New player experience

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The new player experience, introduced with the second feature pack—to a decidedly mixed reaction—has been around for a while now. Since then, I took my final profession, a ranger, to level 80 on my EU account, and am in the process of levelling up a shiny new engineer on my recently purchased NA account; I’ve got friends on both side of the great ArenaNet Atlantic server divide, and took advantage of the current off 50% sale to finally double my investment. This has given me the somewhat unique experience of being able to try the NPE changes with and without account–wide unlocks. Below are my thoughts on various aspects of the updated levelling process, and some suggestions for small tweaks that could be made to, in my opinion, improve it even further for new players and veterans alike.

Unlocks

The biggest change is the way in which certain functionality is now gated by your character’s level, with WvW becoming available at 18 and PvP at 22. Weapon, utility, and elite skills are unlocked at a steady pace between 3 and 30, along with other game mechanics including rallying, skill points, vistas, points of interest, and map completion. Full details can be found on the wiki.

I didn’t find this change to be particularly detrimental. Along with the shiny new splash screen that appears when you level up, it does a good job in spreading out the otherwise potentially overwhelming torrent of game mechanics and information for new players, or those less familiar with the MMO genre. Having to wait for skill points to be unlocked, despite coming across them in the world, is slightly frustrating, but since you don't have any utility slots unlocked at that point, it’s mostly a moot point and requires the slightest amount of backtracking.

One change that I do particularly like is the new pacing of your character’s personal story: it now unlocks as bespoke chapters every 10 levels. This makes the personal story more episodic, in line with the way in which we’ve gotten living story updates since the start of season one. It also serves to spread out the personal story, giving you a good block of content that is tailored to your current level, and then releasing you back out into the world to explore and work on zone completion.

Some parts of the story have been removed in order to streamline this chapter–based approach, and I’ve seen some folks suggesting that this harms the narrative in some quite major ways. I didn’t really notice any glaring omissions; conversely, I actually found myself enjoying the story that bit more because it felt shorter and more direct. This is definitely something that could work well for newer players who are now in the position that they have a wealth of content to play when they hit lv80, with all of living story season two to unlock and play through.

Rewards

As you gain experience and levels under the new system, you’ll find yourself being rewarded for your efforts. Bags of crafting materials are very welcome and help to keep your stocks of materials like blood and totems up. The biggest improvement are the rare armour pieces that you now get as rewards for personal story quests which let you choose the stats that you want. These have enabled me to effectively stop gearing up by going to the trading post every 5 levels, saving me money for unlocking traits (more on that below). Not only do these new items keep your stats up–to–date, but they throw in some cultural skins to get your wardrobe started. The only downside to speak of is that these rares (and later exotics) are not able to be salvaged or sold, meaning that the only way to get rid of them is to destroy them, which feels like a waste.

In addition to these quest rewards, new crafting recipes were added that produce account–bound armour and weapons with very powerful stats. I crafted a few pieces for one character, but they’re very expensive—requiring ectos, amongst other things—and only worth using if you intend to reuse them on multiple alts. Levelling my new engineer, I certainly haven’t felt that I was lacking power or survivability at any point: these are definitely luxury items. It might be nice, however, if they were available through some way other than crafting. Perhaps if you could buy them with karma or WvW badges they would make more sense.

Traits

And so we finally get to the only part of the new player experience that still doesn’t quite work for me: traits. Introduced priot to the second feature pack, the way that traits are unlocked was changed based on community feedback. Players now have the option of completing feats throughout the world, or paying a combination of skill points and coins. While I generally end up unlocking some traits organically while levelling, they’re almost never the ones I actually want to use. Those traits are, invariably, tied to areas that I’ve not yet explored, or that are far above my current level. This is annoying, and has led me to almost entirely forego this new system in favour of using cold hard cash.

The biggest frustration with this is that often when I’m awarded traits points with the new system, I won’t be able to immediately equip my preferred choice. This deadens the impact of gaining the trait points in the first place, and defers the perceived power increase until such a time as I get my arse back to a profession trainer to part with money and skill points.

All that said, I believe that one small change could be made that would go a long way to improving the system. How about giving the player one free trait of their choice for each trait point that is awarded? It would allow players who are working towards a specific build to go straight for that trait without needing to go halfway across Tyria. This would restore the immediate feeling of getting more powerful—something which the new system seems to focus on—but would retain the necessity for players to unlock the remaining traits through either method when they want to change their build up. Used tactically, it would also allow veteran players, who know how each trait is unlocked, to choose the time–consuming or frustrating unlocks as their freebies. Would it be unfair to existing players who have spent time and money to unlock traits? Possibly, but I would strongly expect a change like this to be welcomed universally. Furthermore, giving away only 14 out of 65 trait unlocks for free doesn’t, in my opinion, undermine the system. I struggle to see any downsides. What do you think?