Revisiting Rangers

Looking to channel your inner Legolas?  Ranger might be for you then!

Asuran Ranger

Early Ranger

Life for a PVE ranger begins with a longbow and a pet which you choose on character creation.  You’ll have one skill at first but will then open the second fun and vulnerability inflicting skill (Rapid Fire) on getting to level 2.  You won’t, however, be able to control your pet yet — that ability unlocks at level 5.  Veteran rangers, may find the inability to see anything related to your pet for these first five levels disconcerting.  For new rangers, if you were getting used to seeing only three weapon skills plus your heal skill, it might surprise you on turning 5 to be able to order you pet to fight (F1), call it back (F3), or even swap to a new pet (F4).  You can also keep track of your pet’s health now which is very useful.  However, most of the starter maps don’t seem to have juvenile animals anymore which is a little odd since you’ve unlocked pet swapping already.  The early loss of pet management creates other oddities as well, including the odd choice of the default heal skill being Heal as One when you cannot see your pet’s health in order to judge if it needs to be healed.

If you’re hankering for a new pet so that you’re not left with a useless dead one in the middle of a fight, you’ll want to take yourself off to the norn starter map, Wayfarer Foothills, where you can find Juvenile Ravens up near the raven shrine (the first heart outside of the norn city, Hoelbrak).  Juvenile Snow Leopards and Polar Bears are also available in Hoelbrak.  Another handy pet to have is a Juvenile Fern Hound which you can find in the Sylvari home city, The Grove. You won’t unlock this pet’s helpful health regenerating howl until level 13 though; this is a great support skill when playing with other players.  Though the “List of Pet Locations” on the wiki is being updated to reflect changes brought about by the September Feature Pack, new players may still find bookmarking this page useful in order to locate animals in Lion’s Arch, Divinity’s Reach, and The Black Citadel as well.  For those with the option to visit the Hall of Monuments, you may also find a Juvenile White Raven, Juvenile Black Moa, Juvenile Black Widow Spider, or Juvenile Rainbow Jellyfish, depending on your Guild Wars 1 reward level.  It should be mentioned that even though pet management was locked, Star was able to charm a second and third pet before level five.  For a new player, this might be quite bewildering as the first pet will simply be replaced by the new pet, who then might be swapped out again if the ranger goes swimming – all with little to no explanation.  Luckily, reaching level five is fairly effortless in all starting areas.

As you work your way to level 10, you’ll probably get some other weapons to drop that you can use: sword, dagger, warhorn, torch.  You can also use axe and shortbow but these might not drop right away (San didn’t get a shortbow until level 13 as a level reward, and never got an axe to drop even after reaching level 23 while Star, whose RNG for weapon drops may be a bit better, had several weapons to choose from before level 7).  Having melee and shorter range weapons drop is convenient, but you won’t really get to experiment fully with them until both off-hand weapon skills unlock (levels 7 and 10).  Still, give sword a try and axe (these can be purchased from a weaponsmith vendor or crafted by adopting the Weaponsmith crafting discipline).  Rangers are not all about their bow use and have some good condition damage on these melee and half range weapons.

Veterans and returning players will likely find the lack of off-hand skills jarring at first, especially if you don’t like longbow’s generally slower rate of fire or prefer sword and axe weapon combinations.  Since weapon swapping now unlocks at level 15 as well, choosing your primary weapon set between levels 10 and 15 will require some thought and adjustment based on your normal play style.  As veterans, we found that before level 10 and between levels that give stat boosts, we sometimes had to make range adjustments, switching to the longbow and its greater range for survivability.  Gaining skill points before level 13 and the first utility skill unlock is another advantage available to veteran players. This was helpful since it allowed us to decide whether to swap out Heal as One for Healing Spring with its health regen.  Being able to do so aided an early character’s survivability during the stat slumps, which can become tricky if you’re downed and find that downed skill 3 (Lick My Wounds) is still locked.Asuran Pet with Jungle StalkerBeyond level ten and its first personal story chapter, the lack of traps, spirits, survival skills, and signets may hamper a veteran player’s ranger’s development, delaying  strategic builds until later levels.  Between levels 10 and 20, rangers may find themselves relying heavily on their melee weapons and pet tanks until utility skills and skill points begin to unlock.  Shortbows, with their greater rate of fire, can be invaluable as can sword/torch (for burning) or sword/warhorn (for damage and boons).  Once utility skills become available, the versatility of the ranger class begins to shine.  Outside of battle, players will be able to adjust their utility skills, even when they only have one, allowing them to bring a trap, spirit, signet or survival skill to the next challenge as needs be.  Star found that by limiting the number of utility skills possible, she spent more time exploring how each skill worked with her ranger’s weapons, pet, and her personal play style.  The lack of a special pet attack (F2) early on must also be blended with the subtle strategies of the ranger class after it opens.

Conclusions

The lack of pet management at the beginning and the more difficult search for pets should not deter people from trying or returning to this class.  The ranger remains an important strategic addition to any Guild Wars 2 group though it is a class often misunderstood and underappreciated in certain situations.  We recognize that we have a biased affinity for rangers since we main this profession, but having the experience that we do with all of the classes, we know it’s a profession that can be deadly when played well.

While the new leveling experience has changes which affect ranger primarily in the lack of pet management early on, the limited skills force a player to pay attention to the available skills, their functionality, and how they might better promote a character’s success and survivability.  New and experienced players, for example, might find that boons that aid survival might be more beneficial early on before all skills are unlocked.  As we found, this may promote experimentation and greater exploration of this class’s intricacies and versatility if a player likes to experiment beyond the meta builds promoted in the community.

Norn Ranger

Exploring the Shiverpeaks

The NPE experience feels like it has slowed down the leveling process, despite the fact that levels are gained more quickly.  This “slowing” allows the veteran player to experience the world anew, noticing NPCs they never met before, catching snippets of conversation that may have been missed in previous leveling experiences.  While new players won’t know what renown hearts have been changed, veterans may miss being able to interact with golems in Metrica Province or feeding cows in Queensdale.  These small changes have affected how players interact with NPC Tyrians, but they can still learn about the rivalries and political factions that underpin each culture and race by talking with NPCs or listening to their conversations. Overall, the lore is still there and players can explore the world as quickly or as slowly as they wish while experimenting with their characters.

— San & Star

Next time, we tinker with Engineers!

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Early Leveling Study

Now that Star and I have both shared some of our thoughts and impressions on GW2’s New Player Experience, it’s time to announce our latest mad scheme: the Early Leveling Study.

The purpose of this study is to test each profession in this new leveling environment now that ArenaNet have pushed a patch to fix bugs and have made adjustments based on player feedback.  We hope to:

  • gain more insight into the level gating that new players experience,
  • share this information with the community,
  • help provide new and returning players with information as they consider which professions they’d like to try, and
  • offer reluctant veterans advice on adapting to the new leveling system.

Any good experiment requires parameters and we’ve come up with some that will look at things we’re interested in and which we think the community will find informative as well.  To this end, we’re going to be focusing on the following:

  • the fun factor: is leveling fun? what does it feel like? can a player play the  way s/he wants?
  • play style adjustments: what kind of adjustments do you have to make as you level?
    • here we’re looking to gain insights on the stat burst/stat slump information that’s been gathered by others*
  • exploration: what does the system invite you to discover in the world?
  • lore: what do you learn about Tyrian races, zones, and/or characters?
    • here we’re focusing on charming, smaller detail lore in the world more than racial lore available in the early Personal Story chapters

To make each test equal, we’ll be:

  • testing until level 23,
  • running tests in each of the starter maps, and
  • using only gear that drops or is rewarded.

We feel that level 23 is long enough to open all utility, profession, weapon, and downed skills and get a sense of how a class will progress while working toward opening elite skills.  We won’t be crafting armor or weapons keeping in mind that new players aren’t taught about crafting until after several levels and might not test crafting until later in their progress.  With this in mind, we won’t be using any boosts, food or otherwise.  We’ve already observed that gear drops and rewards keep a character equipped with equipment comparable to crafted Fine and Masterwork level gear now, with occasional Rare gear as well, and that Personal Story also occasionally rewards gear with one-time selectable stats now.

All posts will be categorized under “guild wars 2” “leveling study” and tagged with the “npe” and “leveling study” tags for search ease.  You can also find all posts in the leveling study by clicking on the menu button above and selecting the “GW2 Leveling Study” link there.

So if you see Peat Repeat or Kei Talez in game, feel free to /wave and stop for a chat!  Stay tuned!


* For more on the community’s stat burst/stat slump research, the info in this first post is a good place to start.  This post on reddit gives a breakdown of the math behind the research.

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NPE & ArenaNet’s Communication

I still remember very vividly how chaotic and urgent the sense of battle was on brand new characters during the Guid Wars 2 beta weekends (and I played in all of them). While many players had other MMO experiences to draw on, I didn’t. I came directly from GW1 and its campaigns of instanced combat. Learning the new mechanics (especially when I didn’t have red enemy dots on my mini-map!) meant the game taught me situational awareness immediately. Gone was the safety of logging out in the Guild Hall. Dynamic event spawning meant I now had to find those outposts, villages, trees, rocks, or bushes that were more likely to guarantee I wouldn’t log in to a character with low health who’d been attacked while I was still on a load screen!

While my guildies would run off and start mining or harvesting all those crafting materials out there, I watched them bemused. Crafting? What’s that? The gear I’m getting from drops suits me fine so why bother? I was more interested in figuring out the new weapons and skills that kept unlocking as I killed monsters. Utility skill slots enticed me to keep leveling up so I could unlock them and use these skills that seemed so interesting. Level 5, new slot unlocked. Level 7, weapon swapping unlocked! The possibilities seemed endless and exciting! Level 11 unlocked traits and figuring out how to best use these to complement my skill and weapons choices was thrilling! Finding untapped skill points out in the world, saving up for those interesting and sometimes odd sounding elites was so alluring. Needless to say, I was hooked.

I tried all of the professions, sometimes making total messes of my characters, sometimes hitting on interesting, fun, and lethal builds. There was something magical about figuring things out in this future iteration of Tyria on my own. Even still, I knew that the community and my guild was there to help out should I need it. When I found myself failing at kiting and dodging, I watched other players out in the world and tried to mimic what I’d seen until I finally figured it out and realized what fun it was to see “Evade” pop up on the screen. If a build seemed broken, I could learn from theory crafters and build sharers. Discovery, trial and error, learning through conversations and observation. This is how GW2 made me into an alt-holic (well, more than I already was).

I have doubles (sometimes more) of every profession and the only professions I haven’t maxed yet are warrior and thief (I know, how the heck did that happen?). Having lower leveled versions of the same profession lets me experiment more with some of the traits and skills I ignored the first time around without feeling guilty because sometimes an 80 is built just right so why mess with it? Going through the different story step options and choices is fun since I get to meet all the different quirky, spunky, and sometimes downright annoying characters ArenaNet’s team have created.

Leveling is a joy to me … or at least it was until the September Feature Pack hit and I found that many characters were now locked out of skills as well as traits, had to wait longer to do their next dialogue driven/no combat story steps, and were suddenly feeling underpowered or weirdly didn’t get hurt at all. On patch day, I took a level 2 thief out to Queensdale who’d only saved Shaemoor. She had an offhand weapon she couldn’t use let alone use skill 3 which was unlocked, animated like it was working, and would then “Miss” when used. I /cry’d in chat. Another player Player Name: Player Name pat’d me. Wait, they broke emote chat too?? What had happened to my game?

Because that’s how we all feel I think. Those of us who enjoy Guild Wars 2 feel that this is “our” game. Like many other players in the community, I researched with my guildies to figure out if we could break this new player experience. Could we still throw a level 6 at a level 9 or 10 enemy? What would happen if we wandered into Kessex and attacked a level 21 boar? Rallying did what now? These skills won’t unlock until when now?! What about that new white drop-down arrow persistently telling us to heal (even if it was on cool down); would it ever go away? How were mid-level characters affected? And why is the in-game GPS system telling my level 2 to go into Fields of Ruin and then Blazeridge Steppes?!

Over the course of the past few days, I’ve continued to log in and listen in or add my thoughts to the conversations in map chat. I’ve watched the maelstrom of irate, bewildered, and thoughtful reactions on the community outlets unfold as we’ve waited for Anet to respond to the furor these changes unleashed. And while many people, including myself, see how the new leveling system might help real newbies get oriented to the game, level gating skills and combat mechanics that are so integral to later gameplay seems like five steps backwards in terms of game design. Tyria and combat in Guild Wars 2 can be intense and complex, and the freedom to “play the way you want” allowed players to choose their own pace and find their own way to explore the game world and the different play modes offered. It saddens me that the thrill of learning things on your own or discovering how to fix your character’s survivability seems to have been stripped away from the early to mid-leveling experience. The handholding feels excessive and I wonder how new players will truly benefit from being forced to use only one or a literal handful of skills at a time for 15 levels.

The crux of the backlash, though, seems to center once again on communication. I know the dev team have posted to say there are things that are bugged in the NPE system that hint that accounts with multiple characters should have many things working/unlocked that are not right now. But it’s the seeming lack of transparency that keeps whipping the community up. In the hype leading up to the September Feature Pack, Game Director Colin Johanson’s blog post, “A Fresh Start,” previewed that

we’ve simplified the number of systems visible to players early on and layered them into the level-up guide.

“Systems,” in this case, is a jargon term that obscured the true depth and breadth of the level experience changes included in the feature pack. As a person for whom clear communication and extracting nuance from language are crucial parts of my day job, I was shocked that “systems” meant essentially “everything” in the game. We’re told that the metrics regarding player attrition concerned ArenaNet enough to test this new system for a year, fine-tuning it until they felt it was ready for implementation. Yet, a recurring theme in much of the feedback players continue to give is that they’re feeling a disconnect from how the devs are communicating with the players and what actually appears in-game. This has led to the erosion of trust with a sector of the player/customer base that appears to be growing. By focusing on retention without communicating effectively (or appearing to be unprepared in order to communicate effectively) with the existing players about the reasons behind these changes, ANet is, lamentably, sliding into a dangerous trap.

Putting my communicator/teacher hat on for a moment, I’ll underscore that word choice and a clear communications strategy can go a long way to helping veteran players/existing customers feel like they’re being heard AND to help them understand changes before they go live. A great example of this was the Trading Post UI changes which the dev team previewed on last week’s Points of Interest stream. A similar preview of the new leveling experience may have helped prepare players as well. What can Anet do, then, to improve their communication? Chris Whiteside’s comments that personnel logistics are being addressed is a good start since it feels like their communications team needs to reassess their strategies and/or regain their sense of message. This is especially important when many of the company’s plans and projects can only be discussed “when it’s ready™” leaving us with vague replies and statements that the team would like to have clearer conversations with the community about design intentions.  I hope Gaile Gray’s presence will help this and future exchanges.

Throughout the brouhahas that have happened, I’ve always championed calm and reason, often defending Anet for their decisions. Without the full picture of their metrics, I have to trust that they’re interpreting their data correctly and making changes for the good of the game. In this case, however, I don’t understand their decision-making for the extent of the leveling changes. At the end of the day, though, I’m not a new player anymore and I’m hopeful that the fixes introduced today will begin to solve the issues veteran players like me have with the leveling system. I would like to think that my non-80 alts will be viable for my game time whenever I choose to play.