we’re done, it migrates my character back.

The datacentres all work in a confederated manner. It’s presented to you as one big massive server that’s serving the entire world, because you never have to be aware of where they are, but there’s a lot of datacentre communication going on on your behalf in the background to make sure that it’s optimising the play experience for you.

They not only move characters between different servers, but ACROSS the oceans between different datacenters. Now tell me again that my idea is impossible.

Quoting again the goals behind my project:

1- Regulate the load on each server/shard, so that the population is spread equally on the servers, avoiding queues, overcrowded and crashing servers and totally empty servers.
2- Regulate the balance, so that the population is even between the factions of a PvP environment.
3- Create an united, global and massive environment that doesn’t artificially encapsulate the players inside air tight spaces.
4- Allow the players to travel cross server, meet and play together with their friends and reorganize and build new guilds without the need to restart from zero or create alts specifically to overcome the limits in the current mmorpgs. The choice of a server won’t be “tragic” (as an unavoidable consequence that cannot be made up) as it is in other games.
5- Break the global community into smaller, manageable units-per-server through the shard system (too big communities are overwhelming and, paradoxically, make the social ties nearly impossible).

“There were a lot less of us back then, so it was easier to get to know most of the folks around you. Since there were so few players reletive to current community sizes, you become friends of friends of folks and a lot sooner you really end up knowing virtually everyone whos playing, or at least are familiar with guilds.”

If I’m a visionary, I dream of possible things.

Guild Wars: Factions – April 28 release

From the press release:

ArenaNet® , developer of the award-winning online roleplaying game Guild Wars®, and NCsoft® Corporation, the world’s leading developer and publisher of online computer games, announce today the release date of Guild Wars FactionsTM, the hotly anticipated second game release from the critically acclaimed studio. Guild Wars Factions will be available in stores worldwide April 28, 2006.

Guild Wars Factions takes place on the Asian-inspired continent of Cantha, where new and existing Guild Wars players join an epic quest to defeat an ancient evil and save a war-torn empire. Roleplaying and competitive player-versus-player gamers alike will be able to join together in guild alliances to take control of territory and determine the fate of Cantha. New scored challenge missions and strategic competitive missions allow players to test their roleplaying prowess and earn the right for their alliance to take control of cities, towns and outposts. Large-scale alliance battles pit teams from opposing factions against each other in a struggle to conquer new territory and redraw the battle lines across the continent of Cantha. New elite missions allow the most skilled players exclusive access to areas designed to be the ultimate cooperative challenge.

While Guild Wars Factions is a standalone product that does not require Guild Wars to play, gamers with Guild Wars accounts who purchase Guild Wars Factions will be able to play in both campaigns with their existing characters and even gain extra character slots.

The extra char slot is all I want to hear. I also expect the expansion to be available for digital download the day after it is out in the stores, so I’ll wait for it.

Previous coverage here.

I still would like to know more details about the new types of gameplay and all the new features. Something explaining clearly all the new content that is going to be added instead of generic claims.

From now onward there should be an expansion every six months, with the next one scheduled for a late October release:

Jeff Strain: each of these new campaigns has an entire year of development, from a full development team, and they’re released on staggered six month cycles.

Last October we had staffed up to the point where we had parallel teams – overlapping, staggered development teams. So each of these new campaigns has an entire year of development, from a full development team, and they’re released on staggered six month cycles.

For example, Factions has been in development since the say we shipped Guild Wars. Campaign III has been in development since about November of last year, and is already far far down the pipe.

Jeff Strain:the lead designer, James Phinney, who was also the lead designer of Starcraft. He arbitrates both and makes sure that no team is doing something that screws over the other one, or fundamentally violates the core mechanics of the game. He stays on top of that.

while Factions is a standalone title in so much as you don’t require the original game to play it, there will only ever be one game client. As such, whatever version of Guild Wars you own, you’ll be able to play the game, with various unique aspects available to owners of particular campaigns. So you could be playing the original game and see characters from Factions. Furthermore, the technological advances of the most recent campaign will have an impact on every version of the game.

Jeff Strain: Five years from now we could be at Guild Wars Campaign 10 and the graphics engine would be state-of-the-art, not a five-year-old engine.

Jeff Strain: It costs us far less to operate Guild Wars than a traditional MMO. The technology team behind our server technology is the team that built the original At that time, there was no broadband, so the whole thing was built around 28.8 modem assumptions – so we learned a tremendous amount about latency masking and bandwidth optimisation. When we built the core network technology behind, of which Guild Wars is one game that uses that technology, it was really designed with those principles in mind. Even though we knew that broadband was growing and that most people would have it, we wanted to make a game that was very bandwidth-light, because we knew from the beginning that we were not going to charge a subscription fee, and that – bandwidth – is one of your primary operating costs. Obviously you pay for the server infrastructure up front, but your ongoing cost is bandwidth, and we use substantially less bandwidth than almost any online game out there. So, right up front, we’ve cut our support cost that way.

Some other vague details about the new gameplay modes:

It’s a PvP map in which two teams go up against each other, with victory secured by a mythical creature transporting matter from one area to another. First to 15 wins. We had some kind of weird tall thing on our side, whereas the enemy had a giant turtle.

brand new high-level gameplay elements in the form of a constantly moving battle line between the two titular factions, and new systems which force role-playing focused players and combat-focused players to cooperate in order to win certain objectives for their Guilds.

There are some preview screenshots that looks absolutely great. Some of the best stuff I’ve ever seen. This game is worth buying even to just walk around and gape at the environments. Awe-inspiring.

And japanese dragons.

Guild Wars – Strengths and weaknesses

Just archiving a post I wrote on Q23 with some comments about the limits and strengths of Guild Wars. The main trait is that both strengths and weaknesses have the same origin, so they are the result of compromises that it’s now impossible to undo.

It’s also an indirect answer to some comments on F13.

Mark Crump:
Let me rephrase. The art execution is amazing. It’s the style after the world goes to hell I didn’t like. I’m not big on this post-apocalyptic theme.

GW has the actual “advantage” (not really an advantage in some cases) to be “themeless”. This is why they can basically slap in every kind of crazy setting they want.

Even the name of the game (Guild Wars) is intended to put the focus on the system more than the “world”.

It was designed from the very beginning as a “portable” system. So you could not like the setting, but they have all the possibilities to release different expansions to explore much different possibilities.

Which is exactly what they will do. It’s one of the strengths of this game.

That’s also what I wrote when I first “reviewed” the game.

This is a game with a *huge* potential and from what I read about the expansion they are determined to really explore what they can do (some of the ideas are impressive and I hope the execution will be good).

Sadly, there are a few limits about how the game was developed at its roots that basically cut its legs:

The complete lack of persistence (some already suggested the possibility to open “town portals”, or the possibility to resume the mission if you crash or disconnect, as I did in the previous post)
Bad controls (bad feeling of movement/animations. characters enrooted on the terrain as in SWG and sliding as on ice. Jerky movements and rubberbanding)
The labyrinthine structure of all areas (you aren’t really free to move, but you are bound to a course, often in a frustrating way. Most of the world represented graphically is just scenery that you cannot access or relate to)

These only seem superficial concerns but they affect directly the perception of the game. The game feels artificial, clunky and limiting more because of these controls and the basic engineering of the game than the lack of persistence. You pass most of the time bumping against impassable barriers (and rubberbanding wildly) while trying to figure out how to reach a place (or figure out if it’s actually reachable).

WoW feels SO MUCH BETTER, because you can actually explore the world. Which means that you have the control about where you can go. The world is physically there and consistent. Not just graphically. GW feels so much more “on rails” compared to WoW. Bound to an adventure-style scheme where the exploration (as: the player free to define his own patterns of movement and interaction) is severely limited. So the graphical awe of the game is somewhat confined as just a backdrop that could have been so much more consistent and relevant. Making coincide their best resource (the artistic sheer power, the stunning environments and truly visionary look) with their biggest limit (the *use* of those environments, a lack of true, satisfactory exploration). If a “space” is a spatial perception, in GW this spatial perception is always deluded, negated or betrayed.

The point is that they know about these limits. They know that they depend on the basic structure of the game, so they are here to stay. It’s not about “bad” design but about choices that were made at the very beginning on the project and that represent its foundation. Exclusive compromises that needed to be taken obligatorily in a way or another. So the point is about trying to focus on what they actually CAN do, on their resources and advantages. And it seems they are determined to go down that path because the expansion is looking amazing (and I don’t mean just the graphic).

Even if the game leaves that “yes, but” taste. Like if there’s something feeling wrong even if you cannot really put your finger on it.

Guild Wars: Factions – Ohh, shiny

I logged back in Guild Wars after a LONG time and… wow. Just wow.

The new character selection screen is spiffy, the oriental music in the background charming and I toyed for a while with the character creation to see the two new classes. Ohh, sooooo pretty.

I think I’m going to enjoying playing “dressing up” more than the actual game.

The new “girls” are very, very pretty. We even have the ninja with no boobs. And the mystical ritualist with the mask covering the eyes and belly tattoo ;) I’m truly fascinated.

“Guild Wars: Factions” is the new expansion for the game that will be released only later this year (around June). Despite the press releases we don’t know yet the precise features that will be added.

We know for sure that it will introduce two new character classes: the no-boobs assassins and the “I can’t see shit”, mystical ritualists. But to figure out what’s beyond the other features I had to dig the informations some more. The press release only says: “new regions, professions, skills, missions, and monsters, along with expanded options for both Cooperative and Player-versus-Player (PvP) play, and enhanced features for guilds”. But it doesn’t explain in what these actually consist. A new continent named “Battle Isles” is going to be added, probably both for the new PvE campaign and new PvP stuff.

Between the new features there seem to be a new “PvP” training mode where you’ll have to beat a series of simulated PvP encounters (against AI, so not really PvP) to unblock progressively new challenges. This is really a smart idea because it could improve the accessibility of the game and add some progression that was lacking in the original game.

All high-level PvP has been moved to the Battle Isles, which can be reached using the ship off the coast of Lion’s Arch. On the Battle Isles, you’ll find a new explorable area with Training Arenas, NPCs who can help you test all aspects of your character’s build, updates to existing PvP Arenas, and all-new Zaishen Challenges, where you and your friends can practice against teams of computer AI opponents. All of this content is now organized into a natural progression, so that players can experience the basics of PvP before moving on to advanced challenges.

New computer AI challenges:

* Training Arenas: a series of four maps designed to teach the basics of PvP and Arena Combat. Beat all four maps to unlock the Zaishen Challenge on your account.

* Zaishen Challenge: an Arena where you can play the computer AI team of your choice on the map of your choice. Beat five different computer AI teams to unlock the Zaishen Elite Challenge.

* Zaishen Elite Challenge: the ultimate AI challenge. See how far you can get in a series of random Arena matches against increasingly difficult AI teams.

All this should be available for free right now. Both for current players (just log in) and those who never played the game (go get the preview key). Only till Monday, though. So or you try it now or you’ll have to wait the actual release (even if I’m sure there will be more previews as the launch approaches).

Between the new spiffy things they added while I wasn’t playing there’s a new “observer mode” easily accessible through the menu that lets you watch the biggest PvP encounters in the game. Like a TV where you can follow the activity of the catass guilds. These matches are available only 15 minutes after they start (to prevent cheating) and will remain available for another 15 minutes after they are over, which is sad because it could have been useful to archive some of the battles to study later with some more attention.

Anyway, this observer mode is really interesting. The hugest 8vs8 battles in the bigger arenas are truly crazy. There is a SERIOUS OVERLOAD of shiny effects that would made you insane if you were actually trying to understand what was going on. But it’s a beauty for the eyes. Really, really shiny and charming. The graphic, animations and teamwork during the battles are all great. It’s enjoyable. You have time to appreciate the details. That female ranger animation while shooting with the bow is incredible.

Oh, and for some reason the melee henchmen are now fat.

Two funny quotes from F13:
“Is there a “How to make hawt CG chicks” manual all companies NC Soft publishes have to read? The female art of all of NC Soft’s games is fucking awesome.”

“A goodly porttion of GW’s art staff is female, and women know how to make women look hawt better than guys do. This is also, likely, why the guys are all such rockstar prettyboys.”

Lots of better infos here. MMODIG also gives some coverage.

Btw, the WINNER idea they had about the expansion is this one:

Each new chapter will be a stand-alone game, including Factions.

This means that new players can pick up the game box without worrying about getting the original version as well. Most of us “observers” of the industry were sceptical about GW business model because you would expect that each expansion would sell progressively less. So not so viable in the long term without the subscription fees. But releasing each of these expansions as a standalone game is an interesting decision that could work really well.

And dragons. And a presumed “territorial conquest”:

There’s plenty of new content being added to the game with Factions that Guild Wars fans will undoubtedly want to get a hold of. Some of these are simply concepts while others are more “tangible.” Players will now be able to form alliances between guilds. These allies will be able to visit each others’ guild halls and can gain control of cities and towns on the new continent Cantha by taking part in new alliance missions. These new mission types pit multiple teams up against each other to control resource points. Victors earn faction points which will help determine control of towns and outposts.

Along those lines, Guild Wars now introduces factions. Players and guilds can align with one of two warring factions. At that point, alliances can gain and control territory by taking part in faction battles which are large-scale strategic PvP experiences. The outcome of these large scale battles will also help determine the progress of the war between the rival factions.

Other new game types include challenge missions which are cooperative and have scoring objectives. The game will track and display personal bests and high scores for display in-game. Lastly, elite missions will be available for the most powerful folks in the game. These are the most challenging cooperative areas in Guild Wars yet.

– New battlefields will include fighting on rooftops of a densely packed city, huge temples built on the back of giant tortoises, tunnels carved in the jade sea, and in the elaborate hollows of a petrified forest.

– 55 maps to try and gain control of

– 300 new skills total, 90 of which are new elite skills
– 100 new creatures
– New faces and hairstyles
– New armor, pets, weapons and items

Fuck. I didn’t expect GW to still have something to say. And it seems to have A LOT. I want.

If I got it right the game world will be divided in three parts:
– The old PvE campaign
– The “Battle Isles” that will group all the current and new PvP arenas and training zones
– “Cantha”, the asian-style new area that should contain both the brand new PvE campaign and the “conquest PvP”

The PvP arenas also seem grouped together instead of remaining as separate instances. This means that you should now join a general instance and then the maps will be be cycled instead of repeating the same over and over. It seems a very good idea since it will consolidate the PvP content, making it more varied and bringing the players together.

“Read more” to see a few more screenshots I’ve taken of the two new classes and areas, some other showing the shinies battles and some leftovers in my /screens directory from the previous year.