The April Feature Pack update in Guild Wars 2 shook up a lot of things, providing some bonuses (free unidentified dyes, free skins for many who would otherwise not use their PvP gear) and some downsides (loss of freedom in transmuting gear below level 80, loss of anticipated traits at mid-levels) for characters already in existence at the time. Transition is always tough, though, and while problems with it are still significant, they’re one-time problem. I thought a fairer way to evaluate the various new systems that GW2 now has in place was to level a character from scratch, created after the update.
So: this is Sefalie, sylvari ranger.
I picked my favourite race and my favourite class to play, since I’ve already levelled each profession once. Although I did ban myself from the weapons and pets that my main ranger habitually uses, intending to go for a different style.A few factors to bear in mind:
- I did not take up any crafting disciplines (though I did craft for her with other characters – skins! – but I did not get exp from crafting)
- I did not use any experience boosters while levelling her
- I do have an account-wide +7% exp boost, among other account bonuses, so these will have made levelling her a little easier compared to a new account
- As currency is shared across characters, I never had a need of gold for expenses; I’m judging how much a new player might have based on heart rewards at each level
The early levels are much as they have always been. Weapon skills are unlocked; utility skills become available at levels 5, 10 and 20, with elite skills still available at level 30 – which is now a very eventful level-up! The first major difference in the process is that traits are no longer available from level 11, but rather level 30.
I did not find that getting from level 10 to level 30 was especially difficult; I still had the mixture of mapping and personal story and random exploring to get me there (just passing through zones uncovering map is surprisingly good for exp) and enemies were not a noticeable problem. However, I really felt the lack of a sense of build in these early stages. In the past, when I have crafted armour, I’ve taken where I put traits as a guide for what stats I wanted. This time around, it was pretty arbitrary. I had a feel for what Sefalie was headed for, but without allocating any points it felt very vague and irrelevant.
Having hit level 30, I got my first trait point! Points are now equivalent to what used to be five points, so this allowed me to choose a minor trait and a line to start down. This means I got an effect straight away – but I did miss the gradual build up of getting points every level and putting them in one at a time. Under the old system, I didn’t get a bonus right away, but I could see what I was working towards. Now, I spend my one point and wait for another six levels before I need to look at this screen again. Levelling up has always been a fairly low-key affair in Guild Wars 2, but the perks (and sense of reward) for gaining a level are even further reduced now.
Does this reduce grind, by lessening the imperative to reach the next level and encouraging people to just play? (A fair few people mentioned this experience of GW2 even before it was released). Or does it take away from a sense of progression at a point where players need to feel like they’re getting somewhere? I tend toward the latter opinion – although I’m already well committed, and don’t need much in the way of rewards to keep me playing. Still, I don’t yet feel like I have laid a foundation to build upon with Sefalie, and level 30 is late in the game to be starting that.
From here, I’m excited to have trait challenges as an option to structure my play around if I choose – I can pick which adept major trait I like the look of, and head toward fulfilling its requirements. Probably I could do more than one of them by the time I hit level 36 and got a trait point to spend, and most of the challenges seem to take me to parts of the map that are otherwise underused. Some of them are weirdly pitched in terms of levels, though. What if I want Strength of Spirit as my first major trait, which I will have the points for at level 36? The required task to unlock it is “earn 100% completion in Timberline Falls” – a level 50-60 zone. Should I just take a different, more accessible trait until I’m level 50? Of course, I can pay to unlock it instead (for an adept trait, 10 silver, which is affordable) – but paying simply because the task is totally inaccessible to my character for another 20 levels seems like something wrong with the system.
[EDIT: I can now confirm that there is an adept trait (Mighty Swap under Beastmastery for rangers) that requires you to 100% Frostgorge Sound to unlock it. What the hell, guys? That is not something you can do before level 60, let alone at level 30!]
So, overall: levelling Sefalie so far has not been significantly more difficult – but it has been significantly less eventful in terms of rewards, and I feel like I am being held back from actually starting to build my character into something strategic and distinctive. Skill points are insufficient reward for levelling, especially since I gather them from other sources as well; the only thing levelling up does is potentially make certain pieces of gear usable.
I don’t know what stats to craft my armour with, and I think this is actually kind of a fundamental issue. Any attribute is as good as the next for me right now; I have no build factors to guide my decisions, and I’m almost halfway to the level cap.
Those trait points between levels 11-30 were important first steps in feeling out a character’s build, and the old system – do that for a while and then reset for free at level 40, once a player knows what they’re doing – worked better in my opinion.