Guild Wars 2: The Power of Other People

Guild Wars 2 is the first MMO where I did not view other players as a hindrance to my enjoyment. It is the first MMO where I gladly jumped in and fought alongside people and wanted to do so even when I was on my own.

I played levels 1-10 as a Human Elementalist named Mist Walker. Elementalists are like mages — throwing fire, lightning, ice, and earth around, wearing skimpy light armor, trying not to get squished. I died a lot, explored all over the place, did some crafting, and had a marvelous time. Let me tell you a story about Mist’s best experience as an Elementalist in this lush and beautiful world.

Fighting west of the main human city of Divinity’s Reach at level 6, I found a familiar cave. I’d gone to this cave earlier in my personal story — Guild Wars 2 has a personal story that sees your fully voiced character run around with other people in your background and do general heroic things. In my case, I was investigating a group of bandits. I was surprised, though, to find that I could head back into this cave. When I first went in, it was an instanced area, meaning me and only me (and, theoretically, anyone else in my full group). In Star Wars: The Old Republic, when you go into an instanced area for your class, you can never go back in once you’re done, and people of other classes can never go in, they only see a red repulsor force field over the innocuous hallway. GW2 does not work like this at all. So I went in.

I went in and found some bandits, and I lit them on fire and did terrible things to them. I also found some other players, running around doing other terrible things to these bandits. I also saw that we were all struggling a little fighting on our own, so I jumped over to help them. That sounds generous of me, but it just happened. Guild Wars 2 doesn’t feature anything like ‘tagging’ an enemy to mean it is yours and yours alone, with no one else getting XP from fighting it. Guild Wars 2 wants everyone to help everyone else, and to do so it removes all those barriers to helping everyone else. So when I saw a warrior swinging his sword and knocking his target across the room, I put down a wall of fire between them so the bandit would get burned before he got back into the fight. When I got dropped by a bandit gunman later on, a necromancer summoned otherworldly beasts while I turned into a cloud of mist and booked it around the corner. If anyone died in battle, we all ran over to them and revived them (easy as pressing the F key. You get XP for reviving people, too). Together, the five of us characters, levels from 5 to 7, pushed into this bandit cave, through the grubs, and then out on the far side.

The far side of the cave had level 10 enemies. More bandits. Alone we would have perished. We all stood around, looking at each other.

The warrior ran out in front, sword back. I stood next to the necromancer, and the engineer moved to the left side of the mouth of this cave. I don’t remember what the fifth class there was, because the battlefield became a cacophony of fireballs, gunshots, sword swings, and zombie dogs. We took out a ton of the enemy, but we didn’t take them all out. Eventually, superior numbers and our lack of knowledge of the systems dropped us. We all moved back to recent waypoints.

I never saw them again.

I was never invited to a group. No one argued over loot. No one even spoke. We just all ran into a cave together, and came out of it a well-oiled, if dumb, fighting machine. I have never played an MMO that actually wanted you to play together.

As an elementalist, I had four stances and five skills. These skills were tied to my weapon; had I switched from sceptre to staff, I would have had a completely different set of skills.

In Fire, 1 = auto-blasting little fireballs. Little damage, but it was my auto attack. 2 = a giant dragon’s tooth that dropped on the head of my target after a second or two, and anyone around him in this little circle also got nailed. 3 = a phoenix that flew out from me to a point I designated on the field, exploded, then flew back to me and healed me a bit (with another explosion). Anyone in its path got hit. 4 = a wall of fire that anyone passing over would be burned by. 5 = a fire shield that severely damaged anyone around me.

In water, 1 = three frost bolts auto-firing out and homing in on my target. 2 = a targetable circle of ice shards that froze anyone nearby. 3 = a trident thrown into the ground, damaging foes and healing friendlies in a circle around it for a few seconds. 4 = a wave of frost that rooted everyone in place for a few seconds. 5 = an ice meteor!

You get the idea.

If I were fighting me, I could dodge any and all of that. Fire-2? Run out of the white circle before the dragon’s tooth hit. Fire-3? Double tap the Q or E key, strafe left or right, to dodge roll out of the way of the phoenix. Fire-4? Just don’t run over the fire, do something ranged or find a way to bring the target to you, or teleport, or something. 5 = Double tap S to dive backwards out of the way of the fire shield before it hurt too badly. The auto-attack would hit, I believe, but not a whole lot. Fortunately, all of my skills can be cast while moving — I don’t have to stand still.

The cities are huge. Divinity’s Reach, the main human city, is probably four times the size of Stormwind from World of Warcraft. Maybe larger. Cities stretch up into the sky, and for once I felt like I’m in a world where people could actually live. There are thousands of houses along the rim of Divinity’s Reach. I can’t reach all of them, but I can reach a great deal. Throughout the city are 13 waypoints that I can teleport to, replacing the horses/gryphons/speeder bikes in other games, and at any point while playing I can just pull up the map, click on one of them, and pay a nominal fee (based on how close I am to that area) to teleport to it. If I am in the city, I can teleport to any other point of interest in the city for free.

I played ten levels of one of the five races in one of the eight classes in the game. There is a ton of content in here, that much I can already tell, and it takes the MMO limitations we’ve all known for too long and gets rid of them. I haven’t talked about how there’s no “holy trinity” of tank/heal/DPS because everyone can do everything (one of my earth skills is an armor skill, and there’s another one in the second set of skills you get as you unlock that lets you really define your character, and everyone has a healing ability). I haven’t talked about how you can in theory do all of the crafting on one character since switching disciplines doesn’t erase your progress in the one you switch away from. I haven’t talked about how I only found two of the major cities and only barely set foot in the second one. I haven’t talked about how there’s PVP because I don’t care about PVP. I haven’t talked about how you can check your mail or your auctions from anywhere in the world. I haven’t talked about the humor in the game, where my first major quest was a bar fight complete with breaking bottles over bandits’ heads and throwing chair legs at people, which I was not so good at. I haven’t talked about how the game’s acknowledgment of the teleport-anywhere travel is Mist cheekily offering up “I can run faster than a centaur!” I haven’t talked about how there aren’t any quests, there are dynamic events which change with the world and with your progress and participation. I haven’t talked about how there are karma points that let you buy rare and curious things for helping people. I haven’t talked about the other races because I barely saw them. I haven’t talked about the jaw-dropping painterly art style.

I haven’t talked about how there’s no monthly fee. But I really should, because there’s no monthly fee. Pay $60 and you get access to all of this forever. No $15/month charges popping up on your credit card, no re-buying the game three times a year. Guild Wars 2 has no monthly fee. Play it as much or as little as you want with no guilt.

Not even from your friends, because Guild Wars 2 will scale their level down to yours, yet give them rewards in line with their level, if they come back and adventure with you in low-level areas.

Guild Wars 2 wants you to play together.

For the first time in my life, I want to.

Guild Wars 2 has no official release date; just sometime in the 2012 calendar year. The preceding are comments from playing in the April 27-29 pre-order beta.


Monday Morning Roundup

Another weekend is in the books, and another week rears its head like Putin glaring down at Alaska. How did the weekend go?

I wrote 5000 words on Ancient Japanese Demon Vampires And The Women Who Love Them – Let’s Play Hakuoki! over on Broken Forum. I played through all of Chapter 4 and wrote it up in a single day, which was a lot of writing but also a lot of fun. Highlights include cutting that guy, screaming in anger at the PSP, and furthermore, cutting that guy. I’ve now uploaded enough screenshots to Imageshack that I had to get a premium account. Oooooh, six dollars…

Giant Bomb posted their Quick Look of Botanicula. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard at one of their Quick Looks while also desperately wanting to play this game. You can hear Vinny’s status as a new father in his voice in how he narrates this one. I don’t so much want to play Botanicula so much as I want to watch Vinny and Patrick play Botanicula.

Music of the week: Botanicula and Sword and Sworcery. I think I spent about $10 total on these albums, and they’re both brilliant. Botanicula reminds me of Rayman Origins in the music (Patrick beat me to that comparison), and S&S thus far is making me think a little bit of Big Giant Circles.

The NFL Draft happened this weekend, and I have mixed opinions on my two teams. The Redskins picked up their QB of the future in Robert Griffin III, and then decided to get him a caddy in Kirk Cousins in the fourth round for some reason. As for Kansas City picking 350-pound DT Dontari Poe, I’ll let Mike Tanier of the New York Times take that one.

The Guild Wars 2 pre-order beta weekend happened. I plan on writing about that later, but the short version is OH MY GOD THIS GAME IS GREAT. Hakuoki should have stern competition for my Game of the Year for 2012.

(I really do not want my 2012 GOTY to be a dating game.)

Google Likes Giant Bomb More Than Free Republic

And other incendiary headlines.

Part of my job at work is SEO — search engine optimization. I haven’t done a bit of it here on my blog, so that doesn’t really bode well for my skill at it, but I’m lazy and don’t care too much just yet. Google just did a pretty substantial update to combat webspam, and fortunately our site is doing pretty great in its wake. I get maybe 3% of the credit there, the guys that handle our SEO get the remaining 97%. All I did was find them after doing some research.

SearchEngineLand did a story showing the risers and fallers as a result of this update, and it’s pretty hilarious at a glance. Among the risers is my favorite site, Giant Bomb, your go-to place for game videos, Brad Shoemaker, and Luchadeer. Among the losers is Free Republic, to whom I will not link, your go-to site for crazed  right-wing loons and their conspiracy theories about Obama, chemtrails, and Sarah Palin fanfiction.

Combine that with the news that Ron Paul supporters are using Kickstarter to try and make Ron Paul: Road to REVOlution, I think we have a themed Thursday Night Throwdown in the future. Or we would, if that game wasn’t apparently stealing Earthbound sprites. Free market copyright something something I don’t actually know what Ron Paul believers say, I just assume it sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher.


Difficulty, Obfuscation, and Galactus

I played three new games over the weekend on the Very Easy difficulty. I lost all three of them.

NBA 2K12 is a very good game, I think. I’m not actually sure. I picked up NBA 2K12 off the recommendation of a lot of people who like basketball, and based on the fact that it was a deep history mode with huge games from back when I watched basketball, when guys like Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, John Stockton, Hakeem Olajuwon, and David Robinson played. I picked it up on the strength of the trailer with Project Lionheart’s “They Come Back” with all of these historical players, smooth animation, and incredible presentation. I picked it up despite the fact that I haven’t played an NBA game since Live 96 for the Sega Genesis and I haven’t watched a full basketball game since Michael Jordan drained a three-pointer over Byron Russell to win the NBA Finals. Since then, apparently he either owns or runs a team. So you can see that I’ve been gone for a while.

I lost a game by almost 40 points to the Golden State Warriors, and I was surprised to find out that the Golden State Warriors still existed. It was on Very Easy, 12-minute quarters, and I was playing as the Chicago Bulls, who are ranked quite highly. Either the game is bad or I am bad, and I’m not so full of myself that I think it’s the former. But I do have complaints, and fortunately I have this here soapbox.

NBA 2K12 does a lot of things well, but one of the things it does best is obfuscation. I don’t mind losing a game that much, but I do mind losing a game and not knowing how. I come into the NBA at a disadvantage since I don’t play much basketball, but I do want a few things to happen when I am playing a game. When I am on offense, I have a few plays I can call, with names like “Rose Get Open,” “Booker Low Post,” etc. that are obviously designed to do exactly what they are saying. That’s great, but I don’t know what those plays are doing, and I haven’t figured out a way for the game to tell me that while I’m playing a game. Madden NFL does something good here, where you can pull up the play art showing where everyone is going. I’d like this to be in all sports games for people like me, people who are interested in a game that they don’t necessarily know by heart.

One other thing that Madden does that I wish this game did — and as a huge fan of NFL 2K5 I understand how weird that is to say — is that I don’t have to actively control someone in Madden, but I do in NBA. On defense in Madden, I can select the middle linebacker, but without my input he will do middle linebacker-esque stuff, and I can take over when the ball is in the air and try to swat it down or lay a hit on the receiver or whatnot. That works. In NBA 2K12, if you have a player selected, he will do absolutely nothing on his own, meaning you have to control every movement. This is problematic when you don’t know how to defend someone on the perimeter.

I’m not asking for games to be easier, except maybe I am on the Very Easy difficulty. I am asking for games to be clearer.

I then played Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, and I don’t have as much to say here. Obfuscation is present in the command list, but mostly in that I don’t know what moves do. Deadpool’s Level 3 Super looks pretty funny, but I have no idea what it is because the game doesn’t tell me what it does. All I did was stroll forward in training mode. I’m not saying I need a super guide to everything provided free of charge, but I would like to know if a move is used as a counter or dodges fireballs or suplexes bears or whatever.

The final boss is complete bullshit, but that’s to be expected in fighting games for some reason.

The last game played was Top Spin 4, the 2K sports tennis game for the Playstation 3. I lost a three set match as Rafael Nadal to Andy Roddick, which is fine, except it was on Very Easy and I lost the first set 3-0 despite having played all of the basic tutorials. TS4 is bizarre to play, and here’s why.

Over the course of 25 years of playing games, from getting my 8-bit Nintendo at the age of 5 through today, where I play 8-bit Nintendo games on Virtual Console, I have been taught one all-encompassing thing about playing games. Buttons Do Stuff. Pressing buttons makes things happen. That’s a given, right? Not in Top Spin 4! No, in Top Spin 4 releasing buttons makes things happen.

To return a shot, you hold down a button for some time in advance of when you want to hit the ball, and then you release the button some time in advance of when you want to hit the ball. The game’s “helpful” hint system said something like “before you are halfway through your swing” you should release the button. Releasing too early OR too late means your shot is bad, meaning you will almost certainly hit out of bounds if you are trying to do anything more complicated than make contact.

Letting go of buttons sometime before you want to have a thing happen isn’t a complicated yet deep control system, it’s bad controls. When I hit a button, I expect something to happen. This game doesn’t do that, and it wants precise timing without telling you when that timing should be. It’s a surprisingly unhelpful control system with terrible communication to the player.

I don’t have time for obfuscation, which is why Top Spin 4 is being returned to Amazon, and I can use the credit from it and another game or two to get Guild Wars 2. It’s not from a paycheck, I can do that!

The Dawning Of A New Era (or something like that)

Blame “Baba Yetu” for this idea, because it’s entirely too inspirational to start the day.

I turned thirty last week. It’s a big, scary, round number, the kind of age that comes with raised insurance premiums, midlife crises, and then raised insurance premiums for the car purchased to combat the midlife crisis. I spent my birthday money, a portion of my tax return, and the overall present roundup on the kind of video game haul my younger self would be salivating over: a Playstation Vita, Nintendo 3DS, and about seven games. This could be a sign that I am not taking thirty well, except this is basically how I treat any money I come into after filling out the savings account, and I did so here, too. I’m always like this.

That ridiculous influx of new video games may make this next proclamation fall a little flat, but it’s still one I’m holding to. I will not purchase another video game or piece of DLC this year with money I have earned from a paycheck. There is plenty of stuff I want this year; Gungnir and Growlanser are looming threats this summer for my all-time favorite portable system, the PSP, and then there’s Assassin’s Creed 3 and Bioshock Infinite this October, not to mention Guild Wars 2 if that should come out this year. I want all of these video games, and since E3 hasn’t happened one can only imagine what I will come out of that conference desperate to own.

But if I want them, I have to earn it. And to earn them, I have to publish something. I’m about ninety-five percent certain I’m going to take Popular Anarchy the self-publishing route, but I don’t know a whole lot about that. So I’m going to see about publishing a few things between now and then; a few short stories, perhaps another genre under a pen name, whatever else comes to mind. I’m going to learn more about self-publishing in the process, and I’m going to document that here to shamelessly promote whatever it is that I write.

Most every writer shares a dream, to be able to support themselves and their family on their writing. I’ve got that dream, but I also know that’s a long ways off and to get there I have to, y’know, do something. This gets that started, and if my writing can at least support my hobby, I’ll be happy.

Anyway, I’ve got work to do. If I’m going to get to play these games, I’ve got words to put down on paper. Soon as I stop watching these Guild Wars 2 preview videos…