My Particularly Fascinating Brand of Raiding Malaise…

I woke up at 8am today.

I forgot to eat until 8pm.

Perhaps this might help to explain why I’m so allergic to, and personally wary of raids.

Yes, I know it’s unhealthy. The first thing I thought when I finally looked at the time was “Oh god, not again…”

I play games. I’m not immune to how these games are designed.

It’s so easy to get carried away down the slippery slope of the uber hardcore…

It’s just for a few days, right?

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The Repetitive Nature of Games and Why Endgame is Elusive

Here we go round the mulberry bush...

Scree’s back! And the criticism this time is repetition.

Here’s the dirty little secret: games -are- repetitive.

One of the points of a game is that it lays out a set of rules and you repeat and iterate on the scenarios it presents you with till you get better at it and “beat it” or “win.” Games have a learning curve.

The nirvana that everyone is seeking is that perfect state of flow, where one’s skill level perfectly matches the level of challenge so that one is deeply engaged.

(Image from Wikipedia.)
(Image from Wikipedia)

Problem is, everyone is different.

One game’s level of challenge may match one player perfectly, while another may find the challenge too difficult and thus end up worried and anxious.

I’m not sure that graph is accurate on the lower scale, where relaxation is graphed at a higher skill level than boredom.

For some, it could be the other way around, where high skill level and low challenge leads to boredom, while a medium skill level and low challenge leads to finding the activity relaxing.

Then again, for others, it’s a lot easier to be bored than it is to really relax – one may need l33t Zen monk skills in meditation to achieve proper relaxation, while nearly anyone can be bored outta their effing mind on a regular basis.

It’s in the eye of the beholder, I suppose.

It really comes down to what kind of repetition you find fun (or will put up with) in order to do something that you feel is enjoyable.

Different people reach different answers.

Scree finds that PvP produces a new situation every time it occurs. Those who prefer PvP tend to claim that they are drawn to this because the skills used can be the same, but the opponents are different, creating sufficient variety for them.

I’m especially tickled because I somehow managed to find that WvW was too repetitive and burned myself out from the game format some time ago.

You see, personality-wise, I’m very low on the competitive Killer Bartle scale. I’m just not really interested in the whole metagame of guess and second-guess your opponent in order to get one-up on them and win. So my tolerance for repetition on things PvP tend to be rather low, a couple rounds played for fun and variety… done.

Even in that eden of PvP, Eve Online, the blogosphere has been exchanging a little quote of the day highlighting a core repetitive aspect of the game.

Getting from one place to another apparently involves a lot of the same steps repeated over and over – turn off and on autopilot, manually warp to zero per jump gate. The only variety is what manner of shark awaits you at each step.

For some, that’s enough to consist of quite an adventure, and they willingly acclimatize themselves to the game’s little repetitive quirks to get the bigger experience.

I’ve been playing Don’t Starve quite a bit over the last few days. I easily get to my second winter and often get to days in the 100+ range. But then, I turtle.

homesweetbase

I turtle A LOT. I don’t play RTS games on a competitive basis because I tend to derive more pleasure spending two hours teching up to EVERYTHING and then creeping in the equivalent of siege tanks or battlecruisers to slowly demolish the computer’s bases one building at a time over outsmarting a real life person, who can turn out to be exceedingly obnoxious, win or lose.

I get that a lot of clever people have discovered they can shortcut this process and created dozens upon dozens of other strategies they can use to win against another party trying to turtle, which leads to more counter-strategies to defend against this, which leads to more counter-counter strategies to get the upper hand, unsoweiter.

I get that this is a delightfully deep metagame for some.

I admire it from afar with videos and commentators to help me understand it, but I choose not to spend a good part of my life learning one game to such a high degree of focus.

Back to Don’t Starve. I build a base. Preferably near 5-6 rabbit holes.

I expand it. I make a little tooth trap alley to the side to fend off hounds.

icallitthehoundnommer

I engage in tons and tons of repetition, including chopping wood for a day or two, gathering grass and twigs for another day, checking on my nearby spider den with pigs (aka silk farm) to make sure it won’t ever overgrow into a Spider Queen, catch and cook meals for another day or two, spend another day or two figuring out and reaching the next source of rocks and flint – just to prep for an expedition that may extend me into unexplored territory and necessitate a secondary base/firepit or an overnight stay not-at-home-base with a campfire.

When Winter comes, I run back to civilization central and my tooth traps and spend a good half my time just chopping wood and keeping the food supply going. Because I don’t want to starve, thank you. (Or freeze.)

NOT FREEZING.
NOT FREEZING. FIRE LEVEL ABOVE DESIGN PARAMETERS.

On the other hand, Azuriel would probably stab his eyes out from the repetition I engage in with the same game. He prefers forward adventuring progress.

Me, I haven’t even seen Maxwell’s door in many of my worlds, and never stepped once through it. I prefer a slow and steady stable state with some incremental creep.

My guess is that each person’s preference for how much excitement and adrenaline rush and thrill versus relaxation they want in their games is different.

(The old hard fun vs easy fun war again. There’s actually two more types if you follow the link.)

For those who find they enjoy a game that is short and linear but continually ramps up the challenge till the content is all done (like Portal and Portal 2), MMOs are going to be an inherently disappointing affair. Once they’ve mastered every challenge they care to, that’s it, done. Finite content is finite.

Time to go on to another game or another MMO, at least until the devs have enough time to produce more content to devour.

An endless endgame?

Whatever it is, it’s going to repeat -somehow-.

WoW raids are a delaying tactic. Kindly repeat the same fight but with the variation and difficulty of cat herding a lot of players with different schedules and skill levels for an RNG chance of desirable loot. Hopefully, this takes you long enough so that the devs can produce the next raid for you to do something similar till the next patch.

If you think that in Everquest Next, there won’t be players who will be searching for and making a point of repeatedly killing the most desirable mobs… I think that you’re sorely mistaken.

One hope that it has of stretching gameplay is the possibility of player-created content, which provides supplementary content to dev-created content, just like how mods can extend the lifespan of a single-player game.

Clarity of preference is important, rather than just dismissing a game as “too repetitive.”

I suspect that Scree prefers “impactful” games. A game where player actions can mean a great deal. Where player actions form the meat of the content via emergence. Where hopefully the NPCs have enough AI to form meaningful, discernable patterns that can be exploited but not TOO exploited.

Well, we’ll all be watching upcoming PvE sandbox games to see if they manage to achieve this elusive holy grail.

A lot of this stuff tends to break the moment you throw the “massively multiplayer” part of the equation in.

We’ve learned that player-created content tends to give rise to “xp farms” where players design, create and run repetitively an optimized encounter so that they can reach max level (and level alts) at the best possible speed. (Thank you, City of Heroes and Neverwinter. Possibly Everquest 2 too.)

We’ll see how fast ingenious players can map the world sufficiently to determine node spawning patterns (must farm crafting materials, y’know!) or provide trackers for mob movement or spawns to determine the most probable places to head to for xp/loot/combat action.

Case in point: observe niche game A Tale in the Desert – randomly spawning mushroom locations produced a shroomdar. This game barely attracts 1000 players at the best of times.

Do you think the combined brainpower of a popular MMO cannot crack what a single team of developers code? Or at least harness the power of massive crowds via  individual player reports? e.g. see GW2 dragon timers before the API was made available.

If you have xp in a game, players will figure out the best way to get xp fast. Even (and especially) if it means repetition.

Skills-based, not levels, you say? I point you to Darkfall and its stories of skill grind, where at least some players will macro it, or engage in the equivalent of leaving a weight on one’s keyboard a la Morrowind or other Elder Scrolls games.

If you have loot in a game, rest assured players will repeatedly do whatever it is to gather it.

Ideally, they are enjoying the activity they repeat. (Note: level of enjoyment varies based on player personality and preference.)

Whether that activity is combat (versus mobs or against other players), or gathering some form of resource (xp, gold, shiny loot for stats or looking pretty, craftables, luxury collectibles), or exploration and discovery or yes, even travel and commuting from point A to point B.

Eventually though, a player is bound to get bored of whatever repetition they were engaged in and wander off. Or burn out if they weren’t careful enough. Part of the gaming life cycle.

The real questions are:

  • Do they wander off to another activity in the same game?
  • If they wandered off to another game, do they ever come back to the one they left? (Check things out or pick up where they left off?)
  • And how frequently do they do it?
  • (Oh, and do they give the devs any money for providing such experiences in the meantime, of course. 🙂 )

MBTI and MMO Gaming

A perfect storm of stuff got me thinking along these lines lately:

Some folks in the blogosphere have been commenting about the difference between feelings of “fun” and feelings of “accomplishment.”

It seems one subset of people are searching for a game that gives them that accomplishment (or hard fun or whatever you want to call it) feeling, where it’s okay to “work” or put in a hefty amount of effort overcoming an obstacle so that you can feel this sense of satisfaction or triumph at the end when you achieve the final rewards. It’s okay if through parts of this process, they have to endure occasional not-fun stuff or frustration or grind as long as they reach their desired reward in the end.

“It’s character-building,” they claim.

Still others are looking for more immediate fun (or easy fun or what-have-you) where the moment-to-moment stop-and-smell-the-roses stuff is fun and enjoyable and relaxing and either easy to coast along or seeking that one true moment of perfect meditative flow. Not-fun or frustrating stuff wrecks this right in its tracks and yanks people out into gripe city.

“Whiners who need to L2P,” say the other subset. “Or learn some commitment. Pandering to these guys is what ruined MMOs. I miss the good old days.”

Let us disregard the obvious – that game designers will aim to put both types of gameplay into their game so as to suit the greatest number of people. (The first is more suited for long-term content and the latter short-term experiences, so they are relatively complementary and not always necessarily at odds with each other.)

Let us also disregard that people may not only be one subset or the other – they might enjoy both kinds of gameplay at different times.

Is there some kind of explanation or analysis that can help to explain why certain people prefer certain kinds of gaming styles?

Immediately, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) comes to mind as a helpful tool.

Of course it is over-simplification to classify all the varied people in the world into merely 16 personality types, but as these things go, the MBTI is pretty accurate and useful in being able to discern the preferences of groups of people.

Do bear in mind, no one preference is “better” than another, they’re just different. The main goal of the MBTI, as I see it, is more to allow people to understand that folks around them can have very different, but equally valid, preferences.

It’s beyond the scope of this post to cover the MBTI in detail. If you want one of those quick quizes that will approximate your MBTI, you can try out the Humanmetrics one here.

If you want to just read all the options and pick the one that best fits you, the Personality Pathways page explains what all those funky I, E, S, N, T, F, J, P letters mean.

Doing the Humanmetrics one for myself, I score this result:

INTP
Introvert(100%)  iNtuitive(50%)  iNtuitive  Thinking(62%)  Perceiving(44)%
  • You have strong preference of Introversion over Extraversion (100%)
  • You have moderate preference of Intuition over Sensing (50%)
  • You have distinctive preference of Thinking over Feeling (62%)
  • You have moderate preference of Perceiving over Judging (44%)

Typelogic explains the INTP personality in a lot more detail. I’m heartily amused by their turn of phrase, “A major concern for INTPs is the haunting sense of impending failure.” I’m sure regular readers of this blog are quite aware that I can sit around a lot obsessing about being seen as incompetent.

We’re “pensive, analytical folks,” “relatively easy-going and amenable to almost anything until their principles are violated”, but “prefer to return, however, to a reserved albeit benign ambiance, not wishing to make spectacles of themselves.”

That’s pretty much me to a T.

“So what does this have to do with gaming? “INTPs thrive on systems. Understanding, exploring, mastering, and manipulating systems can overtake the INTP’s conscious thought.”

Like I mentioned before, I play all this shit in my sidebar to grok things out. I may find one or two games that seem worthwhile to play around in for the long-term, but you bet I am dabbling with lots of other games on the side as well. I need my novelty fix or I will go crazy. I’ve learned not to expect that one single game will ever sate me entirely, so I game-hop tons, but keep one or two primary games to focus on. (It’s perhaps telling that I have to quantify and say two games, I don’t think I can ever just focus on one, period.)

INTPs are, however, not a big part of the population. Various sources peg us at about 1-3% representation, which makes us fairly un-average. We easily baffle other people who don’t share our same preferences. We’re quite easily misunderstood. The only thing we really have going for us is people stop and blink when we make one of our insightful or creative comments from time to time. 🙂

We can’t help ourselves though. We can’t help but wonder about stuff.

Like, has anyone else thought about the MBTI in relation to gaming? Or MBTI and MMOs specifically?

Google to the rescue. Sometime back in 2008, a guy made a blog post about it and made a few predictions for where you might find the various types. I think he’s a little off, and making guesses that veer toward horoscope-y, but at least he’s thought about it some.

What we really need though, is data. (Or so says the Thinking preference in me.)

In 2004, at the MUD Developers Conference, Kevin Saunders wrote a paper titled Applying Myers-Briggs Type Indicators (MBTI®) to Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG) Design (I can’t seem to link the Quick View version – please google “MBTI and gaming” to get the link if you can’t FTP.)

One of the most interesting discoveries he made was that compared to the general population, we see a much stronger representation of introverts, intuitives, and/or feelers online. He goes on to surmise what kinds of game features would best appeal to this potential customer base. (This was way back in 2004 though, it’ll be interesting to see if populations have shifted any, what with WoW bringing in more mainstream game players.)

For example, introverts recover energy by spending time alone. Speaking for myself, I score extremely highly on the introversion scale, I’d be an 11 on a scale of 10 if they had one. I -need- solo time to myself. I find it very relaxing, especially if I’ve had to face people all day in real life while at work. The last thing I want to do is spend all of my game time feeling forced to socialize with others.

Add on irregular gaming hours and I become quite leery of committing myself anywhere.  Add on a preference for Perceiving, ie. unstructured activities, not being chained to a schedule, going with the flow and a Thinking preference that leaves me more interested in objective facts than what other people think and consensus-building (aka no drama, kthxbai) and I’m not your regular guild attendee. I’m quite thankful Guild Wars 2 allows multiple guilds and that a solo personal guild is quite viable if you’re patient and don’t mind spending some gold from time to time.

I’m not all people though. I suspect those with a Feeling preference would be much more inclined to seek out other people and socialize, introvert or not. And hey, Feelers are apparently the majority online, so there’s lots of potential guild members right there.

Extraverts would probably go crazy or get utterly bored of the game if they had to be by themselves for a while, so guilds and being able to party with whoever and whenever they wish is a game feature right up their alley.

I’ve no real idea how Sensing/Intuition relates to MMO gaming as yet, except maybe Sensers might need more guided step-by-step instructions and tutorials, while Intuitives may be more comfortable just feeling their way through and figuring out new concepts? That’s just a wild guess, though.

The Judging preference might be more telling. I’m guessing that Judgers really like a sense of structure to their gaming. They need to be able to make plans, to see the next goal ahead of them, and are probably the most likely to enjoy making lots of to-do lists and checking them off. They probably make good hardcore raider types. Scheduled activities, regular repetition, sense of progression, and what-have-you. Discipline is their watchword. I wonder if these are the folks that tend to seek that refined sense of accomplishment over just simple ordinary everyday fun?

If you ask me, Guild Wars 2 does a fantastic job catering to all types of preferences. There’s stuff for soloers, stuff for groups, most of it optional or do it at your own pace. You can run through the world going from heart to heart, POI to waypoint like a laundry list of things to get done to accomplish 100% world completion and get a shiny gold star, or you can wander around aimlessly to check out the hill over yonder, ignoring anything that doesn’t interest you (Bhagpuss is the epitome of this style of play, eh?)

You can play WvW or sPvP or dungeons in a hardcore fashion, with schedules, guild organization, alarm clocks, practice sessions and more, for high stakes. Or you can dabble in the same activities in a more leisurely, PUG or hotjoin manner at a lower level of intensity – just accept you’ll be steamrolled by those playing at a higher intensity level. The cost of high intensity is faster burnout, so it all balances out in the end.

Perhaps the only thing that the panacea of Guild Wars 2 hasn’t solved yet is how to help different gaming preferences find like souls.

I did some jumping with a 25% speed thief and somehow squeezed past some geometry into this little private section of Sparkfly Fen. This little illicit thrill of breaking the boundaries exploring and being in a place few ever get to gives me a helluva lot more ‘hee-hee’ laughs and satisfaction than, for example, out-playing someone and getting to do a finishing move on them.

I’m a lot less dedicated than these guys to the art or sport of walljumping, but it’s nice knowing a few like-minded souls are out there. (I learned just by watching someone a little secret climbing spot in the Lunatic Inquisition map, fer example, though it got fixed and blocked later on.)

Maybe some day, an MMO will figure out how to help players with similar preferences and playstyles find each other. Timezones, alas, do not help. (More than once, I’ve seen an NA guild or two that looks it might match me, but yeaaaah… 12 hours difference is hard to work around.)

Until then, I guess we just have to play our MMOs and enjoy them our way, while recognizing they’re populated with a whole host of people with varying preferences and priorities.

GW2: Underwater Done Right

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.

GW2: A Light in the Darkness

Wow. Just… wow.

I did the level 55 Personal Story quest: A Light in the Darkness a day ago or so, and it is one of the most awesome experiences I’ve had so far in not just this game, but my MMO history. Crazy good level design. Huge kudos to all the folks involved in creating this.

If I weren’t already a die-hard alt-holic, this would make me take quite a few characters up high enough just so that they could go through it too. I’d classify it along the lines of the sort of rousing heroic storytelling sort of on-par with the Nightfall ending and the Eye of the North finale, so you can have an idea of whether you’d like it or not, if you’ve played the original.

It’s the sort of thing that makes me feel “oh no, I’m getting near the end of this great story, and I really hope GW2 comes out with another chapter, another sequel, another expansion soon, cos I want MORE, dammit.” (Yeah, barely one week into the game’s launch, realistic, much?)

Some spoilers follow, so be duly warned:

When you see such a grand painting on the loadscreen for the mission, you know you’re in for something really special.

Essentially, A Light in the Darkness sets up foreshadowing for (I presume) the eventual moment that you hit level 80 and get to go to Orr and Arah and (maybe) confront Zhaitan.

Just as the Ringbearer seeks out Galadriel for a vision of the future, you seek out the Pale Tree for a vision of the future by entering the Dream (which is ever so slightly more hazardous than looking into a bowl of sacred water.)

There’s some wonderful storytelling and voice work. The NPC companion whom you would have met in an earlier part of the story narrates the history of Orr as you progress through the map, mentioning key characters like Vizier Khilbron’s reading of the Lost Scrolls to stop the Charr invasion (which caused a Cataclysm that sunk Orr) and it immediately made me want to run back to Guild Wars 1 to see the Vizier again in the missions where we meet him, and check out all the references in the first game.

God, I love GW lore. Those of you coming into GW2 completely new to the world don’t know what you’re missing. (Take some time to work through GW1 later, if you can.) The lore bible is thick and goes back way more than 250 years in history and there are all kinds of references all over the place, ArenaNet pays so so much attention to immersion.

Speaking of which, this was the first time my Charr, who has been primarily staying in human and Charr zones working to help the peace treaty to stay more or less RP background and lore-appropriate, got to the Sylvari areas. And got to see Ventari’s tablet. (Screenshotting it was not easy, the stupid camera still needs some work done on it.)

It looks like the real deal, all right, and if you bothered with a New Krytan translation, you’d see that someone took the trouble to inscribe the tenets onto it.

I only bothered to check the first two lines, “Live life well, and fully, and waste nothing” and “Do not fear difficulty. Hard ground makes strong roots” so the rest of it could be an ad for dish soap as far as I know, but I doubt it, GW loves their lore. (The rest of the tenets can be read by referring to the Ventari Tablet wiki page.)

When you’re in the Dream, Arah looks glorious. Golden foggy and far away, but glorious. I can’t wait until I can get there for real, and see what has happened in the wake of the Elder Dragon, which I guess, is the point of setting up the foreshadowing.

There are a couple more optional conversations with Dream reflections of Destiny’s Edge, which allude to the storyline in the book, and explains a little more on why they’re all so screwed up now.

In a way, it’s very clever. One needs signature characters in an MMO in order to have some lore, but the signature characters, if too heroic, are always in danger of overshadowing the player character, making the player feel like Gandalf’s errand boy or playing a second-string story alongside the real protagonists’ stories.

GW1 lucked into avoiding this when players developed a fondness for Gwen, a happy child who hero-worshipped the PC in the tutorial (so we still feel important) and a general tragedy befell everyone, making folks wonder about her fate. Then the clever writers decided to revisit her and screw her up a little by the time we meet her again all grown up. A good story is all about characters who change, in significant ways.

In GW2, we have a merry band of adventurers, who, opposite from stereotype, are no longer all together and one big happy family. Quite the opposite, they’re all at each other’s throats, and while it would be a pretty grand culmination to see them working together to defeat the dragon -based on you, the exceptional hero actually managing to resolve their differences – some days, it feels like you’re never really going to get to that point. We’ll see. (I attempted Twilight Arbor storymode a while ago and -somebody- ran away again. My Charr bias is showing.)

There’s a rousing general’s speech and a grand melee involving the three combined Orders of the land and a couple of undead giants (remember giant of Nageling? Corrupt it, then x2, but scale it down somewhat for being on your lonesome.)

This is not the whole vista of what happens, just a small portion I cropped, so as not to completely spoil the effect. Just x2 to get a little closer to what happens.

I never fail to be awed by the number of NPCs, friendlies and enemies, this game can put out at any one time. And really, why not? I’ve always thought more MMOs should give a player more NPC allies. If you’ve a support or healing focused build, this may give you more a fighting chance, and the downed/defeated/revival mechanic means that even if smashed into the dirt, you can still get the NPC up again and it’s not the end of the world, game over, repeat escort mission and curse the NPC AI.

Some of the Orrian mobs also reminded me of Enchanted Weapons of GW1 fame. That’s all you see of them, their weapons. Egads, so you sort of end up guessing their class/skills, moving out of their attacks and prioritizing through guesswork based only on that. On the bright side, they drop heavy bones. I haven’t seen much of bone chips and bone shards and their ilk, it’s probably the zones I’ve been staying in, but I really want them to craft armor with stats I want.

And at the very end of the entire vision, you see this,

as the most spectacular Jeremy Soule music begins a triumphant heralding as you finish one last conversation with the Pale Tree’s Avatar, who tells you, it is time to face The Gate Guardian.

Ascending more steps into the golden glow, and it really is like Ascension in a sense, where you’re symbolically confronting some manner of guardian being (though not a doppelganger in this case,) you see It as a silhouette in the distance as the music swells to a crescendo, leaving you charged with maximum awesome.

It was one of the most spectacular fights ever, thanks to all the buildup. Also, thankfully, not too difficult, as it would really have ruined the whole experience if I had to keep restarting from a checkpoint. Just watch for the queued up big attack, avoid it, and one should be fine.

And just when you think it cannot get any better than this and the Dream ends and you’re back to “reality” in the Pale Tree’s Grove, they give you the absolute kicker of a choice.

Big big spoiler warning in the following pic, watch out:

Oh god. Your metagaming self knows -exactly- what is going to happen. Your worst fear is the one that is going to come to pass. That’s what choice picking in this game does, after all, it sets up the branches of your storyline.

It’s beautiful storytelling. How can you be a hero, a proper changed hero with a character arc and all, if you do not confront your fears?

There is no best choice. They’re all bad, in a good way. Potentially devastating to the character, but awesome roleplay story potential and sets up crazy anticipation waiting for the shoe to drop.

Immediately I want to make more alts so that I can see all the branches of the storyline again, dammit. I hope their maximum number of character slots is a really high number.

For the record, I’m playing a paladin-like goodhearted compassionate Guardian on this playthrough (he even helped the Skritt cos they’re so cute, even though most Charr must think of them as little thieving pests), so I went with the first choice. It’s going to set me up for tragedy later, I’m sure.

I’m dreading the arrival of that fate already. (But in a really good way.)