For several weeks now Tam has been wanting to get those of us together that have Guild Wars 2 and try some of the group content. However the launch of World of Warcraft Legion put a pretty serious brake on that concept. We agreed that last night was a decent night for myself, Tam, Thalen, Kodra and Ashgar so we set forth with the plan of getting together and running something as a group. While we didn’t exactly get that entire team together we did venture forth into Fractals, which are dungeons of a sort, but the closest thing I can really relate them to is the Pandaria Heroic Scenarios. You are dropped on a map and that map has certain objectives that it is leading you towards. However as we found out last night there are several things that exist just off the beaten path, like a champion dragon of sorts that we managed to take down. In total we ran three of them, and we spent a good deal of that time wiping as we adjusted our strategy to be able to take certain encounters down. Throughout the night I flirted with several weapon combos… but wound up right back at Greatsword and Hammer as a warrior. However after the fractals I spent some time playing sword and shield again and found it greatly improved over what I remember from alpha/beta.
Ultimately what it really reminds me of the most are the encounters in Dungeons and Dragons Online. Those were a fairly unique blend of exploration, reasoning, problem solving… and finally a heavy dose of surviving combat. The problem there however is this was rendered in relatively low fidelity, and it felt cumbersome to have to comply with the various rules of the actual pen and paper game system. Admittedly Guild Wars 2 is also fairly fiddly, with a bunch of sliders that you can tweak on your character to build for very specific purposes… however it feels like it does a much better job at the sort of experience that DDO was trying to go for. Fractals feel like bite sized adventures… more than just on rails dungeon crawls. If we can actually get the proper group size on at some point, we need to give dungeons a proper attempt as well because it feels like there are actual tanky characters now. We did some messing about with a training bot system inside the fractal hub, and quickly found out that apparently I have way more survival than either of my companions. This is even more noticeable when we actually started to do harder content, because I could stay in and take those hits longer allowing them to hang out on the boundary and deal damage or reflect effects. In group play it suddenly felt like we each had a clear role to play, and not quite the zergy mess that I remember from the launch of the game.
This is really the first time in a very long time I can legitimately say I enjoyed playing Guild Wars 2. It was extremely fun for group play, and that suddenly makes all of the more casual exploratory bits of the game more enjoyable because I know that it is all leading to something. One of my key problems with Guild Wars 2 has been a feeling that I had capped out and was not really going to improve my gear in any reasonable fashion. That changed the moment I set foot into the fractals hub and saw all of the “better than exotic” items that were available on the vendors there. Additionally I used some of those laurels that I had been getting, and not really knowing what to do with them… to purchase a nice neck piece. Ultimately I feel like I finally “get” why people enjoy this game, and while I doubt it will ever supplant a more traditional MMO for me… it doesn’t really have to. The set up of Guild Wars 2 makes it extremely to drop into game with my friends and have a night of play, much along the lines of how non-mmorpgs work. After seeing that I could in fact be a tank in this game… it makes me feel significantly better about playing warrior, and makes me want to try out some of the other weapon combinations that I long abandoned. I still have problems with the game in a few spots, but I think I have largely reached a point of peace finally after all this time. I can stop trying to solve this puzzle, because I finally grasp what folks see in it.