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The Case for Guild Wars 2

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On Jumping the Shark #139, while talking about upcoming releases, we rather clumsily stumbled around next week’s release of Guild Wars 2. I say “clumsily” only because none of us have really paid enough attention to the mechanics of the game to really know what it’s supposed to be all about. We know it’s an MMO, and in a time when most of the big MMO’s are barely modest derivations of every other MMO/WoW, what else is there to know? The game not having a monthly subscription model isn’t remotely reason enough to buy it. So, Garion333 helpfully posted this link in the podcast’s comments section. It leads to a page loaded with Guild Wars 2 info written for people who aren’t familiar with Guild Wars. This one might really be different, folks. Watch the video above and check the site if you want details that are actually detailed.

For me, here’s the thing – I’m not sure it’ll matter…

Watching the video and reading more about Guild Wars 2 gave me all sorts of favorable impressions. This game targets a lot of the bigger problems I have with MMOs. They’re throwing out the Kill 10 Foozles quests, they’re putting in dynamic quest chains that are capable of spreading across regions so that everybody in the room isn’t repeating the same actions over and over again. If a town is decimated in your quest then that town is decimated for everyone else too, whether they participated or not. That’s pretty damn cool. I haven’t fully read up on the combat model yet, but it’s clearly not the hack-a-skill and wait-for-cooldown tedium we’ve all come to know and be bored with. And they’re specifically designing the game so as to not have to deal with The Grind of spending hours upon hours leveling up your character just to get to that 30 minutes of gameplay that’s actually cool. (Cough. Star Wars. Cough.)

Combine that sort of stuff with a model that has no monthly fee nor (I don’t think) a micro-transaction-driven economy and suddenly the game looks like it’s worth a look when it releases next week.

So how come I’m on the fence? I hate to say it, but because it’s an MMO. I don’t mean that in a smug “all MMO’s are shit” kind of way. I’ve been giving this a lot of thought this week as I try to decide if I’m going to buy Guild Wars 2. The problem is that the big reason I play RPGs is that I like fantastical stories and not just stories, but stories with a beginning, middle, and an end. I want a place to start and a place to finish because that’s what a story demands. If it doesn’t end, how do I know when I’m done?

Sure, I can just be done when I tire of the place, but that’s not really my point. What would the story of Witcher 2 be if it didn’t have an ending? Or Ultima V? Or Baldur’s Gate II? Endings don’t just let you know when you’re (probably) done playing the game. A great ending is the culmination of everything you’ve put into the game. It is pure satisfaction (or frustration). Just playing around in a sandbox until you get bored isn’t the same and knowing that there will be no climax to my adventure in Guild Wars 2 makes it hard for me to want to suit up for it in the first place, no matter how good the experience of playing might be.

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On the other hand, I was a big fan of Mount & Blade and there are some elements to how the Guild Wars 2 world works that seem like an intriguing MMO parallel. Here’s a rather sizable quote from the Mass Info page:

Dynamic Events – So there are no quests in GW2, you never go to an NPC and read a wall of text that says for you to go collect 10 bear furs. You see content as it happens, right in front of you and everyone else. Well how am I supposed to level you ask? The answer to that is Dynamic Events. They’re always happening everywhere around you, when you come across one you’ll get a notification that there are new events nearby. Dynamic Events are structured so that you might see a single one-off event all the way to 20 events within a chain. Though a chain isn’t a very accurate description, they’re more like tree branches. Events aren’t merely black & white though, it’s not as simple as Event 1 goes into Event 2 and then Event 3.

Let me give you an example:

Say there’s a Dredge army making their way out of their base. You could possibly get together with people and defeat the Dredge allowing you to push into their base, defeat their commander, rescue captured soldiers, and then even defend the base against rallying Dredge who try to retake it.

Now let’s say you either ignore or fail to kill the Dredge army, that army will then create a base in friendly territory, they’ll build walls, create siege weaponry for defense, etc. They’ll then send out bands of Dredge to sack nearby towns, they might send out a sniper to the nearby hills to kill merchants. Now it’s your job to defeat them, destroy their new base, liberate any taken towns, and even then push back to their original stronghold. This all stems from ONE single event, the Dredge army marching from their base and there are 1,600 of these events currently, all hand scripted.

On top of all of this ArenaNet has said things aren’t going to just respawn 5 minutes later, events can take hours, days, weeks, and even months to be back in the same exact way you may have seen it originally. Also, this has to take into account player interaction, if no player does anything the enemy will still move on and conquer the world whether you’re there or not. Events also affect other events like a chain reaction, some events can have zone wide consequences, some are triggered through player interaction with an NPC or an object in the world, weather systems, day & night cycles, etc. Nor does this take into account the different experiences you’ll have playing with different profession combos making even those experiences unique due to profession synergy.

This, to me, is a lot like what I loved most about Mount & Blade. The world moved forward and how much you participated in that was up to you. If a lord laid siege to a castle I could go help the besieged, or join the group running the siege, or I could just go on my merry and the siege would resolve itself. The idea that the Guild Wars 2 world could operate this way is intriguing as all get out. The flip side of this is the world of Mount & Blade does wait for me when I’m not actually playing the game. If I leave it for a week, what I go back to is the same world I left behind. If I leave Guild Wars 2 for a month and come back, will I be completely lost? I don’t think I want a game that I have to keep playing all the time in order to know what’s happening in the world.

So, will I be joining up when the game comes out? I haven’t the foggiest. I haven’t, however, ruled it out and that is more than I can say for most MMO releases.



Diaries of The Secret World #1

I rarely play more than a single MMO at a time, and, if the past week of playing The Secret World is any indication, Guild Wars 2 is going to have some ferocious competition when it arrives. I’ve been aching for a good MMO set in a modern world. The Secret World still has swords and sorcery, but the combination of Lovecraftian horror, secret societies, and grand storytelling has firmly planted its teeth.

I had some initial doubts. The sight of everyday citizens dual-wielding pistols and performing backflips stands in stark contrast to the gloom and grime of the atmosphere. And, unless your goal is to create a Gordan Freeman doppelganger, a blue-haired clubber, or a half-naked hottie, character creation is bland. This is especially surprising given the variety of NPCs. The voice-acting is heavy on poetic exposition, but NPCs are distinctively memorable and they effectively instill The Secret World with a livelihood that boxes of text can’t match.

The introductory segment falls short in both excitement and explanation, leaving you to navigate a miserably planned Help section. Here’s a tip for future UI designers: if your document contains numerous sub-menus, a ‘Back’ button is mandatory. It’s not as if the menu system is all that helpful anyway; nearly skipping the process of Assembly (crafting), breezing through the ability system, and neglecting other key details. For any questions, the in-game web browser is greatly appreciated, and makes a person wonder how such a feature is not yet a staple of the genre.

The seaside town of Kingsmouth is the most engaging starting zone I have encountered in an MMO. I have yet to feel the jaded cynicism that early missions tend to inspire. The usual tropes, such as ‘defend this’ or ‘kill that’ or ‘go there,’ are brilliantly masked. You don’t ‘just’ kill zombies. You dump napalm in the sewers and bludgeon the burning remnants. Instead of escorting a courier, you watch him get mangled and then follow the blood trail to retrieve the package. Even the simplest of side-quests, of which there are plenty hidden throughout the town, have a wonderful tendency to expand upon the overarching storyline.

Investigative missions are particularly worth mentioning. These are missions that require players to utilize the in-game web browser to find clues beyond the confines of the game. Clues might be hidden in dummy websites created specifically for The Secret World, or they may be based in real-world trivia. The nature of search engines makes me question the longevity of this system though; the more people search for clues, the higher particular topics are ranked, such as guides for The Secret World.

When the missions in The Secret World fail, they fail hard. There are a few notoriously buggy quests, which are to be expected. My main concern is with quests that both require and assume, without any indication, that you are simultaneously performing other specific quests, or that you are looking in a specific direction to notice a vital clue. Fail to follow the developers’ invisibly assumed path and enjoyment quickly transforms into frustration. I can only hope that such instances are the exception and not the norm.

What surprises me most is not only how long I have been in Kingsmouth, but that I have yet to grow tired of the town. I already know the streets and much of the terrain by heart, and yet, I still look forward to the few missions that I have yet to complete. Whereas my focus in other MMOs has been on progression, on completing the next quest and moving to the next section, The Secret World has managed to make me care about the well-being and stories of its inhabitants.

Funcom Announces New LEGO MMO

PR Ahead:

Funcom, a(n) world leading independent developer and publisher of online games, is excited to announce that the company has signed a license agreement with the LEGO Group, one of the world’s most successful manufacturers of play materials, to develop a massively multiplayer online game based on the popular LEGO Minifigures franchise.

The massively multiplayer online game that Funcom will develop based on the LEGO Minifigures franchise will focus on maximum accessibility. Funcom and the LEGO Group will work together to make the game available to consumers in their online channels and will be coordinating activities to provide a broad and enhanced experience for the product line. (I have no idea what that even means.) The game will be a prominent part of the LEGO Minifigures online experience which already has millions of unique visitors per month.

“The market for family-friendly online experiences intended for children and youngsters is brimming with potential,” says Funcom CEO Trond Arne Aas. “Being able to work with a world-renowned brand such as the LEGO® brand to develop an MMO for this audience is incredibly exciting to us as game developers and for Funcom as a company. This is source material we all know and love and we simply cannot wait to get started working with the LEGO Group on realizing this exciting project.”

For more information about Funcom visit More information about LEGO Minifigures can be found on the official website.