Guild Wars 2 play diary #3: ‘Level 80 attained but the flaws are there to see’

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Our man Tom Mendelsohn gets to the highest level but is now short of things to do, and where’s that endgame?

So, in the few weeks since my last diary (and indeed my first entry), I’ve hit the game’s top level, 80. I have to say that while I’m fundamentally still enjoying what is in general a beautifully put-together game, that a few quibbles are emerging.

First amongst these is the lack (perceived or actual) of endgame content – stuff to do for people at the top now there’s no levelling to do. One of the things that Guild Wars 2 has eschewed, by and large, is the gear treadmill – the constant drip of equipment you need to be able to get the next best equipment, which you have to have before you get an even better piece, and so on.

Most MMOs are in up to the hilt with this idea, because always having something better to get with no shortcut to the best is a brilliant way to keep pay-monthly customers paying. It’s a cynical technique, but it does help maintain enjoyment levels over a decent length of time, which is what the punters want.

GW2 has hard-to-get gear, of course, and I am by no means well geared for my high level, but there simply isn’t the same mechanism in the game. Instead, there’s stuff that’s easy to get, there’s stuff you have to be lucky or rich or persistent to get, and then there’s the ‘legendary’ stuff, which you basically have to play the game for years simply to amass the amount of rare ingredients to make.

There isn’t really anything in between, and it can be a little demoralising. The keener, less employed members of my guild are already getting to the point of being as well geared as the game will let them, a month after release. This seems silly to me, because there’s less incremental incentive, less sly appeal to human acquisitiveness, to keep them hooked in.

On top of that, there simply aren’t that many places for top-level players to go. There are two or three zones for players between 70 and 80, and one 80-only zone, which isn’t very big. Thus, as more players hit top level, the zone becomes fuller and fuller, and the exciting chain events crafted so lovingly by the developers become massive Benny Hill affairs as hundreds of overeager heroes eat through the big-bads’ health bars.

The down-levelling system the game applies in lower-level areas, which tones high-level players’ abilities to a commensurate point, so as to keep them challenged wherever they are, goes some way to mitigate against this. You’re always able to explore and complete zones you’ve missed on your way to the top, without it becoming facile. However, the quest rewards and materials harvested along the way are not as good as they would be from higher zones.

Dungeons offer some replayability. Each of the eight has several paths through them, and there is always some useable reward at the end, in the form of collectable tokens that can be spent on various powerful gewgaws. Certainly, the dungeons don’t get boring quickly, but they do become eye-wateringly tough from the second run-through onwards. Even the best players will die annoyingly often, and I’ve seen more than a few understandable rage-quits in my time.

The large-scale WvWvW play, which pits three entire servers against one another, is no real refuge at the moment either. I play on a very popular server, which means the queues to get into WvWvW can be an hour or longer; when I do get in, it’s rarely with enough guildmates to make banding together worthwhile.

The maps are so full of promise, full of keeps and ruins and supply trains and sentry posts and all sorts, but until their capacities are expanded, this potential will remain untapped. It’s always possible to run around with a big group of your allies, but there’s no substitute for the cohesion of a well led guild unit using tactics to take down other similarly organised groups.

Like I say, I’m still enjoying the game, and ArenaNet are promising regular free content updates which will likely fix much of the malaise, but at the moment GW2′s flaws are there to see.

By Tom Mendelsohn

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