GW2: Underwater Done Right

Overheard on map chat: "Seeing all this tuna makes me hungry."

I could spend the better part of my days in GW2 submerged under the sea. It’s like a dream come true for me.

A little historical background to help you understand where I’m coming from. That MUD I used to play, the equivalent of first MMO ever?

It had a fairly unique fantasy race for player characters, the sea-elves.

Call it chance, fate, destiny, whatever, the character I ended up using to make a big name for myself on the MUD was a female sea-elven cleric. She ended up leading the Guild of Clerics for a time, and was heavily involved with roleplaying with a bunch of other sea-elves in a certain golden age.

Along with several other players, we co-created a lot of sea-elven lore and history and even language, based a little off D&D, but putting our unique spin on things (since in D&D, sea-elves tended to be primitive naked warriors, and our MUD allowed for sea-elven clerics and mages, so presumably, our race was a lot more sophisticated than that.)

I also co-built a racial hometown with a fellow sea-elven player, which in those days, involved a lot of text to describe each “room.”

Suffice to say, I spent a lot of time thinking about being underwater, looking at undersea and ocean pictures of both the real and fantastical variety, and trying to put that into words.

It’s a little ironic that now I’m making the cat spend so much time underwater. But he’s a weird cat that uses magic and likes rats, so I guess it’s par for the course for him.

One of the things that always struck me was how different each undersea landscape could look, and how sea-elves would doubtless use varied things as landmarks and have their own subtle set of descriptors to describe in detail things that we generalize together and call it coral, or seaweed.

More than a decade later, Guild Wars 2 has brought that aesthetic into a fully realized 3D world. You have no idea how deliriously happy I am.

(I’ve spent so long reading every scrap of underwater fantasy resource I could get my hands on, most of them D&D based. It’s a world that deserves so much exploration. And in the real world, it’s like our last unexplored frontier, so there’s so much fantastic potential to be imagined up there. It’s like the Moon and Mars before people really got there to see it was just a lot of rocks.)

Again, words fail me. I could say awesome, spectacular, fantastic and keep repeating it, but it’s probably easier to just show you what I mean.

Ok, I cheated, this is a end of beta weekend pic. Everyone turned into Branded, and if you went underwater, you became a Branded fish. Focus on the shallow water, dirt and sand, if you can.

I’m sure we’ve all seen the lake and river bottoms by now. They’re fairly normal, what we expect from going underwater, that sort of thing (if underwater had that many barracudas and drakes and sharks, that is.)

I’m a big fan of the seagrass. The oh so pretty seagrass.

The sea bottoms are deeper and sandy and full of crabs and that kind of stuff. So far, so good, it’s a bit like what Rift did, if I recall correctly. Possibly WoW too.

Then you plunge into the arctic ocean of Frostgorge Sound and your breath is taken away by how DEEP it gets.

No doubt, it doesn’t hold a candle to the real thing, but it’s the comparative effect. Divinity’s Reach is not as big as a real city, but for an MMO, it’s certainly huge on that relative scale. And the ocean floor is quite a ways away. You have to actually swim downwards a bit and feel the light quality changing and you hit the dimmer rocky bottom to see undersea wurms making their home there. Ick.

I love the depth. It makes it feel so real, that there’s a underwater world on par with the land one, full of mountains and gorges that you can swim through.

The most cavernous dark depths seem to be reserved for the krait-infested waters, full of decaying ship wrecks.

The verticality is very thrilling.

Light at the top and dark below, and closed in on both sides. Awesome underwater canyon effect.

And guess what, because everyone and their mother hates going underwater, and never attacks yellow mobs that don’t aggro on them, this is what you can reap from an arctic jellyfish (with an xp booster I threw on for the hell out of it, it came out of one of those chests the personal story key unlocked.)

Me, I love underwater combat. I like the three dimensions fighting, it makes it feel different from the usual landlocked combat we’ve always had in MMOs. I’m already used to flight and fighting aerial stuff in City of Heroes, so underwater is pretty much a slower version of that in a liquid-feeling medium. Perhaps some don’t like that slowness, but I’m ok with it, I’ve spent too long a time imagining how sea-elves fought, and it adds a bit of strategy to the positioning.

(There’s an underwater boss at the end of the Font of Rhand mini-dungeon, and pretty much the moment he throws a fireball at you, you have to be swimming out of the way, so that you don’t regret it 3 seconds later when the water boils around you. It’s a little too late then to think “ouch” and -start- swimming away.)

Then there’s the people who think underwater combat is slow in the sense that it takes a long time to down mobs and the bosses. Yeah, because everyone is using a RANGED option.

Guild Wars 2 is truly revolutionary in the sense that they made melee combat higher damage over ranged combat (in general.) Typical MMOs allow the cloth wearing spellcasters to sit comfortably at the far end of the room raining down death, while the plate armored warriors just spend their time plinking away doing nothing significant in terms of damage, but all in terms of keeping the mob facing away from the clothies.

It makes a lot more sense that melee combat involves higher risk – you’re going near a mob that can whack you back – and thus, higher reward in terms of damage dealt. Bursty close combat. Meanwhile those sitting at comparatively more safety far away can do sustained moderate dps. Control and support abilities are everybody’s responsibility.

Underwater combat works in the same way. As a Guardian, I have an option of a spear and a trident.

The trident is a long ranged weapon that fires a chain of light that bounces off mobs and allies, damaging mobs and healing allies. It doesn’t do terribly fantastic damage, it does some, but it’s primarily a long ranged support weapon. I use it when I want to remain at range, when I see allies meleeing near an underwater mob (so that it’ll bounce off the mob and heal them some) and ironically, I use it up close for myself when I want to out-tank a mob and dps it down uber slowly. (The light bounces off the mob and into me, healing me, so I sit there facetanking it for a while. Ordinary mob, mind you, not bosses, those are un-tankable. It’s my secondary killing option when using a spear does too much damage to me.)

The spear is the close range option. It’s pretty much the equivalent of melee, except they were kind enough to give some range on the thing so it’s not too aggravating fighting in three dimensions and trying to position just right. I’m a Guild Wars 1 paragon player, so I’m very used to spear chucking at mid range. It’s what to use to deal loads of damage fast. I use it for most normal underwater mobs, and the odd boss or two if I see the opportunity to get up close without getting whacked too hard. It actually has a retreat option (spear wall) that I don’t use often enough, so there’s still a long way to go on mastering this weapon.

I haven’t looked at the other classes (or Professions, if you’re a stickler for nomenclature) much, but it strikes me that most of them have a spear as the close range high damage option. The only two exceptions are the engineer and the elementalist, and as far as I understand it, an engie with grenades and bombs underwater is a beast, and elementalists have high damage ranged spells as an option all the time anyway.

If everyone chooses to use their long range support or control weapons to nickle and dime an underwater boss beastie down, then yeah, it’ll go slower than usual. But on the other hand, it’ll also go a lot safer and more supported/controlled and it’ll still go down in the end. Being used to tanks and outlasting a mob by carving away at it really slowly, I can’t see anything wrong with that strategy either. Want it to go faster cos you’re impatient? Then take some risks and get up close.

And some days, the mob comes close to you. (My beta weekend lowbie engineer with a harpoon gun who would much rather it didn’t.)

Back in my MUD days, we made ourselves Five Kingdoms of the sea-elves – Coral, Pearl, Gold, Obsidian and Ice. From what I remember, the Coral Kingdom was the ruling political entity with a Queen on the throne and the cosmopolitan one, Pearl was a secondary shadow of Coral, a farming region and noted for its pearl products, and Gold was a kingdom of merchants and wealth-obsessed folk.

Obsidian and Ice were the most unique. The Obsidian Kingdom was a city of spellcasters, who raised up towers by causing undersea lava vents to erupt and cool in the ocean to form spires of black volcanic glass. The Ice Kingdom was the most seemingly primitive of the lot, known for warriors and hunters up in the arctic regions, but maintained a culture of ice shapers and city crafters who carved their homes and beautiful architecture right out of glacial ice.

I always used to imagine at least one city carved right out of an iceberg, both below and above sea-level, and sea-elves being able to enter from both directions.

Kodan sanctuaries come pretty close. Not entirely, of course. There’s a lot more man-made architecture (that looks flavored by an eastern Factions vibe) and sails on these kodan city vessels, and there’s obviously less of an elven aesthetic. But the general idea is pretty thrilling enough.

And here’s a super-mini-version of what I imagine the Obsidian Kingdom must look like. Lava and black rock.

Then there are the kelp forests. The beautiful towering kelp forests.

And the bioluminescent lights.

Finally, one of my favorite poems is Edgar Allan Poe’s The City in the Sea.

All I can say is, wait until you get to Orr. I won’t spoil it for you here.

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5 thoughts on “GW2: Underwater Done Right

  1. [...] is funny writing this now as Jeromai of Why I game recently had nothing but a glowing report regarding underwater environments and combat but i do [...]

  2. [...] Jeromai describes why he loves the underwater environments so much in GW2. I think I’d love them more if they were less full of barracudas. [...]

  3. Tesh says:

    This looks fantastic, thanks for sharing the screenshots! I’m a fan of 3D combat as well… maybe because I grew up on Wing Commander, Privateer and Descent. It definitely takes more focus, but I think it’s worth it for the feel of being in a fully realized world.

  4. Aeolius says:

    If you truly want to hear a proper reading of “City in the Sea”, listen to Vincent Price’s reading in “War-Gods of the Deep”. As for me, I have been running undersea D&D games since 1998. When it comes to virtual seas, there is a thriving sea folk community on Second Life.

  5. […] In between dancing around with glee with the thought that we might be seeing more hints of Bubbles the as-yet-unexplored-in-the-lore Elder Dragon and the prospect of possibly more underwater combat sophistication and skills and new underwater zones (I’m weird, I know!) […]

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