Tobold's Blog
Friday, August 31, 2012

A character of any given level in World of Warcraft is limited to what zones he can meaningfully interact with: If the zone is much higher in level than his character, he can't beat the mobs or accept the quests; if the zone is much lower, the quests are grey, fights are trivial, and there are no rewards. Guild Wars 2 expands the number of zones you can play in by downleveling you so that fights remain interesting, while still giving you level-appropriate rewards. In principle that is a great idea which should help a lot, especially for casual playing and completionists.

But yesterday I came for the first time in a situation where I saw the downside of downleveling. I was in one of the story instances, and I was dying a lot. There were lots of monsters I was supposed to fight through, and this being underwater I couldn't use my turrets, plus fighting in three dimensions is more complicated in the first place. Instinctively I wondered whether maybe I wasn't high enough in level to do this instance. But a quick look to the bottom left corner of the screen revealed something strange: I was level 8, but had been downleveled to 6 for that instance. But most of the mobs I was fighting were level 8! Why the heck am I being downleveled so that mobs of my level end up outleveling me?

That instance also told me a lot about Guild Wars 2 death system: You can die your way through an instance. That happens in two steps: First of all you can keep fighting while dead for some time, and if you kill a monster during that time you get back up; albeit with low health, so if fighting multiple mobs you'll just go down again quickly. Second, if you are really, really dead in an instance, you get the option to restart from the last "checkpoint". You'll get up there instantly, at full health. And the mobs in the zone don't regain any health from you reviving or being left alone. Thus you go back to the bunch of mobs that killed you, and continue killing them. It is a war of attrition you always win, because you revive indefinitely, and the mobs die and aren't replaced.

In the end that story instance was a disappointment. Being downleveled to be weaker than the mobs is annoying, and takes a lot of the interest out of leveling in the first place. Not getting stuck in the story is good, but dying your way through the story isn't fun. And if it is a story mission for engineers, designing it in a way where the engineer turrets can't be used doesn't make for a satisfying experience either. I probably would have done better with a better harpoon, but that wasn't something I could have known before entering the instance. Not the best game design there, ArenaNet!

I like the lengths that Anet have gone to to support grouping up with friends.

Enabling you to seamlessly group up with people whatever level they are, whatever server they are on, is a welcome evolution of grouping mechanics.

I am not playing GW2 myself, just an observation based on feedback.
You might want to double-check the turret thing. My own engineer is level 13, and I'm able to put down the rifle turret underwater... it just turns into a harpoon turret that floats in place and looks like an underwater buoy. Flame turret probably wouldn't work though.

I do agree that the Story missions are pretty ridiculously overtuned in some places. I'm not against difficulty; I'm against badly paced difficulty.
I don't like being unable to choose when to down-level. I much prefer being able to decide myself.
I had no idea that was happening but I do think I know the bit of the interface that applies. I got slaughtered on lvl15 mission. I was thinking I'd wait a level up and try again but I guess that's not going to work....

@Tobold and Azuriel, some turrets (flame and thumper) can't be used. The skills that don't work under water are marked with a crossed water drop when you mouseover them.

As for the difficulty, I find it improved since the BWEs as the difficulty varied greatly even within a single storyline. I haven't noticed any overtuned missions yet, not sure about the undertuned ones while in BWE1/2 it was all over the place even in two following quest steps. It might be that the particular storyline had none to start with though - your experience certainly seems to suggest it. Also, in early BWEs, the mobs regenerated health out of combat similar to what players do although they didn't revive if they were dead. Maybe the changes done weren't enough?
It's possible to include high-level quests and bosses in low-level zones - WoW did that sometimes. They can be either set to not attack unless attacked, or they can just wander around and low-level chaacters have to avoid them. Outland was the region most populated with such wandering monsters.

As for choosing weapons and skills to suit the instance... I thought that was the whole point of the Guild Wars system?
The skills that don't work under water are marked with a crossed water drop when you mouseover them.

This is probably the biggest issue with GW2. The game has so much info that players do not know. The biggest source of information is the GW2 wiki, but I think not all players know where to find it. The above example, I didn't know that either- and I'm not sure if I would have gone and open up the wiki while in a mission to figure out why some stuff wasn't working.
A lot of issues I've come across became clear once I've read up about it, but that was usually after the fact.
For example this topic: Wiki, underwater combat says:"Skills which can't be used underwater displays a crossed waterdrop in their descriptions." something that is easily overlooked and as Tobold demonstrated is clearly something that changed the way the mission played out.
I find it ok to have a more difficult instance once and while. I like the fact that the instance doesn't reset else it would become a brickwall. The attrition comes in the form of repair costs for your armour. In some instances I had to first plan out reviving NPCs after a wipe to get through the rest of the instance. I like it, because it happens once in a while and when you do get through one without dying it's very satisfying.

Instead of the usual reflex of going out to level up a bit and come back, you have to go out to improve your skill. Go in a lake and fight underwater to get a better hang of it. Craft a better underwater weapon. Test (or read up on) utility skills for underwater combat.

The Engineer skills change forms underwater, check out the kits (mine, grenade, etc.) even the F1, F2, etc. change.

You can still level up and be more powerful even if the instance downgrades you. You'll go out and get more skill points and get higher tier skills. You'll unclock a second utility skill slot at 10th level.

I find the downleveling great! Especialy when it make things harder, but still possible.

Bottomline if the attrition isn't your thing then get out and find ways to better your character or skill.

But at least the feature is there. Imagine if it wasn't. All the shouts of "My personal story is to easy, if you don't do it at the right level it's too easy and ain't fun. I feel on a railroad where I must interrupt what I'm doing to do my personal story at the right moment ..."

There might be some balancing issues in certain instances and dungeons, but which MMO hasn't upon release.

I don't feel like it's a design flaw, but a different design choice which makes for a refeshing gameplay.
The story missions are not class based.

They are race based and from the choices you make creating the toon. But not from class.

The story missions are hard. You die a lot of times. But you can brin one or two friends to help to complete your story mission.

But I want note that some players aparently forgot what is "hard"...
Come to think of it you can even use food buffs and another type which appear like a wrench icon.

On occasion I have used some, which was something I normaly never do till hard endgame dungeons.

It is very satisfying to have a usage for such items while leveling.
You might want to double-check the turret thing.

It turns out that when you go underwater, ALL your turret slots go grey. But you can then fill them again with the turrets that work underwater, like the rifle turret. Healing turret and flame turret don't work.
I am getting less motivated for PvE as gearing seems to meaningless. I am level 15, hopefully it will get better.
Mobs do regenerate when you leave them alone. At least they did today.
And heh, remember when underwater missions used to be hard in WoW? Your breath lasted about 45 secs unless you were Undead. I spent so many hours splashing about in those two murloc-infested wrecks north of Auberdine...
The downleveling is an interesting idea that still needs some balancing. I did a starter zone (Charr) in my mid-20s, and it worked rather well - while easier than it would have been to a "noob", it was still challenging and at times I had to be careful, it was quite possible to die. But yesterday I tried the same thing and went to the Norn starter zone in my late thirties. I did the first 6 hearts, and it was a total farce. Despite being downleveled into low single digits, I was killing everything I touched in 2-3 autoattacks. 0 challenge. I took advantage of this to spend some time farming the Sons of Svanir for their totems I still needed for crafting up my secondary skill. But I felt like I was really affecting the experiencing of others of appropriate level around me, as I could wipe an entire crowded cave of mobs in seconds, and dominate dynamic events easily. I left after I got enough trophies to finish my tier. It would have probably gotten tougher later in the zone, but I didn't hang around to find out. It doesn't bode well for having fun trying to 100% complete the whole world, anyway.

The personal story missions are poorly balanced for difficulty at times. It's not that often, but quite noticeable. A couple of times I got wasted by large packs of mobs I was somehow expected to solo. In many cases you get NPC allies which function as your tanks, since the damage they take is reduced, but sometimes you are left alone. In one town assault there were 6 or so bandits that ran right at me at the start of the instance. They killed me twice, even the second time when I was ready for it, and I'm a "tough" class, a warrior. Fortunately they don't respawn, else some people would never get through these alone. (But keep in mind you can bring help.) Eventually I discovered that if I avoided them, they broke the gate into the city, and the help of the guards inside made defeating them trivial. Yet yesterday I did 3-4 solo instances in a row in the upper thirties with no difficulty. So it varies.

All that said, it's still a fantastic game which pushes more limits in the right direction since than any game since WoW launched. It will only get smoother with time.
Bringing a friend was a revelation to me. I was tagging along with my brother for an Iron Legion engineer personal story, and at the level we were at, I knew it would be challenging because I'd done it on one of the beta weekends...

Imagine my surprise to get an invite to tag along. It made the instance MUCH easier than the first time I had tried it solo.

...Plus now I'll get to see his personal story, without levelling the same background. This can only be a good thing. I'm thinking I might have to start playing this the way I played SWTOR with a friend.

Also, getting down-levelled to 1-2 levels lower than the mobs you're fighting? Cheap. 80s-90s Nintendo cheap.
@Perkus: I feel you on the concerns about diminishing the experience for newbies around you.

I know farming thin blood from skelks, I was running past as many as I could then tossing a greatsword at them to tag... one blade-whirl later, and kaboom. All dead. Only a few seconds in it.

I'd got my speed and efficiency at the process up to the point that unless another player was actually following me around and using some kind of AoE ranged spam to try get a hit in for credit, they weren't going to stand a chance.

I felt a little bad, but... y'know. Thin blood prices on the market are fucking criminal.
I think scaling works best within reasonable level ranges. Expecting a level 80 to be challenged by a low level fodder mob is somewhat unreasonable, not to mention the howls of disapproval from players who want to feel ‘powerful’ at high levels.

To quote Anet dev Matt Wuerffel:

“You’re definitely going to be much more powerful. It doesn’t take away your traits. It doesn’t take away your gear. It doesn’t take away your skills that you’ve unlocked. But it does work with your damage modifiers and stats, so that you’re able to play content with you buddy that just started a new character.”

Source: (New York Post link)
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