Raphia’s August Stress Test Journal

Four more hours of Guild Wars 2: is there a better way to spend a Thursday afternoon?

Through the three beta weekend events and prior stress tests, I’d managed to play six of the eight professions and four of the five races. I’d created a ranger, a guardian, a mesmer, a necromancer, an engineer, and an elementalist, and had at least one human, charr, sylvari, and asuran among them. So, a quick coin-flip would decide whether my four-hours-or-so would be spent as a mighty Norn battle-berserking warrior or a shifty Norn pickpocket thief.

Actually, that’s not the first thing I’d planned on doing. The first thing I planned to do was to grab any useful items (and money) from my existing BWE3 characters so that I don’t have to hold off on equipping weapons and learning the skills (four hours is too short a time to spend it all earning money just to buy weapons and armour).

Logging In

Like many of you, I spent the half hour before the official start time ensuring that I’d downloaded the most recent patch … oh, and checking to see if the servers might possibly be online a bit early. No, not this time around: by my local computer clock, ArenaNet started opening access to the servers exactly at 3:00pm Eastern time. My first attempt lasted just long enough to get the license agreement up on screen before it kicked me back out to the login screen.

Dutch made me promise not to dwell too much on network issues, lagging, and disconnections (which will help make this blog post a fair bit shorter). ArenaNet did warn us in advance that they were performing open heart surgery on the servers without anaesthetic — and I don’t think they were kidding (although I may be mis-remembering exactly how they phrased it). For the first hour, I was averaging about fifteen minutes between disconnections or client crashes. I think ArenaNet’s network folks got more than enough live data from the stress test: I just hope it also helps them to diagnose and fix whatever was causing the problems in time for August 25th.

My second login attempt worked somewhat better: my asuran elementalist was still in the “Hunger Games”, which changed to “Metrica Province” after a minute or so. When the area loaded, it took another minute for the music and sound effects to kick in: I was standing in Soren Draa, surrounded by what seemed like hundreds of other players, and there was not a sound to be heard. I found the banker and moved several items (including a couple of weapons, gathering tools and salvage kits) into my bank and then tried creating a new character. That resulted in a client crash to the desktop.

Norning it up

Eventually I got back into game, and created my Norn thief. As she was only going to have a brief existence, I didn’t spend much time on fiddling with her appearance. I changed a few things but generally just clicked through the character creation process. When I got to the end of the introduction, I couldn’t get past it (clicking on the Skip to End button didn’t do anything). I just had a blank screen and the skip button. Don’t get me wrong: I love the Norn theme and all, but I didn’t want to spend the next four three-and-a-half hours just listening to the music. I closed the client and restarted it. It allowed me to select my new character and pick up where I’d been forced to leave off. I managed to get to the end of the battle with the giant ice worm and I received my reward and levelled up before I lost connection again.

After the boss fight, another boss fight

When I reconnected, I’d lost the level and had to refight the boss battle. As part of my reward for the battle, I got a pistol. Oddly, when I equipped the pistol in my off-hand, it changed the third skill on my bar to a pistol skill instead of the dagger skill I had already unlocked. The original third skill I’d briefly unlocked was something that attacked all adjacent enemies with a flurry of knife attacks. The skill that replaced it was a pistol skill that hit the enemy and then moved my character adjacent to the enemy I just hit — a very useful skill.

After the stress test was over, I checked on GW2 Builds, and that is apparently the expected behaviour: I was under the impression that the skills 1-3 were always linked to main hand and only 4-5 were linked to off hand weapons. According to the GW2 Wiki, if a thief has a main hand dagger but no offhand weapon, skill 3 is Twisting Fangs. With an offhand dagger, skill 3 is Death Blossom, while with an off-hand pistol, it’s Shadow Shot. No wonder I was finding it confusing.

Warming up to the thief

After about an hour of play, I realized I was starting to develop an affection for the thief. The skills worked well to get me close to the enemy: close enough to do lots of knife damage, and a pistol skill to retreat quickly out of melee range when I started taking damage myself. I was also finding less need for random strangers to revive me: Between level 2 and level 6, I only needed to be revived twice (a personal best: I usually need the healing kindness of strangers every half hour). That means either the thief has much greater survivability than all the other professions I’ve played or I’m finally starting to learn how to stay alive in Guild Wars 2 melee combat (and most of my guildies will probably vote for option A).

Speaking of guildies, I was surprised to find that my guild memberships had all disappeared during the stress test. When I first logged on, I was representing the GuildMag guild. I switched over to SPQT to see who was online and if they were on the same server as me. Later in the test, I wanted to see if one of my fellow guild leaders had made it into the game, but I was no longer in any guilds. It wasn’t really a problem: I was solo-ing in Norn lands anyway, but I was glad I’d added many of my guildmates to my contact list.

Rubberband levels

A longer wait between restarts this time, and apparently I’d lost my level again. Dammit! Then, after the next restart, I’d regained my level. Confusing.

I had to go pick up a family member at the train station, so I was offline for about an hour. When I tried logging back in, there was a new build to download. The updated build was much more stable, and I didn’t have to restart again through to the end of the stress test.

No, wait, I just need a few more hours…

The end of the stress test came up rather suddenly: I hadn’t been paying close attention to the time, so when 7:00pm rolled up, I was still thinking I’d be going to this place, doing that renown heart, and exploring a bit further in that direction … then it was over. Even with all the disconnects, it was still a lot of fun.

So, what lessons can I draw from my BWE/stress test experiences? First, I didn’t find a single profession that wasn’t fun to play and versatile. ArenaNet may still need to do balancing for higher levels and elite skills, but they’ve done excellent work at ensuring you can play as part of a team or solo regardless of which profession you choose. Except warriors, of course (I only say that because it’s the one profession I didn’t try out … and everyone in sPvP says they’re OP anyway).

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