GW2: Crabby, Not Shellfish

ZAM's Gareth Harmer reflects on the good and bad of Lost Shores, and what it could mean for future Guild Wars 2 events

Editorial: This weekend was jammed solid with options. SWTOR had just ushered in the new mission chain to gain HK-51 as a companion droid. Trion launched RIFT: Storm Legion earlier in the week. Planetside 2 wrapped up its beta, while City of Steam started theirs. If you’re into online gaming, you were literally spoiled for choice.

ArenaNet also joined the extravaganza with Guild Wars 2’s much-vaunted Lost Shores Event, combining three days of nautical adventure with an open invitation to everyone with a friend already in the game.

It’s also been a weekend of bugs, as if some technophobic Midas has been creeping around server farms globally, disrupting code and torturing servers. No game has been completely error-free, but some have suffered more than others. And when games suffer, the gamers suffer with them.

The bugs in Guild Wars 2’s Lost Shores event surfaced shortly after opening. An invasion of giant crab-like creatures known as Karka, in one of the major focal points of the game, induced action-freezing lag and startling spawning for some of those taking part. While the conditions caused a few deaths here and there, the attack was an introduction to Lost Shores and not an essential component.

The rest of Friday passed largely without incident, save one quest that couldn’t be completed. Players were given 24 hours to track down the source of the invasion and aid preparing a counterattack, but couldn’t progress beyond a certain point. We became nervous, conscious of the limited time window we had to complete this initial series. To its credit, ArenaNet responded rapidly by applying fixes and keeping the quest chain open for longer.

Saturday was by far the smoothest day of the event, with the new island of Southsun Cove becoming accessible. The location offered a mix of new events, from easy-going egg collection to more brutal invasion defense. And although I ended up in an overflow server most of the time, it demonstrated that ArenaNet’s server system was working.

By far the most damaging part of the event was the mass combat on Sunday. The Karka invasion was due to close in a “multi-hour” event, starting with a rush to help a Lionguard Demolitions expert plant a series of explosives in a giant-crab hatchery. Yet, even with overflow technology limiting the number of players in each area, Guild Wars 2 struggled to cope with the sheer weight of gamers zerging giant crabs.

This is where the event descended from frustration into farce, as strained systems struggled to deliver player-versus-crab combat on a massive scale. First, there were the invisible mobs that couldn’t be targeted, but that you knew other players were attacking. Once the crabs appeared, so did all their attacks, including large amounts of incredibly lethal area effect damage. I frequently wondered why my ankles were dissolving in a puddle of crustacean stomach acid.

The massive periods of lag - 30 seconds to a minute of frozen combat at times - meant that dodging out of the way was a fleeting dream. If you were lucky, the downed state would be there to greet you. If you were not so lucky, you and your band of heroes would be defeated by the oversized urchins. Again. And again. And again.

Once you managed to blow up the hatchery, a second event started. Escorting an ancient Karka crab proved too much for some people, who decided to call it quits. It also proved too much for some servers, which began randomly disconnecting players. This was the last straw for the login system, which chose that moment to go to lunch. Anyone not online when the event completed missed out on some significant rewards, although ArenaNet has since said that it’s looking at a way of ensuring everyone that took part is rewarded.

There are lessons here, some of which come from the school of bleeding obvious, and some of which came from World of Warcraft's Ahn’Quiraj opening event some six-plus years ago. These include measures to make events more fault-tolerant by toning down the damage output and lethality of mobs, and removing the criticality of being online at a single moment as a way of rewarding players. I also think it might not have been the best idea to run a refer-a-friend weekend at the same time as major content that hasn’t been fully tested, but I can appreciate the reasons behind the decision.

Longer term, it places a question over ArenaNet’s testing strategy. I can definitely appreciate the desire to surprise us with completely fresh content that hasn’t been analyzed and documented in detail beforehand. Jumping into the unknown is a powerful lure that’s rarely found in MMOs today. But that has to be tempered with a reliability and confidence in the content that only comes about through heavy testing, usually in conjunction with a public test server. Will Guild Wars 2 end up having to sacrifice surprises for stability?

Gareth “Gazimoff” Harmer, Senior Contributing Editor


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