Flameseeker Chronicles: Getting to grips with Guild Wars 2’s Path of Fire mounts

    
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ArenaNet dedicated last week to all things mounts, so it stands to reason that I’d simply have to provide you with a run-down of the flashy new expansion inclusions for Guild Wars 2: Path of FireRather than filling a perceived travel efficiency gap, the steeds created for PoF include a fairly extensive suite of travelling tools that help set them apart from the run-of-the-mill mounts in more traditional MMOs. These mounts are built to feel weighty and move realistically, changing how the player interacts with the virtual environment and allowing for more freeform map designs than ever before.

In this edition of Flameseeker Chronicles, I’m going to discuss all things mounts and dig into the development rationale behind them. I’ll weigh in with my thoughts on how the mounts might impact future map development and change how we approach travelling in Tyria as well.

Changing scales in PoF maps

One of the most immediately noticeable benefits of mount mechanics being introduced in PoF is seen in map sizing and open-floor scale: From early in-studio playthrough accounts and the testing weekend, we already have a solid idea of how appreciable the scale difference between Heart of Thorns maps and the new PoF maps will be. Of course, there are few better environment settings to really suit the open scale afforded to this expansion by mounts than the deserts, so for me, the timing on the inclusion of mounts is impeccable. Just when we might need a little pep in our characters’ steps to navigate more effectively, the mounts come along and offer not only that speed boost, but also a suite of movement utilities.

I imagine vast expanses of arid outcrops, waves of sand as far as the eye can see, sandstorm-decayed rock formations to leap on, and oasis-type breaks in the harsh terrain when I think of desert designs, and mounts most definitely allowed the ArenaNet team to deliver on this front without leaving the player struggling to navigate a samey wash of beige. Verticality is one of those buzzwords that always comes to mind from Heart of Thorns map design discussions, and while the layering was technically impressive on those smaller maps and was thematically just as clever as using more open spaces for a desert theme, I feel as though I personally understand the more low-key, fluid verticality that comes along with the mounts far better.

Portable, flavourful movement mechanics

One of the major mechanical breakaways afforded by mounts in my mind is the portability factor offered by mounts. Older masteries are very location-sensitive and normally rely on the presence of static interactive terrain objects to use, which automatically limits the use of imagination in navigating older maps. How many times have you looked up at a canopy or outcrop in a HoT map and wished that a bouncing mushroom was placed to allow access, only to have to loop around the structure to find the developer-envisioned access point instead? Mounts, aside from speeding us up, allow players to tackle an environment in a way that is sensible to them rather than ultimately railroading players through a predesignated, preferred path.

Tack onto this the fact that each mount adds a diverse set of movement tools and it’s clear that GW2 mounts are not simply a new skin on a convenient vehicle: Each animal has an absolutely distinct form of motion that just feels right. Of course, we’ve only been hands-on with the raptor, but the last week has shown us the other mount types in motion. The springer feels hoppy and bottom-heavy, with powerful bounding strides and ginormous vertical leaps that tie in beautifully with the mount’s combat engagement. Contrast this with the skimmer’s undulating, fluid hover or the raptor’s rangy, wild charging and a picture emerges of mounts with unique personalities. I wasn’t surprised to hear that the movement features came before choosing the mount that would best represent that toolset: Need was prioritised over aesthetics, and that shows in the end design of each mount.

Engagement skills

Whenever there are speed and motion differences between the character and the mount, it stands to reason that the transition between one and the other could be jarring without paying due attention to the switch visuals and mechanics. Dismounting is fluid, with the mount zipping in and out with a smooth lowering or raising of the player model, but what happens when a character is moving in and out of combat? In PoF, the other major expansion feature is a new set of elite specialisations, so the mount development team were cautious to protect the wow factor of the new elite specs by not bringing mounts strongly into the combat sphere as well to avoid putting both new features in direct competition with one another.

This left the developers with a little bit of a conundrum to solve, and this is where the development of engagement skills came into play. Rather than awkwardly stalling the commencement of combat to facilitate dismounting, each mount has a unique way to dip, dive, or roll into combat, dealing some damage and bringing the player seamlessly into battle. I particularly love the springer’s cannonball and the raptor’s enemy pull upon engagement and I do hope it makes the regular dismounting as smooth as it can be.

The programming behind mounts

Each mount was considered individually when it comes to the under-the-hood stats, which allows for much more common-sense use of those movement tools. One small but important example is that a springer can take much more fall damage than its counterparts: It makes sense that a creature that is designed to make great vertical leaps would also be able to absorb the resultant impact. Mount scale was programmatically challenging: All of the final mounts were at one point much larger than they are as we know them — the skimmer was approximately 30% bigger at the beginning — but the map and screen clutter considerations outweighed the desire to have physically intimidating mountable creatures. Nobody wants a world boss to be dwarfed by obnoxious mounts or to lose city buildings behind some rather ginormous derrieres!

The mount models actually scale slightly to character models too, just to ensure that no character is swamped or giantised on the mounts. This scale is within a natural tolerance level for the creature and although I did notice that my charr friends seemed to sit taller on their raptors, it wasn’t a jarring visual at all. The variable height and movement styles of the mounts required very separate approaches to this engagement, and I love that the engages use the height or speed factors to create unique battle commencement visuals.

Motion sickness and settings to try

I was delighted to hear that the motion sickness complaints have been taken seriously, having suffered pretty badly myself during the weekend playthrough. I found that many of the gorgeous tricks that make mounts feel so realistic built up to create a nauseating visual experience and I was unfortunately not alone in feeling this way. During the mount-related Guild Chat, the team stressed that new camera controls would help to reduce the impact the mounts have on those who are easily made motion sick. I’m hoping that this additional control over the visuals pays off for me because the mounts appeal to me greatly in every other way.

Roy Cronacher, the Mounts Team Lead, admitted to struggling himself while finding the mounts’ starting point for those flashy effects, and he also felt ill when tuning the features for showcasing. Reducing visual blur, camera rolling, and other flashier visuals should do the trick for people like me, with any luck. The graphical effects could be much more noticeable since they’re apparently only tuned to around 5% of what they could potentially be, but that’s not a great deal of consolation if that 5% still makes you feel unwell. This is an aspect of the expansion that will undoubtedly make me nervous until I get to test it out again.

Over to you!

How are you feeling about mounts after mount week? If you missed the mammoth Guild Chat on mounts, you should catch up: The conversation was very interesting from a design aspect, and the developers’ enthusiasm is positively contagious. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Tina Lauro has been playing Guild Wars 2 since it launched and now pens the long-running Flameseeker Chronicles column, which runs every other Wednesday and covers everything from GW2 guides and news to opinion pieces and dev diary breakdowns. If there’s a GW2 topic you’d love to see covered, drop a comment Tina’s way or mail her at tina@massivelyop.com.
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