Thursday, May 26, 2011

Guild Wars 2- The NEXT Big Thing?

I am a lousy blogger. There, I have said it.

It has taken me this long to relate what has been going on in my gaming (and otherwise) life, from the time I was in Rift beta, until now. I apologize for this, and promise that it will not happen again... I hope. I find it odd that someone who LOVES writing and blogging, should be so lazy as to not even update his own blogs (of which there are three currently). I have no excuses... I offer no reasons but to say, I am a lazy so and so.

Please accept my humble apology, and let us move on. What I want to talk about today is BIG... Could revolutionize the whole MMORPG industry as we know it. So, are we cool now? Yes? Ok... good. Let's move on.

Rift is now in the rear view mirror. Do not get me wrong, it is a spectacular game. It is functionally beautiful, masterfully created, and aesthetically eyecatching. Rift was a lot of fun! I really do admire Trion's commitment to excellence, and desire to set the MMORPG world aflame with something better. They have succeeded in many ways, and deserve all the praise and accolades they have garnered thus far. I cannot recommend the game enough to people. So where did I go wrong in Rift?

Well... I got bored.

YEAH REALLY! I got to level 50. I explored all zones, and got the badges for them. Did all the missions in all the zones, till I could not find a single NPC with a (!) over their heads... Went through the instances dutifully, some a bit more than others mind you, and came out the other end of the leveling grind with the title "Level 50", and the feeling that instead of gearing up for the "real start of the game", that I just wanted to lay down right here and take a long nap. That is just what I did... I laid Belenos down... and took a long nap. Subscription quietly lapsed... and never looked back.

Suffice to say, I have NEVER had this happen before in any game. I am not one who simply bounces around from pillar to post on a whim. I do not have ADHD, no offense to anyone who does, but I am capable of focusing sharply and intently on something I desire. I stick to things for the LONG term... Not as a passing fancy. So what went wrong with Rift? It felt like more of the same.

I went through seven years of grinding in SWG (and EQ2), and while in those games I did feel a sense of accomplishment for eventually reaching the top level, when I was able to reach 50 in Rift within a month, what I thought would be opening the floodgates to the rest of the game, resonated differently with me. Instead of WANTING to experience all that lvl 50 had to offer, it had just the opposite effect to me. I realized once I hit 50 there was no real goal for me at that point. I  did not fancy running tier 1 or tier 2 instances. I am not a huge pvper, so the prospect of doing that ad infinitum is a turn off for me. The world was explored.... so now what? Even the guild had gotten so big that I really did not fit in the scheme of things anymore. Granted I did say I wanted no part in the actual running of it. It lessened the shock when I told them I was not going to be in Rift for an extended period of time.

Just like that, Belenos the legend of the Trion Forums... man with over 5000 posts... disappears silently in the night.

So what have I been doing? Well... EVE Online for starters. Most folks cannot get into that game because its steep learning cliff appears insurmountable.

For the most part they are right. CCP (the company behind EVE Online) is known for taking the high road, and doing things that most gaming companies would consider shooting themselves in the foot. Yet somehow EVE still retains a cult following. They still manage to grow in leaps and bounds, despite the love it or hate it attitude that seems to pervade the community at large... and let me tell you, the EVE community is at once visceral, and vicious! I have to admit, I like EVE Online, and especially with the coming introduction of the Incarna update (where for the first time in the 8 year life of the game, characters will get to walk around OUTSIDE their ships), I can see this continuing to gain my meager monies each month... If only to log in and see just what is going on in the galaxy. I have plans of opening my own Gallente Nightclub... We'll see how well that works. Granted I will never be a huge megacorp with tracts of galactic "land" many systems wide... But I have my own plans to eke out my little slice of EVE Pie. Let's just say EVE appeals to the back room capitalist in me.

A couple weeks ago, something caught my eye...

Back in Rift beta the question was asked a lot about which games were most anticipated, and repeatedly the acronym GW2 kept rising to the forefront. I did not give it a second thought. I was there for Rift. Like a mosquito, determined to get past my ears and into my bloodstream, i kept hearing it... GW2... GW2. Ok what the hell is GW2?!?!

Guild Wars 2. Ok... big deal... it's another freaking MMORPG. Probably another "WoW Clone" (I am so sick of those two words by the way. I have never even played WoW!). Then I started watching the little profession videos they have up on their website... and reading some of the lore they have going on in this little game of theirs. Hmm...

Then I run across this.

Whoa. Are they for real? Are you kidding me? Let me summarize the points going on in this video, and how it seems way too good to be true!

So let me get this straight. Here are a bunch of gamers who just HAPPEN to also know game code (due to working at Blizzard), and they decide to question everything that has for over a decade been considered the holy grail of gaming? They want to take out the holy trinity of Tank / Healer / DPS, giving every single class the opportunity to have a bit of all three embedded within. They want to give ME my own personalized story to follow that is intertwined with the grand story arc of the game itself? They want to remove the old "kill 10 rats" paradigm and replace it with TRULY dynamic content that not only has an impact on the world around me, but scales in relation to the parties involved?!?! They want to create a community that cares about itself and its world???

Ok what kind of drugs are you on Arenanet?!?! How is this possible? How can you be espousing ALL the things that have frustrated us as gamers with games even as recent as Rift itself, claiming to have the solutions. How can you build a world based on concept art and have it look even remotely gorgeous as I see this one is. It looks as if I would be walking through a masterpiece.

More importantly, why is it that someone like Ree Soesbee does NOT have her own dedicated temple and shrine yet??? WTS- ME!

Needless to say, I have begun in earnest to learn everything I can about Guild Wars 2. I want to know it all... the professions, the languages, the backstory, the maps, everything. So far I have discovered 10 things about Guild Wars 2 that not only turn me on to the game, but has me riveted, thinking this JUST MIGHT be the one I have been searching for. In no particular order, here they are:

1- There are children. Yeah, you read that right... there are CHILDREN! I made the mistake of asking on the Trion forums why there were no kids on Telara... and basically got ridiculed and all but accused of being a pedophile. I am a parent, as those who are familiar with me already know. As a gamer, and a fan of fantasy and lore, one thing that to me determines a healthy world over a doomed one, is the presence of children. Children denote the future, and denote hope! Telara has none. The many worlds of SWG had none. There are quite a few games that have no children at all. Guess what... Guild Wars 2... has children. They do not even need to explain why they are there, merely their presence indicates to me that this is a company that has thought about the future of their product and their fantasy world in general. A world with children is a world worth saving.

2- I see black people. OH LAWD HERE HE GOES! Drew is playing the race card again!!! For all the forum controversy of "why are there black Norn", merely the fact that there are indicates to me that Arenanet is looking at the big picture. Not every gamer has porcelain skin, and teutonic features, and some of us MIGHT want to have our avatars look just a little like our real world selves. Perfect example of this is my avatar in Eve Online. (see below) If you recall my blogs on Rift, I basically went through two whole beta sessions before concessions were made to allow me to create a character as dark as I wanted him to be. When it was introduced, it was done with zero fanfare, and was not even listed in the patch notes as being possible. It was a "pleasant surprise". It should have been there from the get go.

Handsome devil, isn't he?

3- Epic city is EPIC! One of the major complaints about Rift was in the size (or lack thereof) of the major cities. Both Sanctum and Meridian could be explored completely in less than five minutes, and a large number of players were left thinking that perhaps Trion may have left out the remainder of the cities in favor of the little villages that made the final cut. I make no bones about loving architecture. It was my first major in college, and although I eventually switched to art, I have had a love of buildings to this day. It stands to reason then that in my gaming, I love to explore cities. I want to be floored by something larger than myself. I want to get lost in dark alleys, or stand atop citadels looking out as far as I can see. I want to get to know the personality of a city, and feel like I am in the midst of something bustling, something alive, something BIG. Guild Wars 2 appears to be delivering on this. The scale of the cities is nothing short of massive. While other new games such as Tera also boast huge cities, there is something aesthetically pleasing about what Arenanet is offering us to call home. Even the gateway town of Lion's Arch is nothing short of jawdropping. (see vid below)

4- Care about your world. This one is vastly overlooked by many MANY companies and games. When was the last time you actually cared what happened to an NPC, let alone a vendor? Well NPC... no not really Drew, he could drop dead for all I care... As for vendor... depends, is he selling anything I need? That is the kind of attitude I see a lot in games. No one cares what happens to the game assets unless there is something in it for them. As part of the Guild Wars story, there is such a thing as KARMA! Brilliant... who would have thought. The vendor you help today, may just give you a deep discount, or better yet goods for free, because he REMEMBERS the time you saved his ass from the horde of marauding centaurs. He remembers how you revived him from near certain death! He's gonna tell others and they are gonna like you too! Pretty soon the whole damn town is erecting a statue in your honor... all because you actually took the time to care about your world and the people in it. Who thinks of this stuff? Why has it not been done before in games to this level?

** Note- Karma is a currency that is earned and can be used in some cases exclusively to purchase goods at vendors.**

5- Less UI = Happy screen. Ok Eve Online, I am talking to you... how you take so much screen? If there is one thing I hate, it is when my UI and chatboxes take up soooo much room that I can barely see myself or the mob I am supposed to be fighting. I can multitask like the best of them, but seriously, does everything need to be on a HUD for me? Can't I just enjoy the world, and keep the key elements that I need visible? GW2 shows me 10 icons on my hotbar. Yes, 10. 5 of them change depending on what weapon I have equipped. Yes.. they CHANGE! If I pick up a bucket of water... I now have a hotbar skill to use said bucket. I do not need 10 hotbars (thanks though Rift)... just one. Not to mention that one button is ALWAYS a heal!

6- Sick of being "the Healer/the Tank". The straw that broke the camel's back for me in Rift was when I did Abyssal Precipice twice. The first time with all guildies, and we managed to get about halfway through before our inexperience with the instance caused us to epic fail. The second time we completed it with a PUG (pick up group), but it was hardly exciting for me. Both times I went in as "the tank". I have never claimed to be sterling as a tank, and I am totally lost if it is my first time in somewhere, as I have not had the chance to learn what to do and where to go. I could not be the healer because there is always a dedicated healer, and let's face it, being DPS, you may as well just say you are along for the ride. You have no real purpose. In the second run I was replaced halfway as tank because, well... I could not tank satisfactorily. Ok I get that, I sucked as a tank in that instance. Now I have no purpose.  So here we have Guild Wars 2 saying, the holy trinity of tank- healer - dps has been rebuked! You have all the skills you need, are responsible for your own healing, can coordinate with anyone around you to achieve common goals and do NOT need to sit around spamming LFG TANK! This means I can learn my class to MY liking, not to yours. I can play my class with the expectation that I will help in any situation, and not feel beholden to anyone for being there "taking up space". I like this. Did I mention anyone can rez anyone?

7- Not my node, my loot, my mob, but OURS. What kinda hippie lovefest, carebear crap is this? Are you telling me that I can tag the nearest mob, burn it with fire, and you burn it with lightning, we BOTH kill it, we BOTH get full xp for it, AND BOTH get full loot? Do you seriously want me to believe Arenanet, that I can mine this here rock with the copper stripes, and have joe and bob over there also mine the same rock, and we ALL get the full amount of resources contained within, without detracting from the others' experiences? That is literally unheard of in MMORPGs today. That alone is a win.

8- Wait... Races get starting areas? Number one complaint in Rift was that you could play one of three races per faction. Each race started in the same exact area... making replayability akin to Groundhog Day. While I totally understood WHY this was done, there was no real attempt to make you understand why you are a part of said race that you chose. There was no connection to your culture, nothing other than the fact that you look different from the next guy, and are on the same side because you started in Terminus over Mathosia. Well you know what? It is NOT alright for me to not know the ramifications of my choosing a race. I want to know that race's history. If I decide to be the aforementioned black Norn, I want to know more about why the Norn are the way they are. I want to experience life AS a Norn. I want to understand where they fit in the big picture, and  most importantly, I want to see the world and my home through Norn eyes. Wait... what? You can do this in Guild Wars 2?  SOLD!

Notice the black Norn... That'll be me.

9- Giant polar bears with swords. I want to see them. I find myself more and more intrigued by the NPC races in the game, as much as the playable races. The fact that this company is going to great lengths to tell us more about the species and races we will encounter in our travels, not only impresses me, but makes me feel like this will in fact be a living, breathing world. If I can be that dude who functions as ambassador to the giant polar bears (the Kodan), I will seek them out. Anyone who has ever read the children's book Snowland (I think that was the name of it), can attest to this... giant, talking polar bears are cool.

10- Big freakin dragons. Have you seen most of the dragons in other games? What should be epic seems... well... lacking. When I saw the above video, with the visions of "The Shatterer", the big purple and metal dragon coming down, I was impressed. Now I hear, oh that is just a lieutenant. The Elder Dragons are way bigger than him. SAY WHAT?!?!??!

I just fell out of my seat.

Watch this and you tell me... are they confounding us with "bovine excrement", or are they for real? By the way Arenanet... if you are for real... how bout you hire me please. At this point I do not care if I am the janitor, or quality assurance, or customer service. Just hire me! I am so not even kidding either. I have no college degree to speak of, but I know video games like a first language. Let me do for you what I know I can... that is help make this THE next big thing! It just might be worth moving from Pittsburgh to Seattle, if this game is as real as I think it is. This could revolutionize the entire gaming community.

At the very least, can you tell Ree that I'd like to worship her?

Guild Wars 2 is slated to go into beta testing some time in the second half of this year, 2011. I can hardly wait.

Did I mention this sucker is going to be FREE TO PLAY????

(Addendum, thanks to comments below. You DO need to actually BUY the game, but you will NOT pay monthly fees for access to it. That is free to play I can live with!)