Guild Wars 2 is in dire traits

Observation the first: “Dire” is an extremely fun word to use in almost any context.  “Those are dire scrambled eggs, mom!”

Observation the second: ArenaNet has made the look of Guild Wars 2 — especially its UI — so elegant and attractive that the competition looks downright shoddy in comparison.

Observation the third: I think I’m going to like GW2’s character growth system, AKA “traits.”  Not prepared to say LOVE it, but it got my attention.

ArenaNet posted an overview of how you’ll be able to modify your character as he or she levels up.  In a nutshell: Every level you get a point to spend in one of five trait lines for your class.  Each point increases two stats for your class.  Every fifth point unlocks a fixed, minor trait ability, and every tenth point gives you the choice of a major trait ability from a list.  It’s not terribly complicated, which is good, and it’s not quite a talent tree, which is probably also good at this point.

My initial impressions after looking at this was “Warhammer Online”, although EverQuest II’s AA system looked somewhat similar.  But it’s definitely more focused with just a few juicy rewards instead of loads of modifying ones.  Due to the number of points you’ll ultimately end up with, you’ll be able to max out two trait lines with some left over (or settle for a lesser amount across a greater range).  This should be pretty familiar to Guild Wars 1 players, since you’d be able to max out two lines there per class as well.

I can’t see spending gobs of time obsessing over the trait page, but it certainly opens up choice without seeming like it’s going to pigeonhole us into specific builds (although, give the community time on that, I know).  I really do like that we’ll get to CHOOSE a major trait ability from a list versus just having one handed to us.  Every ten levels promises to be a major event in your character’s life.

Yeah.

So.

Can this game come out already?  I can make room in my gaming schedule, promise.

The half-hour gamer

One of the reasons that I’m happy to be an MMO gamer in 2012 versus an earlier era is that my time has become extremely precious to me, and happily, most MMOs have changed to accommodate shorter gaming sessions.  It’s one way that MMOs have come into alignment with the rest of the video game industry, allowing us to play in both burst and marathon modes.

So not only do I have less time these days (and, come this September, baby #3 will probably eat into that a little more), but I’m enraptured by a wide range of titles.  The days of playing just one MMO are fading fast in the rearview mirror, and I’m constantly enticed by other titles when other players, bloggers, and friends talk about them.  What to do?

I’ve actually adapted something from my work day into my gaming day, which is to divide my time into 30-minute segments and allow those segments to structure my gaming time.  I know that my personality is such that I can get sidetracked by a single project for a long time while ignoring others, so at work I start the day by saying “From 9 to 9:30, I’ll do X, then from 9:30 to 10:00 I’ll do Y” and so on.  I end up being way more productive and don’t feel as overwhelmed.

Unless I’m looking to join in with groups or do longer content (say, dungeons), this applies terrifically to the MMO juggler.  Most nights I give each MMO under my wing a half-hour (sometimes a little more) of play before rotating to the next one, and it’s actually been a lot of fun.  Okay, sure, I don’t make huge amounts of progress in any one game in an evening, but a half-hour is a few quests at least — and those add up over the span of a week.  In Star Trek Online, it’s a good story mission.  In LOTRO, it’s a quest hub.  In SWTOR, it’s the next leg of my character story.  In Fallen Earth, it’s some crafting and exploration.

I guess it comes down to the drive to get to the endgame versus appreciating the journey and being okay with taking one’s time walking the road.  Sure, sometimes it’s a little jarring to shift every half-hour or so to a different game, especially if I was really getting into my groove, but I adapt quickly enough.  It’s also helpful to take notes on what goals I’m actively working towards in each game so that I don’t have to spend the first ten minutes trying to remember what I was doing last time and what I need to do now.

Not every night is divided up like this, either.  Sometimes I give myself permission just to focus on a single game if I’m feeling the urge to do so.  But more often than not, the revolving method comes into play, and it sort of feels more natural to do so — it’s how I used to play console games, swapping cartridges every so often during longer sessions.  Time should bow to the player, not the other way around, right?

Quote of the Day

“Simply put, Trion decided to scale back their original vision so that they could keep the standard MMO trappings that we have all known since WoW reared its head back in 2004. In short, they took the Half Measure.

Guild Wars 2 is also selling itself through its dynamic events. The same ideas that made Heroes of Telara so compelling are present throughout Guild Wars 2 but, where Trion scaled them back, ArenaNet looks to have embraced them. They went the Full Measure.”

~ Corpse Run

Smuggling the goods

Face it: Plans change.  As a gamer, it’s good to be flexible even if you’re an obsessive planner (like I am), and last week I came to the realization that I utterly disliked my Jedi Consular in SWTOR.  I had a great grand plan about playing all eight classes, but midway into Coruscant, I just wasn’t feeling it AT ALL with this dull-voiced, dull-personality twit who is part of an order that I openly mock on street corners to anyone willing to listen.  Jedi, schmedi — take your dandelion fluff balls of force and get a real job.

So I trusted my gut and got out of that abusive relationship.  I asked myself if I was just going to do one Republic character, ever, which one would I want to do to make sure I did it?  And does that sentence even make sense?  I’ve been horribly sick this past weekend, so I could just be typing on a banana right now, I don’t know.  But the answer was “Smuggler,” even though that is the counterpart of the Imperial Agent.  Gut said “Go!” and reroll I did.

Agent counterpart as it is, I was still like “oh yeahhhhh” when I started to play it.  It just fit me so much better than the Consular.  I love the attitude, the semi-selfish/semi-heart of gold personality, the fact that I’m outside of any military/pseudo-military organization, and blasters are just way more fun than lightsabers.  Plus, I got a blaster named “Flashy,” and that tickles me to no end.

I know the Smugglers are pretty darn popular, way more so than the Agents, but that’s fine.  They’re the blatant appeal to the Han Solo/Malcolm Reynolds/antihero escapist fantasies we admire in film and on TV, but that’s fine as well.  I’m going Gunslinger to try more of a DPS spec after my Operative’s healing spec, even though that goes counter to my hybrid-loving nature.  I kind of really like her: Captain Thursday has freckles, can be sassy all day long if the job requires it, and I get to run around with twin blasters going PEWPEWPEW like I’m seven years old playing G.I. Joe with friends in the backyard.

I’ve heard from others that Corso Riggs — your first companion — is a much-maligned character, but I’m kind of digging his Good ‘Ol Boy demeanor.  Plus, I chose a different head for him so that he didn’t look like he had held up a dreadlocks bank earlier that day.

I feel a lot more laid back leveling this time around, even though I really do want to get through the character story (in fact, I wouldn’t even mind a version of the game where that’s all you could do, especially for subsequent alts).  I know there’s some curiosity about the patch in March, with a lot of hopes that it will add some much-needed content and fixes across the board.  After experiencing Trion’s model last year, BioWare’s approach feels downright sluggish, with only one raid-centric patch released since launch.  You’d think with so many people working on this project that there would’ve been a lot more movement by now, but I guess there are other, more pressing concerns.

Nostalgia Lane: Starflight

Starflight was a game that was almost impossible for me to play, even though I loved it.  Let me explain.

One of the reasons I know I’m getting old is that I’m starting to say things like “Kids today didn’t know how it was when [archaic technology] was around,” which wins friends in all sorts of circles.  But the truth really is that most younger computer users today really have no idea how fickle and tricky PCs in the 80s and even early 90s could be.  They weren’t like consoles with games, where you just plugged in a cartridge and went at it; each title had requirements that, depending on your rig, could make it completely unplayable on your machine.  I know it’s like that now, but it certainly doesn’t seem as severe an issue as it was back then.  Computers were expensive, upgrading them was expensive, and just to get some of these programs to work required manually fiddling around with Autoexec.bat and Config.sys files (I even had a load screen menu created that would allow me to swap between them).

Starflight was brutal to run on our family’s aging computer, because we really were at the minimum required stats AND we had no hard drive.  This was an issue because, for whatever reason, Starflight didn’t have a friendly save-and-reload game system — that sucka was permadeath, all the way.  If you lost a game, you’d have to start over (or turn off the computer and reboot, hoping that it wasn’t saved at that point).  And because of the no hard drive situation, each new game required a set of copied floppy discs, since you really wouldn’t want to play on the originals, lose, and then never be able to play it again.  Add to that an obtuse copy protection wheel chart, and the whole game was a hassle from start to end.

And yet I loved it, because it really was the closest I could get to living out my Star Trek fantasies in video games at the time.  The premise was simple: You started out with some cash to equip a spaceship, you made up a crew compliment, and you went out into the stars for fame, fortune, and (in my case) gas.  I’ve heard there was a story somewhere, but I barely even knew what I was doing, so my main goal was to head to a nearby star system and mine for valuable minerals to haul back for meager upgrades and lots more fuel.  Sometimes I’d encounter an alien ship and then pee my pants because I’d get creamed, but it was an invigorating experience even so.

I’m recalling Starflight now because my recent adventures in STO have reminded me how attached I got to my crew and the concept of decking out a ship.  But unlike STO, outer space in Starflight was a truly daunting experience full of instant death at every turn.

I got so excited when they announced a sequel, but I think at the time I hadn’t purchase my own computer and the specs were way too high for our old one, so oh well.  Such is the life of a galactic captain.

As an aside, man was the manual weird:

I also want to say that when I was doing a bit of poking around regarding this game, when I saw the picture of the developers (Binary Systems) I had such a nostalgic rush.  I read this manual front to back many times, and this image was burned on my brain (what were they IN, by the way?  An actual spaceship?):

SWTOR: A new episode

You really only get one first time through the game, any game.  Any subsequent journey, no matter how hard you try to gun for different experiences, will never be as fresh and unknown as that original trek.  It’s just how it goes.

So rerolling a Jedi Consular (despite my dislike of Force classes, I’ve got a plan mapped out for how I’m going through all eight classes, so the Consular was next on the hit list) wasn’t quite the experience my Agent was on that first planet.  But it’s not half-bad, either.  Tython is quite easy on the eyes, and it amuses me to think that of all of the places in the galaxy to set up shop after getting their butts handed to them, the Jedi decided to camp out right next to flesh-eating cannibals.  (Aside: Is it really cannibalism if you’re eating a completely different — if sentient — species?)

My disdain for the Jedi Counsel knows no bounds, so I’m quite happy subverting it at every turn.  You two Padawans want to suck face?  Go for it!  Emotion?  Awesome!  I forget who pointed this out, but I agree — both the Sith and Jedi are screwed up because neither embrace love as a core virtue, so I really can’t respect either.

Probably the weirdest thing about rerolling in SWTOR is getting used to a new voice.  I went with the male Consular because I want to check out the romance (well, a bug-free version of it, at least), but I’m not quite sure if I like the voice actor (Nolan North).  His sound clips don’t seem to mesh as well with the conversation track as my Agent did, but it also just could be a period of adjustment.  I made him be a Mirakula for the fun of it, and it’s interesting trying to identify with a character that you never see his eyes.

As for the class itself, I’m not disliking it.  I’m planning on going DPS with the Sage, and after leveling a healer, it feels like a refreshing change to just focus on pumping out the pain.  It was kind of cool to get my first lightsaber and companion, although I really could do without going back to a very… slow… jog… after having my +100% vehicle.  Sprint can’t come back soon enough.

So we’ll see how it goes.  I’m definitely in no rush, dividing most of my play sessions in 30-minute chunks between the titles I’m into these days, so any one game’s progress is slowed down considerably.

Tyria, come out and plaaaaayay!

So the big talk of the morning is Guild Wars 2, as a press preview weekend ended and reviews have gone up all willy-nilly (cough).  It’s definitely inspiring, but I want to guard my heart so that I don’t completely fall into the deep end of the anticipool and drown before the game comes out.  I think I always have this notion in the back of my mind that GW2 is coming, it’s going to be awesome, and I’m going to enjoy it quite nicely… but I try to keep that back there.   I almost wish that it would launch small and quiet, because this seems like the sort of game that could explode just from word of mouth.

In any case, the articles I’ve read are really glowing and reinforce my feelings on the title.  I’m genuinely glad that ArenaNet is trying to escape MMO tropes and try elegant improvements on gameplay.  Combos, rallying, WvWvW, personal stories, skill bar setups — it’s all coming together to make a product that has a refreshingly new experience rather than just refreshingly polished approach.

What really grabs my beard and stares me in the eye are two separate elements, however.  First of all, I’m just in love with the abandonment of the holy trinity.  Letting everyone play together without fussing about roles so much as what you’re doing and how you’re doing it is an exciting prospect, and from what I’ve seen in these articles, it actually works.  A good team in GW2 isn’t a group of lone rangers trying to out-perform each other, but is an actual team that’s interconnected through skill combos, positioning, and tactics.  This is something I want to examine at length when I finally get into the game, but I’m just glad that I won’t be pigeon-holed into a role or penalized for grouping.  If a game’s going to make me want to group a majority of the time, I hope it’ll be this one.

The other attention-rousing element is how ArenaNet handles character creation.  Way back when, creating a character in an RPG was one of the most enjoyable aspects of it — you’d agonize over every detail, every choice, every mole and dimple.  Then somewhere along the line, devs got it into their heads that the process should be boiled down to pick a race, class, and head.  GW2’s approach, however, is to walk you through the steps of creating both your character and your character’s story, sort of a “choose your own adventure” that promises that affect the quests and events to come.  I saw this back at PAX Prime a while ago and instantly connected with the concept, because by the time I’ve entered the game world I’ve already gotten to know who my character is and what they’re about.

It’s probably not realistic to say that ArenaNet’s in an underdog position — it’s as much of a powerhouse studio with deep publishing pockets as anything else out there — but the approach they’re going with for GW2 feels like a protagonist of a film that’s trying to fight against the status quo and will ultimately end up in a stadium where hundreds of thousands are chanting its name and the music swells and Charr burn the landscape because that’s what Charr do.

Where are the flaws in GW2’s armor?  Maybe it’s too different from the current norm.  Maybe it’s too mired in its own fanbase to appeal to outsiders.  Maybe the dependency on dynamic events will create an uneven playing experience based on who’s around and what’s happening.  I dunno.  I’m not seeing a lot of negatives right now, however, and I am certainly cheering from the stands.

Rejecting the endgame

As with many of you, I suspect, the fun of MMOs for me is the journey and not the destination.  I’ve never, ever been a fan of the so-called “endgame”, with its repetition, small and sparse increases in character power, and its dissimilarity with the game that came before it.  There gets to be a point where you have everything  you need to be successful outside of raids (which are are vicious catch-22 loop of “you need more gear to raid more raids to get more gear”), and so I’m usually content investing my interest elsewhere.

This is particularly true in my current state as a gamer who operates in with a reduced time budget and has to make decisions between going all-out in one MMO versus casually in many, investing a ton of effort into maxing out a character for the heck of it or being satisfied that she can hold her own against solo content at the level cap, and Skittles versus Starburst.  (Skittles is the correct answer, by the way.)

Thus, hitting level 50 in SWTOR last night didn’t present a career crisis that I’ve gone through with other endgame characters in the past.  I’m fully aware of what SWTOR’s endgame is right now and have little desire to participate in it apart from the occasional flashpoint with guildies.  Instead, I’m going to wrap up my Agent’s adventures in her storyline, finish up with her companions’ stories, and move on to a second character.

I want to say that I’ve shown remarkable restraint sticking with just one character all the way through the game up to this point.  The alt itch is so strong that it’s almost irresistible, and I’m giddy at the prospect of trying a different class, storyline, and faction (next up is a Jedi Counsular, believe it or not).

I’m not especially down on SWTOR for its lackluster endgame because I was never under the impression that BioWare had somehow cracked the code to make story-based content infinitely repeatable and enjoyable at the max level.  Two months after launch and I’ve definitely still in the camp of “this is a great game, tremendously fun, needs work, it’s not perfect but it is one of the best storytelling MMOs I’ve ever seen.”

We’re waiting to see what BioWare has in store for more solo content come next month, and I am curious if they’ll be able to stay ahead of the curve of players devouring this hard-to-create content.  Probably not, but considering that I still have seven classes to go and with a current rate of two months-to-endgame, the studio has a year or so to crack that before I’ve tapped this well dry.  Looking at this year’s release schedule, I suspect that I’ll have a few detours in my future anyway, and having a couple untouched classes to eventually come back to in SWTOR seems like a smart idea.

As for the Agent, I do want to say that it turned out to be everything I hoped for and more — the story in particular has so many intriguing twists and turns that it would make a slam-bang Star Wars flick if wishes could make it happen.  Going healing spec was interesting but not horrible, as it allowed me to get through some incredibly difficult fights, but having the ability to stealth as an Operative is just bliss.  I don’t know how non-stealth classes do it, since sometimes you don’t want to fight every two feet toward your objective — you just want to get there.  Plus, it’s a fun mini-game trying to figure out how to creep by everyone without triggering their alarm, using your stealth abilities to help out with it.

Big thanks to my guild, the Imperial Mercenary Corps, for being a delightful and steady bunch of gamers who were always around for runs and chats.