By Miko Riel and Starconspirator
When the September 2014 Feature Pack was patched into Guild Wars 2, it changed the leveling system quite drastically. The June 23, 2015 content patch has brought in some welcome changes to this New Player Experience (NPE) along with reworked traits, specializations, a major change to skill points, and a new UI. What does this all mean for the leveling experience?Ready to take on the world!
For those who may not know, Star and I ran a study on the NPE, testing every profession, which we shared with the community on our own blog. Having watched a brand new player pick up the game for the first time and learn to walk, fight, and read the UI all at the same time, and be slightly overwhelmed by the experience, Star tried to approach the study with an eye on what ArenaNet was trying to accomplish. She believes the NPE creates a gentle learning curve that does ease people into the game and help them learn the basics of professions while still enjoying the experience. Just as it introduces new players to the game, it can be useful to veteran players under certain circumstances, such as when learning a profession for the first time or seeking greater understanding of a profession that is still being mastered. However, she also believes that the handholding is only beneficial up to a point; after which, the NPE becomes tedious.
Although some changes were made with the most recent content patch, the NPE still contains a number of quirks and flaws. One of the greatest reliefs is the ability to earn attribute stats at an even distribution per level. Between September 2014 and the June revamp, players who leveled a new character were subjected to the infamous stat slump. By changing the the way primary attribute points were gained from a steady stream at every level to once every six levels after level 4, ArenaNet had hoped the NPE would create a stat burst that would help players feel powerful and that great things had been accomplished. However, in order to create this burst, the attribute points had been taken from other levels, creating a starvation effect. Players suddenly found themselves dying while fighting enemies just one level above them if they happened to be one level away from a burst. With the June patch, these base points now increase at every level from 2 to 10 and every even level from 12 to 80. This change makes the leveling experience much more natural and fun again. New players can get a truer sense for their characters’ abilities throughout their journey to 80, and veterans again have the chance to test their own level of skill by throwing characters at higher level content if they so choose.Hmm, can I take on the world?
We were both hopeful that this recent content patch had successfully addressed some of the other flaws we had highlighted in our study. Two of the most disadvantageous aspects are the loss of profession-specific skills – the function skills – early on in a character’s development, and the locking of utility skills for multiple levels. To explore the changes that the new patch provided, Star and I looked at all of the professions but focused on those we felt were most hindered by the original NPE: engineer and elementalist.
For engineer, whose profession skills are tied to the slotted utility skills, this hampers a person’s play style. As we stated before, locking down these skills makes sense for someone who is just learning the class or for someone new to the game, but veterans may have issues with the pre-determined “you must play our way” feel of this system. The same problems persist for this class, as we mentioned previously. Because engineers rely on their utility skills for weaponry – be it kits, turrets, elixirs or gadgets – locking them away from this profession for 11 levels is detrimental and actually counter-productive since new players will not be able to begin learning the profession until level 11. Having condition damage-centric weapons for the first ten levels is not necessarily a bad thing, but the heart of the engineer is not their dual-wielded pistols or standard issue rifle.
Although the stat slump is a thing of the past, with attribute points awarded every level, odd consequences remain regarding the locked Personal Story steps and engineers offer a prime example of this. The first story step opens at level 10, but the engineer’s first utility slot – potentially their first turret or kit skill – doesn’t become available until level 11. Because of this, players may wish to put off starting story steps even longer as they wait for their skills to unlock and give their engineers a better chance at success. This in turn may increase the feeling that grind is necessary in order to advance. (Keep in mind that literally everything you do, and some things you don’t do, award experience.) Only after level 15, when Star was able to equip a turret and a kit, did she declare, “NOW, we can be an engineer!”Level 1 elementalist – Ready to burn!
Unlike the engineer and the other classes that are tightly married to the profession skill lock, elementalists are the only class freed from many of these restrictions. At level 1, F1 – Fire Attunement – is already open. At level 5, Water Attunement opens, just as in the previous version of the NPE. Given that elementalist play is heavily dependent on attunements, I can understand why the early unlocks for these two attunements are necessary. What’s less clear is why elementalist still gets this early unlock advantage later on (F3 at level 11 and F4 at level 15) while other professions, like engineer, do not. While I understand that the engineer profession skills connect directly to utility skills while elementalists’ do not, it seems that if ArenaNet found a way to disconnect elementalists from the generic formula for profession unlocks (F1 at 5, F2 at 11, F3 at 15, F5 at 19), something could be done to similarly unshackle engineers more, especially since the core of the profession lies in learning how to use those utility skills, as Star points out.
We note also that ranger is the only profession to get a locked, empty grey box for one of its profession skills (F2 when all pet control skills open – now at level 5); for the rest, invisible space exists where the F skills will appear. This may be jarring for players and we hope that ArenaNet will add locked boxes with tooltips stating when they will unlock for other professions. For the most part, though, all professions’ F skills begin appearing at level 5 with gated functionality tied to a class mechanic, weapon, or utility skills.
NPE Overall & Looking Forward
With Heart of Thorns’ release coming soon™, we will all have an opportunity to choose to create a revenant, and there are bound to be quite a number of them reaching level 80 shortly after birth. For those not power leveling a revenant, this new iteration of the NPE should help players get to know this new profession without also being frustrated by the leveling system itself. We both feel that the NPE gives players a unique opportunity to slowly work their way through a new profession, learning to balance its build, how to incorporate weapons and armor into that build, and how the profession compliments group play. For players new to the game, the hand-holding may well keep them from being discouraged and offer them needed guidance. However, once the game’s mechanics and systems are learned, the extra hand-holding becomes unnecessary. In Star’s opinion, the NPE quickly becomes drudgery for veterans. I, on the other hand, found ways to make leveling entertaining this time around now that the stat slump is a thing of the past. By using the experience to challenge my own level of skill and experiment with builds and weapons I largely ignore on my max level characters, I reverted back to my preferred leveling approach of throwing characters against content several levels higher to find the breaking point. The only thing missing was having Personal Story steps unlock along the way rather than in one huge chunk as is still part of the NPE. Nevertheless, Star and I agree that there must be a more efficient way for ArenaNet to help players bypass the NPE than collecting Tomes of Knowledge.I’ll take you on!
Until that day comes, we recommend using strategic crafting to quickly boost levels as well as mapping and exploring the beautiful world ArenaNet’s artists have created. Additionally, try putting off personal story steps and completing them slowly rather than bingeing on them. This might help make leveling under this NPE 2.0 fun again.