How I stopped playing GW2 (and learned to love TESO)

My friends tell me that I haven’t logged in for 3 weeks, give or take. I remember full well when that was, because I remember the last thing I did: one final climb up the Mad King’s Tower. The day Halloween left Tyria, I felt unmotivated to visit it again. Does this suggest I stopped loving GW2 maybe?

I have crafted 5 legendaries (4 weapons and the Aurora amulet), played my fair share of WvW and Raids, made friends (kept a few, lost others), slayed dragons and their minions by the thousands and have even brought down a God. I uncovered mysteries and solved crimes (or the other way around some times), jumped through every puzzle there is more times than I can count, mentally mapped every nook and corner, left no stone unturned. Alright, best take these last few claims with a grain of salt, as Tyria is a vast, majestic world, vivid with colorful landscapes and fascinating stories, both short and longer ones. According to gw2efficiency, I have played a total of 7,336 hours across all characters and earned 24,800 out of 31,663 total achievement points, having completed 59,85% of all achievements. For a ‘casual player’ who’s got a real life, with a full-time job and a family with 3 kids, I take pride for my standings. I also feel no shame whatsoever in recognizing and admitting to fatigue. I have been there and done that, many times over.

Truth be told, I have always been a PvE major (…scrub…) and spent most of those 7,336 hours (that’s 305 whole days by the way!) slaying monsters instead of enemy players. One could suggest I’d take a break from that and get a bit into one of the other 2 game modes GW2 has to offer. Which one, though? PvP is dead (has been for some time now, I hear my more invested friends confess) and WvW is dying – or how else can I describe it when big guilds, WvW-focused ones, change servers every few months looking for good, healthy action. Or, worse even, when they disband after they have bled members over an extended period of time? What was GW2’s prime pride and barker, the lack of subscription which gave MMO lovers the flexibility to jump in whenever, no strings attached and not worrying about wasting money when they can’t play ‘enough’, has turned on its head and bit its own tail.

This is not a mistake purely on GW2’s part, nor is it a unique and isolated phenomenon. These last few years have seen a rising trend in the MMO genre of players who are looking for a ‘new home’, a new game to love and invest in. The quest for a fresh Messiah is nothing new and the motives that drive it are many. Looking for a stronger (i.e. healthier, more active, or better balanced) PvP or WvW/Siege element or a more casual gameplay, craving for a less-toxic or simply friendlier and bigger community (this includes players who move to another game because some of their friends went there and are happy with the change), tired of ‘the same ole’ and want to try something entirely new, and nostalgia for the feelings they got from a game (or a version of the game) they used to play, are the primary drives for this trend. Seeing this high demand, this hunger for better-different-more, developers seize the opportunity and produce new titles by the dozen. But more is not necessarily better. Proof of this is the increasing number of MMO games, even triple-A titles, which fall short of the players’ expectations and see their sun set not long after their release.

Among the many and serious reasons for their untimely demise, I regard two to be the most crucial ones: failure to deliver what they promised and unfairness caused by ‘pay-to-win’ (p2w) policies. Of these, I consider the latter to be the one spelling doom the loudest. More and more companies turn to microtransactions as their source of revenue and subscription tends to be a thing of the past. To increase their profit they came up with the idea of loot boxes. As long as their content doesn’t have any impact on competitive gameplay, all is fair and good. However, recently there have been sad and loud paradigms of MMOs which bent the rules of the game past the breaking point. The outrage from the community and the press was unprecedented and totally justified.

In my opinion, subscription-free is a good thing and having revenues via other means is perfectly justifiable, as long as the money-making policy doesn’t ruin the experience or the ethics of the game. At the end of the day, a very real day filled with very real life troubles, one needs to let some steam off and have fun. They do not need anyone or anything ruining their precious leisure time, they have no need for more grief or drama. Thankfully, there are plenty of options for the MMO player these days – and more arrivals are on the way. Sadly, the really good ones seem to become fewer and fewer. How one chooses to spend their time and money is their prerogative of course, but it ceazes to be your right when it tramples over someone else’s. 

Monetization has never been an issue with GW2; things offered on the Gem Store are either cosmetic or purely quality of life items. Additionally, there has never been a hint about GW2 being a p2w game – and this is truly something that Anet can brag about, as there are but a handful of AAA MMOs out there that do not provide… a shortcut to supremacy to their paying players. In my opinion, this is the most important and crucial pledge of all that were included in Anet’s (in)famous ‘manifest’, [not the one found here btw, but the original copy, long lost by now…] and a promise that they were able to uphold unremittingly all these years.

Another claim they made was that once you buy the game, you are all set: you will be able to play through the entire content “free of charge. Forever.” (N.B. the expansions are obviously and reasonably excluded). Not only have they made true on this promise, but they blew the definition of ‘new content’ through the roof: since 2012 (launch), Anet has released no less than 39 Living World episodes! This means new stories, script, voice-overs, maps, etc; and none of that required any kind of purchase or payment. On top of these, they also presented us with 23 special events (recurring seasonal festivals) and 9 Feature Packs, i.e. quality of life patches and major tweaks to the game. Free. Of. Charge.

Each new release brings back players such as me, that love the game for what it does best: expanding on the existing, rich and amazing lore, introducing new elements and thrills. On the day of the release (and a couple of days –tops- following this), there’s a big influx of players. All the chat channels come to life again, guild roster looks less grey, the new map is like a fun park during a holiday fair. People are running about in smaller or larger groups, completing events, pursuing achievements and collections, sniffing out the new secret places and lore, while killing and gathering and filling their inventory and wallet with all the new goodies. Sounds great, right? It is. But it’s not all roses.

You see, each new map adds to the population spread. A population already thinned by the players’ immigration, as discussed above, is dispersed further with every new release. People flock towards the most recent content, leaving the older maps virtually empty. This has many unfortunate repercussions, mainly in PvE. Few people on a map means that LFG is useless, events will fail, rewards (map currency, primarily) will be poor, items needed for collections cannot be acquired. Combined with the fact that each Living World map comes with their own currency and without some means of converting one currency into another, older ones become very hard to earn. This adds to the existing players’ frustration, but it also shows the door to returning players as they often find it impossible to fit in again and catch up.

So, why TESO? Well, in truth it was one of the candidate games that I had set my eyes upon for quite some time. You know, like “if GW2 wasn’t around or if I didn’t love it this much, I would be playing <insert candidate game name here>. Then, much like so many things in real life, some events happened at the right time. Feeling unmotivated, talking to friends, someone mentioning something, there might have been an offer/discount/trial running… Before you know it, you’re thinking “why the hell not?”.

I am still a freshman here but I admit I am hooked. There are plenty of elements that fascinate me, for different reasons. A new world, fairly open (longer loading times when changing maps/zones than in GW2), detailed and beautiful (different art style), with its own secrets and stories to be discovered is always magnetizing. As a matter of fact, the feeling of ‘newness’ is a major factor of being attracted to something: new skills, new enemies, new plot, new everything – though to be completely honest, I’m skipping reading lore material, such as books and scrolls. My heart, in this matter, is unwaveringly given to GW2 and it’s magnificent lore. I realize I am missing out on one of the best things TESO has to offer, but at this point I am not keen in dealing with it.

Another aspect that I find appealing is the presence of things that I love in GW2 and the realization that they work differently here. This births the need to (re-)discover them, essentially leading to a feeling of ‘newness’ too. For example, you get a free mount (a horse) early on, which is fantastic to have as it makes traversing the world faster and more immersive. They can also be upgraded, too. Once a day you can take it to a stable and have it trained to one of 3 possible traits: movement speed, stamina (resistance to hits before throwing you off its back) and carrying capacity, which in effect increases your inventory space by 1 slot with each level gained. You can acquire a multitude of mounts in a variety of ways, such as level rewards (got another horse), from a seasonal scavenger hunt, with in-game currency and, naturally, through TESO’s ‘gem store’ (it’s called Crown Shop here). Another example are your ‘non-combat companions’, which is what GW2 calls minis (miniatures). They are larger in size, follow you around like fleas on a dog and outperform GW2’s minis in terms of funny animations! So far I own a dog, a monkey and a bear cub and I did not have to pay a penny for any of them.

I could go on comparing the two games forever, but that is not the focus of this article. I do need to point out a few hits and misses for both, however, as it will help justify my decision to relocate. Let me start with the animation, as it plays a major part in making or breaking a game. In both games you can run, jump and swim; however, the animation sequences in TESO feel more… fragmented, disconnected kinda. Like there are no in-between frames to glue skill sequences together and lend to fluency. On top of that, collision detection in TESO feels ‘raw’ in a sense. Like the model’s hitbox is a rectangular monolith. Try jumping over a rock for example and you will see what I mean. Swimming is not as bad, although your character seems to have a strong right arm and an atrophic left. Furthermore you are not able to dive or fight while in the water – things that GW2 does pretty well; its underwater swimming and exploring part in particular, are among the game’s strongest appeals for me. Do I think that TESO’s animation sucks? Resoundingly, no. It does take some getting used to, that’s all. Though I realize this depends greatly on where you’re coming from.

Hostile NPCs and aggroed mobs in TESO tend to chase you forever or until you stop and let them take a swing at you. Then, happy with this personal little victory, they turn around and return to their post. Seriously! This is not how it plays out however should a civilian or, worse even, a guard catch you in the act. In this case you are marked as an offender of the law. From this point onward and until either your infamy is forgotten (a red indicator counts down to this, very very slowly) or you pay a fine to a guard, you are a fugitive. Moreover, in the -not so rare- situation where you are witnessed to commit murder, you are impromptu condemned to death, to be executed on sight! To further add to immersion and believability, TESO offers you the option to sneak past some NPCs, pick pockets, or even visit specific… underground nefarious persons who can either launder your ‘unauthorized acquisitions’ or fence them. I have to confess that, albeit I feel annoyed at being in this situation way too often (it is not that I am a bad person; it is almost unavoidable to break the law!), I still love this system and wouldn’t want it gone. Weird, right?

Crafting is better in TESO as well, in my opinion. I like the daily writs, the way you can discover new recipes etc. – although I must admit I haven’t quite fully figured out enchanting yet nor have I progressed in any art enough to be able to express an educated opinion. I would like to be offered a less random and adversity-free way of acquiring the required materials however. What I mean is, you can get raw cooking ingredients from crates strewn around the world, but in the majority of the situations you will get a random ‘drop’ from those. This means that it will take you a while, or longer, to find a specific one. On top of that, lootable sources (like gathering or harvesting nodes) are single-use, which means that they go away as soon as someone uses them – typically, the person in front of you who managed to get there first. It must be mentioned however that they do respawn fairly quickly.

In GW2, gathering nodes are not shared between players. This means that each player can loot them individually, for themselves. What’s more, some of them (i.e. the ‘rich’ ones) are more persistent and can be looted by every character of the same account – provided you land in the same map instance of course. This is just one example of something that GW2 does best: collaboration. Guild Wars 2 is all about “playing together”. There is no racing to loot that chest in the distance before anyone else does, no grief because another player beat you to gathering that iron ore or calendula plant first. In TESO this is one of my main sources of frustration – particularly the chests whose lock you have to pick through a fun little mini-game. At least kill loot is different for each player, quest items are also dropped separately for everyone, and you get merit for each kill (XP and quest progress) provided you land a blow or two. This holds true for both games, for the record.

Another thing that truly bothers me in TESO is the limited capacity of your inventory and bank stash. At the beginning of your career there you will get the ‘full inventory’ beeping message way too often, particularly if you, like me, stop to gather every.little.thing you come across! You can expand both storage containers in two ways: either purchase slots with in-game gold (backpack upgrade and mount carrying ability) or by paying a subscription-type fee, called ESO plus membership. In fact, many quality of life items and conveniences are locked behind this. As annoying as it may seem, I personally find it fair and necessary in order to keep this, or any other MMO game, going. The people who make it and the companies who spread it need to eat too, don’t they? None of the items included in ESO plus offer a lead in PvP by the way, keeping the game scotch free from the ‘p2w’ smudge.

What really makes me mad though is their quest tracking system. For starters, it is hard to use the map because there is no obvious way to tell which region is neighbor to which or how to get from one place to the next. [Only recently I was tipped that you can right-click on the region map to be presented with the world map. Why isn’t there a clear and legible legend for this on the map screen, it is beyond me]. The gold medal of confusion however goes to the sliding ribbon at the top of the screen! Arrrghhh… The closer you get to your quest target the more confident you can be that it is not where the ribbon tells you it is! There have been quite a few occasions so far when I had to turn to a forum or other guide to be told where I should go. Add to this the fact that you get pointers to more than one quests at any given time up there, even ones that aren’t even on the map you are currently on!, and you can guess the magnitude of grief it generates.

Besides all the newness and the familiar things which feel refreshingly different, I found something more important in TESO, that I was missing in GW2. No, it is not housing – although that is a close second. It was something I had lost when I left Atreia (Aion) behind me and moved to Tyria; an idea – it was more than a habit – that I gradually learned to live without. I think it was the hardest thing to swallow back then, when Jon Peters announced there would be no Holy Trinity in Guild Wars 2.

When I lived in Atreia I used to share my time among 3 toons: a cleric, a tank and a chanter – what is known in other games as a paladin, more or less. I loved all of them a lot, but the chanter was my dearest. She was my ‘main’. The reason, quite simply, was that she combined the best of both worlds. Back then, in my Holy Trinity days, players knew their Tank and Cleric by name – their first name. This kind of intimacy doesn’t just come about. Nothing forges stronger bonds in a party than dependencies: the feeling you get when you know that your life and the success of your fights rely on the skill of your comrades and vice versa. GW2 went some ways with Raids, incorporating random aggroing mechanics (no fixed tanks) and stronger group healing skills in some classes (professions), such as the Druid Ranger and the Weaver Elementalist, without actually making (or naming) them true clerics. Furthermore, I think they were counting too much on their synergies mechanism, to complement (or make up for) the lacking intensity of their DPS and healing skill sets. In all honesty I still believe this could cut it, but as it currently stands the synergies are too under-performing to really make any difference. Not only that, but it is also really hard, if not impossible to tell when or how to activate one, unless you know all the skill types (fields and finishers) by heart. For all these reasons most players are either oblivious of their existence or choose to ignore them. Bottom line is: Guild Wars 2 and Holy Trinity are on a different book altogether, much as Anet decided from the get-go they wanted it to be

TESO is more textbook on its approach. Not only it explicitly uses the names Tank and Healer but it allows one -me!- to create a single character who can play both roles at the same time. And it does this in the most cost-free way: no full respec needed (like resetting attributes or re-allocating skill points), no second armor set needed. From what I’ve read and played so far, merely switching to a different weapon and skill set is enough to change your role. The only prerequisite is to spend the time and points required to unlock and develop these skills. Simple, effective, fun. In a word, amazing.

Overall, I enjoy my time in this new world I discovered, immensely. At the end of my day, my very real day filled with very real life troubles, I cannot wait to take my avatar to Tamriel, to explore and purge it from evil, in refreshingly different pewpew ways. Meanwhile, I update the GW2 client every other Tuesday and keep my eyes peeled for the next episode’s arrival.

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